Pete Best

In April 1961 The Beatles returned to Hamburg. There they were recruited to perform as Tony Sheridan's backing band on a series of recordings for Polydor, and signed a contract with bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Among the songs recorded was My Bonnie, which was released as a single in October 1961 under the name Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers.

Best was a close friend of Neil Aspinall. After leaving school, where he knew Harrison and McCartney, Aspinall moved into Mona Best's house. Pete suggested to the group that Aspinall be hired as The Beatles' driver, at a rate of £7 a week. Aspinall was also in a relationship with Mona Best; their son Vincent 'Roag' Best was born on 21 July 1962.

After Brian Epstein became The Beatles' manager in early 1962, he arranged for them to audition for George Martin at EMI Studios in Abbey Road, London. At the end of the session, which took place on 6 June 1962, Martin listened to the four songs recorded. He decided that the group were likeable but Best's drumming was substandard.

George Martin was used to drummers being very 'in time', because all the big-band session drummers he used had a great sense of time. Now, our Liverpool drummers had a sense of spirit, emotion, economy even, but not a deadly sense of time. This would bother producers making a record. George took us to one side and said, 'I'm really unhappy with the drummer. Would you consider changing him?' We said, 'No, we can't!' It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. But our career was on the line. Maybe they were going to cancel our contract.

It was a big issue at the time, how we 'dumped' Pete. And I do feel sorry for him, because of what he could have been on to; but as far as we were concerned, it was strictly a professional decision. If he wasn't up to the mark - slightly in our eyes, and definitely in the producer's eyes - then there was no choice. But it was still very difficult. It is one of the most difficult things we ever had to do.

Paul McCartney

On 24 June 1962 Mona Best closed the Casbah Coffee Club; The Beatles were the last group to perform there. The venue was later reopened as a tourist attraction.

This myth built up over the years that he was great and Paul was jealous of him because he was pretty and all that crap. They didn't get on that much together, but it was partly because Pete was a bit slow. He was a harmless guy, but he was not quick. All of us had quick minds but he never picked that up.
John Lennon, 1974

The Beatles with Pete Best, 1962

Epstein and The Beatles didn't tell Pete Best about George Martin's offer of a Parlophone contract in July. For his part, Martin later claimed the decision to exclude Best wasn't his.

I never suggested that Pete Best must go. All I said was that for the purposes of the Beatles' first record I would rather use a session man. I never thought that Brian Epstein would let him go. He seemed to be the most saleable commodity as far as looks went. It was a surprise when I learned that they had dropped Pete. The drums were important to me for a record, but they didn't matter much otherwise. Fans don't pay particular attention to the quality of the drumming.
George Martin

On 15 August 1962 Best received a call at his home from Brian Epstein.

He said he wanted to see me [in his Whitechapel office] tomorrow morning at 11.30. That was nothing unusual. He'd often ask me things about halls or bookings that I knew from the time when I'd been handling the dates.

I went bouncing into Brian's office. As soon as I saw him, I could tell there was something up. He said: 'The boys want you out of the group. They don't think you're a good enough drummer.' I said, 'It's taken them two years to find out I'm not a good enough drummer.' While I was standing there, the phone rang on Brian's desk. It was Paul, asking if I'd been told yet. Brian said, 'I can't talk now, Peter's here with me in the office.'

I went outside and told Neil. He said, 'Right then, that's it. I'm out as well.' Brian followed me and asked me if I'd still play the dates in Chester as they wouldn't be able to get a replacement drummer in time. I said OK, I would. We went outside, and Neil went straight away to ring home and tell Mo about it. I just went off and had a few pints - numb, I'd been cut and dried and hung out on the line.

Pete Best
Shout!, Philip Norman

Neil Aspinall was furious at the news and threatened to stop working with The Beatles, but Best persuaded him to stay on. He did, however, end his relationship with Mona shortly afterwards.

