Wednesday 21 August 2019

Obituary: Johnny Hutch

Rock 'n' roll drummer with the Big Three who turned down The Beatles - a band he condemned as 'posers'

STANDING IN: Johnny Hutch, playing a gig with the The Silver Beetles, fixed a heavy claw hammer to his bass drum pedal
STANDING IN: Johnny Hutch, playing a gig with the The Silver Beetles, fixed a heavy claw hammer to his bass drum pedal

Johnny Hutch, who has died aged 79, was the drummer and lead singer in Liverpool's loudest beat group, the Big Three, as the Mersey sound era dawned - but never regretted turning down the chance to join their rivals The Beatles as they became the most successful rock 'n' roll band in history.

He was offered the job by The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in August 1962 on the day he fired their original drummer, Pete Best.

LIVERPOOL - 1960: The Silver Beatles (L-R Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Johnny Hutch and George Harrison) on stage in 1960 in Liverpool England. Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images
LIVERPOOL - 1960: The Silver Beatles (L-R Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Johnny Hutch and George Harrison) on stage in 1960 in Liverpool England. Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Although rated the most accomplished drummer in Liverpool (and the only one capable of complicated solos) Hutch flatly declined, mainly because he was a friend of Best but also because he considered The Beatles "posers".

Epstein approached him at a Beatles gig in Chester where, as a favour, Hutch had reluctantly sat in as their drummer following Best's sacking. Hutch had noticed Epstein staring at him and at the end, Epstein came over and explained he had been sizing him up as Best's replacement.

According to Hutch, Epstein offered him the job on the spot. "I don't want to play for The Beatles, Brian," Hutch explained. "I've got my own group. I wouldn't join The Beatles for a gold clock."

When he told Epstein he could not "do the dirty" on Pete Best, The Beatles' manager told Hutch that on the evidence of seeing them play their ear-splitting sets at Liverpool's Cavern Club, the Big Three were limited, while for The Beatles "the world is their oyster".

Although Hutch sat in on drums for a further two Beatles gigs, juggling them with Big Three dates, he remained adamant that joining on a full-time basis was not for him.

In any case, he disliked John Lennon - there had been mutual antipathy since Hutch had sat in on drums with Lennon's pre-Beatles band, the Silver Beetles - and the group, wary of the jut-jawed Hutch's reputation as a hard man with a propensity for physical aggression, chose Ringo Starr instead.

Although Hutch turned down Epstein's Beatles offer, he persuaded him to sign up the Big Three and to get them a gig in Hamburg.

But the arrangement did not survive Epstein's efforts to smarten up their scruffy appearance and to include some less-thunderous numbers in their set. After he wearied of their "unruly and rowdy behaviour", they parted company in July 1963.

A month later, in front of a screaming crowd of several hundred teenagers, the band recorded Live at the Cavern, an extended player on Decca featuring four of nearly 20 tracks they performed while fired up on amphetamines, known as "bennies".

On the record, the Cavern's disc jockey, Bob Wooler, can be heard announcing them as "the boys with the Benzedrine beat".

Hutch left the group at the end of the year and although he reformed the Big Three with two members of Faron's Flamingos, he retired from the business altogether in 1966.

Although many believed the group could have gone on to stardom had Epstein not tried to package them, Beatles-style, in mohair suits and made them record anodyne pop songs instead of letting them flourish as raw rock 'n' rollers, Hutch had no regrets. For him, it was "just a game".

The son of an Army RSM, John Howard Hutchinson was born in Valletta, Malta, on July 18, 1939, moving to England with his Greek mother on the last boat before the wartime blockade of the island began.

Brought up in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, he played schoolboy cricket for England and learned the clarinet, and on leaving St Xavier's School, trained as an upholsterer.

In 1959, when he was 20 and calling himself Johnny Hutch, he joined Cass and the Cassanovas, making his debut at the Corinthian Club in Liverpool.

In the same year he sold his battered red-and-white Standard Vanguard car to Richard Starkey (the future Ringo Starr, then drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes) for £50.

In May 1960, Cass and the Cassanovas and four other groups including the Silver Beetles auditioned for the promoter, Larry Parnes, to back his solo singing artists, including Billy Fury.

Hutch sat in as the Silver Beetles' drummer when their regular man, Tommy Moore, failed to turn up. Despite Hutch's dismissive verdict on the band - "they're not worth a carrot" - the Silver Beetles were offered a week-long tour of Scotland supporting the singer Johnny Gentle.

Cass and the Cassanovas mutated into the Big Three in January 1961, Hutch turning down a two-year contract to join Johnny Kidd and the Pirates to remain in Liverpool.

Named after the wartime world leaders Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, the Big Three were regarded as rough diamonds but held in awe by other local groups. As well as Hutch on drums and lead vocals, from mid-1962 the threesome comprised bassist Johnny Gustafson and the guitarist Brian Griffiths, but the limited line-up belied a tight, driving sound that no other local bands could match, not least because of Hutch's deafening beat, powered by a two-and-a-half pound claw hammer fixed to the bass drum pedal.

As one music historian put it, the Big Three were "the original power trio, real sonic bruisers" who had built themselves the biggest amplifiers - known as "coffins" - ever seen in Liverpool.

Despite the friction between Hutch and John Lennon (mainly on account of Lennon's drinking bouts) the Beatle admired the group for their rawness as well as Hutch's drumming power, which marked him as technically the best in Liverpool.

Under Hutch, the Big Three also developed a shrewd eye for a song and were the first to cover Money and the Merseybeat classic Some Other Guy, which they recorded for Decca on their return to Liverpool from Hamburg, but which made only No 37 in the charts.

While Hutch made no secret of his dislike for The Beatles, Paul McCartney was struck by the way he would lapse into hip Scouse patois, with such observations as "You drive me berdzerk, man."

He was less amused when Hutch reportedly beat up a teenage youth in the crowd at the Cavern Club who had to be treated in hospital.

After leaving the pop business, Hutch started his own business, buying and renovating houses. He seldom spoke of his brief career as a musician and refused to discuss The Beatles, rejecting requests from biographers.

But in 2016 he attended the Liverpool premiere of the film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - the Touring Years and last year appeared in a documentary about the Big Three, Some Other Guys.

His wife of nearly 60 years, Elizabeth, died last year. One of their daughters also predeceased him. A son and another daughter survive him.

Johnny Hutch died on April 12.

© Telegraph

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