Contrary to how rock 'n' roll history books often portray him, Pete Best insists that he is more than a footnote. Best, 60, believes that he is, and always will be, a Beatle.
When considering that his rock 'n' roll resume includes spending 1960-62 as the original drummer of the Beatles during their most scandalous days of debauchery in the red light district of Hamburg, Germany, it would seem that he has a particularly strong case.
Mick Gast, 55, a promoter from Sonoma who is presenting the Pete Best Band's North Bay debut at the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma on Thursday, certainly won't argue.
"Pete grew up with those guys, and he lived the life of a Beatle," Gast said. "I just don't think Pete Best was ever given the credit that he deserves."
During Best's two years as a Beatle, he performed in more than 1,000 gigs; was accused of arson and deported from Germany along with Paul McCartney and John Lennon; shared sorrow in the death of a band mate; witnessed the loss of George Harrison's virginity; and performed on the first recordings of the biggest-selling pop group of all time -- including "My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan.
That his role as a Beatle is usually downplayed remains as mysterious to Best as his ouster from the band on June 6, 1962, only weeks before the burst of Beatlemania. (He was replaced by Ringo Starr.) Theories about the reason for his sacking have ranged from his drumming skills to his haircut.
"It's always been that 'Pete never spoke,' " a talkative and jovial Best said over the telephone. He was once infamously described as "mean, moody and magnificent," by McCartney. "I was tagged as the loner, stony-faced one who couldn't communicate and had no sense of humor. But hey, give me a chance, and I'll talk and laugh the legs off of you."
A chance was exactly what Best felt robbed of when his best friends abandoned him to become the most influential rock group in the universe. To add insult to injury, the band had manager Brian Epstein break the news to him.
In an interview with journalist Hunter Davies years later, Lennon admitted: "We were cowards when we sacked him. We made Brian do it. But if we'd told Pete to his face, that would have been much nastier. . . . It would have probably ended in a fight."
While the Beatles spent the 1960s redefining rock 'n' roll, Best fought to establish his own career in show business. After several singles, one album and a support slot for a Roy Orbison tour, the Pete Best Combo quietly disbanded, largely due to lukewarm success.
The low point of Best's life was when he considered suicide during a bout with depression in the mid-1960s, which he writes about in his autobiography, "Beatle! The Pete Best Story."
Best's older brother, Rory, stopped him, and the moment served as a major turning point in his life. Shortly after, Best left the music business to pursue a career in the British civil service and maintain a healthy family life as a husband and father and "a normal guy."
"But I always said that once I finished with my service I'd look for other things. What was supposed to be a one-off concert for a Beatles convention in Liverpool, England, back in 1988, ended up in a fantastic reception that sucked me right back into music," Best said.
Since his return to show business in 1988, he has released four CDs (not counting the 10 tracks included on 1995's "Beatle Anthology I") has toured the world three times and has written two books. Next month, he releases his third book, "The Beatles: The True Beginnings," to coincide with the reopening of his mother's Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles originally rehearsed and performed before it closed in 1962.
In February, Gast journeyed to Liverpool on what he described as a necessary pilgrimage.
The longtime Beatles fan explored the birthplace of his favorite band for five weeks, visiting landmarks such as Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane and the original homes of the Fab Four. Gast even rode the same bus line that the Beatles would take to the infamous Cavern Club where the then five-piece band periodically performed. At a George Harrison memorial gate, Gast hung up a sign that read "Here Comes the Sun -- from Sonoma, California," in honor of the guitarist.
All of that considered, Gast's greatest Beatle memory was when he became a part of Beatle history. While checking out the Cavern Club, and with hopes of promoting a promising young North Bay band called Dr!ven, Gast befriended two of Best's band members.
Gast and the young Liverpudlian musicians struck up a conversation in the club and he discovered that the Pete Best Band had planned a tour of the East Coast, he quickly offered his services to book them gigs in Northern California.
By the end of the week Gast was in touch with Roag Best, Pete's younger brother and now band mate. The result is three Bay Area shows this week in Sonoma, San Rafael and San Francisco.
The Pete Best Band now consists of two drummers, Pete and Roag, and four young musicians, Mark Hay, Phil Melia, Chris Cavanagh and Dave Deevey.
"We're very much a powerhouse-sounding group, influenced by the grassroots greats of yesteryear -- Motown, Tamla records -- all the good stuff," Best says.
Expect to hear a few originals as well as some classic Beatles tunes that Best performed on.
"They're a great band," Gast promises. "The Pete Best Band obviously have a lot to live up to. But I have a hunch that Pete has gotten to a point where he let all that go. Now he's just having fun."
Q: What are you most proud of in your musical career?
A: Being a survivor.
Q: What is your biggest regret?
A: Don't have any.
Q: How would you most like to be remembered?
A: As a good father and husband
Q: Did you compose any songs with The Beatles?
A: No. Only some arrangements.
Q: When was the last time you spoke with John? Paul? George?
Q: Who is the greatest rock drummer of all time?
A: John Bonham.
Q: Which Beatle were you closest to?
Q: Favorite Beatles song?
A: I Saw Her Standing There.
Q: How do you remember Stuart Sutcliffe, (original bass player for the Beatles, who died from a brain tumor at age 21)?
A: As a prolific artist. It annoys me how he's been tagged as not a good bass player. Total misconception. Maybe he wasn't the best, but he gave 200 percent. Stu was a gentleman. A very tender, loving sweet guy.
Q: Do you have any insight on the Lennon/Sutcliffe homosexual affair rumor?
Q: What question are you tired of being asked?
A: The above.
Q: Were the Hamburg days really as sex, drugs and rock n' roll as they've been portrayed?
A: Yes. We were 17 years old in the biggest red light district in Europe. We thought, "My god, we're a part of it. Let's just enjoy it and have fun with it."
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