Randolph Peter "Pete" Best (born 24 November 1941) is a British musician, principally known as the original regular drummer in the Beatles. He was born in the city of Madras, then part of British India. After Best's mother, Mona Best (1924-1988), moved to Liverpool in 1945, she opened The Casbah Coffee Club in the cellar of the Bests' large house in Liverpool. It became very popular with British youths, having a membership of over 1,000. The Beatles (at the time known as the Quarrymen) played some of their first concerts at the club. Best played there with the Beatles as well as his first band, the Black Jacks.
The Beatles invited Best to join on 12 August 1960, on the eve of the group's first Hamburg season of club dates. He was eventually replaced by Ringo Starr on 16 August 1962, when the group's manager, Brian Epstein, dismissed Best under the direction of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, following their first recording session at Abbey Road Studios. After working in a number of commercially unsuccessful groups Best gave up the music industry to work as a civil servant for 20 years, before starting the Pete Best Band. He has been married for over 50 years to Kathy Best; they have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Pete Best's mother, Mona Best (née Alice Mona Shaw), was born in Delhi, India, and was the daughter of Thomas (an Irish major) and Mary Shaw. Her first son, Randolph Peter (Pete Best), was born in Madras (now Chennai), Madras Presidency, British India, on 24 November 1941. Pete's biological father was marine engineer Donald Peter Scanland, who subsequently died during World War II. Mona was training to become a doctor in the service of the Red Cross when she met Johnny Best. He came from a family of sports promoters in Liverpool which once owned and ran the Liverpool Stadium. After their marriage on 7 March 1944, at St. Thomas's Cathedral, Bombay, Rory Best was born. In 1945, the Best family sailed for four weeks to Liverpool on the Georgic, the last troop ship to leave India, carrying single and married soldiers who had previously been a part of General Sir William Slim's forces in south-east Asia. The ship docked in Liverpool on 25 December 1945.
The Beatles and Hamburg:
In 1960, Allan Williams arranged a season of bookings for the group in Hamburg, starting on 17 August 1960, but complained that he was not impressed with them as a musical group, and hoped that he could find a better act to follow them.
Having no permanent drummer, McCartney looked for someone to fill the Hamburg position. Best had been seen playing in The Casbah with his own group, the Black Jacks, and it was noted that he was a steady drummer, playing the bass drum on all four beats in the bar, which pushed the rhythm. He was known in Liverpool as being "mean, moody, and magnificent" by his female fans, which convinced McCartney he would be good for the group. After the Black Jacks broke up, McCartney convinced Best to go to Hamburg with the group, by saying they would earn £15 per week each. As Best had passed his school exams--unlike Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, who had failed most of theirs--he had the chance to go to a teacher-training college, but decided that playing in Hamburg would be a better career move. Best had an audition in the Jacaranda club, which was owned by Williams, and travelled to Hamburg the next day. Williams later admitted that the audition with Best was unnecessary, as the group had not found any other drummer willing to travel to Hamburg, but did not tell Best in case he asked for more money.
The Beatles first played at the Indra club in Hamburg, but slept in the Bambi Kino (cinema) in small, dirty rooms, which were noisy, cold, and directly behind the screen. Upon first seeing the Indra, where they were booked to play, Best remembered it as being a depressing place that was filled with a few tourists, and having heavy, old, red curtains that made it seem shabby compared to the larger Kaiserkeller. As Best had been the only group member to study O-Level German at school, he was able to talk with the club's owner, Bruno Koschmider, and the clientele. After the closure of the Indra because of complaints about the noise, the group started a residency in the Kaiserkeller.
In October 1960, the group left Koschmider's club to work at the Top Ten Club, which was run by Peter Eckhorn, as he offered the group more money, and a slightly better place to sleep. In doing so they broke their contract with Koschmider. When Best and McCartney went back to the Bambi Kino to retrieve their belongings they found it in almost total darkness. As a snub to Koschmider, McCartney found a condom, attached it to a nail on the concrete wall of the room, and set it alight. There was no real damage done, but Koschmider reported them both for attempted arson. Best and McCartney spent three hours in a local prison and were subsequently deported, as was George Harrison, for working under the legal age limit, on 30 November 1960.
