PBS - Back to the 1960s: A Week of Live Discussions with Guests We've Known Ever Since

'Best of the Beatles'

Pete Best
Originals Beatles Drummer
Monday, September 26, 2005; 12:30 PM

"Best of the Beatles," a program that airs on PBS on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. ET, is the untold story of the world's most famous band's formative years -- seen through the eyes of original Beatles drummer Pete Best.

Best was online Monday, Sept. 26, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the Beatles, his life and career and the PBS film.

Viewers learn the facts about the Beatles' experiences in Liverpool and Hamburg at the time when the band redefined the vanguard. They also learn how it all went horribly wrong for Best, the fifth Beatle.

For the first time, viewers will hear Best's story, his role in forming the Beatles and how he survived a public nightmare, all illustrated with a variety of music, archival material and interviews. Pete's story reveals the unlikely chain of events that led to his becoming the drummer in the Beatles in the first place: his mum, the formidable Mona, pawned all her jewelry and placed a 33-to-one bet on a horse called "Never Say Die." The horse won. With her winnings, Mona bought her dream home, and sent Pete, his brothers and "friends" into the basement to socialize and play their music. From this was born the Casbah Coffee Club, which became Beatles headquarters. Thus the legend began -- the wild revelry of playing the clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg' red light district, the beginning of Beatlemania, recording for Polydor, establishing their authority as Liverpool's number one group by winning the Mersey Beat Poll, signing manager Brian Epstein, the Decca Records rejection, meeting George Martin, signing for Parlophone, recording "Love Me Do" at Abbey Road Studios, and finally Best's dismissal from the Beatles.

Most recently Best started The Pete Best Band, which tours internationally. He has written a book about the early days of the Beatles which was released in the United States in 2003 (St. Martins Press) and now the DVD entitled "Best Of The Beatles," which includes rare footage combined with new interviews and insights from key players beginning in Liverpool, 1962.

The transcript follows.


Greenville, S.C.: Who in your opinion was the most innovative or influential rock and roll drummer in the of the sixties era?

Pete Best: I would say influential, Ginger Baker. There's lots of excellent drummers and drummers who came out of Liverpool. There was Kenny Jones, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, they were creating styles that were way out in front of other people.


Spring Valley, Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Best, Wow, what an opportunity! Thank you for taking questions. Obvious questions are whether you remained friendly with the Beatles over the past 40 years, did you continue to like their music or did you feel they became too commercial or faddish? Beyond that I'd appreciate any and all stories about them in those early years (what did they like to drink and eat, stories about travels). What great memories to have.

Thanks very much.

Pete Best: Yes, you know, regardless of what happened from my particular side, I still remained friendly from my side. The door was always open from my side. As being a fan of their music, yes, regardless of what happened, it was nice to seeing what directions they went on as they were becoming icons of the music industry. There is a documentary being aired on Wednesday the 28th of September on PBS, between 8 and 9 eastern, the Sixties Week, called Best of the Beatles. In conjunction with that there is also a three hour DVD Being released by Light Year. That's available on all the online Web sites and major distribution outlets. That covers it -- watch the documentary and get the DVD, in its entirety.


New York, N.Y.: A business magazine once listed the worst business decisions in history, and Decca's not signing the Beatles made the list. Ironically, had they been signed then, you would have been signed as well. Have you ever thought what might have happened from that point had Decca signed the Beatles?

Pete Best: I think the answer is yes, your mind does reflect if Decca had signed them. Unfortunately they didn't! Its covered in the documentary and DVD with a great interview with Mike Smith, the A&R man at Decca who was in control of that session. And its very interesting to hear what he has to say about the subject.


Philadelphia, Pa.: There was a study on the effects of music on people that stated that the body responds best to certain types of drumming. Indeed, the Beatles, but their very name -- Beatles -- established themselves as a band with a terrific beat. As the originator of that beat, did you realize you were the secret weapon in creating the Beatles phenomenon?

Pete Best: LOL!! I've been called many things, but not "Secret Weapon"! No, I think at the time you are creating your own drumming style. What the world sees is unbeknownst to yourself. Only compared to other people later do you realize that you created something that was different than what was going on at that time.


Baltimore, Md.: How is it that you never hooked up with any of the other "British Invasion" bands? It's always seemed like such an incestuous scene that you could've gone from the Beatles to any number of other groups that went on to success.

Pete Best: Well when the office of work came in, after my dismissal, numerous decisions later, there was an up and coming band in Liverpool, Lee Curtis and the All Stars, and I thought it would be interesting to start with a band with a lot of potential that I could do something with. We achieved a lot of things, they went on to become the Pete Best Four. But unfortunately even though we toured and recorded in America, it wasn't meant to be that we were going to be part of the British Invasion at that time.