Neil Aspinall was really friendly with Pete Best and his family and so for a while he wouldn't set my kit up. This lasted for a few weeks, but he got over it. He was all we had; he was driving the van, setting up the gear and everything, and he was a little miffed.
Ringo Starr

23 responses on “Pete Best

  1. André

    Wow! If there ever was a person with a solid desire to commit suicide. Pete Best has got to have one helluva strong character to have forged on after being left out of the Beatles at the moment they were hitting the big time! My props to him for sure!

  2. FrankDialogue

    Yes, Pete Best got raw deal, uet he endured and kept playing, eventually becoming a multi-millionaire after ‘Anthology’.

    Thank Neil Aspinall for this.

    Ringo was better drummer and final piece for Beatles.

  3. Kirk

    I recently began wondering whether the sacking of PB had more to do with the complicated implications of Neil Aspinall impregnating Mona Best in December 1961 (Vincent Best b. August 1962), instead of the often cited reasons like drumming, more attractive, more aloof. As the crucial ramping up period (Jan/62-Sept/62) with Brian Epstein and marketing became more critical….might the boys have considered the Mona-Neil situation problematic to their success?

    1. walrusgumboot

      Have a listen to Pete’s hamfisted performance on Love Me Do-Anthology 1. There’s your answer. If Pete didn’t get sacked….imagine a world without Rubber Soul or Revolver or….Ringo forever!!!

  4. Bill

    Probably/possibly inadvertently, John himself gave Pete a high compliment when he said in a post-break-up interview, “Our best work was never recorded”, referring to the pre-fame 1960-62 days & the excitement that the group generated on-stage in Hamburg & Liverpool. Who was involved in making this “best work”? Pete, that’s who. Even though this work was never recorded for posterity, it was still consider to be their best by the founder of the group. If I were Pete, I would take that as a compliment.
    I think it’s unfair to compare Pete & Ringo by recordings alone. For professional recordings with Pete, what do we really have?:
    1. The Hamburg Recordings – even though they were used mostly as sidemen, the recordings were still good enough to be released to the public at the time.
    2. The Decca Audition – By all accounts, everyone was nervous that day, and it shows. A very pale representation of what the group was capable of at the time. An audition, not a true recording session.
    3. The June ’62 EMI Recordings – More nerves. Paul himself admits to having the “screaming heebie-jeebies” when George Martin changed the vocal structure for “Love Me Do”. Accounts still vary as to whether this was an audition, an artist test, or a proper recording session.
    By contrast, we have dozens of recordings with Ringo for reference. Kind of lopsided. I think the Liverpool fans & musicians of the time who were there are really the most qualified to judge…

  5. Bill

    Another thought – Just exactly how long had they been performing/rehearsing “Love Me Do” before they tried it out at EMI? By all accounts, this was a very early pre-Beatles song. Maybe they had just pulled it out of mothballs & Pete wasn’t that familiar with it yet. Just a thought…

  6. Richard Lyman

    No, the arrangement was different for LOVE ME DO in June than it was in September. According to witnesses or the assistant producer and Pete Best, they were not happy with the arrangement of LOVE ME DO. During the June 5 recording session, the Beatles were trying to do the song in a similar style to a current hit at the time by Bruce Channel, HEY BABY. If you listen to HEY BABY, and then listen to the June 62 version of LOVE ME DO, you can hear what they were attempting. They were told to change that arrangement. Over the next three month they changed the arrangement of the song. (All the while searching for a new drummer by their present drummers back). If you were to walk into the Cavern in early August of 62, you would have heard THE BEATLES performing LOVE ME DO (Then an unreleased song) with Pete Best on drums, playing the same arrangement of the song that would be recorded on Sept 4th and 11th. You will notice that Martin did not find out that Pete had been fired until they walked in the door for that Sept 4th session- London’s a long way from Liverpool and the Beatles were still a club band without a record. There was no session drummer on that day, so Pete would have played on LOVE ME DO again. Also, Martin didn’t like any drummers that played in the clubs, few British producers did, and didn’t like Ringo either. Hence the sessions drummer for the 11th.