Back in Liverpool, the group members had no contact with each other for two weeks, but Best and his mother made numerous phone calls to Hamburg to recover the group's equipment. Mona arranged all the bookings for the group in Liverpool, after parting company with Williams in late 1961.
The ex-Black Jacks guitarist, Chas Newby, was invited to play bass for four concerts, as bassist Stuart Sutcliffe had decided to stay in Hamburg. Newby played with the group at Litherland Town Hall and at The Casbah. He was shocked at the vast improvement in their playing and singing, and remembered Best's drumming to be very powerful, which pushed the group to play harder and louder. It was probably due to McCartney that Best developed a loud drumming style, as he would often tell Best in Hamburg to "crank it up" (play as loud as possible). When the group returned to Hamburg, Best was asked to sing a speciality number, "Peppermint Twist", while McCartney played drums, but always felt uncomfortable being at the front of the stage.
The reunited Beatles returned to Hamburg in April 1961. While playing at the Top Ten Club they were recruited by singer Tony Sheridan to act as his backing band on a recording for the German Polydor Records label, produced by bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Kaempfert signed the group to a Polydor contract at the first session on 22 June 1961. On 31 October 1961, Polydor released the recording "My Bonnie" (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur/My heart is only for you) which appeared on the German charts under the name "Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers"--a generic name used for whoever happened to be in Sheridan's backup band. The song was later released in the UK. There was a second recording session on 23 June, and a third session in May 1962.
Decca, Parlophone, and dismissal:
Brian Epstein, who had been managing the Beatles for less than a month, arranged a recording audition at Decca Records in London on New Year's Day, 1962. The group recorded 15 songs, mostly cover versions, and, as Lennon later admitted, were "terrified and nervous". A month later, Decca turned down the group, about which Best was not informed.
Five months later, on 6 June 1962, the group attended their first Parlophone recording session at EMI studios, now Abbey Road Studios, for EMI producer, George Martin.Ron Richards and his engineer, Norman Smith, recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The recording convinced Martin that the group was good enough to be signed to a contract, but with one exception: Martin and his engineers wanted to use an experienced session drummer in Best's place, as was common practice at the time. Many years later Martin still expressed regret about his decision and what followed:
"I decided that the drums, which are really the backbone of a good rock group, didn't give the boys enough support. They needed a good solid beat, and I said to Brian, 'Look, it doesn't matter what you do with the boys, but on record, nobody need know. I'm gonna use a hot drummer.' Brian Epstein said, 'Okay, fine.' I felt guilty because I felt maybe I was the catalyst that had changed his Best's life".
Paul McCartney remembers it differently:
"George Martin was used to drummers being very 'in time', because all the big-band session drummers he used had a great sense of time. Now, our Liverpool drummers had a sense of spirit, emotion, economy even, but not a deadly sense of time. This would bother producers making a record. George took us to one side and said, 'I'm really unhappy with the drummer. Would you consider changing him?' We said, 'No, we can't!' It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. But our career was on the line. Maybe they were going to cancel our contract".
When Lennon, McCartney and Harrison learned that Martin and the engineers preferred replacing Best with a session drummer for their upcoming recording session, they considered using it as a pretext to sack Best from the group permanently. Eventually, after a very long delay, they asked Epstein to dismiss Best from the band. Epstein agonised over the decision. As he wrote in his autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, he "wasn't sure" about Martin's assessment of Best's drumming and "was not anxious to change the membership of The Beatles at a time when they were developing as personalities ... I asked The Beatles to leave the group as it was". Epstein also asked Bob Wooler for advice, to which Wooler replied that it was not a good idea, as Best was very popular with the fans. Ultimately, Epstein decided that "If the group was to remain happy, Pete Best must go". He summoned Best to his office and dismissed him on 16 August 1962, ten weeks and one day after the first recording session. Best had been with the group for two years and four days.
