The received wisdom is that there are but two survivingBeatles:Paul McCartneyandRingo Starr. Absent from the celebration of the release of the Fab Four's remastered albums and the Beatles: Rock Band video game is original drummer Pete Best, the only other person on the planet who can rightfully call himself a Beatle.
With his moody good looks marking him as the heartthrob of the early Beatles, Best was behind the drum kit from 1960 till 1962, which is when he was unceremoniously and mysteriously fired from the band just as they were on the brink of their unprecedented stardom. But now, more than 45 years later, he's telling his side of the story via a method in which he communicates best: through music. Last year, Best and his group released the album 'Haymans Green,' named after his Liverpool neighborhood, whose songs chronicle the life and times of the man who supplied the "atom beat" for the Beatles.
Though Best commonly has been portrayed as sullen and introverted during his Beatle days, he couldn't have been more affable and forthcoming as he reminisced with Spinner,without a trace of bitterness,about his time in the group. He holds forth on how the 10 tracks he played on that were included in the Beatles 'Anthology' collection vindicates his skill as a drummer (and made him financially set for life), theorizes on exactly why he was kicked out of the Beatles by his bandmates, confirms the debauchery of the Beatles' early days in Hamburg, Germany, and recalls how he occasionally found humor in being the most famous fired person in the world.
What is it about Liverpool that has inspired so many great musicians, the Beatles being just one example?
It's something I think has always been there. If you're from Liverpool, you realize its musical heritage. Even before Merseybeat, it was always a hotbed for musicians, whether it was jazz, singers, big bands -- you name it, it emanated from Liverpool. It still does. Liverpool was an industrial town, a poor town. The people fought hard for what they wanted to achieve and there was a hunger there, and that hunger has remained with the musicians. Today, it's still a hotbed for music. I think it always will be.
When you were in the Beatles, you wanted to be successful,of course. Did you think there would be big things in store for the band?
I think we knew that there were big things in store. You could call it arrogance, self-confidence, big-headedness -- we knew because of what we had done at a very early age. We'd taken Hamburg by storm. We were basically unknown, a mediocre band, but on the first night of playing the opening show at the Casbah on Dec. 10, Liverpool was our oyster. We'd conquered it. The word was on the street: "You've got to see these guys, you've got to see the Beatles." We knew if we could get a recording contract and into the English charts, that would be the start of something big. To be totally realistic, no one at that stage thought we were gonna become the icons of the music industry as the world knows them today. We were concerned with getting a No. 1 record, and we were confident enough to say we could achieve that. What happened afterwards was a total different type of dream altogether.
Who was your closest friend in the band, and did you feel betrayed by him when you were sacked?
My closest mate wasJohn Lennon. I liked the sense he gave off, the way he carried himself, the way he wouldn't back down from anything. I thought, "There's a guy who has the same backbone as myself." In Hamburg, John and I spent many nights propping the bars up together. He used to reminisce about different things, girlfriends who had come to him and family life and all the other bits and pieces. I realized there was another side to him. There was the front people saw -- the caustic, aggressive person -- which was a self-defense mechanism. Behind the scenes, there was another side to John. He was a romantic, a family man, very tender, very loving. That, to me, made him the complete person. John said many years afterward, "Pete was my best mate and I feel as though I let him down." For a man to stand up and be brave enough to say that, that to me is like, "OK, mate. It didn't happen, but I appreciate what you said."
One reason given for the other Beatles getting rid of you is the quality of your drumming, but then the Beatles' 'Anthology' collection came out in 1995 with you playing on 10 tracks and people could judge for themselves. Do you feel vindicated as a musician?
Being on 'Anthology,' people had a bigger insight into what my drumming was about. From that point of view, I've always held my head up high and said, "Yes, it wasn't the drumming ability." There have been conspiracy theories -- the hairstyle, jealousy, antisocial, didn't speak enough, Brian [Epstein, the Beatles' manager] may have felt threatened -- it goes on and on. I've long passed that. It's fair to assume that being on 'Anthology' also has changed your financial situation quite a bit.
To be quite honest, I've held my hands out, clapped 'em and said, "Thank you very much." To actually be included on 'Anthology' came as a total surprise to me. And then when they actually turned around and said that we're gonna pay you for it, that was an even better thing. Yes, financially it gave me security for many, many years to come. It's provided security for my family. But the other side of things, which is important to me as well and I think this tends to get eclipsed because people always look at the financial side of things, is [the Beatles] could have put me on one track -- OK, I ended up on 10 tracks. It was a bit like, "Thanks, Pete, we're gonna show the public what you were about and how much you contributed to the formation of the Beatles in the early days."
Is it true that since the day you were kicked out of the Beatles,they haven't talked to you? Have you never heard from them?
