On a Drummer

Randy Scanland grew up in England after having been born in India during the early days of World War II. His mom was studying to be a doctor, and his dad was in the military. Like so many young men of that time, Randy’s dad died in the war, leaving his widow and infant son to fend for themselves in a foreign land. But, as also often happens, Randy’s mom met another man, also a British military man, and married him. The new family welcomed another son, Rory, born in 1944. They moved back to England in 1945 as the war was coming to a close.

Randy’s mom, used to the larger houses they’d lived in in India, felt confined by the much smaller houses in England, the row houses most people lived in there. So, the enterprising young woman hocked all her jewelry and put her money on a 30-1 long shot horse—and won. With the winnings, the family bought a larger Victorian house. In fact, the house was so large, Randy’s mom was able to open a music club in the big place’s basement.

That suited Randy just fine. He loved music, eventually showing a propensity for the drums. So, his mom bought him a nice drum kit, and Randy started his own band, the Black Jacks. This was the time period when popular music was taking off in England and, soon, the British Invasion would conqueror the globe with bands from Liverpool, Manchester, and London.

By 1960, Randy and the Black Jacks had developed quite the reputation in locally. Part of the reputation was due to Randy’s dark good looks. Almost no musical group had the drummer as the group’s leader, but the Black Jacks did. Randy was not a spectacular drummer, but he was steady, and, besides, the venue was owned by his family after all.

That’s when another group, one with about as much local appeal as Randy’s, approached him. They needed a drummer for a tour over in Europe. Would he be interested? Randy thought about it. The Black Jacks had started to bore him. Europe sounded fun. Other groups were doing that, and Randy wanted to see what all the fun and fuss was about. Randy, unlike the others in this new group, had managed to finish his school exams and had the opportunity to continue his education in university, but he agreed to go on tour with the group knowing that, if it didn’t work out, he could always come home and go to school.

The tour went badly. They had to play more and longer than they had been promsised, and they had to do this for less money than promised as well. In addition, the living conditions on the tour were abysmal. The group lived in squalor. Randy began to second guess his decision to go along. One member of the group, protesting their poor rooms, lit a prophylactic on fire, and two members of the group were arrested for attempted arson. The tour was cancelled, and they all were deported back to England.

But something had happened. Playing in Europe had hardened the musicians. They had a rawer, edgier sound to them now. Randy, rather than merely providing a smooth rhythm drumming style, had become a driving, forceful drummer. The entire group sounded, well, harder. And it fit them. Playing back in England, people started to notice. In fact, the group received a recording contract. Randy thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d made the right choice to join this group.

But something was wrong. In the studio, the producers talked among themselves. Randy’s drumming, they said, was good—technically. It wasn’t how he was playing on the songs, it was what he was playing. They advised the group’s manager, a young record store owner, to replace Randy. And so, after getting approval from the other guys in the group, he did.

You probably realize by now that Randy was adopted by his mother’s second husband. That second husband, Rory Best, called the boy by his middle name–Pete.

Pete Best.