George Martin was surprised to learn that Epstein had sacked Best and denied to Mona Best, who phoned him about the matter, that he had ever suggested sacking Pete. Martin told Mona:
"I never suggested that Pete Best must go. All I said was that for the purposes of the Beatles' first record I would rather use a session man. I never thought that Brian Epstein would let him go. He seemed to be the most saleable commodity as far as looks went. It was a surprise when I learned that they had dropped Pete. The drums were important to me for a record, but they didn't matter much otherwise. Fans don't pay particular attention to the quality of the drumming".
Martin used session musician Andy White on the third session for "Love Me Do" on 11 September, and not Starr, who was Best's replacement. When Starr played tambourine while White played drums, Starr told Hunter Davies years later that he had thought, "That's the end. They're pulling a Pete Best on me."
Best's friend, Neil Aspinall, The Beatles road manager, was waiting for him downstairs in Epstein's NEMS record shop after the dismissal meeting. The two went to The Grapes pub, in the same street as the The Cavern Club, where the group had often played. Starting in 1961, Aspinall had become good friends with Best and subsequently rented a room in the house where Best lived with his parents. Best had asked Aspinall to become the band's roadie, resulting in Aspinall buying an old Commer van for £80. He had been employed as the band's road manager and personal assistant, but was furious at the news, insisting that he would stop working for them as well, but Best strongly advised him to remain with the group. Aspinall asked Lennon at the next concert why they had fired Best, to which he replied, "It's got nothing to do with you, you're only the driver."
Prior to Best's dismissal, during one of the extended business trips of Best's father, the 19-year-old Aspinall became romantically involved with Best's mother, Mona Best, who was 17 years his senior. During this period, he fathered a child by Mona: Vincent "Roag" Best. Roag Best was born in late July 1962, just three weeks prior to Best's dismissal. Despite his initial support after Best's dismissal, Aspinall elected to stay in the employ of the group, and ended his relationship with Mona (and their three-week-old baby, Roag).
Mersey Beat magazine's editor, Bill Harry, claimed that the vacant drummer position in the group was initially offered by Epstein to Johnny Hutchinson of the Big Three, whom he also managed. Hutchinson refused the job, saying, "Pete Best is a very good friend of mine. I couldn't do the dirty on him". Hutchison filled in as drummer at short notice when Best didn't turn up on the evening of his dismissal, and played a further two bookings until Starr joined the group. Starr had previously played with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes--the alternating band in the Kaiserkeller--and had deputised when Best was ill or unable to play in Hamburg and Liverpool. Best's dismissal was reported by Harry on the front-page of the Mersey Beat magazine, upsetting many Beatles fans. The group encountered some jeering and heckling in the street and on stage for weeks afterwards, with some fans shouting, "Pete forever, Ringo never!" One agitated fan headbutted Harrison in The Cavern, giving him a black eye.
Reasons for dismissal:
Best was never fully told why he was dismissed, as the only reason Epstein stated was, "The lads don't want you in the group any more". Epstein subsequently claimed in his autobiography that Lennon, McCartney and Harrison thought Best "Too conventional to be a Beatle, and though he was friendly with John, he was not liked by George and Paul". It has been documented (notably in Cynthia Lennon's book, John) that while Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison usually spent their offstage time together in Hamburg and Liverpool, writing songs or socialising, Best generally went off alone. This left Best on the outside, as he was not privy to many of the group's experiences, references, and in-jokes.
A German photographer, Astrid Kirchherr, asked if they would mind letting her take photographs of them in a photo session, which impressed them, as other groups only had snapshots taken by friends. The next morning Kirchherr took photographs in der Dom, a municipal park, close to the Reeperbahn. In the afternoon Astrid took them to her mother's house in Altona; minus Best, who decided not to attend. Best was described by Dot Rhone--McCartney's girlfriend at the time, who later visited Hamburg--as being very quiet, and never taking part in conversations with the group.
