Saturday, 06 June 2020

Love him, do: Pete Best and the nature of celebrity

Watching public television the other night I caught part of the documentary, "Best Of The Beatles," the story of the Fab Four, Five, Six or Seven's first drummer or, more correctly, before Ringo and whatever that other guy's name was, the one who played drums for the Silver Beatles before Pete did.


Pete, called "the best drummer in Liverpool" by more than a few, got a call from Paul McCartney in 1960, the same Sir Paul who would later have his face airbrushed off the first Beatles Anthology. Pete played drums on that one, on 10 cuts, and did nearly 1,200 shows, including the legendary ones in Hamburg, with the renamed Beatles.


Then one day, just after recording the original "Love Me Do" at Abbey Road, Brian Epstein informed him he had been replaced by Ringo Starr. No reason that holds water was ever given. Some say Best was too popular with the ladies, making Paul and John jealous. Did the same guy who hired him, fire him? No one seems to know but apparently John Lennon did say, towards the end of his life: "We were cowards; the way we treated Pete."


Read on and see what you think. But first consider this: neither Britney Spears nor the late (I think?) Anna Nicole Smith or even that crazy diapered astronaut lady ever slept between Paul McCartney and John Lennon in an unheated van with a broken windshield on a tour of France. Nor did any of them witness George Harrison losing his virginity in a Liverpool brothel.


But, Pete Best did.


It was five years ago and a couple of months that I began to see signs all over Clearlake advertising a "Best of the Beatles" concert with the Pete Best Band at Granzellas's, a club filled with what might be the stuffed victims of Ted Nugent's earlier visit to Middletown. Ted had friends there and stayed on after a Clearlake concert to lessen the local wildlife population.


So I took a 12 hour "vacation" to Williams. This is what I found:


In another time, in a parallel universe, it might have been George, John, Paul and Pete who took the world by storm and became the Fab Four. Or however many there were if you don't count the late Stu Sutcliffe, that first drummer guy and Bill "Murray The K" (See "The Rutles). Or "Clarence," who Eddie Murphy claimed "taught those boys everything they know."


My former colleague, Fran Kotas,founder and CEO of the Ringo For President Fan Club, might have been pushing Pete instead. And one of Best's daughters would now be drumming for the Who, instead of Zak, Ringo's son.


But it was not to be, for whatever reason. It certainly wasn't Best's drumming. Kasim Sulton, MeatLoaf's musical director and a former member of Todd Rundgren's Utopia,said this: "It is generally acknowledged, among musicians, that Pete was the best drummer on the Liverpool scene."


Klaus Voorman, yet another extra Beatle, who was their mate in Hamburg, played on a few of their albums and did the "Revolver" cover, complimented Pete's musicianship in the "Best of The Beatles" documentary as well.


After being summarily sacked by someone on June 6, 1962, Pete formed the Pete Best Combo, went on tour with Roy Orbison, and even opened a few times for those other Fab guys.


The Combo had a go at it, but, by 1968, Pete had hung up his drum sticks to work, first, as a baker and then spent 20 years as a now retired civil servant.


In 1988, he tried his hand at "a one off at a Beatles convention." One thing led to another and soon he was playing a whole lotta Beatles conventions.


The Pete Best Band has been touring the world ever since and now play the Casbah Club, the place where the Beatles got their start in Liverpool in 1959 and which Pete and his brothers now own. One brother, Roeg Best, is the other drummer in the Best Band. You know, like the Grateful Dead.


The ex-Beatle and his fellow Liverpudlians landed at Granzella's Sports Bar after a gig in New Orleans

followed by three other California shows.


Looking like it was designed by members of Hunka Ted's Club Nugent, the many charms of Granzella's include a 1,100 pound stuffed polar bear in a glass case. It's somewhat smaller mate looms above the bar, making this a family place.


About 200 customers turned out for the evening concert. But first, there was the arrival at noon with a CHP escort and a 1955 Ford Fairlane containing the band. It was hot and the promoter was uptight and not feeling all right.


"There will be no contact between the (dreaded) press and Pete Best at the hotel," he loudly announced, to the gathered reporters he had earlier urged to come early to greet the band.


I bear the distinction of being the first scribe kicked out of the air-conditioned Granzella's Inn, followed by Chris Macias of the Sacramento Bee and several TV crews.


Chris and I, holding dangerous pens and notebooks while thinking we were maybe being asked to leave the group, amusedly reviewed the proceedings and interviewed CHP Officer Pettigrew instead.


