Nobody in history has ever got a call from Paul McCartney asking him to join his group as a drummer. But then, no body ever got removed from The Beatles for unknown reasons just when the group was on the cusp of creating history.
Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer, has been there and done that. Born in India, the English lad was one of the founding members of what became a band that was called bigger than Jesus Christ when he joined them in 1960. Two years later, he was unceremoniously asked to quit. In his first ever exclusive interview to an Indian news website, Pete recalls the best days of his life to Shashank Chouhan of Spicezee.com and sheds light on how the Fab Four were while on the way to the peak.
How did you become a Beatle?
I had known Paul for a year. He had played at my mothers club, the Casbah as The Quarrymen. He had also frequented the Casbah to watch me perform with my group The Blackjacks. He told me about this opportunity in Hamburg, Germany. It was an opportunity for us all to become professional musicians if I joined The Silver Beatles, as the group was then called. I was asked to join with about a week to go. I knew all the numbers they played. We were all very excited to be going. It was an adventure for us all.
I believe you were not given the complete picture by Paul McCartney about your place and money etc…?
It wasn’t Paul who didn’t give the complete picture, actually. Allan Williams (the first Beatles’ manager) had told the group how it was going to be. He told us we were playing at The Kaisserkeller Club and we weren’t. We did eventually, but to begin with we played at The Indra Club which of course is German for India.
Some say you didn’t quite belong to the group…didn’t even agree with the legendary mop cut.
Of course I belonged in the group. If I didn’t belong, I wouldn’t have been there. We pretty much hung out together…None of us did agree with the mop to begin with. Stuart was the first who experimented with it, then it was John and Paul and eventually George took to it as well. It happened over quite a long period of time. I tried it, but wasn’t keen on it.
What kind of star status did the Beatles enjoy and didn’t it put you guys off-focus?
We were the Kings of Liverpool and Hamburg. We had huge followings in both cities and just took it in our stride. Nothing put us off focus- the sex and drugs or the celeb culture. We knew what we wanted and where we wanted to go. We had a dream, you see.
And then, suddenly, you were asked to leave. What happened?
It was Brian Epstein (a later manager) who told me about the decision. We had just signed for the Parlophone label and started to record at the Abbey Road Studios. We did a gig at the Cavern Club the night before. He called me into his office the next day and told me the boys wanted me out and it had already been arranged for Ringo to join the group. I was shell shocked by this news. So were the fans. I was sad knowing that I would never share the fun that I had with them the night before. They never faced me to explain the decision. John later said, "We were cowards when we sacked him".
Some say that’s because you got too much attention from fans that the band members got envious and asked you to leave while some say the reason was you were not very experienced at that time…
Maybe it was the looks. If they were jealous, I wouldn’t know. It is nonsense to say my experience etc led to it. I was the No. 1 drummer in Liverpool. My drumming style was constantly talked about everywhere. In fact, the other drummers all tried to copy my style.
What did you think about Ringo Starr who replaced you?
Well, for everybody’s information, he wasn’t the first person they asked but he was the one who eventually agreed. Ringo was about okay as a drummer. Some say he filled in my place on some occasions in Hamburg but he didn’t.
You missed being part of eternal music history.
I am proud to have been a Beatle, is all I can say years later. My family pulled me through. The love of a good mother, a wonderful wife and my brothers did it for me. You’ve got to live for today and tomorrow.
Your contribution to the Beatles was not just giving them their early beat, your club called the Casbah gave them space to play when none would and it is said the Beatles were truly born there.
They started there as The Quarrymen. It was where the five original Beatles- John, Paul, George, Stuart and I - met for the first time. It is where we rehearsed as The Silver Beatles. It is where we first played in Liverpool as the Beatles. If it hadn’t been for the Casbah, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.
You were with them when songs like “P.S. I Love You," "Twist and Shout" and "Slow Down” came out. What was the process of these creative outputs?
We all had a decision in how the music would go, but John and Paul wrote the lyrics to begin with. George started later.
You have said you were closest to John Lennon. Tell us about how each Beatle was in person.
John was a dear friend. He gave off a hard sarcastic exterior, but in private he was a very sweet guy. Not many people saw the sweet side of John. Paul was, of course, always about public relations and how the group was perceived. George was the youngest. He was very quiet. He was always about practicing his guitar. Stuart was very artistic, very creative. We did very little rehearsing because we played all the time. If we were going to do a new song we’d just run it once or twice during the show. Eventually it would become tight, good.
What did you think you would do after the Beatles? What prompted you to take up the drums again?
At first I had no idea. I continued to play in different groups till 1968, but by then I had a family and I needed to concentrate on them so I went on and got myself a regular job.
Then in 1988, I was asked to do a one off show at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. I decided to do it for fun and then I was offered a tour and another tour and I was back playing and touring all over the world.
You were born in India.
I was born in Madras. I have wonderful childhood memories of the country: walking on the beaches, playing in the sand. India is beautiful. I have a special place in my heart for India. With regards to my mother, her stories of life in India and her adventures were endless. India helped shape my family. I couldn’t name any artists now, but I do enjoy Indian music.
What did you think about the Beatles sojourn to India and to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
Frankly, it didn’t surprise me. George was always talking to my mother about India. He loved her stories about India and her culture. So, I wasn’t surprised when the boys packed their bags to meet the Maharishi. If I had still been a member of the group, even I would have been there in a heart beat.