  7. Ringo Best fan

    It’s not only Pete Best that sounds bad on the June recording session, it sounds like a missed opportunity for the band. But unlike the others he didn’t get a second chance to practice and improve three months later.

    I think Pete Best is pretty good on the Tony Sheridan recordings, and his playing on the Decca audition tapes aren’t better or worse than the others, and those recordings aren’t much better or worse than the Sheridan recordings almost a year earlier. I think it reveals that The Beatles really started to develop from the released September version of “Love Me Do”, I guess Pete Best never got the chance to go from amateur to professional, which seems to make a big difference for the band and made them start to develop faster in a matter weeks than they had from the early days of The Quarrymen to “Love Me Do”.

  8. Bill

    Just a few additions to my earlier post: On the Hamburg recordings, the drums are very much in the background, none of this “Mersey Beat”/Hamburg 4-in-the-bar stomp that we’ve all heard about. From what I understand (correct me if I’m wrong on this), Pete wasn’t allowed to use his full kit during the sessions, which would dilute the power of the songs considerably (On a side note, I’ve heard the Bernard Purdie overdubs & they don’t seem to add much, except maybe a little brightness).

    Yes, arrangements play a factor in this also. Compare the 1/62 version of “Besame Mucho” (with Pete) to the live Star-Club version (with Ringo) from 12/62. Very similar. Yet the 6/62 EMI version is a much more low-key arrangement with no background vocals. Whose doing was this? Interesting how both “Besame Mucho” and “Love Me Do” were re-arranged for this 1st EMI session. Subconscoious sabotage, maybe?? Who knows?

    The Beatles have had a history of drummer woes, going back to the very beginning. John & Paul had been together since ’57, John, Paul & George had been together since ’58, & those 3 had a solid 2 years to get tight with each other before Pete came along in ’60. Age also plays a factor. Paul & George were both younger than John & followed his lead & looked up to him. Pete was older than both Paul & George, didnt feel the need to follow & did his own thing, which the other 3 should’ve respected since that’s what The Beatles were supposedly all about in the first place. Although Pete says that he was closer to John than he was to either Paul or George. John looked up to no one, except possibly Stu, but Stu was out of the equation by mid-’61 anyway.

    Even though Ringo was closer to the other 3 than Pete ever was, this problem still cropped up later when he walked out in ’68 during the White Album sessions. The other 3 carried on without him, that’s why there’s finished tracks on that album where Ringo is not the drummer. Contrast that to what happened 6 months or so later when George walked out of the Get Bacl/Let It Be sessions. Everything basically ground to a halt or drifted aimlessly until the situation could be resolved. Ringo himself said that he felt like an outsider (at least that’s the party line anyway). Being drummer-less for so long in the beginning created a bond between the other 3 that no one could ever completely breach.

  9. Bill

    Thinking about how Pete was in between John, Paul & George age-wise… Maybe within the group’s mindset, he was kind of like the overlooked “middle child”…

  10. Bill

    For what it’s worth (even though the sound quality is lousy), I think that the early BBC recordings with Pete give a better representation of his drumming than the studio recordings do, although you have to pay attention.

  11. Leo

    If you have been in a band yourself you know that there a two things that count:
    How well do you play and how do you get along with the rest of the band. Pete didn’t play too well and he didn’t get along too well with the other three / four.
    So it was time for a new drummer! (And George Martin gave them the final push to do this).

  12. David Lavallee

    All music played in the early 60’s was simple three chord songs. Guitar work as well as drum work was not that complicated. George Martin did not want The Beatles to get rid of Pete Best. When The Beatles did get rid of Pete, Ringo was playing the drums for the EMI recording of Love Me Do. George Martin was not pleased with Ringo’s drumming either and that’s when he brought in Andy White to play drums.

