The long and winding high road.

Imagine being unexpectedly and hastily canned from a small business without ever receiving an explanation why—a business that you had worked diligently to build up for two years.

And imagine the customers of this business being so distraught at your dismissal that they rioted at the injustice of it.

And imagine this small business achieving worldwide popularity a year-and-a-half later, and your former partners becoming multi-gazillionaires while you scraped around for any job you could find. You could be forgiven for being a tad bitter. In fact, no one would blame you for being indefinitely pissed-off.

But Pete Best opted for the high road. Even while in shock from his abrupt dismissal from the Beatles in 1962 by manager Brian Epstein (Pete never heard from the band members themselves—ever) he talked road manager Neil Aspinall into sticking with the band, despite Neil's outrage at Pete's firing.

Pete knew the band would be hugely successful and he didn't want his friend Neil to miss out. But Pete himself missed out—and watched from the sidelines as the Beatles took over England with their new drummer, Ringo.

Within two months of Pete's firing, the band's first single, "Love Me Do," made #17 on the British charts. Their following single, "Please Please Me," shot to #1. Beatlemania was underway in England, and soon in the world.

So how did Pete deal with it? Well, after seeing his old band mates conquer the globe, Pete tried to make it as a musician with several other bands, but it didn't work out.

He eventually settled down to raise a family and work for the government. Forty years later he's still married to his first and only wife, with two children and four grandchildren—a testimonial, methinks, to his working class values and character. Pete Best found peace, and in his own words he "moved on."

Now there may be a very simple lesson here for those of us who have faced a disappointment or two in life (perhaps recently in this economy?): there are things we can control and things we can't.

Pete recognized he didn't have a choice about the circumstances that befell him—namely being booted from the Beatles and missing out on the fame and fortune they achieved as the most successful group in pop music history.

But he did have a choice about how he related to the circumstances. (In an earlier post I mentioned that we have choice in how we "frame" events.) And Pete had a choice about the actions he would take moving forward.

At first he viewed his fate as a humiliating defeat. But over time he let go of the resentment and made a deliberate choice to forgive and get on with life. In due course he was able to look back in pride at what the Beatles accomplished in his two years as the backbone of the band. (After all, John Lennon in his famous Rolling Stone interview said the Beatles were a better band in the pre-Beatlemania days. "Our best music was never recorded," John observed. "What we generated was fantastic when we played straight rock." Of course this was the time when Pete was driving the band.)

As Pete told me a year ago: "I feel lucky. I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. I've got my health and happiness." And I would guess that his health and happiness were significantly enhanced by his eventual decision to close the chapter on 1962 and move on. (Forgiveness has its benefits.)

So what's happened to Pete professionally? After working for the government for twenty years he decided to pick up his drum sticks and put a band together.

Twenty years later the Pete Best Band is touring the world, playing small clubs, reminiscent of the early Beatle days—with a new album out. He seems to be having the time of his life, playing in a band with brother Roag, surrounded by family and friends. (Of course it didn't hurt that the Beatles' Anthology 1, released in 1995—which included many of the early demos that Pete played on—was another humongous Beatles hit, giving Pete a much deserved financial windfall.)

Today he happily reports, "Even without the dizzying heights of my fellow Beatles, I still have everything I want." And this from a young fellow who turned sixty-seven this week.

The moral of the story? Good things happen to those who choose the high road—even the long and winding one.

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  1. A heart warming, feel good story for the holidays, but wasn't it George Martin's idea to fire Best because George wasn't impressed with his playing?

  2. Great piece, John. It is one that we all can relate to; we have all had to deal with disappointing events and what mattered most is how we handled them. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Art, according to a conversation I had with the late Norman Smith, the engineer at the Beatles audition session for EMI & George Martin, they didn't suggest Pete should be replaced in the live band, but only in the studio for certain tracks. It was common in those days for bands to use a "session drummer" — a specialist who had rock-solid tempo and knew how to get the best sound from his drums for recording. In fact after Ringo was hired, Martin replaced HIM in the studio for their first single (Love Me Do/PS I Love You). There are actually three versions of Love Me Do available now, with 3 different drummers, Pete, Ringo, and Andy White. I actually like Pete's version best (found on Beatles Anthology 1). All 3 drummers were good in their own way. I can't imagine the Beatle hits without Ringo playing on them now - but if Pete had stayed with them the Beatles would have been great in a different way. Apparently they were a louder, raunchier band in the Pete Best days - maybe more like the Stones. Meanwhile Andy White was a first rate studio drummer in his own right.

    All of this is just one drummer's opinion. :-)

    Thanks, Judith. Pete handled the whole ordeal amazingly well.