Florida: What would you say to those critics who have described Ringo as the underappreciated linchpin of the Beatles? Could any other leading drummer of the era have done what he did?

Pete Best: I think he got a situation where a lot of drummers in Liverpool were approached prior to Ringo accepting the job. And out of loyalty to myself they turned the job down. So Ringo wasn't the first person to be approached. And I think if any of the other drummers had stepped into my drumming shoes, then they could have done anything which Ringo Starr did.


Columbus, Ohio: When performing in Hamburg, how much of each set included Beatle written material? Were you aware at the time, that the song writing duo of John and Paul had so much promise?

Pete Best: There were three trips out to Hamburg. We were aware of the fact that John and Paul had written original material before the Beatles. The first trip out to Hamburg and 90 percent of the second trip, most of the material we were doing were standards and copies. It was only during the third trip in April, 1962, by this time we had started to introduce original material into the act. In the early days, it was very interesting to see the response from the crowd as regards that original material. And I think what concerns it as regards John and Paul being great songwriters, is when we actually got our recording contract with EMI we were confident enough in our own original material and hence the first British release was two original songs, Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You, which the world knows today went into the charts in England. The response in Hamburg was great to the original material.


Richmond, Va.: I once read that Lennon commented that he did his best stuff before the Beatles became famous. When I listen to the early albums, I can see what he means ... there seems to be an energy there that hasn't been duplicated.

I get the impression that Hamburg was quite an experience musically. What was your experience like in Hamburg? Was Lennon a royal pain or was he easy to get along with?

Pete Best: LOL! Well, I agree with what John said regarding the best music we played as far as rock n roll was around the clubs in Hamburg and Liverpool. Because the music we were playing then was full of energy, excitement and ferocity. With regard to John's personality, out of all of them, even though I was friends with all of them, I found that John was my best soul mate. John and I had many good times together. And again, a lot of this and the memories are captured in the documentary and the DVD. As far as I was concerned, he was my man.


Bethesda, Md.: I have this long-running debate with a friend over which of the Beatles most defined their style as it evolved. He says Paul, who wrote the music, but I always think it was John, who infused the band with funk and pushed the group into new territory.

What would be your thoughts on this?

Pete Best: I think they're right on both counts. I think they were both musically wise very influential in what they did. But there were two different feels to music. I think John's was more raw edged and down to earth. Whereas Paul's approach was a little bit bubble gum. But it's nice to have both of those extremes, because you can build on it, it's not just one person.


Lyme, Conn.: Stu Stucliffe is the least known Beatle. What was Stu like? Did you get to know him well, and what are some of your best memories of him?

Pete Best: I got to know Stu when he first came to my mother's club, the Casbah Coffee Club. That was in 1959. I got to know him very well when I joined the band in August 1960 because by then Stu was playing bass. As a person he was great. He has been much maligned over the years as regards to being a bad bass player, but he wasn't. There were better bass players, there were worse bass players. But what he gave on stage was 200 percent. And when a person does that you can only admire him for his efforts. Of course since then, we know that Stu as well as being a musician, was also a brilliant artist, whose carrier was tragically cut short in 1962 by a brain hemorrhage. But all in all he was a great guy and contributed an awful lot to the ascendancy of the Beatles.


Harrisburg, Pa.: What is the DVD about and is it on sale now?

washingtonpost.com: PBS says it is on sale now and will air on Wed., Sept. 28. To Buy the DVD, visit: Shop PBS

Pete Best's official Web site: petebest.com


washingtonpost.com: Check your Local Listings for more information.


Johnstown, Pa.: Mr. Best,

Thank you so much for this opportunity!

Have you continued as an active musician over the years since you left the Beatles? Any recordings?

Pete Best: The answer to that is yes. Again, my story is well chronicled in the documentary and DVD which is out there. I stepped out of show business for about 20 years to bring my family up...And in 1988 I went back into music again and I've been in music ever since. Touring the world with my own band, the Pete Best Band. There are recordings out there and CD's of the Pete Best Band. They are most probably released on the PB Splash label. If you can't track them down, they are available on my Web site, www.petebest.com. The good news is that in spring, 2006, the band has an original album coming out, material written by the band itself. We'll keep you more informed on that on the web site as it progresses.


Huntingtown, Md.: As a follow-up to Richmond's question, did you stay friendly with John up 'til his death? What about the others?

Pete Best: I think the easiest way of answering that, is that I never actually saw any of the Beatles again after 1963. But John always remained a friend to me regardless of what happened. And the same with the others. Never actually seen them but I would hope they would look upon me as a friend.


