In August 1960, nervously facing their first visit to Hamburg, the newly renamed Beatles needed a backbeat. The Beatles had split with Ken Brown, a talented guitarist, in what Pete describes as a huff over money—“huff” in Liverpool means a serious argument. Pete was close to Brown, so it was a lit- tle awkward when Paul McCartney called him and made the invitation. He joined the band, along with the small entourage, on the ferry ride across the sea to Hamburg. As the first non-temporary drummer took his place with the vagabond touring group, mother Mona was already plotting concerts and special appearances for their return, with the promoter Brian Kelly. She was also trying to book them in the Cavern, but she came away frustrated. The owner of the Cavern had a strict jazz-only policy at the time. She called incessantly, but the policy remained intact, and that was that.
But in the B.E. era (before Epstein), their association with Mona helped kick-start the boys into high gear during a period of almost two years that would bring Pete instant fame, a fast demise, and the gift of a brother, Vincent “Roag” Best, who was conceived by Mona in her relationship with Aspinall, a man half her age, a story that is an unusual side event for the Best family. But while Roag would become a blessing to the Best family, the story of Pete and the boys themselves had an unhappy ending. Mona and Pete were truly, before Brian, the closest thing to real managers the boys had had. In later years, Mona told the Beatles’ first biographer, Hunter Davies, “He’d [Pete] been their manager before Brian arrived, did the bookings, collected the money . . . looked upon them as friends. I had helped them so much, got them bookings, lending them money. I fed them when they were hun- gry. I was far more interested in them than their own parents.”
The last statement in that interview is furiously contested by all those who remember the families’ support for the boys, but in reality, Mona had a stronger understanding of the boys’ craft—their music—than the mostly loving parents. And then of course, there was her son. The truth is that Pete Best was, and remains, an incredible drummer.
There were 274 performances by the Beatles at the Cavern from 1961 through 1963. Sir Ron Watson, now of Southport, worked nearby and saw sixty-one of them. “In the beginning,” he says, “before their creative songwriting began, the Beatles were able to take American songs and put their own stamp on them. Pete Best was an integral part of that. I would munch on a hot dog or cheese roll, sip a Coke, and tried to ignore the thick cloud of cigarette smoke as I watched them, mostly at lunchtime, some of this in the pre-Richie [Ringo] days.”
Watson, who worked at the nearby landmark Liver Building, was obsessed with the hard-rock sound, and the drummer’s beat. “Dynamic is an understatement,” he recalls. “The place was always packed, boys and girls together. I will tell you, Larry, that the truth of the matter is . . . Pete was an anchor, although a shy one. They played two long sets each time, and the drumming energized them. Quite often the boys would mix with the crowd; Paul, of course, was the most talkative. Pete was friendly but unassuming. He appeared, I think, a little uncomfortable with the fact that he was the girls’ favorite.” “The girls’ favorite.” That’s an understatement.