    The Beatles improved as time went on and the same would have been with Pete Best. Early music was catchy and simple and only became more complicated as members matured and learned that there were more then three cord songs to be made.

  13. Joseph Brush

    As someone who lived through the early 60’s, I can tell you for a fact that not “all music played in the early 60’s was simple three chord songs” as you have stated.
    The following songs have more than three chords (listed with respective recording artists) are an example: Do You Wanna Dance ( Bobby Freeman), Runaround Sue ( Dion), Runaway ( Del Shannon), Take Good Care Of My Baby ( Bobby Vee), Stand By Me ( Ben E. King), Town Without Pity ( Gene Pitney), Sea Of Heartbreak (Don Gibson), and Teenage Idol ( Ricky Nelson).

  14. Lukey Boy

    I didn’t know about the suicide attempt. It must be horrible when the band that kicked you out are always on the radio, the TV and the papers, selling shedloads of records, playing sellout concerts… I don’t know if I feel sorry for him, as he clearly didn’t make the grade as a drummer, and is far richer than I’ll ever be, but it must have been a really tough time.

  15. NEIL

    Justice was served when he made a substantial amount of money from Anthology, although he had to wait a long time for it. He had the last laugh after being known as the world’s biggest loser for over 30 years. It would be to his credit if he admitted that Ringo was a better fit in the Beatles than him, even if he doesn’t want to concede that Ringo was a superior drummer.

  16. guitarman

    Whilst I sympathise with Pete, he is clearly a man in denial. How else do you deal with the fact that you were in a band which changed the world for two years, only to be sacked on the eve of their breakthrough? Having read Mark Lewisohn’s book however, it’s clear that, whilst he played drums for the Beatles, he was never a full member of the band. Pete did his own thing – he went off on his own after the gigs, he didn’t share the others’ sense of humour and he didn’t hang out with them. If he’d been a great drummer, this might not have mattered so much but he had poor timing, tended to play the same pattern for every song and didn’t seem interested in improving. He was ok for the clubs but once in a recording studio his deficiencies were nakedly apparent. He had several opportunities to address this but didn’t. Sorry Pete, but you’ve only yourself to blame. Enjoy the money you made from Anthology and accept reality.

  17. Ed

    If one listens to the various attempts at Love Me Do with Mr Best , Starr , and White (ref You Tube) , it appears to me that Mr Best was playing a very early incarnation of the song.
    As a musician , and most would agree , songs take “time” to develop , the recording engineers were reported as being very picky over drum tracks , and mainly used “session” drummers because “time was money”, a session drummer having the ability to “lay it down” without too much fuss.
    History shows that Ringo was not used on some early recordings , therefore the reason for Mr Best sacking could not have been fundamentally a drumming issue(?)

  18. Ed

    If one studies the recording of Love Me Do (see You Tube) , it is quite apparent that several drummers were used to attempt the recording.
    Studios in the early 1960s used mainly session drummers , probably more economical as “time was money” , and the tracks could could be laid down very quickly.
    Mr Best was set aside , as was Mr Starr because that was label policy , all that was required was a commercial product , readied quickly for distribution.
    The reasons for Mr Bests sacking are numerous , but i feel that the drumming ability was not the main issue by 1962.

  19. guitarman

    Having read the Extended Edition of Mark Lewisohn’s book, I don’t think that Ringo was set aside because of label policy. George Martin had already booked Andy White to play on the 4 September session. He had heard Pete’s drumming and decided that he wasn’t good enough to record. Consider also that George was ‘told’ to record the Beatles. In the meantime, the Beatles sacked Pete because, if they’d kept him, they would have been forced to use session drummers. There was a question mark over whether Pete would have been able to produce what they wanted in a ‘live’ situation. I would agree that drumming ability was not the main issue but it was one of a number of issues that made the other three Beatles’ minds up.

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