One of the most highly contested legends in drum history is that Bernard Purdie played on The Beatles early studio tracks in place of Ringo Starr. As a session player Purdie performed on tens of thousands of tracks but he never received any clear credit for any Beatles songs. In a 1978 issue of Gig magazine. Purdie claimed that he overdubbed the drumming on 21 tracks on the first three Beatles albums. According to Purdie they paid him a lot of money (he claims 5 figures) to keep his mouth shut. After ten years he said “…f– it. I guess I can talk about it.”
Several factors in Purdie’s story leave doubt that he ever played on these tracks. According to him The Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein paid him twice his normal rate to have Purdie overdub the drum tracks, not the Beatles producer George Martin. Epstein had a reputation for being frugal and would not have paid a session drummer, no matter what his reputation, an extravagant amount of money.
According to an article on Quora, “George Martin had already arranged for session drummer Andy White to replace Ringo Starr on the U.S. single release of “Love Me Do.” If Martin had truly believed that Ringo was inadequate enough to warrant using a session drummer on a regular basis, he might have been kicked out of The Beatles permanently, which happened to the Beatles’ previous drummer Pete Best.”
One possible reason for Purdie’s claims is that he may have played on one of The Beatles rip-off groups that popped up shortly after The Beatles’ first groundbreaking appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. This included The Buggs, The Beetles, The Liverpools, and The Manchesters. He may have simply confused the counterfeit band for the real thing. Purdie’s misidentification of the song “She Loves You” as “Yeah Yeah Yeah” also seems to support this interpretation.
Another plausible theory is that Purdie did overdub the drums on recordings, but it was for tracks originally made with Pete Best, before Ringo joined the group. In 1964, the label Atco Records bought the rights to four early Beatles songs that the group recorded in Germany. The songs on this release included “Nobody’s Child,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
These four Beatles songs with eight additional songs by an otherwise forgotten British “beat” group called The Swallows was released as The Beatles: Ain’t She Sweet. Since Pete Best’s drumming was weak on these four tracks, Atco overdubbed the drumming. If Purdie was the drummer on these overdubs, his claims to have played on several Beatles recordings might be true in that regard.
Purdie’s claims to have played on 21 Beatles songs just doesn’t make sense. He is a great drummer with an amazing background and it is a shame that he would feel the need to embellish his resume. Here is an excellent video that breaks down the claim and provides an intelligent argument: