Ask him what the Beatles were like

Pete Best ought to know: He was the band's first full-time drummer, and the experience left him with a lifetime of memories.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

Several people were once thought of as the "fifth" Beatle.

There was George Martin, who produced the band's records and was instrumental in developing the Beatles' distinctive sound, and New York radio personality Murray "the K" Kaufman, who befriended the Beatles when they arrived in America and hung out with the band members whenever they were in this country.

The real fifth Beatle was Pete Best, who was the band's first full-time drummer and will be at the Fest for Beatles Fans this weekend to perform and reminisce with thousands of Beatlemaniacs at the N.J. Crowne Plaza Meadowlands hotel in Secaucus, N.J.

John Lennon formed his first band, the Quarrymen, in 1956 in his hometown of Liverpool, England. Over the next few years, there were many members and several name changes, but the core members — Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison — were set by 1958.

Bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who knew John from art school, joined in early 1960, but the band was still going through a succession of drummers. When then-manager Allan Williams offered the group an opportunity to perform in Hamburg, Germany, he told the boys that they needed a full-time drummer.

Paul called Best, whom the band members had known from playing with his own group, the Blackjacks, at the Casbah, a club operated by Pete's mother, Mona. Pete auditioned and became the fifth member of a band that in August 1960 went to Germany and officially began to bill itself as the Beatles.

Best performed with the band during trying times in Hamburg and as the boys began to become more popular in England. Sutcliffe left in 1961 and remained in Germany, where he tragically died of a brain hemorrhage in April 1962. After his departure, Paul began to play bass, and the group continued as a quartet.

As the Beatles' popularity increased, new manager Brian Epstein secured a recording contract with EMI in June 1962. In August of the same year, Epstein informed Best that the other three members wanted Ringo Starr, formerly of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, as their new drummer.

Although theories abound, no real explanation was ever given for the change.

And while Best has stated publicly many times that he has never resented the great success of the Beatles after his departure, it is human nature to wonder about what might have, could have or should have been. How did the drummer deal with such a setback after Beatlemania swept the world?

"Through strength of character and strong family support," Best said from Liverpool last week. "With these two assets, you can overcome most obstacles in life."

Best didn't just pack it in after his days with the Beatles. He was offered several positions and ended up joining Lee Curtis & the All Stars. Curtis signed a solo recording contract, and the band was renamed the Pete Best Four, which released an unsuccessful single, I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door, on Decca Records in 1964.

After more personnel changes, the Pete Best Combo toured America and recorded an album, Best of the Beatles, for the Cameo label in 1965. The album didn't chart. Finding limited success, the combo split up by 1966, and Best left the music industry by 1968 and became a civil servant.

During the height of Beatlemania, however, Americans first learned of previous members of the Beatles when Best appeared on the television series I've Got A Secret.

Unlike today's game shows, this was a panel show in which celebrities would try to guess what was unusual about a guest's life, occupation, etc. Pete's secret, of course, was that he used to be one of the Beatles.

"The CBS bureau in London contacted me and explained what the show was all about," Best said, recalling the TV appearance. "It seemed interesting enough that I agreed to do it."

A few years later, with a family to look after, Best got a real job with the British government.

"My civil-service career consisted of concentrating on employment opportunities and specialized training programs for the unemployed," he explained.

Twenty years after hanging up the sticks, Best began to appear and perform in the late 1980s, mainly at Beatles shows where fans line up by the hundreds to greet and chat with someone who used to be one of the Beatles.

"The adrenaline still flows when I am performing, and it is always a pleasure to make new friends with old and new Beatles fans," he said. "Just being able to brighten up someone's day brightens up mine."

In the '90s, the Anthology CDs were released, and it meant several things to the drummer. Many of the tracks recorded by the Beatles in Germany in the early 1960s were included, and Best was contacted about his contributions to the recordings.

Consequently, he received royalties for the tracks on which he performed, but Best has always stated that what was more important was the recognition of his role in the history of the Beatles.

"Financially, it was very rewarding after all of these years, but what was more important to me was the recognition for services rendered," he concurred. "I suppose you could say that it was the icing on the cake."

Among his many appearances in the last few years was one in Philadelphia at a Beatles show in 1996. Unfortunately, his memories of the Quaker City are limited.

"As with most trips of this kind, they are always quick in and outs," Best said. "Because of our hectic schedules, we are normally unable to take in the sights."

While his appearance schedule might by hectic, his home life is stable. Pete married his girlfriend, Kathy, in 1963, and there have been a few additions to his family since then.

"Kathy and I are still married after forty-plus years," Pete confirmed. "We have two daughters and four wonderful grandchildren. I am truly a family man and I enjoy every moment."

This story was published on March 31, 2004, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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