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Meet Pete Best
Meet Pete Best

The Pete Best Band - Rock. 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Benton High School Gymnasium, 511 East Main Street. $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

It was an interesting period in rock 'n' roll.

The originals, guys like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, had disappeared from the scene. Buddy Holly had died and Elvis Presley was about to get out of the Army. America had become overrun with teen pop idols who made the screeching guitar sounds and big beats more acceptable to the mainstream music-buying public.

On the other side of the big pond, in Liverpool, specifically, there was a new wave of bands who were exploring this new uniquely American art form.

They were taking the songs of these founding fathers and combining them with the sweet grooves of Berry Gordy's Motown to create something of their own. It added aspects of the English folk tradition, while preserving the raw nature of early rock.

More than forty years ago, a few lads from Liverpool were poised to make rock 'n' roll history.

Before the lovable Ringo Starr joined up with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Pete Best was pounding the skins in the formative years of what would probably be considered the most influential rock band of all time.

In 1960, Best began a two-year residency with the Beatles as the group worked the clubs in England and Germany. At the time, the group also included bassist Stu Sutcliffe.

Best began playing the drums after seeing Gene Krupa in an old black-and-white movie as a teen. Fortunately, he didn't have to look hard to find other musicians. Soon thereafter, his mother, Mona, opened the Casbah in the cellar of their home on Hayman's Green, a street in Liverpool.

"It was the brainchild of my mother," Best said. "She had an idea for live music for kids of all generations and that's exactly what she did. What better place to have it than the basement of your own house."

This humble little "coffee club" was ground zero for what would become the "Mersey beat" sound.

"A great scene," Best said. "Liverpool's always been a hotbed for music, even before the '60s explosion and even still today � Once people heard it, it captivated them, and as we always said, we bottled and sold it back to the Americans."

Best had his own band, the Blackjacks. McCartney, Harrison and Lennon began playing as the Quarrymen, and later they would be called the Silver Beatles. They had a regular residency at the Casbah, and also socialized there. In 1960, they had finished a tour with Johnny Gentle and their drummer quit. With an offer to go to Germany, it was only natural to ask Best, who they were familiar with personally and in terms of abilities.

After getting the call from McCartney, Best cleared the offer with his parents, auditioned and was voted in. A couple of days later, Best was on his way to Hamburg.

Five teens on the road in a foreign country would be enough to worry some parents. Five teens playing rock music in German clubs lent itself to a wide range of experiences, and becoming a top-notch band was one of many.

"It was a learning curve for everything," Best said. "From your sex life to your musical education. But it was great because they were exciting times; we were breaking new musical boundaries."

Although they had known each other before the tour, living in such close quarters made them even closer. They would be on stage for six or seven hours, six or seven nights a week.

This time was really the beginning of Beatlemania. The sound of those first records was perfected as the group played more and more. Eventually, Sutcliffe left the band, making it a four-piece band with McCartney on bass.

Brian Epstein became the group's manager, and after failing to secure a recording deal with Decca Records, the Beatles signed with EMI/ Parlophone.

The rest, they say, should be history, but it was not the case for Best. In August 1962, after signing their contract, he was dismissed from the band. Over the years, there have been many theories, but Best was never told why.

"I stopped worrying about what the reason for the dismissal was many, many, many years ago," Best said. "Simply because the fact is, there's more to life than looking back over your shoulder all the time. I think once you understand that, your priorities change and simple things in life become important."

After the Beatles, Best joined a number of bands, but finally left the music business altogether in 1968 and became a civil servant, focusing on family life with his wife and two daughters.

He didn't really miss the relentless touring or lifestyle and for many years, turned down requests to join bands or for personal appearances. In 1988, he finally relented, appearing at a Beatles convention in Liverpool. He and his brother, Roag, performed for the audience and afterward, his family told him, "You don't know it, but you're going to go back into show business."

He formed the Pete Best Band and began performing some of the same songs in the same venues he did as a teen.

Recently, they released "Hayman's Green," an album of original songs named after the street of his parents' home and club, which recalls that early sound, but also assimilates the sounds of bands influenced by the Beatles.

This particular lineup of the Pete Best Band, which will play Saturday at the Benton George Harrison Beatle Fest, has been together for seven years.

Best said there is a unique quality to bands from his hometown, which is one of the reasons the Beatles set the world on fire.

"What was happening and still happens with bands in Liverpool, even today, they play from the heart," Best said. "They put their heart and soul into the music."

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