Johnny Hutchinson, who has died at the age of 79, was the drummer with the Liverpudlian group The Big Three who rivalled The Beatles for popularity before the Mersey sound became a national and international phenomenon in the early Sixties. Known to friends and fans as Hutch, or Johnny Hutch, he filled in on drums behind Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in both 1960 and 1962. Later he claimed he was offered the opportunity to become Pete Best’s successor in the soon-to-be-world-conquering mop-tops before Ringo Starr was given the job.
Hutchinson was born in Valletta, Malta, to an army family but was raised in Toxteth, Liverpool, where he trained as an upholsterer on leaving school. After dabbling with the clarinet, he learned to play the drums and in 1959 was recruited by rock ‘n’ rollers Cass and the Casanovas. With bandmates Adrian Barber (later a producer for Atlantic Records) and Johnny Gustafson (a future member of Roxy Music) he formed The Big Three in 1961 with the intention of playing rhythm and blues. Hutchinson, who had turned down a two-year contract with Johnny Kidd & The Pirates in order to stay local, took lead-vocal duties.
The trio were noted for their loud, aggressive live performances. During the summer of 1962, they played a month-long residency at Hamburg’s Star Club, where The Beatles had honed their stage act. On their return to the relentless circuit in the northwest of England, Hutchinson was asked by Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, to play with the group that night. He had just sacked Best, who, after initially agreeing to fulfil the date, unsurprisingly changed his mind.
Hutchinson had already answered one emergency for Epstein’s favourite clients. In 1960, when pop impresario Larry Parnes and his protege Billy Fury auditioned five Liverpool acts as a possible backing group, he was persuaded to rescue the then Silver Beetles when drummer Tommy Moore failed to arrive on time. Now, two years later, he agreed to sit in at their Chester gig and shows in Birkenhead and New Brighton the following night.