18 August 2007

Fake History: The Replacement of Ringo Starr

It was forty-five years ago today that Ringo Starr first appeared with the Beatles at the Cavern Club. He was a replacement for Pete Best, one of history’s best-known also-rans, and it is said there were shouts of “Pete Best forever; Ringo never,” as the band played. But in point of fact it was to be Ringo Starr, not Pete Best, who made history as the drummer for the Fab Four.

Now the firing of Pete Best is one of the most controversial events of early Beatles history. This piece isn’t about that as such, however, but about another short-lived Beatles drummer, Andy White. Specifically, how and why did it happen that Andy White, rather than Ringo Starr (or for that matter Pete Best), came to play the drums on two early Beatles tracks.

The official version of events rests on the highest authority—the actual accounts of the two people most directly involved. Ringo Starr and George Martin together tell the story something like this: When the Beatles auditioned for George Martin on 6 June 1962, the A&R man was not particularly happy with Pete Best’s drumming. He took their manager, Brian Epstein, aside, and told him in effect: I don’t care what you do with the group as performers, but Pete Best’s drumming is not up to speed for recording purposes, and I’m going to bring in a session drummer for the actual sessions.

Well, goes the story, this was the last straw for the rest of the band. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison got together and decided to replace their weakest link with the strongest drummer in the Liverpool band scene—one Richard Starkey, alias Ringo Starr. Their manager was given the unenviable task of firing Pete Best, and it was the new improved group that presented itself for their first EMI recording session in September.

The trouble was that George Martin had already booked session drummer Andy White to sit in for Pete, and he’d never even met Ringo Starr, let alone auditioned him. When Ringo Starr showed up, expecting to play, George Martin wasn’t about to chance it. He gave Best’s replacement a tambourine to bang on, and it was in this manner that their first EMI release, “Love Me Do,” was recorded.

Later on, of course, Ringo Starr showed that he could handle the drumming on his own, and when the time came to re-record “Love Me Do” for the album there was no need to bring in a session drummer. And all was sweetness and light from then on, or whatever.

Now this is the version told on The Beatles Anthology, and in various older reference sources. There was some confusion about the exact date of the Andy White recording session—was it 4 September or 11 September?—and certain other details were puzzling. As Allen Weiner put it in his 1986 book, The Beatles: A Recording History, “No two accounts of this recording session seem to agree, including those of Ringo, George Martin, and EMI.” One of the most obvious discrepancies is that the “Love Me Do” take that appears on the single is the one with Ringo Starr drumming, contrary at least to Starr’s own recollection, while Andy White drums on the album take.

It is probably true that George Martin’s lack of enthusiasm for Pete Best gave the other Beatles the impetus for firing their long-time drummer. As Best tells it (Beatle! The Pete Best Story) he first heard a rumor that he was leaving the Beatles for Lee Curtis and the All-Stars in mid-June, not long after the audition session at EMI. Brian Epstein denied that the Beatles were thinking of replacing him, but under the circumstances it seems likely that the idea was at least in the air at that point. The ball didn’t drop until two months later, in mid-August, when Brian Epstein told Pete Best he’d been fired.

And so it was the new line-up that came to London on 4 September 1962 for their first recording session. But—contrary to the story—there was no session drummer waiting in the wings. The plan, apparently, was to do the recording with the new drummer—or, at any rate, that’s what actually happened. Here’s Mersey Beat’s contemporary account:

It was a long and hard afternoon’s work. Six numbers were considered and eventually two were selected for the actual recording session in the evening. The work was relieved when one of London’s best known photographers, Dezo Hoffman arrived to take numerous photographs—you will see the excellent results in Mersey Beat soon.
EMI’s session records show that the two songs picked were “Love Me Do” and “How Do You Do It”. The recording of the latter—a Mitch Murray song especially selected by George Martin as a potential hit—seems to have gone fairly well. “Love Me Do” was another matter. Again from Mersey Beat:
Everyone was anxious to attain a perfect sound which would reproduce The Beatles’ unique qualities exactly. The backing … was “taken” no less than 15 times—John’s mouth (on harmonica) was numb with playing and the atmosphere was tense.
Another (later) Mersey Beat article gives at least part of the reason for the tense atmosphere:
…George Martin wanted him [Ringo Starr] to do some intricate drumming effects. He was naturally nervous—it was the first time he’d recorded, unlike the rest of the boys—and it took quite a bit of time.
Reverting to the previous article:
When the vocals had been recorded and the session ended (at midnight) everyone was so dazed and tired that it wasn’t really known how good or bad was the result.
The piece goes on to say that Brian Epstein and George Martin listened to the takes the next day and were extremely pleased. Probably the idea was to release a single with Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It” as the A-side and Lennon-McCartney’s “Love Me Do” as the B-side. Bassist Johnny Spence (of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates), however, was noncommittal. “Could it be better?” he asked. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, at least, were quite convinced that it could. They were adamantly opposed to putting out “How Do You Do It” rather than one of their own originals, for one thing. And it would appear from events that George Martin was far from satisfied with the recording of “Love Me Do,” especially if it were going out as the A-side.

