Monday, 22 July 2024

Arts & Life

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Then one day, just after recording the original "Love Me Do" at Abbey Road, Brian Epstein informed him he had been replaced by Ringo Starr.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..


It didn't smell like Belmont.

The Launch Party for the Summer of Love's 40th Anniversary at 2B1 Records in the Mission in San Francisco seemed more like the last Lynyrd Skynyrd concert I attended.

February always weighs heavy on my mind.

It's not the day the music died though I was only 14 and not far away from Clear Lake, Iowa, at the time.

It's not Gertrude Stein's birthday, on Feb. 3. But she did famously once tell a complaining editor: "There are no commas PERIOD"

It's not even Old Abe's real birthday on Feb. 12 before the advent of all those Nixon holidays for overextended people. Though Abe does weigh more heavily still on those of us from "The Land of Lincoln."

It's not even George Washington's real birthday on Feb. 22, even if he did have wooden teeth and once crossed the Delaware.

(To get to the other side?)

No, no and no; but it is Feb. 22, particularly Feb. 22 at 2 a.m. in the morning in 1975 when I and all my fellow Bugle American staff members received the ultimate letter to the editor.

Someone, Milwaukee Neo-Nazis or the Milwaukee Police Department (isn't that or at least wasn't that an oxymoron? – see The Violent Femmes' "Harold Brier") blew us up.

I worked 'til midnight that day in the spacious corporate offices of the Bugle, in an old storefront on Bremen Street where there were still bars on the corners.

This was Milwaukee, after all.

I had just fallen asleep when the phone rang. It was judi jacobi (that's how she spelled it; she chastised me only a few years ago for spelling it wrong), the paper's news editor. “Gary,” she said, “there was a bomb. The building is gone.”

A lot of us just weren't the same for the next 48 hours or so, salvaging what we could, receiving visits from many eastsiders, even a contribution by check from George Reedy, Lyndon Johnson's former press secretary and then Dean of the School of Journalism at Marquette University. He even showed up to help us move and remains a particular hero of mine.

The Society of "Professional" Journalists' chapter at the Milwaukee Journal (we called them the Milwaukee Urinal and scooped them a lot) held a special meeting, declared us "not a real newspaper" and voted not to send us their $50.

You wouldn't catch me dead at an SPJ meeting to this day.

It took a week but with a little help from many friends we gathered back copies of the Bugle, a few supplies, the exacto knives we always swore we could put a paper out with. One of those and a piece of sidewalk is all it takes.

The issue planned for the week of this unscheduled visitation came out only seven days later than it should have.

That week, Leonard Cohen, another hero of mine, held up a copy of the Bugle and said: "Some Things Don't Burn!" That was on the cover of the first issue after the big boom.

And as that copy came off the presses someone literally rushed a paper to Bryan Ferry who flashed it to the audience at a Roxy Music concert. (Just when is "Dylanology" coming out and why aren't you a "Sir" yet? I can't wait. Sir Brian Ferry and Sir Brian Eno.)

But my real heroes are and were my colleagues. One time over 80 people came to one of our community meetings. Most were volunteers; those of us who got paid finally earned the princely sum of $110 a week and got to live at the Bugle Commune with the wonderfully named daughter of the publishers, Tobi Jacobi.

The Bugle lasted three more years until it bit the dust, another victim of unpaid advertising bills and the growing ennui of the late 70s. We had insurance; we had survived several offices in Madison and then Milwaukee ... but ...

Maybe Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crash was the point of no return. I woke that morning as the alarm went off and the first thing I saw while the radio blared the news was that Skynyrd cover with the band in flames.

I'd just interviewed Ronnie Van Zant and he was a happy man with a new daughter, which was pretty much all he talked about. So I told him about mine, who was also pretty much all I talked about.

I trust she knows how much her daddy loved her.

The graduates of this revolving school of journalism by free records, press passes, concert tickets and access to "rock stars" went on to bigger and better things.

Tony Cappacio worked as Jack Anderson's right-hand man for 10 years, then became the editor of Jayne's Defense Weekly. You can catch him on C-SPAN many a morning.

Tony once camped out at the Stones' hotel for 24 hours. He only took one bathroom break and that was when Mick and Keith came through the lobby.

Greg Kot went on to become the Chicago Tribune's rock critic and to Rolling Stone. I once saw him trying to explain the death of Kurt Cobain to my shocked children and others on TV.

Tom Davis, one of the most brilliant writers I've ever known died young, of cancer. A lot of people came to his funeral.

The photographer, Debbie Milne, also left us way too soon as did the Bugle's esteemed editor, Dave Schriener, who taught me and a lot of others everything we know about journalism and much of what we don't.

judi jacobi became one of my favorite people. The only swing dancing lawyer I know from Tuscon who's currently living in Hawaii.

Mike "Scoop" Jacobi founded the Fox Valley Patriot and worked for a while as did Schreiner with Denis Kitchen, the most famous underground comix publisher in America, other than those good folks at Kitchen Sink Press' and Krupp Comics Works' only rival in San Francisco.

Bob Bordon, the "first ex-husband of my second ex-wife," started the Jemez Thunder in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, and later built a spaceship house there. (The Thunder's motto: "We cater to the radical middle!") Its publisher is the great poet Kathleen Weigner, also a Forbes "writer at large."

Rob Fixmer ended up at the New York Times, Doug Rossi at Newsday, Kathy Gubi I know not where but I soon won't forget her or her photos, Ed Goodman and Britt Zastrow are at a paper, called, I think, The Republican, somewhere in Connecticut.

Ed always won the many pun contests and Britt was my first ex-wife's best friend. The Bugle was like that.

This was after Ed penned the rock opera, "The Wrath of the Ringworm," never performed, with the late poet and godfather of Milwaukee's music scene, Jim Spencer. It was dedicated to me and another "character" from the eastside.

The first Violent Femmes album is dedicated to "Jim Spencer." Brian Ritchie and Gordon Gano and others became The Violent Femmes.

Gordon was thrown out of high school for singing "Permanent Record" at a school talent show. Brian Ritchie, a brilliant writer and bassist, spent some of his formative years sleeping in what had been my office at the last Bugle building, probably near where the dental chair had been. He was a 17 year old

runaway and Joy Division fan.

Ace photographer Mark Goff worked for a Congressman for years and now runs Mark Goff and in Wauwatosa, Wis. His mother went to school with Liberace, maybe even Brother George.

There are and were so many. I can't list them all and I apologize to those I didn't.

Someone dissed me for not mentioning them in the piece I penned for Dave Schreiner's memorial, read by another ex-Bugler in Madison, Tom "Toots" Schaefer.

Toots once wrote about Louis "Saskatchewan" Reed. Lou gave his son, Nathan King Schaefer, his autograph anyway and Nathan later nabbed the only interview, mano to mano, given by the "Boss" on his 1977 world tour. Nathan was 7. The "Mighty Max" was his favorite E-Streeter, though he got to meet them all.

The Bugle was my J-school. The people were all wonderful and I have several pictures of them on the dresser next to my spiffy high speed computer.

I'll be thinking of them on Feb. 22 at about 2 a.m. The Bugle only violated its motto: "Never Blow Retreat" but once, at its closing in 1977.

The Buglers never did.



Eric Patrick and Bill Fredricksson perform in Greater Tuna. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
Somewhere southeast of Lake County ... about 1,200 miles southeast of Lake County ... is a place where everyone knows everyone else's business—and then some. Tuna, Texas, has one radio station, lots of farms and at least 20 very interesting individuals whose lives are tightly intertwined with the rest of the inhabitants of La Salle County.

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