by David Bedford and Garry Popper
The Beatles phenomenon is one amazing story that John Lennon tried to sum up by stating: “I met Paul and said, ‘Do you want to join me band?’ and then George joined, and then Ringo joined. We were just a band who made it very, very big.”
That is one of the biggest understatements ever, because it was so much more complicated than that, and the story involves 18 drummers.
Neil Aspinall once said that “the story of the Beatles always seemed to be about John, Paul, George and a drummer.”
When examined closely, that is exactly what happened, yet nobody has concentrated on the story of those drummers, and the crises in the evolution of The Beatles that always seemed to be around losing, or gaining, a drummer.
How many drummers can you count that played with the Fab Three between 1956 and 1970? We have found 18!
In a new book, and forthcoming documentary film, Finding the Fourth Beatle tells the story of The Beatles from 1956-1970 through the 18 drummers, including Colin Hanton, Pete Best and Jimmie Nicol, and some you will not have heard of before. The book and film explore the Beatles’ crises, changes of musical direction, getting a record deal, and finding the drummer who would put the beat into The Beatles: Ringo Starr, the Fourth Beatle.
The Crisis Points
After Colin Hanton quit The Quarrymen in the summer of 1958, John, Paul and George didn’t play with a drummer again until May 1960.
As if to show what chaos there was in 1960, they played with nine different drummers, many of them just the once. Tommy Moore was their first drummer, though even he turned up late for their debut performance at the Larry Parnes audition, so Johnny Hutchinson sat in with them until Tommy turned up. After their Scottish tour backing Johnny Gentle, Moore was so fed up with John Lennon that he quit the group. Despite desperate pleas, he refused to play with them again.
This gave rise to the legend of “Ronnie the Ted” who sat in for one evening in June 1960, though our investigations have unveiled another drummer who played for one song only, and took himself off the stage. That 16-year-old was not a drummer, though he did record with Apple later.
August 1960 – Hamburg Crisis
They soon discovered a new drummer, Norman Chapman, who had just joined, and settled in well with John, Paul, George and Stuart. He should have gone to Hamburg with The Beatles. However, his luck was to run out too, because a week before departing for Hamburg, he was called up for National Service, and joined the army for the next two years. Crisis time again!
A letter turned up a few years ago, written by Paul McCartney, responding to an advert in the Liverpool Echo. The drummer has remained a mystery, but will be revealed for the first time in Finding the Fourth Beatle. Another previously untold story is that this young man wasn’t the only one to be considered for an audition. The son of a friend of Paul’s father, Jim McCartney, was advised to go for an audition, but decided to take his girlfriend to the movies instead.
The same day that Paul wrote that letter in response to the advert, Paul also rang Pete Best, their friend from the Casbah Coffee Club. Pete came for an audition the following day, underwent a rehearsal that turned into a performance at the Jacaranda the next day, and then, a couple of days later, they were heading off to Hamburg. For the first time in two years, The Beatles had a permanent drummer, and one who would stay with them for the next two years, where they gained a fantastic reputation, made a record in Hamburg, acquired a manager in Brian Epstein and a record deal with Parlophone.
While they were in Hamburg the first time, The Beatles started hanging out with other Liverpool musicians, especially those from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, including Hurricanes’ drummer Ringo Starr. On October 15, 1960, Lu Walters from the Hurricanes decided to make a record, so he asked his drummer Ringo, and three friends from The Beatles – John, Paul and George – to join them. And so for the first time, John, Paul, George and Ringo appeared on a record together. Their lives would take very different paths over the next two years until they would release a record together again.
June 1961 – The Tony Sheridan Recordings
Performing as The Beat Brothers, and backing Tony Sheridan, John, Paul, George and Pete recorded with Bert Kaempfert, the German producer. Many stories have emerged from this session, especially around Pete Best’s drumming. Did he have his bass drum taken away? Was his timekeeping poor? Again, with the help of our experts, we test the eyewitness reports and analyze the recordings. Even though The Beatles were never keen on the record, it did bring them to the attention of Brian Epstein.
November 1961 – Brian Epstein
How much did Brian Epstein becoming their manager make a difference to The Beatles? It is well known that without Brian, The Beatles would not have got out of Liverpool, or obtained a record deal, their ultimate aim. We examine the intricacies of that first management contract that Brian never signed, including an interview with Brian’s lawyer. Why didn’t Brian sign it? In the process of looking for the evidence, we have also uncovered a partnership contract that was signed between John, Paul, George and Pete at the end of 1961, even though it has been suggested that John, Paul and George wanted to get rid of Pete Best.
