The excision of Pete Best from the Beatles
There are 4 people in a band, John, Paul, George and Pete.
Next, there are 4 people in a band, John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The line-up changed. That meant someone dropped out of the line.
In the order of things, Pete came last and so did Ringo, quite ironically speaking.
The question of why the boot of Pete lingers. Faced with multiple answers, inquiring fans ask: What’s the final answer? But – no one – no matter how expert in their opinions, seems able to commit to one compelling answer. Nothing is absolute because we can know nothing with certainty, right? Even I think; therefore, I am – is debatable.
I would like to wager the following and let’s see if a definite conclusion can be drawn.
The Beatles acquired Pete in a progression of acquisitions: Paul joined John’s band, the Quarrymen; Paul asked John if George could join, and sure enough, he did. Finally, Paul asked Pete to join, and he did as well.
The Beatles then practiced and composed music. They performed and sang, even danced and pranced about on stage. They were learning the dynamics of both music and entertainment. Because they tended to play in noisy environments and, initially, in environments in which people weren’t paying too much attention, being drunk patrons that is, they learned to play loudly, to twist and shout and scream. Pete Best played loudly at best, in accordance with the whole practice of acquiring attention and interest of the fans or customers. Pete must be given credit for responding affirmatively to Indra Club owner Bruno Koschmider’s injunction of “Mach Schnell.” That is, “make show.” Get the fans interested so they don’t leave and keep drinking and spending money in my establishment (my interpretation of “mach schnell.”
Pete was so good at playing loudly that fans nicknamed his beat “the atom beat.” It consisted largely of a 4-to-the-bar pattern with a consistent and steady 1-2-3-4 bass drum beat. Many drummers in Liverpool copied this beat. I assume some Hamburg drummers did, too, but I don’t know for sure.
Pete was also considered to be very good looking by the girls and he certainly swayed him with his mean moody magnificence, his James Dean type bravado, that whole serious look, minus a trace of a lighthearted grin. But, this, indeed, led to his mystical and mysterious aura, of which the girls couldn’t fathom enough or get enough of.
While the Beatles learned how to play their guitars without formal education or lessons, while they learned how to sing melodically and in harmony together, Pete beat on. All that time, there was that steady 4-to-the-bar beat, relentless, loud, and demanding to be heard.
Amazingly, the Beatles developed into something more than 4 guys playing music together. They developed into a unit, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. When they sang together, it was flawlessly. In many cases, you couldn’t even hear the overlap of their voices, which blend together so seamlessly. And somehow, they learnt all those guitar chords just by witnessing others play them or by accidentally trying until the correct fingerings were discovered. While doing all these things, Pete Best, continued beating his drums in surely solid time. If he hadn’t, well, I think they’d have discharged him much earlier than they did. After all, the beat must go on and if it isn’t there to begin with, well, then you’ve got to find a drummer who can provide that beat.
At first, the Beatles didn’t want a drummer at all. They felt the rhythm and the beat could be heard in the guitars alone. They relented later because just about all non-skiffle groups in Liverpool had drummers. And so Pete entered the scene and the stage. Of this life, many parts are played, and Pete began to play his. But it was only Act One. The final stage of the old hairless man with dribble on his chin had not yet come.
Oh, and then other people entered the picture, Tony Sheridan (singer in his own band), Bert Kaempfert (a producer), Brian Epstein (still not a professional talent scout and manager), and George Martin (a record producer for EMI records). There were many others who began amassing in what would eventually become the Beatles Universe of things and doings.
As the population of Beatle people grew, it was discovered that some people had to leave in order to make room for others as it was soon to become a very crowded universe.
Sir George Henry Martin auditioned the Beatles (they hoped they’d passed the audition). They did but with one demerit on their report card. Let’s see, they did B on guitars, B on singing, B on charisma, but “ouch,” they did D on drums. In George’s opinion, he preferred to use a session drummer in Pete’s place. Well, this did not go over well with the Beatles. They wanted a B in drums. Not really, they wanted A’s in everything and they got those high markings a bit later.
George Harrison heard the dapper well-refined man in the suit utter his need which led him to utter his plea to the band to can Best. George reasoned that George should be listened to because he was a professional who knew whereof he spoke despite his later apologetic assertions post-Best that he never thought Best should be dismissed. Mr. Martin simply wanted to use a session drummer because these professionals tended to have more accurate timing in studio.
Prior to this, the Beatles were accustomed to playing loudly in noisy environments. They certainly needed Best’s atom beat then. But it was different now. The quiet and confined environment of a recording studio was a marked contrast to what they were used to. Now, the focus was really on the sound. Every little imperfection could be heard, examined and studied in minute detail.
It didn’t matter that George Martin preferred session drummers. Mr. Martin could have elected to replace any one of them with more competent and proficient players. My God, what if he had said he wanted to use a session guitarist in George’s or John’s place. I don’t think he’d have wanted a session man for Paul because, well, you know, Paul was quite the proficient bass player, even then.
So, John and Paul listened attentively to their band mate, the child amongst them, wee little George Harrison. He needn’t have spent any time attempting to persuade them because they had already implicitly agreed that Pete must go – and immediately so. John even said “we knew we weren’t going to keep him even after we hired him. We always knew we were going to move on with a different drummer.”
Many fans have asked why they kept Pete around for 2 years. He was hired on August 12th, 1960, and fired on August 16th, 1962. If JPG hated the atom beat, why’d they beat around the bush so long before they beat Pete Best off the stage and into the empty wilderness that lie beyond the mystical realms of the Beatles Paradise of fame, glory, and fortune, and boundless yearning beautiful women who wanted nothing more than to own and love their own personal Beatle?
The Beatles then confronted their manager, Brian Epstein. They said they were cowards, but what do you think Brian was? He wasn’t exactly Rambo, was he? Yet, he who was the civilized, well-mannered cultured and refined gentleman was the one elected to be the big brave man who would drop the ax on Pete Best’s ultimate but brief and final career with the Beatles.
And so he did. And he cried after he did so. He trembled when he told Pete the news. “George Martin doesn’t think you’re a good enough drummer. And the boys want you out and Ringo in. As a matter of fact, Ringo’s joining the group on Sunday.” “Oh, and by the way, would you play a few more dates in Whitechapel until Ringo joins?”
A stunned and shocked Pete agreed to play and left the office of Brian saying to himself over and over: “Why? Why? Why?” Yet it was a done deal. There would be no explanation beyond Brian’s words. Pete replayed these words endlessly “not a good enough drummer, not a good enough drummer.” Pete also asked over and over: “What was the real reason? Tell me, Brian, what was the real reason?”
Today, I continue to ask this question. It’s the purpose of my essay. Yet, I, too, just like Pete continually ask: “Why? Why? Why?” Please, please me and tell me why!" If there isn’t a final answer, maybe the wrong question is being asked. Maybe we should ask “why shouldn’t Pete have remained in the band?” Can anyone answer that question?