Clothes, drugs and hairstyle:
On their first trip to Hamburg, the group soon realized that the stage suits they wore could not stand up to the hours of sweating and jumping about on stage every night, so they all bought leather jackets, jeans and cowboy boots, which were much tougher. Best initially preferred to play in cooler short sleeves on stage, and so did not match the sartorial style of the group, even though he was later photographed wearing a leather jacket and jeans. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Sutcliffe were introduced to recreational drugs in Hamburg. As they played for hours every night, they often took Preludin to keep themselves awake, which were given to them by German customers or by Astrid Kirchherr, whose mother bought them. Lennon would often take four or five, but Best always refused.
It has been claimed that Epstein became exasperated with Best's refusal to adopt the mop-top-style Beatle haircut as part of their unified look keeping his quiffed hairstyle, although Best later stated that he was never asked to change his hairstyle. In a 1995 BBC Radio Merseyside interview, Kirchherr explained: "My boyfriend, Klaus Voormann, had this hairstyle, and Stuart Sutcliffe liked it very, very much. He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem out of his hair, and asking me to cut his hair for him. Pete Best has really curly hair, and it wouldn't work".
Best's popularity with fans was a source of friction, as many female fans considered Best to be the band's best-looking member. Radio Merseyside presenter, Spencer Leigh, wrote a book chronicling Best's firing, suggesting that the other members, McCartney in particular, were jealous. In the 31 August 1961 issue of Bill Harry's Mersey Beat music publication in Liverpool, Bob Wooler reported on the Beatles' local musical impact and singled out Best for special praise, citing Best's "mean, moody magnificence" and describing him as "a sort of teenage Jeff Chandler". During the Teenagers' Turn showcase in Manchester, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison walked on stage to applause, but when Best walked on, the girls screamed. Best was surrounded at the stage door afterwards by attentive females while the other members were ignored after signing a few autographs. McCartney's father, Jim McCartney, was present at the time and admonished Best by saying: "Why did you have to attract all the attention? Why didn't you call the other lads back? I think that was very selfish of you". Lennon called the accusations of jealousy a "myth", and claimed that Best was only recruited because they needed a drummer to go to Hamburg, saying, "We were always going to dump him when we found a decent drummer".
Mona Best's take on her son's sacking, as told to British television in 1963, with Best: "From the point of clash of personalities, well, probably that may be it because Peter did have a terrific fan club, you know, compared to the others". Interviewer: "Too good looking perhaps?" "I'll leave that for other people to say but from my point of view we haven't come here to sort of throw sticks and stones at the boys because there is no really hard feeling. There was at first, but it's just the way that it was done that has annoyed us. If it had been done a bit more straightforward it would have been more to the mark".Hunter Davies, in his authorized Beatles biography published in 1968, agreed: "There is some justification for a little of Mrs. Best's anger. The sacking of Pete Best is one of the few murky incidents in the Beatles' history. There was something sneaky about the way it was done."
Best as a drummer:
Musically, Best has been judged to have had a limited rhythmic vocabulary that was seen as holding the other three band members back from their collective musical growth. Martin (see above) deemed Best's drumming to be inadequate for a recording. As stated in Bob Spitz's 2005 biography: "All Pete could do was play 'Fours'", a style of drumming that uses kick drum notes on every quarter note to hold down the beat. Spitz's book also contains engineer Ron Richards' account of his failed attempts to teach Best somewhat more complicated beats for different songs. Critic and Beatles historian, Richie Unterberger, described Best's drumming at the Decca session as "thinly textured and rather unimaginative", adding that Best "pushes the beat a little too fast for comfort". Unterberger thought Starr to be "more talented". Beatles' critic Alan W. Pollack compared the Best, Starr, and Andy White versions of "Love Me Do", and concluded that Best was "an incredibly unsteady and tasteless drummer" on his version. Beatles' historian Ian MacDonald, recounting the Decca audition, said that "Best's limitations as a drummer are nakedly apparent". MacDonald notes of the 6 June EMI recording session that "...this audition version of "Love Me Do" shows one of the reasons why Pete Best was sacked: in moving to the ride cymbal for the first middle eight, he slows down and the group falters". MacDonald incorrectly notes that the session was an audition, which it was not, being the first recording for a single release.
