One of the all-time cruelest moments in a cruel business occurred Aug. 16, 1962, when Beatles manager Brian Epstein – with motives still subject to debate – booted original drummer Pete Best from a band that was soon to be a global phenomenon.
By now, however, Best has had plenty of time to ponder the sacking that made Ringo Starr a household name, and he seems content with the results. Consider that two former bandmates passed away prematurely and the third, though fabulously wealthy and still loved by fans, just went through a nasty divorce.
“I’ve got a wife of 40 years, two beautiful daughters and four lovely grandchildren,” Best says by phone from his native Liverpool. “I think I’m the lucky one.”
But can he still rock? Judge for yourself Wednesday, May 21, when the Pete Best Band plays Radio Radio. Opening the show will be another Liverpudlian, Radio Radio owner David “Tufty” Clough with house band Bigger than Elvis.
Best’s five-piece group, which includes younger brother Roag as second drummer, plays early Beatles material and the American rock ‘n’ roll that inspired it. It’s essentially the setlist from 1960-62, when Best kept time as the leather-clad Beatles bounced between their hometown and the bar-band boot camp of Hamburg, Germany.
Needless to say, growing up in one of Europe’s biggest entertainment and red-light districts was an eye-opening experience, Best says: “You know, 24-hour boozin’, 24-hour girls. We were healthy young men, and we enjoyed ourselves.”
More importantly in musical terms, the rigors of playing seven hours a night, seven days a week in Hamburg gave Liverpool bands the intensity that, upon their return, fueled the British Invasion.
“There was a savageness and a rawness,” Best says. “You’ve got all this proactive energy – right? – condensed and thrown into one hour of performing.”
After being tossed from the band, Best stuck with music for a few years before starting a family and a 20-year career in civil service. Around his retirement in 1988, he was talked into playing a one-off show for family and friends that led to a renewed music career and a sideline making public appearances. After the Indianapolis gig, for example, he and the band will proceed to Louisville to headline Abbey Road on the River, a five-day Beatles tribute festival. Due this fall is an album, Hayman’s Green, which chronicles Best’s life and the years his mother ran the Casbah Club, Liverpool’s trendy teen mecca, in the family basement.
Amazingly, none of the Beatles ever contacted Best after they parted ways, he says. But vindication finally came in 1995, when Apple Records released the three-part Anthology collection and included 10 songs with Best on drums. He was honored to be represented and shocked to learn he would collect royalties, which according to some estimates have totaled 4 million pounds.
“It provided security for my family and my grandchildren for years to come,” he says. “I’d like to think that was a little bit of a ‘Thank you for services rendered for the two years of hard time you did in the trenches.’ That’s my inner satisfaction.”
So why does he really think he was kicked out of the Beatles? He insists his drum skills were never in question.
“Hence, you get what I now call conspiracy theories: hairstyle, wouldn’t talk, antisocial, Brian Epstein fancied me, you could go on and on and on,” he says. “I stopped trying to solve that question many, many years ago. Maybe that’s why I’ve still got a sense of humor.”