January 1962 – The Decca Audition
Within weeks, Brian managed to obtain an audition for The Beatles with Decca. Although they felt it went well, they were turned down. But why? We have enlisted the help of three drummers who evaluate Pete Best’s drumming. We also have record producer Steve Levine, who tells us what record labels look for in a band. It is a revelation, and a unique examination of this famous audition.
February 1962 – Return to Decca
Having waited for weeks, Brian finally went to see Dick Rowe at Decca to be told that they wouldn’t be giving The Beatles a record deal. “Groups with guitars are on their way out,” said Mr. Rowe. So we examine the charts to see if groups with guitars were really on their way out, or if they were ever in? This led to the biggest crisis of Brian’s short managerial reign; they were almost out of options. Eventually, they were turned down by every record label, including EMI. Where could Brian turn? He ended up meeting with George Martin. That in itself was not a straightforward process, and it was thanks to Decca that Brian ended up there. George Martin invited The Beatles down to EMI Studios, with a view to offering the group a record deal.
June 1962 – The EMI Session
The day that would change Pete Best’s life forever, and the biggest crisis in Beatles history. But was it a test, or a recording session? We examine all the evidence, and the numerous eyewitness testimonies to reach our conclusion. Why does it matter? The conversation that George Martin had with Brian Epstein revolves around whether they were already under contract, or if the drummer issue being resolved is part of gaining that deal. We answer those questions, with evidence.
For many years, authors have been telling us that Pete Best was a terrible drummer, and using quotes from John, Paul and George about how awful Best was. We want to offer a more balanced view, revealing the positive quotes from John, Paul and George about Pete’s drumming as well, which are often not quoted. As neither of the authors of Finding the Fourth Beatle is a drummer, we felt that only drummers were qualified to tell us who is and isn’t a good drummer, and why. So we enlisted the help of nine different drummers to give us their opinion, plus those of one of Britain’s top record producers Steve Levine, to help us examine the drumming of Pete and Ringo, and how they differ, plus understanding their styles too.
August 1962 – Was Pete Best Sacked?
The change from Pete Best to Ringo Starr has been one of the most controversial moments in Beatles history and, for the first time, we can reveal a plot that was worked out to get Pete Best out of The Beatles, without sacking him. This book and film will provide the conclusive evidence, revealed by Brian Epstein’s lawyer, that Pete Best wasn’t sacked, changing Beatles history.
Pete for Ringo
This brought Ringo Starr into the group, but was it a straight swap? Was it a case of get rid of Pete, bring in Ringo? Was it always going to be Ringo?
We have evidence, fully corroborated, that three other drummers were asked to join The Beatles before Ringo; Bobby Graham, Ritchie Galvin and Johnny Hutchinson. How different Beatles history could have been.
Ringo – The Fourth Beatle
Thankfully, with those other drummers turning the job down, this meant that Ringo became the Fourth Beatle, and the aim of this book is to analyze and understand what made him the right drummer for The Beatles, and his often-overlooked contribution to their recording career. We analyze his style, his kit, and why so many drummers to this day regard Ringo as the pioneer in modern drumming. His intuitive style helped create The Beatles’ sound.
September 1962 – Andy White
The Beatles attended EMI Studios on September 4, 1962, and worked on “Love Me Do”. Crisis time again, because George Martin didn’t like Ringo’s drumming. They came back a week later, with Andy White, one of the top session drummers, sitting in with John, Paul and George. Whose version is better? We ask our experts for their feedback.
June 1964 – Jimmie Nicol
The other main drummer’s story to tell is that of Jimmie Nicol, the man who replaced Ringo at the eleventh hour after Ringo collapsed and was rushed to hospital in June 1964. For Nicol, it was the best thing he ever did, and the worst thing he ever did.
So, if you are counting, that isn’t 18 drummers yet. We can rightly include Paul McCartney, as he drummed with the group in 1960, and of course, after Ringo quit The Beatles for a short time.
All of this will be in the context of the Liverpool music scene, and why The Beatles could only have come from Liverpool.
Finding the Fourth Beatle is about so much more than drummers. What started out as a book about the 18 Beatles drummers has turned into a re-examination of the critical points in Beatles history. In spite of the numerous books on The Beatles, we felt that there was a need to look again at those key events in more detail, and test every account, every eyewitness testimony, and search for the evidence that would reveal the truth.
To accompany the book, there will be a double CD featuring as many of the drummers performing as possible, including a record that Norman Chapman played on, plus the entire Decca audition, Parlophone audition from June 1962 and many more great tracks.
The book is being published in a limited-edition hardback of only 1,000 copies, and has already been selling well. We are looking to have the book available in early 2018, so you can pre-order your copy now at:
For more info, visit www.thefourthbeatle.com