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Andy White, played drums on Beatles' first hit, dead at 85

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Posted at 4:30 PM, Nov 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-11 19:00:54-05

NEW YORK (AP) — Andy White, a top session drummer in England during the 1960s who played on songs by Tom Jones and Herman's Hermits among others and stepped in for newcomer Ringo Starr as the Beatles recorded their debut single "Love Me Do," has died.

White, 85, died Monday at his home in Caldwell, New Jersey. He died several days after suffering a stroke, his wife, Thea, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Scottish-born White was already an experienced musician when EMI official Ron Richards called in September 1962 and asked him to come to the Abbey Road studio in London and help with a session by a new band from Liverpool. That band — the Beatles — was working on the John Lennon-Paul McCartney song "Love Me Do" and producer George Martin was unsatisfied with the work by Starr, who had recently replaced Pete Best.

Two versions of the song were released — one with White on drums and Starr on tambourine, and one with Starr on drums — and each have appeared numerous times over the decades. "Love Me Do" was a top 20 hit in England in the fall of 1962 and topped the charts in the U.S. two years later, at the height of Beatlemania. White also played drums on the song's original B-side, "P.S. I Love You," which featured Starr on maracas.

The session lasted just a few hours. White received a small fee and never played with the Beatles again.

"He didn't talk about it very much, except to joke about it," Thea White told the AP. "He liked to say, 'It could have been anybody. It just happened to be me.'"

White went on to have a diverse and productive career, whether backing Jones on his hit "It's Not Unusual" or touring with Marlene Dietrich. Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band and "The Sopranos" fame recruited him as a consultant for the film "Not Fade Away," a 2012 release about a '60s rock band in New Jersey which Van Zandt executive produced.

White may not have thought about the Beatles session often, but Starr would long brood over his temporary demotion. In 1998, he finally recorded "Love Me Do" himself, featuring Starr on vocals, and, of course, drums.

"For the last 35 years, I've never let George Martin forget it," Starr told the AP at the time.