Roanoke, Va.: Is it a fair comparison between the early Beatles experience in Germany (i.e. leather jackets, faster music, etc.) and later punk rock movement in Britain and U.S.?

Pete Best: LOL! I think it's something in hindsight. We were the flagship as regardless to leather image in Liverpool. What people saw many years afterwards was the punk movement, and the dress and costumes during that particular era, a lot of people cross referenced that and said that the Beatles in their leather days must have been comparable to that scene. And hence, you've got a lot of people saying that possibly the Beatles, unbeknownst to themselves, were not just forerunners of rock n roll, but also of the punk movement as well. I rest my case!


Liverpool: So, Pete, did your mum have some inside info on that horse, Never Say Die?

Pete Best: LOL! If she did, she kept it a good secret!


Santa Fe, N.M.: Pete,

With the high price of fame that John and George paid do you feel in some odd way you may in fact be the luckiest Beatle?

Pete Best: I always have said that. Because a lot of people have cast me as the most unfortunate man in show business. But when you look at it from my side, I'm still alive and I've still got my health and happiness. And lots of things in life which have compensated for it. That takes in having a great band, a marriage which has lasted 40 years, two beautiful daughters which have given my four wonderful grandchildren. The band is touring the world and getting great acclaim in their own right. So, I'm happy. And if I can keep on saying that, I can enjoy life. And that compensates for some of things that happened many, many years ago.


San Francisco, Calif.: I saw your show in San Francisco a few years ago and it was great (even if the opening band messed up their starting time, but that's another story). The Pete Best Band really rocks. When is the band going to tour again and when are you going to put up a new album?

Pete Best: Well, we've just finished a tour of the east and west coast in July of this year. We are back again in October. But this time we will be in the mid west and east coast. Next spring, we will be out on the west coast again. And we'll keep all that information posted on the web site petebest.com.

As regards future recordings, as I mentioned before, there will be an original album out in spring of next year.


Poughkeepsie, New York: Hi Pete ... (You're always my favorite Beatle!!) My question for you is "What's your favorite Beatle song" ...... God Bless you, Pete ...

Pete Best: Simple answer to this one: favorite Beatles song has always been I Saw Her Standing There.


New York. N.Y.: I have your album "Best of the Beatles" and you recent CD. Why did you not attempt to record more?

Pete Best: At that time, it was very much a case, that album goes back to the mid-sixties. Then 1968 I moved away from show business. And re-entered it again in 1988. And consequently since then, I've recorded a lot more material. But it wasn't a case of not recording anymore it was just a case of when and how I was going to do it.


Annandale, Va.: How good a musician was George Harrison? Were there other guitar players available in Liverpool, or was he the best?

Pete Best: I think George, I knew George from 1959 in fact before that. I had seen George playing prior to coming to the Casbah in 1959. What you've got to remember the Quarrymen went on to become the Beatles - John, George and Paul. It wasn't a case of finding another guitarist. They felt he was part of the band and he grew in stature as he improved and became a very accomplished guitar player which the world knows today. I think back then there were a lot of guitar players who were better than George, but through practice and hard work he caught up with an awful lot of them. And hence you get George Harrison the guitarist the world knows today.


Queen Anne's County, Md.: Why do you think that John, George and Ringo remained good friends after the Beatles' breakup with Paul pretty much on the outside?

Pete Best: I wish I knew the answer to that one. I wasn't privvy, I wasn't aware of what was going on behind the scenes. So if there had been any internal pressures which caused people to fall out with one another, maybe that was the reason. But that's just an assumption. I don't know the real reason for it.


Washington, D.C.: Pete,

Obviously, there will never be another Beatles, or Who or Zeppelin ..... but, in your opinion, what new bands will we be talking about in 30 years? Ones that are doing really unique stuff that will have staying power?

Pete Best: That's like having a crystal ball! LOL! Universally it would be hard, because like everything else, you're not aware of the bands in different parts of the world. But being a Liverpool lad, I'm always interested in what comes o ut of Liverpool. And I think a young band in Liverpool called Coral with the right breaks, they've got the staying power to be around in 30 years.


Birmingham, Ala.: Pete, do you still live in Liverpool and associate with the same crowd as back in the early days of the Beatles?

Pete Best: I'm still living in Liverpool, that's my home town. And those of us that are still around today, I still have a lot of friends from those days, both friends and friends in the music industry as well. They were part of the Liverpool scene in those days. I think Liverpool is great in that its always been a hot bed for up and coming musicians. It's moved away from its industrial image, but that image has been replaced by tourism. And Liverpool is alive and kicking again.


