In August of 1962, Ringo Starr joined The Beatles, replacing the group’s previous drummer, Pete Best. The group that was soon to revolutionize the music world was yet to make its first recording. This event occurred on September 11 of that same year. Ringo, however, was not allowed to play drums on the first two singles. He described the situation in an interview that appeared in the December 1981/January 1982 issue of this magazine. “I’m not sure about this, but one of the reasons they also asked Pete to leave was George Martin, the producer, didn’t like Pete’s drumming. So then, when I went down to play, he didn’t like me either, so he called a drummer named Andy White, a professional session man, to play the session . . . .There were two versions [of ‘Love Me Do’]. I’m on the album and he’s on the single. You can’t spot the difference, though, because all I did was what he did because that’s what they wanted for the song.”
Who is Andy White, the session drummer who made history on that September day in 1962? Why did George Martin call this 32-year-old Scottish musician, whose first love was jazz and whose early experience was in pipe band drumming, to perform with this group of rock musicians all in their early 20’s? According to White, “George probably called me because I had the reputation at the time for being a rock drummer. I came into studio work doing rock ‘n’ roll records, because I happened to be working on a couple of television shows that ran concurrently. One was the BBC rock ‘n’ roll show Drumbeat and the other was the ITV rock show Boy Meets Girls. ITV is the commercial station in Britain. Both were big rock shows with dancers and guest stars. So I got the reputation of being a rock drummer, even though I wasn’t really a rock drummer. I played with people like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. This was during the late ’50s and early ’60s.
“It could have been anyone, I suppose, but it was me. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had heard of The Beatles, because they had made a bit of a name for themselves in Liverpool when they played at the Cavern, and they were different from the general run-of-the-mill groups at that time.” Andy was paid the equivalent of $15 for his work on that day.
About that session, Andy says, “I think we did five titles during the one session that day, but the two singles that I was on were ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me.’ ‘Love Me Do’ was the first one, and ‘Please Please Me’ was the second release. At that time, music was very seldom used in rock sessions, unless it was a really arranged thing. So it was a case of learning the routine from John and Paul. They knew exactly what they wanted. My whole time was taken up learning this. They would play it over, and I’d try to see what they wanted fill wise and stuff like that. I was doing sessions all the time, but I remember that particular one, because it was released and suddenly became a smash.”
Despite his reputation in the early ’60s for being a rock drummer, Andy White’s early musical influences were jazz and bebop. Furthermore, his earliest training was gained through playing drums for the Glasgow Boy Scouts and Rutherglen Pipe Bands. The story of Andy’s journey from his beginnings as a rudimental drummer in Scotland to his recording with The Beatles in London is an interesting one. Born in Glasgow on July 27, 1930, Andy White played with the boy scouts pipe band from the age of 12 until the age of 15. In his early adulthood, he worked as a pattern maker in a foundry during the day, while doing semipro gigs in the evenings. Andy cites Max Roach, Art Blakey, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich as his first influences.
At the age of 22, Andy moved to London and started his first professional drumming job, which was with the Vic Lewis Orchestra, a 15-piece swing group. He toured with this orchestra for six years. “It was a hard training ground,” Andy says, “but it was good experience just the same.” It was this position, oddly enough, that provided White with the background necessary for his later rock ‘n’ roll playing. “In 1957 or ’58, we came over to the U.S. and did a three-week tour here,” Andy recalls. “In those days, there was an exchange agreement between the American union and the British union. For example, if the Basie band went over to England, an English orchestra had to come over here for the same length of time. That’s what happened to us. We came over in exchange for the Basie band, but they stuck us in a rock ‘n’ roll tour. It was interesting. Bill Haley was top of the bill. All sorts of people were on it, such as The Platters and Clyde McPhatter. Chuck Berry was the opening act. That was very valuable experience for me. I had rock ‘n’ roll right from the roots as it were, and that gave me a good insight into what was required.” Other experiences Andy had while performing in the Vic Lewis Orchestra included backing Frankie Laine and playing with Louis Armstrong’s show. He also did three tours with Johnnie Ray, one of which was in South Africa, and a tour in Britain with the Hi-Los.
After touring with the Vic Lewis Orchestra for six years, Andy left the group to do session work in London. It was during this phase of his career that White had the opportunity to work with The Beatles. However, Andy’s story does not end with the recording of “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.” His work as a session musician later afforded Andy the opportunity to play on another famous artist’s first hit release. Andy White was the drummer on Tom Jones’s hit song “It’s Not Un- usual.” He also worked with Englebert Humperdinck, Dusty Springfield, and Petula Clark, among other artists.
