Pete Best

The Beatles' original drummer, Peter Randolph Best was born on 24 November 1941, in Madras, India, and grew up in Liverpool.

Pete BestHis father, John Best, came from a family of Liverpool sports promoters. His mother Mona was born in Delhi, and was the daughter of a British army officer. Both Peter and his younger brother Rory were born in India. In 1945 the family travelled by boat to Liverpool, arriving on 25 December.

Mona Best opened a coffee club in the cellar of their home in Hayman's Green in the West Derby area of Liverpool. The venue became popular, and hosted some of The Quarrymen's first performances. Best played drums there with his first band, The Black Jacks.

It was there at a gig in a club in Hayman's Green in West Derby that I heard about another club being built at number eight Hayman's Green. I was taken down there and I looked into the cellar that was to become the Casbah. That's when I first met Pete Best. It was some months later that I remembered Pete and the fact that he had his own drum kit, and got him to join us so we could go to Hamburg.
George Harrison

At the time coffee bars were important meeting places for young people. Mona Best sold coffee, soft drinks and sweets behind a small counter. The Quarrymen helped decorate the Casbah in time for its opening night, at which they performed. They painted the walls with pictures of spiders, dragons, rainbows, stars and a beetle. John Lennon, being short sighted and working without his glasses, mistook gloss for emulsion paint, which was barely dry by the time the club opened.

Pete Best's mother Mona - a very nice woman, an Anglo-Indian - ran the Casbah in a part of Liverpool, West Derby. We'd started to go round there and we'd ended up painting the place.

It was great to be involved in the birth of a coffee bar - they were such important places then. The concrete and wood in the basement had been stripped and we painted each part a different colour. All of us lent a hand - John and George and all the others. And after we'd painted it up, it was our club - The Beatles used to play there. Pete had a drum kit so he would sometimes sit in with us. He was a good drummer, and when Hamburg came up he joined us. He was a very good-looking guy, and out of all the people in our group, the girls used to go for Pete.

Paul McCartney

Pete Best's group The Black Jacks split in 1960. He joined The Beatles on 12 August 1960, the day before their first trip to Hamburg, at the invitation of Paul McCartney.

The Beatles with Pete Best

At the time Best, who had performed well at school, had the chance to go to teacher training college, but decided that performing in Hamburg would be a better option. He was auditioned at the Jacaranda club - owned by Allan Williams, The Beatles' first manager - although the group had been unable to find other drummers willing to travel to Germany.

The group first played at the Indra club before moving to the Kaiserkeller, and at nights slept in the Bambi Kino cinema. As the only member to have passed his O level German, Best was able to communicate better with the club owner Bruno Koschmider.

Lennon, McCartney and Harrison soon learnt to take Preludin pills to stay awake during the long Hamburg nights. Best, however, declined to join in. His quiet personality and aloofness from the rest of the group meant he tended not to participate in their banter, and he was the only member not to get what would later be known as a Beatle haircut.

I used to get on Pete's case a bit. He'd often stay out all night. He got to know a stripper and they were boyfriend and girlfriend. She didn't finish work until four in the morning, so he'd stay up with her and roll back at about ten in the morning and be going to bed when we were starting work. I think that had something to do with a rift starting.
Paul McCartney

In October 1960 The Beatles moved to the Top Ten Club, run by Peter Eckhorn. In doing so they broke their contract with Koschmider. Upon returning to the Bambi Kino to gather their belongings, Best and McCartney attached a condom to a concrete wall and set fire to it. Koschmider reported them for attempted arson, which led to the pair spending three hours in a Hamburg jail before being deported.

Best and his mother managed to recover the group's equipment after numerous phone calls after the return to Liverpool. After some weeks The Beatles began to perform once again. One song from this period was Pinwheel Twist, written by McCartney and sung by Pete Best.

Paul wrote the song and asked me to do it. He coupled it with Joey Dee's hit The Peppermint Twist. I used to get up and do the twist on stage and Paul played my drums. It was a little novelty act and it went down well with the fans.
Pete Best

Of the members of The Beatles, Pete Best was the most popular with the girls in their audiences. Other songs said to have been sung by him during this time are Boys, Matchbox and Wild In The Country. Despite the attention and popularity, however, Best felt uncomfortable being centre stage.

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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