THE BEATLES

John formed his first band, the Quarry Men, as a lark when he was in high school in 1957. Around the same time, Paul dragged his brother onto a Butlin's Holiday Camp stage because he couldn't resist the opportunity to sing. George joined the Rebels in order to emulate his hero, Carl Perkins and Ringo played drums for a living because that was all he knew how to do. Individually, they were determined to play rock 'n' roll and when the four of them finally found each other, the combination was magical. As John would recall, "What we generated was fantastic when we played straight rock and there was no one to touch us in Britain."

The Beatles were part of a Liverpool phenomenon the press tagged "Merseybeat", a grassroots flowering of musical organisations similar to those of San Francisco in 1966 and of London a decade later. Merseybeat began in 1956 with a British singer named Lonnie Donegan, who adapted the African derived blues of such American singers as Leadbelly for British consumption, evolving a style called skiffle. Skiffle's distinguishing features were a simple but infectious rhythm and an ensemble that features acoustic guitar, washboard percussion and tea-chest bass (a string attached to a wooden shipping crate pulled taut by a broomstick). The skiffle fad swept across Britain, paving the way for the arrival of rock 'n' roll two years later and leaving in its wake scores of teenagers inspired by the possibility of overnight stardom.

The Quarry Men were one of the more enduring skiffle outfits. Under John's leadership, the group steadily upgraded its roster, adding Paul McCartney, then fifteen years old, on guitar and piano in late 1957. The following year, guitarist George Harrison, one year Paul's junior, was invited to join. By 1959, through a combination of choice and friction, John, Paul and George were the group's only steady members. Opportunities to perform were scarce, but they continued to play, sometimes as a trio, but usually with one of several occasional drummers. (Drumkits were expensive and few schoolboys could afford one.)

A friend of John's from the Liverpool Art College, bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, became a steady member in early 1960 and the band went through a series of name changes. Finally, they settled on the Silver Beatles, incorporating references to both beat music and Buddy Holly's Crickets. ("Silver" was retained to blunt the effect of such an odd sounding name.)

During the early years, the Beatles were not regarded as the best of the Mersey bands. In fact, before their first trip to Hamburg in August 1960, for which they took drummer Pete Best, they were known as one of the worst. It was only after their return that the Liverpool club goers began to take notice. Over a hundred nights of eight hour performances in the rough and tumble clubs of the Reeperbahn had honed the Silver Beatles' musical skills and showmanship to a fine edge.

John, Paul, George and Pete returned from their second stint in Hamburg in the summer of 1961 without Stuart Sutcliffe, but with a record they had made backing singer Tony Sheridan, a hepped-up arrangement of "My Bonnie (Lies Over The Ocean)". When Brian Epstein, the manager of the Liverpool branch of Northern England Music Stores (NEMS), began getting requests for the record, he decided to go around the block to the Cavern Club to see what all the fuss was about. Epstein didn't know anything about rock 'n' roll, but he felt overwhelmed by the Beatles. He was convinced that if he dressed them in suits and taught them to take proper bows after each song, the rest of the world would feel that way too.

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