A new session was booked for the next week, and on 11 September the Beatles again assembled at Abbey Road for a recording session. This time they were going to take another stab at “Love Me Do,” and record another Lennon-McCartney original, “P.S. I Love You.” And this time there would be another drummer present—session drummer Andy White.

Now this is key to understanding events. George Martin did not bring in the session drummer on account of Pete Best’s inadequate drumming, no matter what the authorities say. On 4 September he was perfectly willing to use Ringo Starr as drummer. It was only after that disastrous session that he brought in a replacement. In other words, Andy White never was a replacement for Pete Best. Andy White was specifically brought in to replace Ringo Starr. No wonder Ringo Starr thought “that’s the end. They’re doing a Pete Best on me.” (Hunter Davies, The Beatles, p. 163)

This fact explains a lot of the early confusion, especially about recording dates. It was obviously a lot more palatable to blame the Andy White replacement on Best’s drumming than Starr’s. Best was a nobody, a has-been, while Ringo Starr was—well, Ringo Starr. For the new story to be true, it was necessary to suppress the 4 September recording session. The story only worked if George Martin had never had a chance to appraise Ringo Starr’s drumming. The result was fake history, and fake history at its most devious. Nobody really had a vested interest—except maybe Pete Best—in correcting the story with the facts, and even now that the studio records are widely available, it is still possible for George Martin and Ringo Starr to relate their version of the story without blushing. But there it is.


Anonymous said...

The big problem with that story is that Ringo played the drums on the first recording of Love Me do, September 4, 1962. Martin didn't think Ringo's drumming was steady enough either, so he had the Beatles rerecord Love Me Do on September 11, 1962 with Andy White on Drum; they also recorded several other songs with White. I they were PS I Love You, Ask Me Why and an earlier version of Please Please Me. According to Mccartney in the book "Beatles Recording Sessions" Martin liked precision show drummers of the type on Sinatra records and no rock n roll drummers was doing that kind of drumming. Also, Martin never heard Best play in person, only on the June 11, 1962 test recordings. Ron Richards produced those recordings, Martin was not present. The truth is Martin would have turned down any drummer short of a sessions drummer.

John said...

From the start George Martin was to bring in a sessions drummer, as rock drummers were not used to the finesse required in a recording session. Rock drummers were used to getting volume in dance halls. No one miked up drums in those days. Martin knew a drummer in live gigs didn't have to be very precise, but when recording he had to be.

George Martin wanting to replace Best with a sessions man was interpreted by naive Epstein as Best not being good enough,putting the recording contract in jeopardy. He was a good drummer, as good as Ringo, if not better. During the first session Best was playing a battered drum kit that had been used heavily in Hamburg, which didn't help.

As the Beatles had been turned down by DECCA 6 months previously they panicked being frightened of losing the recording contract, so sacked Best. Best was a quiet sort of loner which never helped. Also Best's mother Mona had just given birth to a baby by the bands road manager Neil Aspinall, who was 17 years her junior, which may have been a point against Best. Martin was surprised Best was sacked, saying he was the band's biggest asset being the best looking - good looks were essential in the now TV age. Anything that promotes the group improves sales which is what EMI wanted.

One version is that Epstein offered the job to Tommy Huchinson of The Big Three, however he turned it down, not thinking too much of The Beatles. Epstein managed The Big Three. Hutch had stood-in for the Beatles previously and could not be told anything doing what he wanted - a difficult man.

Hutch was a friend of Best and said he would not do the dirty on him. Ringo was approached on a Wednesday and said he could take the job on the following Saturday - he was resident in Skegness. Tommy Hutch filled in for Best for two days until Ringo took over.

Hutch has not publicly given his account of the event. He is millionaire property developer in Liverpool.

There is little difference between the three versions of Love Me Do. Best was as good a Any White's.

Best was the victim of ignorance and misinterpretation. One of the unluckiest men in history.

Anonymous said...

Here's the weirdest explanation for Pete Best's firing that I've ever found on the internet:


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