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Ticket to Ride

When Best just ain't good enough

By Greg Cahill

Pity Pete Best. The Liverpool drummer had a first-class ticket to fame and fortune, until he got the boot (in this case, from a pair of pointed, leather flamenco boots) on the eve of the Beatles' meteoric rise into rock history.

From the night in 1958 when the teenaged John, Paul and George performed (for 75 pence apiece) at the Casbah, the cramped basement club operated beneath the family home of Pete's mother, Mona Best, the ill-fated drummer and the rock icons have been bonded by both blood and bluster.

Best, who brings his Beatles cover band to Fairfax this week, was there at the beginning. Before Brian Epstein came on the scene, Best's mother served as de facto manager for the group she called "Pete's band." The girls loved Pete, but the rap (from his mom and others) was that the remaining Beatles were jealous of the charismatic drummer's good looks. (To his credit, Best scoffs at this notion.) He was in Hamburg during the band's legendary wild days and the Beatles' road manager, Neil Aspinall, was a frequent visitor to the Best home--he sired Best's younger brother, Roag--and continues to be a close to the family.

Best toured and recorded with the then-fledgling band for more than three years. He can be heard on a dozen or so tracks on The Beatles Anthology, Volume 1, including the band's official EMI audition tapes, his only session at EMI's fabled Abbey Road studio. That date included Best on one of several versions of Lennon and McCartney's "Love Me Do," though not the version that would later help launch the band into international stardom.

In Aug. 1962, 16 months before the Beatles conquered America, Epstein sacked Best. While the other band members share the blame in many accounts, author Philip Norman's authoritative Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation points the finger at producer George Martin, who reportedly asked Epstein to fire Best because he didn't feel the drummer was up to the task of driving the band's beat-heavy pop.

Stung by the slight, Best passed up a chance to join the Merseybeats, another Liverpool band in Epstein's stable of pop acts, and took to pounding the skins for the now-obscure Lee Curtis and the Allstars (a gig arranged secretly by the guilt-ridden Epstein).

While Best missed the better part of the world's manic love affair with his longtime mates, the Beatles weren't entirely out of his life. His brother, fathered by the band's closest confidant, performs in Best's current band. As a member of Lee Curtis and the Allstars, Best opened for the Beatles at two shows in 1963; a few months later, he sued them for the loss of his 1963 wages (a period when the Beatles were building a huge European following). He received a modest settlement. He later sued Ringo for libel after Starr told Playboy magazine that Best used drugs to make him sick so he could be excused from gigs.

Today, Best is still staking his more modest fortunes on the Beatles, performing a well-reviewed show that covers several of the Beatles' early hits. He doesn't, however, cover George Harrison's "Sue You, Sue Me Blues."

The Pete Best Band perform Thursday, Aug. 11, at the 19 Broadway Nite Club in Fairfax. Beatles tribute band the Sun Kings open. 9:30pm, $20. 415.459.1091.

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From the August 10-16, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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