Former Beatle Pete Best feels no resentment, brings new show to Levitt Shell

Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer, will headline at Levitt Shell on Tuesday for the kickoff of the annual Elvis Week tribute to commemorate Elvis Presley's death.

Tim Roske/Associated Press

Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer, will headline at Levitt Shell on Tuesday for the kickoff of the annual Elvis Week tribute to commemorate Elvis Presley's death.

Pete Best had spent two years as drummer for The Beatles. The band was on the verge of international stardom in 1962 when the group's manager, Brian Epstein, called him in to his office.

"Of course, I thought I was going into the office to have a business discussion with Brian. Then he just unloaded," Best says. "He said, 'Pete, I don't know how to turn around and tell you. The boys want you out. It's already been arranged that Ringo will be joining the band on Saturday.'"

Pete Best (shown in 1965) was bounced from the Beatles in 1962 for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery. On Tuesday, Best and his band perform at Levitt Shell.

Associated Press files

Pete Best (shown in 1965) was bounced from the Beatles in 1962 for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery. On Tuesday, Best and his band perform at Levitt Shell.

Almost 50 years later, Best, 69, says he still has no explanation for "being sacked," except for a handful of theories. He had curly hair that didn't easily lend itself to a Beatles mop top. Some said he was "too cute," and made other band members jealous of the attention he drew on stage. Some said he was a bit of a loner who didn't fit well with the other Beatles. Or that his drumming just wasn't quite up to snuff.

It's a mystery Best brings with him Tuesday when he will be a headliner at Levitt Shell for the kickoff of the annual Elvis Week tribute to commemorate Elvis Presley's death, with rockabilly music from Elvis-era musicians billing themselves as the Rock N' Sunabillys opening.

Best, with his "Best of the Beatles" act, relies heavily on Beatles hits, along with his own music and standards from vintage performers such as Peggy Lee, Ray Charles and Little Richard. The Levitt Shell concert is part of a collaboration between Memphis and Liverpool, England, cities that were homes to history's biggest rock acts.

Inevitably, the connection is a reminder of Best's unceremonious ouster from The Beatles. Politics had its twist-of-fate episode with the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline in 1948, but show business had no parallel to Best's expulsion from "the No. 1 band in the world."

"I don't think there's anything that can compare," says Best. His says his reaction was "resentment and anger -- because of the way it was done. There was all of the subterfuge around it."

He had known the band for a year before joining them. They spent two years working in one of the world's biggest red-light districts, Hamburg, Germany, playing seven nights a week, seven hours a night with rare 15-minute breaks, Best says.

"You'd known them three years and struggled and strived and then you're kicked out," he says. "If you keep thinking about it all the time then you do end up bitter and twisted. I learned at an early age that if you're knocked down you get up and fight twice as hard. Then you learn there's more to life than beating yourself up."

In Hamburg, the band signed a contract on the Polydor label and were paid standard session-musician fees of about 100 Deutsch marks a day -- about $50 at the time.

"We were naive. They could have given us a glass of water, and we'd have been happy," says Best.

Epstein bought out the contract and began changing the band's hard-rocking image right away.

"Early on, he took us out of leathers and wanted us to be in suits," Best says. "He wanted us to clean up our act. We used to smoke on stage."

The band respected its American counterparts, from Elvis Presley to the rhythm-and-blues musicians of Stax and Motown. In fact, The Beatles eventually tried to arrange a recording session at Stax. The plan fell through, but Stax songwriter-producer David Porter said the respect was mutual. He once recorded a version of The Beatles' "Help," and his songwriting partner, Isaac Hayes, recorded a version of "Something."

Porter says Paul McCartney and John Lennon, aside from being gifted songwriters, had "a look that set them apart. They had a freshness that didn't make them the same as everything else at the time. It was a freshness like Elvis had."

Best says his own favorite Beatles song is "I Saw Her Standing There," which he called "a jumpy little number, a rocker," and "a good audience participation number as well."

When he left The Beatles, Best joined a popular Liverpool band called Lee Curtis & the All Stars, which later became Pete Best & the All Stars. Best did national and international tours before he decided he needed more financial security for a family that soon included two daughters. In 1968, he became a civil servant, helping find jobs and setting up labor exchanges in England, retiring after 25 years as training manager for northwest England.

The 1995 Beatles album Anthology I included tracks on which Best played, resulting in major royalties for the one-time Beatle.

His 1962 ouster, he decided, "was part of my karma. It (Beatles stardom) just wasn't meant to be."

He now tours with the Pete Best Band and recorded an album, Haymans Green, in 2008.

When he looks back now he's not bitter, he says.

"I thought, 'Look at what you've got -- your health and your happiness, four wonderful grandchildren which I love to spoil. ... If you're happy with what you've achieved, that's contentment."

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