Pete Best

(cont.)
   

The Pete Best Combo (note Pete’s hairstyle!) courtesy Tony WaddingtonLee Curtis signed with Decca, but recorded without the band. Decca then offered the group a separate deal. Pete said: “Decca suggested we push my name, so we became the Pete Best Four.” Ironically, Mike Smith, who had recorded the Beatles’ original audition for Decca, produced their debut record.

The single, ‘I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door’ was released in June 1964, but it didn’t register and Decca dropped the band.

On Monday 30 March 1964 Pete appeared as a guest on the American TV show, ‘I’ve Got A Secret.

Pete was to say, “Magazines, both in Britain and across the Atlantic, have been printing far-fetched stories that I had quit the Beatles because of illness and that Ringo was called in only because I was too sick to play.”

In fact, this sort of falsification of the facts came to a head when a Beatles’ interview in Playboy magazine in February 1963 had a quote from John saying: “Ringo used to fill in sometimes if our drummer was ill, with his periodic illness.” Ringo commented, “He took little pills to make him ill.” Pete sued and a few years later an out-of-court settlement was eventually reached.

To counter the accusations that he was always taking time off due to illness, Pete confirmed that during the entire two years he was with the group, he was only off on two occasions and had given the group an advance warning. Other members of the group had spent as much time away from the band with illnesses. 

Pete and his wife Kathy were living in Haymans Green, but one night when Kathy was visiting his mother, Pete became terribly depressed and attempted to gas himself. His brother Rory smelled the gas, battered down the door and, together with Mo, spent several hours reviving him.

Mo became manager of the group and they appeared in Hamburg and recorded with Joe Meek - although the Meek recordings were never released.

They were offered the opportunity of recording in America by an independent A&R man, Bob Gallo. By this time, Tommy McGurk had replaced Bowen, but McGurk left before their American trip. The band added two sax players – Trevor and Bill – and, as a quintet known as the Pete Best Combo, they flew to the States, along with the Undertakers.

The Pete Best Combo appeared on television, toured Canada with Roy Orbison and cut almost 40 numbers in the recording studios. The American producers attempted to capitalize on the Beatles association and some of the releases included ‘Best Of the Beatles’, ‘The Beatle That Time Forgot and ‘My Three Years (sic) As A Beatle’.

Tony Waddington revealed to Record Collector magazine:

“In the summer of 1965, we were due to audition for the Monkees TV show – Pete Best could have been a Monkee! We’d been told what sort of show it was going to be and what it was all about, and we were going to fly out to Hollywood. By then, we’d split with the Gallo camp and we had a manager called Chick Petri, who was wealthy and influential.”

However, it wasn’t to be. They had been in America so long that they either had to return to England and re-apply for a work permit, or become American citizens. If they became citizens, they would be eligible to be drafted for Vietnam, although it seemed an unlikely prospect. They returned home in July 1966 to appear at the Cavern and disbanded soon after that. By 1969, Pete had left the world of music and settled down to become a civil servant for the employment service in Liverpool.

CD cover for ‘Once A Beatle, Always…’In 1978, Dick Clark invited him to appear on a television reunion with various other veteran musicians. Then Clark invited him to be the technical advisor on a TV movie called ‘The Birth of the Beatles’, although the producers reportedly ignored the advice of Pete and other Mersey veterans, such as Bob Wooler.

In 1985 his autobiography, written in collaboration with Pat Doncaster, was published. In 1990, together with Billy Kinsley, a former member of the Mersey Beats, he recorded a Rick Wakeman song, ‘Heaven’. He also formed a new band and recorded a live album of their appearance at the Beatles convention in Liverpool in 1991. Pete’s younger brother Roag also plays drums with the band.

Pete was then invited to tour cities throughout Japan and became a guest at several international Beatles conventions. He took early retirement in 1994 and resumed his musical career with his outfit, the Pete Best Band. His CD of rock ‘n’ roll favourites from the early Beatles repertoire, released in 1993, was called ‘Back To The Beat’ and the same year, he set out on a year-long world tour of 20 countries, which included Britain, America, Belgium, South Africa, Russia and Dubai.

Pete then received an unexpected piece of good fortune when it was revealed that the Beatles new ‘Anthology’ double CD, set for release in November, would contain several tracks on which Pete made an appearance. These included the Bert Kaempfert Hamburg recordings, tracks from the Decca audition and the initial Parlophone audition recordings. His reward, reputedly, was for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.


Editor’s Notes: It was John Lennon who said “Our best work was never recorded, you know. We were performing in Liverpool, Hamburg and around the dance halls, and what we generated was fantastic.” So, in John’s words, their best work took place when Pete Best was a member. It’s interesting to note that in the two years Pete was with them, they did their most intensive work with several hours a night during their Hamburg stints and lunchtime, evening and all night sessions in Liverpool, often with more than one gig a night – totting up the hours, it would probably result in the discovery that Pete actually performed more hours on stage with the Beatles than Ringo did.

It’s also interesting to note that Paul McCartney finally admitted in his ‘Wingspan’ documentary, that their sacking of Pete had nothing to do with his ability as a drummer.

After more than twenty years in the civil service, Pete reformed his own band and has been playing ever since. In 2005 the television documentary ‘Best of the Beatles’ made its debut and was also available on DVD.

There have been a number of books about Pete published so far. The first was ‘Beatle!’ a collaboration by Pete and the late journalist Pat Doncaster, published by Plexus in 1985, Spencer Leigh penned ‘Drummed Out! The Sacking of Pete Best’, published by Northdown Publishing in 1998, ‘The Best Years of the Beatles’, which I wrote with Pete was published by Headline in 1998 and ‘The Beatles: The True Beginnings’ by Roag, Pete and Rory Best was published by Spine in 2002. Another book on Pete and his family is due to be published shortly.

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