En español | 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.
“That particular performance we’ve always said was the start of Beatlemania,” Best said.
When Epstein became the band’s manager in late 1961, he changed their look from black leather to suits, and banned all smoking and drinking onstage. “Ditching the leather was, in his view, the next step in making us more acceptable,” Best recalled in The Beatles: The True Beginnings, his 2003 memoir. “Neither John or I was happy about it.”
During a spring 1962 tour of Hamburg, the band got the news they’d been waiting for: They had a recording contract with EMI. At the EMI Studios on Abbey Road in London that June they recorded four audition numbers, including “Love Me Do.”
But Best would not be around to share in any of the Beatles’ future success, and he was not on the “Love Me Do” version that was released. He was fired that August, without explanation. There was no shortage of theories propounded by fans, other bands and music insiders about why, from his drumming not being good enough to his antisocial attitude and hairstyle.
Best and others’ speculation focused on jealousy. Perhaps Best was getting too much attention from women in the audiences? “One night Paul would get more screams, one night I’d get more screams. That’s show business. That’s rock ’n’ roll,” Best said laughing.
Best said he still doesn’t know the reason. The only person who knows the reason why is McCartney, said Best, but they have never spoken about it.
In the mid-1960s, Best hit a low point, even though things were going well and he was playing with another band. “I got a stupid idea in my head that I was going to commit suicide,” he said. “Don’t ask me why. I’m fortunate that I survived.” He was stopped from inhaling gas from a stove by his mother and younger brother, who persuaded him that he had everything to live for, including a new recording contract and his family, which at that point included a wife and daughter.
By 1968, he said, he had decided that he owed it to his family to provide a secure future for them and left the music business for work in a bakery, followed by a civil service job.
For years people asked Best to return to the stage and perform in public, if only once. In 1988, his mother persuaded him to play for a Beatles convention in Liverpool.
The Pete Best Band, currently consisting of Pete and brother Roag Best, Phil Melia, Paul Parry and Tony Flynn, has been touring ever since, usually making trips to the United States every year. Best will next be seen in a solo performance, which will include a “no holds barred” question-and-answer session with the audience, at the two-day Abbey Road on the River Festival in Washington, D.C., Sept. 4 and 5.
Having never been included in any of the Beatles’ later projects, he was surprised to be approached about using early recordings and photos for The Beatles Anthology, a DVD set released in 1995. For the first time, he earned royalties for his work with the Beatles, and is now financially comfortable. “I think the fact that they put me on 10 tracks as opposed to one track was a little bit of a payback from them,” Best said. “OK, let’s tell the world how important Pete was to us during those formative years.”
He and his wife, Kathy, have been married 49 years and have two daughters, Beba and Bonita, and four grandchildren, whom he “totally idolizes and spoils,” he said. Best describes himself as a family man who is always happy to come back home to Liverpool at the end of a tour.
“I’m a survivor,” Best said. “I enjoy the fact I’m a survivor and I enjoy every day twice as much as the day before.”
Kitty Bennett is a news researcher and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.