You find that hard to believe, but it is true. I played three of four times on the same bill as them as the support band, so we'd be coming off and they were going onstage. There were things to be said but that wasn't the place to hear your differences, onstage, so there was no communication. We'd pass like ships in the night. Some people say, "Well, why the hell didn't you just pick up the phone?" and I've always said, "Well, have you ever tried to phone a Beatle? It just doesn't happen." You couldn't get to them.
You were out there playing and recording in your own band in the mid-'60s. Are you proud of the work you did after the Beatles?
Yeah! I'm being quite honest. Anyone who knows the history of the Pete Best Band or the Combo, we were on the verge of breaking in in America. In the mid-'60s, I had great songwriters, we wrote some great stuff. We were that close to actually cutting it in America, as I've said, we got involved in the musicians union wrangle that was going on in those days. I could have dumped my boys, I could have played with American musicians, but I couldn't have looked them in the eyes. I'd have done exactly to them what happened to me! We had a sit-down and I said, "Look, we've been away from Liverpool a long time. Things have changed. We're gonna find an uphill struggle when we go back again." Yeah, we were performing, but we weren't getting the same kudos that we had before. In '68, I decided "OK, enough's enough." I had given it a shot. It wasn't meant to be.
After youquit making music in the late '60s, it was reported you went into a bit of a depression. What turned you around? I think "depression" is too severe a word. That makes it look as though you sat there, you looked at the four walls and you wouldn't go outside. That to me is depression. It wasn't [that]. It was very a much of, I was chasing as hard, as fast as I could. OK, so it felt as though you were banging your head against a brick wall sometimes. But you're a musician, you have to persevere. Some days you'd be up, some days you'd be down. It's as simple as that. What kinds of jobs did you have after your musical career first ended? I thought because I had educational qualifications that I could walk into a job. Jobs were plenty, not like they are now. But I found that I'd fill in a great application form, got to the interviews and they'd sit down and say, "Take a seat, Pete. Tell us what you've done since school." And I'd say, "I've been a rock drummer" [laughs]. Even though I had the educational qualifications, the personality for the job, they couldn't take the risk. Because they felt, and it happened on numerous occasions, someone was going to come along, the man in the big white suit with the big fat cigar, and say, "Come back again, I'll make you a rock star." So I was getting frustrated with this, and I turned around and said, "OK, the first manual job that comes along, I'm gonna take it." The first job I could get my hands on was to work in a bakery. I held that down for about 12 months to prove to people that I was now finished with the show business side. And then the civil service threw me a lifeline because of the education qualifications. And I stayed with them until I took retirement. I started off as a humble employment officer and ended up being training manager for the northwest of England.
Did anyone point out the irony that you were an employment officer but you were fired from one of the most important jobs ever?
A few people, when they saw me sitting behind the table or behind the counter, turned around and said, "Are you actually Pete?" and I'd say, "Yeah," and it's just like, "How ironic you're sitting there finding us work ..." That's Liverpool humor for you.
Who or what inspired you to get back into music with 'Haymans Green,' an autobiographical album about your Beatle days?
It was always set in stone that we were gonna do it. I suppose the easiest way to explain it is, it was part of a trilogy in a way. My brothers Roag, Rory and myself wrote a book called 'The Beatles: The True Beginnings,' which in a way was the template for the documentary DVD, which came out called 'Best of the Beatles' in America and Canada and 'Pete Best of the Beatles' when it was released globally. In the documentary, we inserted three original tracks pertaining to my life story, and the response to that was absolutely fantastic. That was the green light for us to put the third part into action.
A couple of songs on the album are about the wild side of the Beatles' residency in Hamburg in the early '60s. Was it really that decadent?
It was. To put it in perspective, we were young kids out in Hamburg and we were elevated very quickly to rock star status even though we hadn't got records out. That was how we were accepted by the people of Hamburg and the kids there. We had girls flocking to our beds, people buying us drinks -- we were treated like kings. When we came back and told people the stories, the other bands in Liverpool stood there gobsmacked. The jaws dropped, it was just like, "That went on? You can get your hands on that?" Of course, that opened the doors for all the other bands from Liverpool. Then bands from the rest of the world poured into Hamburg. The craziness grew and grew and grew.
How does it feel after all these years to finally get this level of recognition for your contributions to the Beatles' legacy?
When I came back into show business in '88 after spending 20-odd years in the civil service, it wasn't planned. I was persuaded to do a one-off convention in Liverpool, which I thought was just gonna be an appearance for posterity's sake -- show the kids what this old fellow was all about. At the end of the performance, my mother and wife came over and said, "Pete, you don't know it, you're gonna be going into show business again," to which I erupted in heartfelt laughter. But here I am 20 years down the line and enjoying every moment of it.