Roag Best has just phoned me to say that Ken Brown died last night. He was found dead on the living room floor of his house and had been suffering from emphysema.
Here is a piece I had written about him.
BROWN, KEN. A Liverpool guitarist who played alongside a 16-year-old George Harrison in the Les Stewart Quartet in 1958, at a time when John Lennon’s group the Quarry Men were dormant.
They were practising at a venue called lowlands when George’s girlfriend Ruth Morrison, mentioned that a new coffee club was opening nearby and they might be seeking a resident group. Brown went along to see Mona Best and secured the band a residency, due to begin when the club opened on Saturday 29 august 1959.
Early that Saturday Brown went to Stewart’s house and sat in the lounge with Stewart and George. There seemed to be a bad atmosphere in the room and Brown asked Stewart what was up. Stewart accused him of missing practice and continued to argue after Brown explained that he’d been helping out at the Casbah in order to secure a place for them to play. Stewart accused him of receiving money for helping out, which Brown denied.
Stewart told him, “I’m not playing there.”
Brown asked George not to back out on him too, so George followed him out of the house, with Brown suggesting that they get a group together for that evening. George mentioned that he had two friends and would contact them.
Brown waited patiently as the Casbah for two hours, then George returned with John, Paul and Cynthia.
They decided to use the name of John’s group, the Quarry Men, and began their residency that evening. Among the numbers played were Three Cool Cats sung by John and Long Tall Sally, sung by Paul. Brown played Hofner guitar and the group used his ten-watt amplifier.
The new club was the subject of a story in the local newspaper, the West Derby Reporter. It noted how Kenneth Brown, David Hughes and Douglas Jenkins had helped to decorate the club and make it shipshape, adding: “Kenneth Brown is also a member of a guitar group which entertains the club members on Saturday nights. The other members of the group, who call themselves the Quarry Men, travel from the south end of the city to play.”
In 1965 Brown told a reporter how his days with the group came to an end during a dispute which took place six weeks after the group had got together:
“One night, just as we were due to start a Saturday session, I felt a crippling pain in my leg. I could barely stand, but insisted on doing something, so Mrs Best asked me to take the money and the door and, for the first time, John, Paul and George played without me.
“Just as everyone was going home I was in the club when Paul came back down the steps. ‘Hey, Ken, what’s all this?’ he said. ‘What?’ I asked him. ‘Mrs Best says she’s paying you, even though you didn’t play with us tonight.’ ‘That’s up to her,’ I replied, as Paul bounded back up the stairs, still arguing with Mrs Best. They all came downstairs to me. ‘We think your fifteen bob should be divided between us, as you didn’t play tonight,’ said Paul. So of course I didn’t agree. ‘All right, that’s it then!’ shouted McCartney, and they stormed off down the drive towards west Derby village, shouting that they would never play the Casbah again.”
This left the club without a resident group, so Brown approached Pete Best and suggested they form a group on their own. The result was the Blackjacks, who began playing regularly at the club until Pete was approached by the Beatles to join them for their Hamburg trip. The Blackjacks were on the verge of splitting up as Chas Newby was soon to start college and Brown was about to marry his girlfriend, Marcia, and move to London.
In December 1960, when Stuart Sutcliffe remained in Hamburg, Best suggested that Brown rejoin them as bass guitarist for some of their Liverpool gigs, even though he was then in London, but the other members vetoed the suggestion.
Th last time that Brown saw the group was on 16 March 1963, when Neil Aspinall phoned him to say that they were in a jam as they’d run out of money and were due to appear in Sheffield the next night – could he lend them £20?
Brown was to relate: “Eventually, I agreed and they all turned up at our flat. Neil came to the door, then Marcia, and I went down to the van to see the boys. I handed over the money, which they repaid it six weeks later.”
Over August Bank holiday 1999, Brown joined Pete Best and Chas. Newby at the Casbah to celebrate the club’s 40th anniversary.