"I've been on vacation and I just got back this morning," he said. "There was an e-mail waiting for me. 'Escort ex-Beatle to Williams,' it said."


Pettigrew was having fun. He recalled how his parents had sold his 1962 VW van. He still mourns it.


Next came another CHP led ride to Maxwell for the press conference at the promoter's house.


Everyone got a shot at questions. I was tempted to ask Best "what he called his hair?" and "how he found America?" (by land or by sea?) but I bit my tongue and asked if he'd had any contact with the other ex-Beatles since 1962 instead?


"No," was the answer. "I played on the same bill with them, but have had no contact."


The soft-spoken and humorous drummer commented on Sir Paul's removal of his head from the front cover of "Beatles' Anthology I" for which he received $8 million for "previous services rendered."


"It didn't really worry me, to be honest," Best said. "I might be the headless wonder; you never know?"


He had this to say about Hamburg, from which he and John and Paul were once deported after being accused of arson.


"Germany was a hell of a time. We were young guys and didn't realize we were going to the biggest red light district in the world at the time. Twenty-four hour bars, strip joints, prostitutes; we just enjoyed ourselves. We were doing six to seven hours a night in 45-minute sets."


When four TV crews took over the questioning it was time to talk to some other members of the band.


Roeg Best was nursing a hangover.


"There were too many Hurricanes (a powerful drink with a decidedly delayed effect) in New Orleans," he said. "We played the Howlin' Wolf. I think I had seven. I didn't know."


Roeg, a most affable man, has the distinction of having played with another ex-Beatle, George Harrison.


"I was over at his house having a go at the drums," he said. "George came in and we just started jamming."


Chris Cavanagh had been the band's lead singer for five years.


"One of Roeg's friends heard me and I've been with them since I was 21," Cavanagh said. "Pete's a great guy, holds no grudge against anyone and doesn't put himself above anyone else."


I asked him how many were in the band?


"It's a six-piece," he replied, leading into some typical Liverpool humor. "We were thinking of making it a five-piece, but Pete doesn't want to leave!"


The other members are guitarists Mark Hay and Phil Melia and bassist Dave Deevey.


Outside the building where the press conference was held the neighborhood drummers were practicing. All brought drumsticks to be, hopefully, signed.


Alden Denny started playing last year. Alonzo "Beatle" Chavez plays the trumpet and got his nickname from his haircut. Trombonist Jaime Rodriquez and his pal, Julian Vasquez, just wanted an autograph.


One of the TV guys, who's a drummer, gave them lessons in the driveway until Best came out and signed their drumsticks.


"This is the biggest thing in Maxwell since that Oakland Raider, who used to live here, moved away,"

one of them said.


Back in Williams at the formerly (No Room At The) Inn, there was a reception, cheerled by the promoter. We were all to rise, put our hands over our hearts and sing "God Save The Queen." But, just in the nick of time, Best arrived and things generally chilled out though the press was under strict orders to ask no questions during the reception.


Some of us were bad.


When the Best Band finally took the sort of stage – a cleared out corner of the beastiary that is Granzella's – they began with "Slow Down" and the wild and crazy dancers started in.


Amazingly they didn't sing in Liverpudlian on rave up versions of "My Bonnie" and "Besame Mucho," both sounding better than the 60s recordings, also with Best, of course.


This was much more than a Beatles' Tribute Band. After all, as Monty Python might say: "it's got a Beatle in it."


There were lots of "Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs," scads of Beatles lore, courtesy of Best who owns one of the largest Beatles memorabilia collections in the world, and an old McCartney move, this time by Chris Cavanagh.


"Paul used to go out in the audience every night and sing personally to a female fan," he said.


Cavanagh chose a woman who had sat in a wheelchair with her cane all night and got a kiss and a hug for his efforts.


I approached her after the two hour show.


"I'm just an old lady who lives here," Dolores Perkins said. "I saw the Beatles in Oakland when they first came to America and I had the thrill of my life tonight. He made me cry."


Best is now 60 but he signed autographs after the show and shook hands all around.


Once a Beatle, always a Beatle," he'd said earlier in the day.


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.


(Several months later I was informed by the same promoter who'd kicked me out of the sacred hotel lobby that Roeg Best had told him Pete liked this article so much it is now embossed and hanging on the wall at the Casbah Club.


I'm pretty proud of that.


E-mail Gary Peterson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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