Several years ago I purchased a copy of The Beatles: The True Beginnings, by Roag Best with Pete and Rory Best.
The book tells the history of the Casbah Coffee Club, the club where the Beatles got their start. I purchased the book because, as a Beatles nut, I saw a Coke cooler in the cover photo. I was curious to learn more about how that cooler happened to be present in the photograph, so I wrote Roag Best at casbahcoffeeclub.com for more information. We have had a great e-mail exchange over the past few months, and I wanted to share the story of the birth of the Casbah Coffee Club, the Beatles and Coca-Cola.
The Early Days at the Casbah Coffee ClubIn Liverpool, England, in 1959, Mo Best decided to open a coffee club to capitalize on the growing popularity among teens for the emerging rock 'n' roll music. She cleaned out the basement of her house on 8 Haymans Green and, with the help of her family and some local kids named John, Paul and George, painted it with fanciful designs including spiders, dragons and stars. Then, on August 29, 1959, the Casbah Coffee Club opened with the musical entertainment provided by the Quarrymen featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ken Brown.
While the group became a regular at the club, the band’s members and even the group's name changed. Paul McCartney asked Pete Best to join the group as the drummer, and their name was changed to the Beatles as they headed off to do a tour in Hamburg, Germany. Upon their return to Liverpool on December 17, 1960, the Beatles played the Casbah with the new raw rock 'n' roll sound they had perfected in Germany. Six months later, they were recording their demo in London. Beatlemania soon followed.
Why Coca-Cola Was ThereWhat role did Coca-Cola play in all this? More than you would think. Through Roag Best, we were able to catch up with Johnny Johnson (see interview below), who worked for the Liverpool Coca-Cola bottler. Johnson was active in making sure that, while it was called a coffee club,Coca-Cola was the preferred drink. Through Johnson, the Casbah received aCoca-Cola sign with the club's name. Johnson also had coolers placed around the venue, and enough Coca-Cola was sold there that the Casbah Coffee Club became the largest selling account in Liverpool and required two or three deliveries a week. It is easy to see why a great new venue with great music and crowds of teenagers sounded like a winning combination for anyone selling Coke. Johnson even played with the band a few times.
The Casbah is maintained as a Beatles museum and looks just as it did when it closed in 1962 (the same year the Beatles released their first album). The stage, musical equipment, and even the artwork drawn by the band are maintained in pristine shape. I have never visited Liverpool, but you can be certain that if I do, the Casbah will be the first stop on my tour.
3 Questions With Johnny JohnsonQ. How long did you work for Coca-Cola?
A. I worked for Coca-Cola from 1958 to 1962. I was working for Coca-Cola right through the whole birth of the Beatles. I was a route salesmen.
Q. Did you work with the bottler?
A. Yes. I worked for the Coke bottler on Charnock Road, Aintree, Liverpool.
Q. Do you have any special memories of serving the Casbah Coffee Club?
A. [Laughs.] Do I? How long have you got? We were doing regular runs to the Casbah, maybe two or three times a week. It was at the Casbah that I met Mona Best, who started the whole thing. The Beatles wouldn’t have happened without her, you know. I also met Neil Aspinall there, who went on to become the managing director of Apple. And, of course, Pete Best — what a handsome lad.
The Casbah was always the first stop and the last stop for me. I couldn’t believe the amount of Coke drank there, amazing. We always tried to get back to the Casbah because it was so exciting. I just wanted to be part of the family and become accepted by the Bests, which I was. Mo bribed us to do all sorts of things: We helped paint, we mowed the lawns and we were glad to do it. I tried to get as much advertising as I could for the Casbah. It was me who got the Casbah Coffee Club their Coca-Colasigns. Coca-Cola wouldn’t give them to just anyone, you know. You had to be a special customer, which the Casbah was.
I remember we would always have trouble driving the van into the driveway because of all the tents pitched everywhere. Girls would camp outside for days to get a glimpse of Pete. The tents would be all over the lawn and around the Beatles' van. Funny, the van would be covered in red lipstick kisses and "I love you, Pete" and the likes. [Laughs.] Pete spent many a night in that van doing homework or something to that effect.
I would socialize at the Casbah. I played Piano there, and often got up onstage with the Beatles, only to play one song, mind, which was "Red River Valley." My claim to fame playing with the Beatles.
On occasion I even worked the door at the Casbah for Mo. At the end of the evening, I would end up upstairs in the kitchen drinking Coke, sitting around the kitchen table, and chatting with Mo and the Beatles — unbelievable times.