Forty-eight years ago today the manager of a Liverpool rock band on the cusp of stardom called the group’s 20-year-old drummer into his office and fired him.
But this was no ordinary dismissal.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” the manager said, “but the boys want you out and it’s already been arranged that Ringo will start with the group this Saturday.”
Beatles manager Brian Epstein had fired a stunned Pete Best, who’d been playing with the band for two years as the four forged their signature sound and look in Hamburg. They had signed their first record contract earlier that year, and just weeks after Best was ousted, “Love Me Do” began to climb United Kingdom charts.
“The golden apple was within my grasp and it was taken away from me,” Best told the AARP Bulletin in a phone interview from the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool. “The severity of the situation once I got back home again brought me to tears.”
Best, now a 68-year-old grandfather, was never told why he was fired and has never spoken to any of the Beatles since. Having survived depression and a suicide attempt, he is now a contented family man who tours the world with his own group, the Pete Best Band.
His story began in India, where he was born to an Indian medical student and a British Army captain from Liverpool. They returned to Liverpool aboard a troop ship on Christmas Eve 1945, when Best was 4.
By the time he was a teenager, his family had moved into a rambling 15-room Victorian house, largely financed by his mother Mona’s long-shot bet on a racehorse named Never Say Die at 33-to-1 odds. Inspired by a television program about a coffeehouse in London that attracted new musical talent, Mo, as she was known, opened a coffee club in the family’s basement.
“She opened up the Casbah Coffee Club the 29th of August, 1959, and the funny thing was the band which opened it, the Quarrymen, went on to become the Beatles,” Best said.
After playing at the Casbah for a couple of months, the Quarrymen changed their name to the Silver Beatles and began searching for a new drummer—two had already left the band—before their upcoming tour in Hamburg. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who had seen Best play at the Casbah with his band, the Blackjacks, recruited him.
Working long hours in an unfamiliar country turned the group, which had shortened its name to just the Beatles, from a mediocre rock ’n’ roll band into a great one, Best said. Returning to Liverpool, the band’s first performance was back at the Casbah before a skeptical crowd that had known them when they were just starting out. But the crowd was stunned by the band’s new sound.