All the other Beatles went on record about the dismissal of Best. McCartney: "It was a strictly professional decision. If he wasn't up to the mark... then there was no other choice." He also pronounced Best to be "a bit limited". Harrison said that "Pete kept being sick and not showing up for gigs" and admitted, "I was quite responsible for stirring things up. I conspired to get Ringo in for good; I talked to Paul and John until they came round to the idea." For his part, Starr said: "I felt I was a much better drummer than he Best was".
Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison all later stated that they regretted the manner in which Best was sacked. Lennon admitted that "we were cowards when we sacked him. We made Brian do it." McCartney stated: "I do feel sorry for him, because of what he could have been on to." Harrison: "We weren't very good at telling Pete he had to go. Historically it may look like we did something nasty to Pete and it may have been that we could have handled it better." Starr, on the other hand, feels he has no apology to make: "I never felt sorry ... I was not involved." In 1968, authorized Beatles biographer Hunter Davies wrote: "But for the sake of Pete's career, whatever happened to the Beatles afterward, the handling and especially the announcing of the sacking might have been done more neatly and cleanly. He could have been fixed up with a job in another group before the news was announced." Over twenty years later Mark Lewisohn concluded that "Despite his alleged shortcomings, it was still shabby treatment ... the most underhand, unfortunate and unforgivable chapter in The Beatles' rise to monumental power."
Difficulties between Mona Best and others:
Before Brian Epstein took the Beatles on, Mona Best had been handling most of the management and promotional work. According to promoter and manager Joe Flannery Mona had done a great deal for the band by arranging a number of important early gigs and lending them a badly needed helping hand when they returned from Hamburg the first time. In the opinions of many, however, this came at the cost of having to contend with her overbearing nature. At this crucial time in the history of the Beatles, John Lennon confided to Flannery that he considered Mona "bossy like his aunt Mimi" and believed that she was only using the Beatles for the sake of her son. However, this should be weighed against the fact that the Beatles' cordial relations with Mona would soon resume. She often met them while visiting Neil Aspinall at his London home. On these occasions the Beatles often had small gifts for her which they'd acquired on their travels. For her part, Mona allowed them to use her father's military medals in the photo shoot for the Sergeant Pepper album cover.
Although Brian Epstein's publicly stated reluctance to fire Pete quickly became a matter of record in the early biographies, he had found Mona Best to be the cause of mounting aggravation. Brian's distaste for her interference in the Beatles' management, including her "aggressive opinions about his handling of her son's career" was obvious to everyone, and he also reportedly considered Mona Best a loose cannon who must not be allowed to interfere in his operations. Moreover, the very recent birth of Pete's half-brother Vincent "Roag" Best, from the union of 38-year-old Mona and 19-year-old Neil Aspinall, further complicated matters. Although Pete himself was not personally responsible for this development, it would still have caused a grave scandal had it become generally known, and Brian may have been horrified at the prospect.
After the Beatles:
Soon after Best was dismissed, Epstein attempted to console him by offering to build another group around him, but Best refused. Feeling let down and depressed, he sat at home for two weeks--not wanting to face anybody or answer the inevitable questions about why he had been sacked. Epstein secretly arranged with his booking agent partner, Joe Flannery, for Best to join Lee Curtis & the All Stars, which then broke off from Curtis to become Pete Best & the All Stars. They signed to Decca Records, releasing the single "I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door", which was not successful.
Best later moved to the United States along with songwriters Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington. As The Pete Best Four, and later as The Pete Best Combo (a quintet), they toured the US with a combination of 1950s songs and original tunes, recording for small labels, but had little success. They ultimately released an album on Savage Records, Best of the Beatles; a play on Best's name, leading to disappointment for record buyers (who neglected to read the song titles on the front cover) and expected a Beatles compilation. The group disbanded shortly afterwards. Bickerton and Waddington were to find greater success as songwriters in the 1960s and 1970s, writing a series of hits for the American female group, The Flirtations, and the British group, the Rubettes.
