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Excerpt from Big Three/Beatles piece

This will be in Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan. The book is up over 80,000 words.


Early 1960s Liverpool had its version of the Cream, a band that when you learn about them you’re already half in love with who they seem to be and what they represent. That band had a similarly prideful name as the Cream, calling themselves no less than the Big Three.

They were a power trio at a time when power trios didn’t really exist in rock and roll. There were bands, of course, comprised of three members. After all, Elvis cut his Sun sides with two other guys.

But for a power trio to be at true power trio, there has to be a pronounced percussive component; that is, a larger-than-life type of drummer with a huge, overpowering sound, who plays with a daring, insistent attitude to match. Early 1960s drummers were timekeepers, unless one moves into jazz, where the drummer had long been an artist of fills and polyrhythms, allowing that he possessed the chops. Allowing that he did, he was free to invent, but a Merseyside drummer was expected to do one thing and one thing only: keep the beat.

People who are presently aware that the Big Three ever existed—which is not the same as having heard any of their music—are almost always Beatles fans. The same may be said of the Swingin’ Blue Jeans and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, but neither of those units were quite so conceptually tantalizing.

Ringo Starr left the latter behind to join the Beatles, and as for the former, their lingering notoriety is centered on a pacey cover of Chan Romero’s “Hippy Hippy Shake,” a number known today only because the Beatles cut several versions of it, with Paul McCartney having an obvious, shriek-filled blast, and George Harrison serving up some stinging fills well suited to his 1962-63 guitar tone.

Ah, but the mighty Big Three. They sounded almost too good to be true, and one supposes that in a way, they were at that. Their journey to becoming what one might think of as the band at their most Big Three-ness was odd, for a start.

The Big Three grew out of band called Cass and the Cassanovas (prevailing wisdom on Merseyside at the time suggested that it was best to highlight a frontman, which was another break the Beatles made with tradition/expectations) in spring 1959. Brian Casser handled lead vocals and played rhythm guitar, Adrian Barber played lead guitar, and Brian J. Hudson was on drums. The next summer, Johnny Hutchinson—known as Johnny Hutch—took over for Hudson, and he’s the player most people think of when they think of the Big Three, and the one with the strongest Beatles ties, a point of some irony, as we’ll see.

The band didn’t have a bassist, so Hutch suggested Johnny Gustafson, who, like Stuart Sutcliffe initially, didn’t own a bass, which required Barber to fashion something resembling one out of an acoustic guitar for him.

It was in May 1960 that both the Beatles—who were then the Silver Beetles—and the Big Three (never mind that they were a quartet)—auditioned for Larry Parnes for the chance to back singer Billy Fury on a tour of northern England and Scotland. The audition happened at the Blue Angel, a club operated by the Silver Beetles’ new manager in Alan Williams, the man who would later advise all and sundry not to touch the band “with a fucking barge pole” after believing (within reason) they had used and shafted him.

The Silver Beetles’ then-drummer, Tommy Moore—who was almost a decade older than any of the rest of the band members, which counted for a lot at that age in that context—failed to show. (Moore had joined in May and left in June; the Beatles could no more keep or entice a drummer than a spider could lure a fly into a web it had painted red. It’s little wonder they hung on as hard as they did to Pete Best.) Johnny Hutch was a prodigious force, reckoned to be the most powerful drummer in the entire Liverpool scene, or the entire north of England, for that matter.

Inveigled into playing with the band, Hutch at last relented, because it wasn’t like he viewed these fellows as much of a threat, though he did hate to play with them on account of how inept he deemed them to be.

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