|Larry Parnes audition, with Hutch behind the drums.|
Hutch filled in on drums when The Beatles’ regular drummer Tommy Moore was late for their audition for Larry Parnes in 1960 (depicted) and again in the transition between Pete Best and Ringo Starr in 1962 after Pete had been fired and Ringo was still fulfilling his commitment to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes until they got a new drummer. In 2015, "Hutch" opened up to a UK newspaper about how Brian Epstein wanted him as Pete Best's successor in the Beatles:
Johnny Hutchinson, the drummer who turned down The Beatles before they became the biggest band in history, insists he would not trade places with Ringo Starr if he had his time again.
The quietly spoken musician says: “It was a big call but I have no regrets. I couldn’t carry it on. It was too much for me, playing with my group and playing with The Beatles.”
While Johnny’s name may not be familiar, the 76-year-old played three gigs with the fledgling rock ’n’ rollers in August 1962 but returned to his own band, The Big Three, despite an offer from Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
Johnny believes the offer, once thought to have been made weeks before Ringo was asked to join, may have come the same day incumbent drummer Pete Best was sacked.
Today, in a world exclusive, he recalls the day — August 16, 1962 — Epstein headhunted him.
He says: “I was 23 and playing with The Beatles in Chester. Brian was there and kept looking at me strange. I got off stage after the gig and had to zoom off. Brian said, ‘I was looking at you to see how you’d fit with The Beatles’. “I joked, ‘I don’t really.’ He said, ‘You do, I want you to join The Beatles.’” Johnny then remembers telling a shocked Brian: “I don’t want to play for The Beatles, Brian — I’ve got my own group. “I would not join The Beatles for a gold clock. “There’s only one group as far as I’m concerned and that’s The Big Three. “The Beatles can’t make a better sound than that and Pete (Best) is a very good friend of mine.”
|In 1963, The Big Three released an EP on Decca Records.|
Johnny had already seen enough of his fellow Liverpudlians to decide he would not fit in. He reckons John Lennon was eager for him to join, but Johnny didn’t like the frontman’s drinking.
He says: “Me and John were different people. I used to pick him up when he was drunk face down in his meal. I didn’t drink. I go up to Liverpool airport now and see the sign ‘John Lennon Airport’ and I think, ‘Jesus Christ, if only they knew’.” But Johnny says the pair remained pals, adding: “John made up with me — he always used to say, ‘Johnny Hutch can sing better than you’ to Paul. He wanted me to join.”
So convinced was Johnny that The Beatles would never amount to anything, when he ended up with a self-portrait of John he let his dad use it to fix a broken door.
He recalls: “John owed me ten bob — 50p. So I went to his flat and said, ‘Hey, where’s my money?’ None of us had any money, we were all bums, we played music to get by, they were all lazy bastards. So I said, ‘Where’s my money?’ and he says, ‘I don’t have any’ and I said, ‘I want my money now or I’m taking something.’ There was a portrait of him on the floor in a red waistcoat and a white shirt — so I took that. He had painted it of himself. My ma put it at the fireplace but in the end my dad nailed the back door up with it. We had no timber and the door was bust, so he looked around and saw the portrait of John. How much do you reckon that would be worth now? £100,000? It must be.”
Of all The Beatles, Johnny was closest to George Harrison, who was “my favourite Beatle — a proper mate”. As for Ringo, Johnny takes the credit for urging Brian to recruit him. The two drummers knew each other well. Ringo bought his first car, a Standard Vanguard, from Johnny for £75.
Canny operator Brian apparently decided to keep Johnny in the dark about the talks the band already had with Ringo.
|Johnny Hutchinson depicted in 2015.|
“Pete Best couldn’t play the drums — I could play the drums better than Pete Best with a stick stuck up my a**e. Honest. And Ringo? I gave Ringo the job. I wouldn’t let Ringo play my drums. I just wouldn’t. I didn’t trust him with my drums, just like nobody would get to drive my van.”
After the Chester gig, Johnny played two more the day after.
Ringo came on board at a show one night later, with news of Pete’s sacking leading to protests on the streets of Liverpool and at the city’s famous Cavern Club. The rest is history. Beatlemania swept the globe, while The Big Three parted ways after moderate success. But Johnny insists that, unlike Pete, his world never imploded and he never thought twice about the decision which might have cost him £180million — Ringo’s current worth on The Sunday Times rich list.
But being a rock star is now a distant memory to Johnny, who no longer keeps a drum kit in his house. His focus now is on his 12-strong property empire — although, last week, he took part in a reunion of Sixties Merseybeat legends at the Cavern, where they remembered old pal Cilla Black, who was buried in Liverpool on Thursday.
He says: “It was a great time and I loved it but to me it was just a game. Other bands were after fame and that’s all they cared about. They were all ‘would-bes if they could-bes’ and snotty-nosed kids really. Some bands, as soon as they made it, they p***ed off to London, and I hated London.”
Ringo celebrated his 75th birthday last month with an autograph session at LA’s Capital Records Tower, where The Beatles recorded. Since the Fab Four split in 1970, he has recorded 18 solo albums and been inducted into Music’s Hall Of Fame.
But Johnny, far from being bitter, only has fondness for the man who replaced him and recalls: “Ringo once said, ‘There’s only two drummers that have come out of Liverpool — me and Johnny Hutchinson.’
“He puts me second.”
Rest in peace, Hutch!