Best decided to leave show business, and by the time of Hunter Davies' authorised Beatles' biography in 1968, he was not willing to talk about his Beatles association. Years later he stated in his autobiography, "the Beatles themselves certainly never held out a helping hand and only contributed to the destruction with their readily printed gossip that I had never really been a Beatle, that I didn't smile, that I was unsociable and definitely not a good mixer. There was not a single friendly word from any one of them". This culminated in a Beatles' interview published in Playboy magazine in February 1965 in which Lennon stated that "Ringo used to fill in sometimes if our drummer was ill. With his periodic illness." Starr added: "He took little pills to make him ill." Best sued the Beatles for defamation of character, eventually winning an out-of-court settlement although damages awarded were less than he had originally sought.Hunter Davies recalled that while working with the Beatles on their authorized biography in 1968, "when the subject of Pete Best came up they seemed to cut off, as if he had never touched their lives. They showed little reaction ... I suppose it reminded them not just that they had been rather sneaky in the handling of Pete Best's sacking, never telling him to his face, but that for the grace of God, or Brian Epstein, circumstances might have been different and they could have ended up like Pete." During the height of Beatlemania Best attempted to commit suicide, but was talked out of it by his mother, Mona, and his brother, Rory.
In 1963, he married Kathy, who worked behind the biscuit counter at a Woolworth's store. Their marriage has lasted for 50 years: they have two daughters (Beba and Bonita) and four grandchildren. Best did shift work loading bread into the back of delivery vans, earning £8 a week. His education qualifications subsequently helped him become a civil servant working at the Garston Jobcentre in Liverpool, where he rose from employment officer to training manager for the Northwest of England, and, ironically, remembered "a steady stream of real-life Yosser Hughes types" imploring him to give them jobs. The most he could do, he recalls, was to offer to retrain them in other fields, "which was an emotional issue for people who had done one kind of work all their lives."
In time, Best began giving interviews to the media, writing about his time with the group, and serving as a technical advisor for the television film, Birth of the Beatles. He found a modicum of independent fame, and has admitted to being a fan of his former band's music and owning their records. In 1995, the surviving Beatles released Anthology 1, which featured a number of tracks with Best as drummer, including songs from the Decca and Parlophone auditions. Best received a substantial windfall--between £1 million and £4 million--from the sales, although he was not interviewed for the book or the documentaries. The collage of torn photographs on the Anthology 1 album cover includes an early group photo that featured Best, but Best's head was removed, revealing a photo of Starr's head, taken from the Please Please Me cover photo. (The missing section of the photograph appears on the cover of the album Haymans Green). A small photograph of Best can be seen on the left side of the Anthology cover. Best appeared in an advertisement for Carlsberg lager that was broadcast during the first commercial break of the first episode of the Anthology TV series on ITV in November 1995. The tag line was "Probably the Pete Best lager in the world", a variation of Carlsberg's well known slogan.
The Pete Best Band:
In 1988, after twenty years of turning down all requests to play drums in public, Best finally relented, appearing at a Beatles convention in Liverpool. He and his brother, Roag, performed, and afterwards his wife and mother told him, "You don't know it, but you're going to go back into show business". Best now regularly tours the world with The Pete Best Band, sharing the drumming with his younger brother Roag. The Pete Best Band's album Haymans Green, made entirely from original material, was released on 16 September 2008 in the US, 24 October 2008 worldwide excluding the UK and 27 October 2008 in the UK.
On 6 July 2007, Best was inducted into the All You Need Is Liverpool Music Hall of Fame as the debut Charter Member. Best was presented with a framed certificate before his band performed. Liverpool has further honoured Best with the announcement, on 25 July 2011, that two new streets in the city would be named Pete Best Drive and Casbah Close.