So much has been written about the Beatles over the years that it can sometimes be hard to tell where the truth ends and myth begins. This is especially true of the five years between the moment John Lennon met Paul McCartney and when they signed to Parlophone Records. With that in mind, we’ve compiled this list of facts about the formative years of the Beatles.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were introduced by a mutual friend named Ivan Vaughan on July 6, 1957, at a local church festival where Lennon’s band, the Quarry Men, played.
George Harrison, a schoolmate of Paul’s, joined the Quarry Men seven months later when he played Bill Justis’ hit ‘Raunchy’ for John on the top of a double-decker bus. George was only 14 at the time, a cause of concern for John.
Stu Sutcliffe, a friend of John’s from art college, became their bass player in early 1960 when, at John’s urging, he bought a bass with money he’d earned from selling one of his paintings.
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Their first tour saw the group, then known as the Silver Beatles, backing Johnny Gentle over 10 days in Scotland in May 1960. They adapted stage names, with John going by “Long John,” George naming himself “Carl” after Carl Perkins and Paul changing his last name to “Ramon.”
Many years later, in tribute to McCartney’s pseudonym on that tour, Doug Colvin changed his name to Dee Dee Ramone and convinced the other members of his band to join him and call themselves the Ramones.
Needing a full-time drummer for their upcoming residency in Hamburg, Germany, the band hired Pete Best, whose mother, Mona, ran the Casbah, a coffee shop/club located in the basement of her home.
In Hamburg, they became friends with two artists, Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kichherr. Voormann would design the cover for ‘Revolver’ and become an in-demand session bass player, frequently working on solo albums by John, George and Ringo.
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The Beatles’ famous haircut was actually worn by Voormann and many other young German men at the time. Sutcliffe was the first Beatle to try it, and Harrison, Lennon and McCartney followed suit. Best’s naturally curly hair made it difficult to style in that fashion.
Another Liverpool band playing the Hamburg circuit was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Their drummer, Ringo Starr, would often sit in with the Beatles when Best was unable to perform.
In late November 1960, George was deported when it was discovered that, at 17, he was too young to be legally playing in nightclubs. Shortly thereafter, Paul and Pete were also deported after being arrested for nailing a condom to the club wall and setting it on fire.
In February 1961, they played the Cavern Club, a jazz club in the heart of Liverpool, for the first time. Over the next two-and-a-half years, they would play nearly 300 concerts at the Cavern, at both lunchtime and evening sessions.
They returned to Hamburg in March 1961, shortly after Harrison turned 18. When the residency at the Top Ten Club ended in July 1961, Sutcliffe left the band to concentrate on his art and be with Kirchherr. McCartney took over on bass.
In June, they did their first proper recording session, serving as the backing band for singer Tony Sheridan. They cut a rock version of the Scottish folk song, ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ and several others.
That fall, a Liverpool record store manager named Brian Epstein began getting requests from customers for the Sheridan/Beatles record. Not being familiar with the group, he attended an afternoon performance at the Cavern on Nov. 9, 1961. A few months later, he was hired as their manager.
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On New Year’s Eve, 1961, the Beatles drove down to London in a snowstorm to audition for Decca Records the next day. They recorded 15 songs, including three originals, in about an hour.
Five weeks later, Decca’s head of A&R, Dick Rowe rejected the band because “guitar groups are on the way out.” Rowe would make up for his error by signing the Rolling Stones in May 1963.
On April 10, 1962, three days before another seven-week stint in Hamburg, Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage. Kirchherr broke the news to the band when she met them at the airport.
After playing four songs, Martin called them into the control room to discuss what would be expected of them if he were to sign them. When he asked if there was anything he didn’t like, Harrison said, “Yeah, I don’t like your tie.” Martin, who had produced many hit comedy records, was sold.
But Martin had one major issue: He was unhappy with Pete Best’s drumming and would use a session musician on the records. Hearing this and feeling the same, the Beatles fired Best on Aug. 16 and replaced him with Ringo Starr.
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