Personalities | The Beatles | Sixties | Rock

Consisting of John Lennon (1940–80) on rhythm guitar, Paul McCartney (b. 18 June 1942) on bass, George Harrison (1943–2001) on lead guitar and Ringo Starr (b. Richard Starkey, 7 July 1940) on drums, The Beatles evolved from Lennon’s grammar school skiffle group The Quarry Men to become the most successful, acclaimed and influential act in the history of popular music.

Liverpool Beginnings

Born and raised in the seaport city of Liverpool, northwest England, John, Paul, George and Ringo had no formal musical education, yet from their earliest years they were steeped in the traditions of British music hall, as well as the sounds of pre- and post-war popular music that emanated from the radio. In addition, the blues and country & western records that local sailors brought home from their trips to America meant that, by the time Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ (1956) inspired a generation of teens to acquire instruments and mould themselves in his likeness, the soon-to-be Fab Four had absorbed an eclectic array of influences that would one day resurface in their own recordings.

The Quarry Men were among the thousands of groups that sprang up all over Britain in the wake of the Lonnie Donegan-inspired skiffle boom, which enabled cash-strapped teenagers to emulate their idols with a variety of rudimentary instruments. Yet, just as the craze was dying down the following year, Lennon’s amateurish band received a boost via his recruitment of the younger but more instrumentally adept Paul McCartney, and the subsequent departure of its less talented and committed members. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were among the contemporary American artists whose material they now covered in their homegrown style, and shortly after McCartney’s young school chum George Harrison joined the fold in 1958, the group comprised just them and Lennon as its core members, performing at parties and in small venues both with and without a makeshift drummer.

Too Much Monkey Business

After a fallow period featuring few gigs and a revolving door of drummers, the summer of 1960 marked the first of several turning points for the band, which had quickly gone through several name changes, including The Silver Beetles, The Beatals, The Silver Beatles and, finally, The Beatles, a musical twist on Buddy Holly’s Crickets. Lennon had persuaded his art-college friend Stuart Sutcliffe to fill in on bass, despite the fact that Sutcliffe’s considerable talent with the paintbrush did not extend to much musical ability, and that August, on the eve of an extended club engagement in Hamburg, West Germany, a full-time drummer at last augmented the line-up in the form of Pete Best. Although Best’s withdrawn personality did not really gel with the more outgoing nature of his colleagues, he at least provided the band with some much needed stability while his good looks attracted the attention of female fans. For it was in...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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