“Upload this to YouTube so we can watch it!”
One of Pete Best’s men in black called to the cadre of camcorders in the audience in the Threadgill’s garden on a sticky June night. The greybeards and scraggly ponytailed ones nodded back agreeably at the guitarist as the band slid into “Till There Was You.”
“Why aren’t there more people here? He was a Beatle!” KGSR program director Jody Denberg and I muttered to each other as the band ably shifted into “Rock & Roll Music.” The old hippies in the crowd were game enough and when the Pete Best Band struck up “Twist and Shout,” the audience did just that.
If you’re not a fan of the early Beatles, it helps to know that like most of the early Sixties bands, they were a largely a jukebox band. Then-booking agent Allan Williams hired Pete Best as the Silver Beatles’ first full-time drummer in 1960. The “Silver” part was soon dropped but Best sat in a crucial position for the band as the drummer on the Decca demos and those brutal gigs and live recordings in Hamburg, the period that forever shaped the Beatles’ sound.
Best also played numerous Cavern gigs with the Beatles and was onboard when they backed up Tony Sheridan on “My Bonnie.” Best’s displacement by new manager Brian Epstein in late 1962 has been attributed to personality conflicts, questionable musicianship, and band jealousy. Whether it was any one or a combination of those is lost to history. Best continued to perform and record but with little success and seemed to drop from sight by the Seventies.
Fast forward to the new millennium and Pete Best is back, looking fit and keeping a fine beat. Best and his band captured the essence of the pre-LSD Beatles by tapping into the myriad cover tunes (and a few originals) from the Fab Four’s first few albums, a scathingly brilliant idea. Those early Beatles albums are my favorites – Sgt. Pepper ranked light years below Revolver and Rubber Soul for me.
The Pete Best Band featured four musicians in addition to Best – it’s tempting to think of them as John, Paul, George, and Ringo because one was a drummer. They were an obviously seasoned crew spewing Merseybeat chops like champs. Even when songs like “Besame Mucho” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” tipped heavily on the cornpone scale, their spot-on performances of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Some Other Guy” made me want to scream and faint and holler, “John!!!”
The line at the merch table disintegrated into a shapeless crowd that surged forward, eagerly buying re-pop Cavern Club posters, DVDs, and Best-era Beatles promo shots. Who was I to resist? I slid a poster and photo across the table.
“You made music that changed my life. Thank you for that,” I told him.
Best looked up at me with surprise in those still-sexy blue eyes. For just a moment, the connection zapped me. I was looking into the eyes of the man who’d played gig after gig with John, Paul, and George (and Stuart Sutcliffe), then watched unimaginable greatness slip through his hands. He’d actually been on the stage of the Star Club in Hamburg and at the original Cavern Club.
He was Pete Best and he was a Beatle.
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