  4. There was a lot of scuttlebutt that Brian Epstein didn't appreciate Pete's mom Mona being so protective of the Beatles. And there was also the fact that the Beatles roadie Neil got Mona pregnant around that time. So Brian might have been more than happy to cut the ties with the Best family in 1962. Meanwhile Pete was the most popular of the band mates with the girls, which supposedly irked Paul. And Pete also kept to himself and didn't hang with the band as much as the other 3. They all had motives for the crime. And because they felt so guilty afterwards they couldn't bring themselves to ever speak to Pete again.

  5. Yup, coulda been a combination of things. Anyone who's seen Pete play would know there's nothing wrong with his drumming.

  6. John - I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Viktor Frankl and his classic, "Man's Search For Meaning." Pete Best looks like a case of someone who experiences a huge shock, then the apathy it engenders and then resolution. Frankl was a concentration camp survivor who'd previously been a psychiatric doctor specialising in suicide. My favourite insight of his, which implies dignity and positivism amongst others, is:

    "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

  7. Yes, Mark, I love Frankl's work - and I love that quote, which I use in my 9/9 post, "The Art of Reframing." Yeah, Pete definitely had to reframe his firing. After all he went through in the 60s, one could argue that since then he's been the happiest Beatle.

  8. I wouldn't be surprised if Pete Best was truly traumatized by the experience initially. If he was able to reinterpret the event and deliberately choose a productive response - without professional help - that would be no small achievement.

  9. Patricia, I have no idea how he came to reframe his experience, but it's a question I may pose to him in the future.

  10. Art, Ringo was a popular local drummer at the time who held his own talent-wise. He played hard and steady, and was an easy guy to get along with. The fact that he didn't try to do too much - leaving others to fill in the "holes" in the arrangements - turned out to be an important contribution to the Beatle sound. (For instance, a virtuoso like Keith Moon of the Who would have been an atrocious fit for the Beatles.) Personally I loved his solid backbeat, his tasteful fills, his minimalist approach.

    I used to argue all the time with other rock musicians about the important contribution that drummers like that (including Charlie Watts of the Stones and Michael Clarke of the Byrds) make to a SONG. They may not be great improvisers or soloists, but they know how to put a song across. Being a drummer at the time, I looked up to these guys as my heroes, though I also appreciated the rock masters like Keith Moon, Ginger Baker (Cream), Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix), and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). I remember having an animated discussion with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead 40 years ago when he was disparaging drummers who "just played the 2 and 4" - while I was defending the fellas who surrendered their musical ego to the team's (and the song's) needs. My bias has always been towards the song (including a well-crafted arrangement), which is why I've always preferred the "song" bands of that era (the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Byrds, Beach Boys - and later the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Police) to the supergroups (Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin). BTW, Pete Best was - and is - a song oriented drummer as well.

    Footnote to the above: the Who were an interesting case - band members could show off their instrumental virtuosity while still delivering outstanding songs.

    Getting back to your question, Art: once the Beatles - for whatever mature or immature reasons - wanted Pete out of the band, Ringo wasn't a bad choice. He had the musical chops and - perhaps even more importantly - the personality to fit right into the group. The only comment I've heard from any of the Beatles re the Pete vs Ringo controversy was Lennon's cryptic comment: "Pete was a great drummer; Ringo was a great Beatle."

    I personally think the Beatles would still have been big if they kept Pete, but it would have been a different Beatles - with a harder edge.

    1. Interestingly, the "rock masters" you mentioned are all with power trios (+ sometime a non-musician singer). A one guitar - one bass - drums combo leaves more space for the drummer than a more numerous band like the Beatles, the Stones or The Byrds.

  11. Judith, I've always loved that quote ("Between stimulus and response, there is a space...") and have used it in leadership training for years. I always make the point that we have choices in how we EXPERIENCE or RELATE TO difficult events in our lives even when we have no choice about the events themselves. Then someone will try to argue with me that this is just "happy talk" or "pollyanna thinking" that doesn't apply to REAL hardship. Then I show the Frankl quote on powerpoint and tell his story - that he "chose his response" to the minute by minute events in Auschwitz and Turkheim after already losing his wife and parents. Needless to say it's not happy talk; it's a mature way to live: DELIBERATELY.

  12. Beautiful, John. I found the quote incredibly moving and empowering. Your recent comment is most powerful. Thank you.

  13. Interesting observation, Art. Yes, many drummers from famous bands of the 60s and 70s have already passed on, including Mike Clarke of the Byrds, Dennie Wilson of the Beach Boys, Keith Moon of the Who, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and just last week Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I don't know if that's statistically unusual, but maybe I should have a check-up. :-)

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