Evanston, Ill.: Hi Pete -- I always have wanted to ask you if there is one Beatles song, or one album where you thought, "Darn, I could have done SO MUCH better than this" or something along those lines?

Pete Best: LOL! I think deep down inside, you don't think about it everybody, most probably drummer's pride comes into the question. So there would be some songs which you say you could have done better. But at the end of the day, you know, what goes on in the studio, no one really knows! Sometimes you have to play something which the A&R man wants. And sometimes you might not agree with it, but you have to do it.


Washington, D.C.: How would things have been different if Stu Sutcliffe had not quit (and then passed away)? Were you close to him?

Pete Best: I was very close to Stu as I mentioned before, he was a great guy with a great personalilty and his contribution to the band was immense. I don't think it would have changed an awful lot, my own opinion, if Stu had stayed within the band. Because he would have improved as the rest of us did.


Lexington, Ky.: Pete, I'm wondering what you would say to Paul if you ran into him somewhere. What would you like him to say to you after all these years?

Pete Best: A lot of people are under the impression that I would want to find out the reason for my dismissal. That would be the furthest thing from my mind. What I would be asking Paul is very much about what's going on today. Yes we can laugh and joke about the old days in Hamburg and Liverpool. And just enjoy life, talking about things in general. He's a family man and I'm a family man. And I would expect Paul to most likely converse most likely along the same lines. I don't think either of us would want to discuss the pros and cons of the dismissal!


Helena, Mont.: Thanks for taking our questions. What reason did the Beatles give you for replacing you with Ringo? How did they tell you? Did you have any idea the sack was coming?

Pete Best: Again, it's all in the DVD and in the documentary airing on the 28th, in great detail...Not just myself, but other people who were there in the 60's. So its interesting to have their opinions as well.


washingtonpost.com: Check Your Local Listings


New Haven, Conn.: Did your mother keep in touch with John Lennon or any of the Beatles? I noticed John Lennon wore your grandfather's medals at a photo shoot, as your book mentioned.

Pete Best: The answer to that is yes. Regardless of what happened to me, circumstances in our life made it so that she had to socialize with the Beatles. She was very diplomatic. She would help the Beatles after my dismissal as best she could as you can see by the wearing on the Sgt. Pepper album of my grandfather's medals.


Washington, D.C.: What ever happened to Tony Sheridan? You and the Beatles recorded with him, did a great album in fact, and that seems to be the last we've heard of him. Whatever became of him, if you know?

Pete Best: He's alive and well and kicking and very much part of the music scene in Germany where he has mostly lived since the 60's. We are sometimes on the same bill together or touring together. It's a funny old life! LOL!


Washington, D.C.: I know this was another band from your days, but it is true that Rory Storm and his mother died tragically? Do you know the correct story to their demise?

Pete Best: There's lots of rumours as to what happened. Some people say it was a suicide pact. Some people say it was thru dispair. I don't think anyone really knows the real truth behind it.


Boise, Idaho: Hi Pete,

Do you know Mike Smith from the Dave Clark 5? If so, how's he doing?

Pete Best: I did meet Mike Smith many years ago when Glad All Over went into the starts. But I didn't know him personally so I don't know his whereabouts or what has happened to him.


Bethesda, Md.: Sorry to add to the pile of questions about other people, but I'm a huge fan of John Lennon and was wondering if you could give some anecdotes about the two of you in your younger years. Also, how did you react to the news when he was killed?

Pete Best: Well I think as regards to the anecdotes, please watch the documentary and the DVD, there's loads of them in there. But as regards to John's death, the tragic circumstances behind it, like the rest of the world, I was truly sad when I heard about it. At the end of the day, we had been good friends regardless of what happened. And it was the loss of a brilliant person's life.


Brooklyn: What is the difference between a good drummer and a great drummer?

Pete Best: That sounds like a musician's question! I would turn around and say, and it's my way of dipping out of it, very tongue in cheek, I think the difference between a good drummer and a great drummer -- is what the audience thinks!


Houston, Tex.: I must tell you that I fooled my kids for years by telling them I was the Beatles' first drummer. And later they told their friends the same thing so it has become a running joke. Anyway, what I would like to know is what was there about Paul and John that made them such great songwriters? What set them apart?

Pete Best: To "Pete Best in Texas' -- I think what made John and Paul so great was just one word -- talent. And I hope you get much enjoyment impersonating me!


Pete Best: I'm sure that people will love hearing the anecdotes and stories, not only from me but others as well, on the DVD and in the documentary. Thank you so much for the response. I hope that in some time in the future I'll actually get to see you all in person. Enjoy the documentary and the DVD. And till the next time we went, have fun and God bless!


Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company