This week’s column continues The Beatles theme of last week, which celebrated the Fab Four’s long-awaited arrival to iTunes.

With lots of local Beatles-themed events hoppin’ — and given that this is the 50th anniversary of The Quarrymen changing their name to The Beatles and making their all-important first tour of Hamburg, Germany — I thought it was appropriate to focus on the person who provided the beat for those formative years: Pete Best.

As even cursory Beatles fans know, Best was unceremoniously replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962 just as the band was getting ready to record its debut single for Parlophone Records, “Love Me Do.” He formed his own band, made a few records that received little to no attention, and then gave up drumming in 1968 for a career in the British civil service.

I interviewed Best in March 2001, by which time he had picked up the drumsticks again and was touring with The Pete Best Band. He was extremely polite and soft-spoken, and talked fondly about his days with The Beatles, especially his friendship with John Lennon. And when it came to the inevitable question — how did you feel about being fired — he was very forthcoming, insisting he wasn’t bitter.

Well, maybe he was just a little. Read these excerpts and judge for yourself: 

Did you see your dismissal from the band coming at all, or did it completely blindside you?

There were no signs of a dismissal coming whatsoever. It came totally out of the blue. We’d played the Cavern the night before, and after the show, Brian (Epstein, The Beatles’ manager) said, “Pete, can you pop into the office tomorrow, I want to discuss a few matters.” That was quite normal, because until Brian came along, I’d been handling all the bookings, so myself and Brian used to put our heads together, and he’d ask, “How much should I ask for this show, Pete?” and “Do you think I should speak to this guy, what do you think I should say?” So I just thought it was going to be one of our usual discussions.

I went in, Brian seemed very edgy and sort of made chit-chat for about five minutes, about nothing, really. And then he said, “Peter, I don’t know how to tell you, so I’ll just tell you — the boys want you out, they want Ringo in, and he’s starting with the band on Saturday.”

It was an absolute bombshell. It was like your world falling away, you know? And I said to Brian, “Why? What was the reason?” He said, “The boys just want Ringo in, Pete.” So then he asked me, would I do the last few gigs leading up to Saturday, and said he was starting up another group for me. He wanted me to join them and shape them into another Beatles. But at that point, my world was rocked to the core, and I just went home. I couldn’t believe it. 

Was there a lot of anger?

I wouldn’t say anger. Just shock. Very upset. Before I went home, I went with Neil (Aspinall, the band’s road manager) to what was The Beatles’ watering hole in town, The Grapes. I just broke down crying in The Grapes. I just couldn’t believe it had been done to me. To this day, no real reason’s been given. There’s a permutation of reasons, but none of them have really stood up. 

John and Paul (McCartney) always said it was because you had poor timing, and that (producer) George Martin wanted to use a session drummer in the studio.

(Voice rising): It doesn’t hold water. At that time, in Liverpool, I was one of the best drummers in the city. If you ask anyone — anyone — in Liverpool who saw The Beatles and knew the scene, they’d back up what I said. It sent shockwaves through Liverpool.

Nearly every group in Liverpool, within a week of my dismissal from The Beatles, asked me to join them. If you’re not cutting it, why does Brian ask you to shape another band into The Beatles, which happened to be The Merseybeats, who went on to have success in their own right? When you have other people in Liverpool who are asking you to join them — it just didn’t make any sense.

What people tend to forget is that a session player wasn’t brought in to replace my session, a session drummer was brought in to replace Ringo’s session. That’s been twisted over the years as well. 

Did you ever just scream, “SONOFA—–!?”

Well, none of us realized the band was going to be as big as that. Yeah, of course, at some points in my life, I did think, “That could have been me.” But I’ve never been bitter about it. My family always has a saying that everything happens for a reason, and it always turns out for the best. So it just wasn’t a road I was meant to travel with the band. 

How would you describe John, Paul and George (Harrison)?

Myself and John were the closest of the band. Band members tend to buddy up. The private side of John was very sweet. He was kind-hearted. You know, the public side of John was basically a hard exterior and quite sarcastic, which is basically what the world knows today. But he was a fantastic musician. Paul, as he is today, was very much the PR man. Again, a great musician. George was the baby of the band. George was quiet, always working away to improve his lead guitar. Even Stu (Sutcliffe, The Beatles’ first bassist), when he was alive, he gave it his all, and was a very talented artist. They all had definite plus points to them, you know? 

When you look at the whole thing now, do you think things worked out for the best?

Yeah, I do, I do. I mean, I’m very lucky to be able to call myself an ex-Beatle. There’s only six of us that could have ever done that — John, Paul, George, Stu, myself and Ringo. It was a great time in my life. But I’ve got a great family, great memories. I’ve done other things. So generally speaking, I’m happy with my lot. 

Pete Best still records and tours regularly. For tour dates and other info, visit www.petebest.com.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

[email protected]