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Ex-Beatle missed the 'fab' part, but he landed on his feet

Timothy Finn
The Kansas City Star

Pete Best never completely shed the job he lost in 1962. That's what happens when you're history's only living ex-Beatle.

"Liverpool is my hometown," he said recently. "The people of my generation were aware of all that happened - the subterfuge, the heartache. It was all well-chronicled."

What happened was that in August 1962, the Beatles unceremoniously sacked Best and replaced him with drummer Ringo Starr. Two months later "Love Me Do" hit the Top 20 in Britain, and the Beatles were off on their mind-blowing voyage.

And Best, who was part of the band's founding years (including its infamous tours in Hamburg, Germany), became a tragic bystander to it all.

"The hardest part was when `Love Me Do' went into the English charts," he said. "We always knew once we had success on the English charts, we were on our way. If it had taken awhile to get a record on the charts, it would have been different. But lo and behold, it was the first record - boom, right onto the charts. After that the No. 1 songs flew out the door, didn't they?"

More than 44 years later, Best insists that things worked out just fine. He got married, raised a family, earned his pension after 20 years in the civil service and, since 1988, has been a working musician again.

"It's just good old-fashioned rock `n' roll," Best said, "from a band that has established ourselves in our own rights."

Best is speaking from the Casbah Coffee Club, the venue his mother opened in 1959 in the basement of his boyhood home. It would become the early Beatles' unofficial headquarters in Liverpool, the hometown he never left. He was fired Aug. 16 for reasons he says he still doesn't fully understand.

"But two people out there know the reason," he said, referring to Ringo and Paul McCartney, the two surviving Beatles.

Best, then 21, joined Lee Curtis & the Allstars to keep his music career going, but the group never took off. In 1968 he stepped away from music completely.

"I needed to provide some security for my family," he said. "So I took a civil-service job, one with some stability and promotional possibilities."

By that time his old band had become the biggest thing in music since Elvis, and Liverpool had become a holy land to millions of their fans. How did Best deal with all that going on around him?

"I became a fan of the music, regardless of what happened," he said. "Sure I had moments when I thought, `It would have been nice to be a part of that,' but it didn't happen and different priorities took over my life."

Best has heard from none of the Beatles since he was fired, and he received virtually no windfall from their fortune until the "Anthology I" compilation was released in 1995. That two-CD set includes 10 tracks recorded when he was still with the band.

"It came as a bit of a surprise," he said. "There had been other projects which I would have liked to be featured in but financially-wise I was not included. We knew this massive `Anthology' project was coming out, and I figured I wouldn't be a part of it, but I wondered what it was about.

"Before the release Apple (Records) contacted me and said, `We want to use some of your likenesses and some of the material you played on. Any problems with that?' I said, `No.' They said, `We want to pay you for it.' I said, `That's even better.'

"Financially it was nice, like a fairy tale come true after all these years. And the truth is, they could have used just one track. But they gave me the kudos and showed, I guess you could say, how important my contribution was during those two years."

His connection to the Beatles has paid off in other ways: In 1988, after retiring from his job, Best did what he figured would be a one-off show in Liverpool with some of his contemporaries, including Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats. He hasn't stopped playing since.

These days the Pete Best Band tours about six months out of the year, all over the world, Best said. The rest of the time he spends running the Casbah, which is still a popular spot on the tourist trail, and a recording studio. His band plans to release a record of new material in 2007.

Best has also released his own Beatles documentary, "Best of the Beatles" - his way of telling his small part of one of the greatest stories in pop culture.

"At the end of the day, the recognition is always nice," Best said. "It shows people are still interested and are aware of my contributions."

Spoken like a man who realizes there are much worse things to be in life than an ex-Beatle.

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