Pete Best, who bills himself as the first man to put the “beat” in the Beatles, will always be known as the fifth Beatle, the drummer who was kicked out of the band to make room for Ringo Starr.
It was on August 16, 1962, that Best heard from the new Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, that he was fired. To this day, Best says, although there has been countless speculation in print and on the Internet as the years have gone by, he still has yet to find out, definitively, why he was let go. “I was called into the office by Brian Epstein and was told that in no uncertain terms that I was no longer a Beatle, and it was already arranged that Ringo was going to join the band. That was it. That was the bombshell,” says Best in a phone interview from Ontario, Canada, where he was spending some time with friends at the beginning of a North American tour.
“I knew them for three years, played with them for two,” he says. “You ask the questions. One reason they gave was that they felt I wasn’t a good enough drummer. But the people in Liverpool who have seen me play at that time and since then say that it was not that. You get all these conspiracy theories that range from (my) being antisocial, or could have been jealousy because I had a large fan base, or that Brian Epstein was jealous because I had been handling the business side. It goes on and on. Everybody has their opinion as to what the reason was for the dismissal. The key factor is that even today, I just don’t know.”
Best and his band will perform, sign memorabilia, and sell copies of his new CD, “Haymans Green,” released on September 17, at the Record Collector, 358 Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown, on Monday, October 12.
Today Best is upbeat and speaks easily about his life in the nearly five decades since he became a Beatle in his hometown of Liverpool. He believes he has had a great life. “To be quite honest, it doesn’t worry me anymore. You wake up one morning and say, `What is the point of saying I could have been this and I could have been that?’ If you do that, you end up being very cynical and twisted. It’s not about looking back. It’s about looking forward.”
Best has been married for 45 years to his wife Kathy, and he has two daughters, Babs and Bonita. “I’ve raised my family, I’m proud of the position they’re in, they’ve got security for life. I’ve got grandchildren who I idolize and spoil. I’ve got a great band that writes great music, and we’ve got the opportunity to play throughout the world and meet fans and make new fans. That’s what playing music is all about.”
Best says the Record Collector show “is going to be a band performance, but we always do an after-show signing. We go out and meet the public, sit there and answer questions on a very casual basis. You can have a laugh and a joke while you’re signing merchandise.”
In the band is Best’s youngest brother, Vincent “Roag” Best. “It’s a double-drum outfit; he plays drums alongside of me. Everyone sings. It’s a very big sounding band.” Paul Perry is on bass and vocals, Phil Melia is on lead guitar and vocals, and Tony Flynn is on rhythm guitar and vocals.
“We didn’t set out with the view to try and make a sound that people might recognize as the Pete Best Band. I suppose that everyone who listens to it hears something different,” he says of the disc, which contains 12 tracks of original material. “We’ve heard comments where it’s ’60ish, but more in a psychedelic fashion. Others have said it was the sequel to the ’60s music, this is what the Beatles would have evolved into had the band continued — it goes on and on. That is the beauty of it. Everyone who listens to it makes their own opinion about it and finds what they can relate to. We’re getting great reviews on it.”
Best says he tours six or seven months a year. “Italy, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, America, Canada, you name it. South America, Argentina, Brazil. We keep busy, but we also come back home, because we’re always keeping up with what is happening in Liverpool and on the U.K. side.”
Best was born in 1941 in Madras, India. His father, John Best, was a British Army officer, and his mother, Mona, was studying medicine there. The elder Best was a boxer and fitness expert attached to one of the famous Gurkha units of the British and Indian armies. After the war, the Best family came back to Liverpool, where John Best’s family came from. John Best worked in the family sports-promotions business. After family conflicts forced Pete’s nuclear family to move from the family compound in 1957, his mother pawned all of her jewelry and put the money on a long-shot (33-1) horse called “Never Say Die.” The horse came in, and with her winnings Mona Best bought a gigantic Victorian home in the Heymans Green section of Liverpool. The house had 15 bedrooms and a huge basement, in which Mona opened a nightclub called the Casbah Coffee Club. It was at this club where Pete Best began his musical career.
His first gig with what would turn out to be the Beatles came when Paul McCartney asked him to go to Germany with them for 15 pounds a week. “The drummer that they had decided on had had enough. He didn’t want to go,” says Best. “We should have gone over there for just four weeks. We ended up being out there closer to five, and then we came back to Liverpool in December of 1960. My mother Mona threw us a lifeline at the Casbah club. That was the start of Beatlemania. We turned Liverpool around on its heels.”
In 1995, decades after Best went back to school and worked an entire lifetime as a civil servant in his hometown (and, admittedly, picked up all of the Beatles’ records, as he still is a fan), some great luck came Best’s way. More than 33 years after his last gig as a Beatle, Best was actually going to be heard. Polydor Records released several tracks on CD that Best had recorded with the Beatles in 1962 and included them on the disc “Anthology.” And Best stood to make some money off the transaction. How much? He didn’t say, but estimates were that he made as much as £4 million off of deal. “I’m comfortable,” is all Best will say. “I’ve had a wonderful life.”
Pete Best Band and the Cryers, Sunday, October 12, 7:30 p.m. and Monday, October 13, 7 p.m., the Record Collector Store, 358 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. Pete Best was the original Beatles’ drummer (before Ringo Starr). Opening band is the Cryers. $22.50 and $25. the-record-collector.com.