He could have been a Beatle


What: Rod Davis of the Quarrymen (opening for Guy Davis)

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When: Saturday, 8 p.m. (doors 6 p.m.)

Where: Ambrosia Event Centre, 638 Fisgard St.

Tickets: $28.50 advance, $32 door (at Lyle's Place, Ditch Records or online: www.


Conceivably, Rod Davis might have been a Beatle. But this former member of the Quarrymen insists he has never lost sleep over it.

The Quarrymen were a 1950s skiffle band. The British group would be long forgotten, except for the fact that it included John Lennon and -- later -- Paul McCartney. With George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they went on to form the Beatles, the biggest pop band in the world.

It was McCartney who replaced Davis in the Quarrymen. Davis -- a singer-guitarist who'll perform solo in Victoria on Saturday -- was the Quarrymen's banjo player. In the summer of 1957 he and his family went on vacation to France. Upon his return, Davis found McCartney had taken his place.

"That was the end of the Quarrymen as far as I was concerned," the 68-year-old said from a tour stop in Lethbridge.

"Basically, the group left me. But it didn't really bother me so much, because it was becoming a rock and roll group. And to be honest, I was most keen on the country stuff ... and the blues end of it."

On Saturday at Ambrosia Event Centre, Davis -- opening for American bluesman Guy Davis (no relation) -- will play skiffle tunes and reminisce about Lennon and the Quarrymen.

The Quarrymen's specialty was skiffle. The simple form of music, often played on homemade instruments, became a craze in Britain in the '50s. Its leading proponent was Lonnie Donegan, whose greatest U.S. success was the hit novelty tune, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Over Night).

Davis, then 14, was invited to join the Quarrymen in early 1957 by fellow Liverpudlian Eric Griffiths. Davis had mentioned to Griffiths that he had bought a second-hand instrument, although he didn't yet know how to play.

"I said, 'Oh, I just got this banjo yesterday.' He said, 'Do you want to be in a group?' I said, 'Yes, OK.' They were only three chords ahead of me at the time."

"They" included a young John Lennon. Lennon's mother had already shown her son and Griffiths how to play a few chords on the guitar. Because she only played banjo, she instructed them to tune their guitar strings to banjo tuning, Davis recalled.

He remembers playing an early gig with Lennon singing and Griffiths yelling out the chords. Back then, Davis was more impressed with Lennon's deft ability to draw satirical sketches of friends than his musical abilities.

"He wasn't much of a guitarist," he said. "But nobody was in those days ... I always got along with him pretty well."

Davis was out of the Quarrymen by the summer of 1957 -- his nascent musical career having lasted only a few months. Soon the old gang drifted apart, with Lennon attending the Liverpool College of Art and the other Quarrymen going their separate ways.

Davis met up with Lennon just one more time. He bumped into his friend just before the Beatles left England to play a residency in Hamburg, Germany. Pete Best (later to be replaced by Ringo Starr) hadn't yet started drumming with the Beatles.

"John said, 'You don't play the drums, do you? Why don't you come to play the drums for us in Hamburg?' "

But Davis wasn't a drummer. And he was studying French and Spanish at Cambridge University -- a significant step up for a young man from Britain's lower-middle-class.

"I said, 'I'm halfway through my university course. My mother would kill me.' "

And so Davis said goodbye not only to Lennon, but his chance of becoming a Beatle. He has always been philosophical about his brush with fame. "There's no point in waking up and weeping because I could have been a Beatle. That would be really sad."

Over the years, Davis worked as a teacher and in the travel industry. He kept up music on the side, playing fiddle and mandolin in bluegrass bands, guitar for country dances and banjo in jazz bands. In the mid-'80s Davis had success with the Bluegrass Ramblers, which supported top U.S. touring acts.

In 1997, Davis and other members re-formed as the Original Quarrymen of 1957. The group toured the U.S. eight times, playing top clubs and recording a CD, John Lennon's Original Quarrymen Get Back Together.

One of the most famous stories in Beatles lore is how Lennon and McCartney first met. Legend has it they first encountered one another when the Quarrymen played a garden party on July 6, 1957.

Although he did run into McCartney on another occasion, Davis said that he can't for the life of him remember that historic Lennon/McCartney meeting.

"I think I'd probably gone home for my tea or something like that," he said. "To get a cheap laugh, I've been saying, 'Oh, I must have gone for a pee!' "

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