During those years, Andy saw a lot of changes in the way records were made. He recalls that there would only be a couple of microphones used for the entire drumkit, and that the drums were always double headed. “Then they got into doing pop things,” he says, “and using closer micro- phones. I might have had a bit of cushion- ing in front of the bass drum, and some tape on the snare drum, but it was certainly nothing like what they do now. There were always ideas from people who had been to the States, seen what they were doing there, and then tried it in London. We actually went through one stage where we played everything very quietly, and then they turned it up at the board. I remember doing something with Eddie Cochran like that. It was a rock ‘n’ roll thing, but we had to play it very quietly. I suppose they got better separation that way. The object was, of course, to create the same excitement playing quietly as you would playing loudly, and still have the feel, which was difficult. Now it’s gone the other way, of course.”
Another change in recording techniques that Andy has witnessed is the shift from the whole band being in the studio together, to rhythm sections doing backup tracks with the other instruments and vocals being added later. “I think it’s best with the whole group,” Andy contends. “I’ve been in situations where we would just be doing a rhythm section track, but they’d have brass figures written on my part that they would want me to kick. Well, I didn’t know if the brass were going to hit right on it or lay back a little. I’d do my best to cover it, but it didn’t always come off very well.”
Concurrent with his work as a studio drummer, Andy also played drums for theatrical shows in London. He did the full run of Stop The World I Want To Get Off starring Anthony Newley, and subbed for such other theatrical productions as Jesus Christ Superstar, Company, Cole Porter, and Privates On Parade. According to White, “Subbing was the best thing to do. Rather than tie myself down with a show, it was better if I could do a couple of subs a week and still do studio work.” Andy found that the only notable difference between the two forms of performance was the fact that “there was a lot more sight reading involved in playing shows than in doing sessions.”
Then from 1964 to 1975, Andy worked on and off with Marlene Dietrich. The original piano player who accompanied her was the soon-to-be-famous pianist/ composer Burt Bacharach. About this experience, Andy says,” It was interesting. We were treated like family. Marlene only carried guitar, drums, and piano. Everywhere we went, they would have an orchestra, which we would rehearse with. We usually had a couple of days of rehearsals before a week or two-week engagement. We toured all over the world. We went to Australia three times, Japan twice, and came to America quite often. We mostly played in the Fairmont Hotel chain when we toured over here.”
Andy never lost his interest in rudimental drumming, and in 1968, his book Roll Control was published by Belwin Mills. “It’s based on accents and rolling with different pulses—an 8th-note pulse, a triplet 8th-note pulse, or a 16th-note pulse with clean accents. It was based initially on a lot of pipe band stuff I did. Then it kind of developed into a more jazzy-type thing.”
From 1979 to 1983, Andy worked with the BBC’s Scottish Radio Orchestra. This job took him back to his hometown of Glasgow. He played drumset for all types of music. Andy’s varied background certainly qualified him for this type of work. “It was mostly recorded background music, which was slotted into DJ programs and some television programs.
“The return to Glasgow also meant a return to pipe band drumming. While working at the B.B.C., I found time to join and play with the British Caledonian Airways Band. About a year before my move to America, Alex Duthart, who is in my opinion the leading authority and exponent on this style of drumming, as well as a longtime friend, became drum-sergeant and instructor for the band. This, to me, was a great thrill, and I learned a lot more about the art.”
During one of the Marlene Dietrich tours in America, Andy met the woman who would become his wife, Thea Ruth. She was appearing in a play in Dallas, Texas, while he was performing at the Fairmont Hotel. They were married on January 4, 1983, and in April of that year, the couple moved to the U.S. Around the middle of August, they made a return trip to Dallas with the intention of settling there. Friends they had met in Texas told the couple that business would be good there. However, it was not quite as good as they expected. In addition, the summer weather proved to be too hot. So the couple decided to move to Thea’s home state of New Jersey in 1984.
Today, Andy is working in nightclubs locally and substituting with the Howard Kay Orchestra. He next plans to share the experience he has gained throughout his multifaceted career by entering the teaching field, while continuing to perform as much as possible. When asked about how he has managed to remain so flexible, Andy replies, “I just try to keep up with what’s going on. I was fortunate in that I came up through the pipe band scene in Scotland. I learned a very rudimental base there, which I can adapt to whatever is happening.”