The Luckiest Man Alive: Happy Birthday Ringo Starr, The Man Who Brought The Beat To The Beatles

He's not named Ringo for nothing!

He’s not named Ringo for nothing!

I consider him one of the greatest innovators of rock drumming and believe that he has been one of the greatest influences on rock drumming today … Ringo has influenced drummers more than they will ever realize or admit. Ringo laid down the fundamental rock beat that drummers are playing today and they probably don’t even realize it …He consistently came up with new ideas that always seemed perfect for the song, but it wasn’t just a matter of him picking a basic beat for a song, because lots of drummers could do that. Ringo definitely had the right kind of personality and creative ideas for The Beatles music. You will rarely find a Beatles song without something noticeable that Ringo played or didn’t play … Ringo always approached the song more like a songwriter than a drummer. He always served the music.” – Kenny Aronoff, drummer John Mellencamp etc. (Modern Drummer interview, Dec. 1987)

“Starr is vastly underrated. The drum fills on the song “A Day in the Life” are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, ‘I want it like that.’ He wouldn’t know what to do.” – Phil Collins, Genesis drummer, on the making of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“Ringo always got and still gets a unique sound out of his drums, as sound as distinctive as his voice. … Ringo gets a looser deeper sound out of his drums that is unique. …This detailed attention to the tone of his drums is one of the reasons for Ringo’s brilliance. Another is that although Ringo does not keep time with a metronome accuracy, he has unrivaled feel for a song. If his timing fluctuates, it invariably does so in the right place at the right time, keep the right atmosphere going on the track and give it a rock solid foundation.” – George Martin, Beatles Producer

“We loved him. And we just thought he was the very best drummer we’d ever seen. And we wanted him in the group. We were big fans of his.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles

“Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met. He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had Ringo Star-time and he was in one of the top groups in Britain but especially in Liverpool before we even had a drummer. So Ringo’s talent would have come out one way or the other as something or other. I don’t know what he would have ended up as, but whatever that spark is in Ringo that we all know but can’t put our finger on — whether it is acting, drumming or singing I don’t know — there is something in him that is projectable and he would have surfaced with or without the Beatles. Ringo is a damn good drummer. He is not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way Paul’s bass playing is underrated … Ringo is Ringo, that’s all there is to it. And he’s every bloody bit as warm, unassuming, funny, and kind as he seems. He was quite simply the heart of the Beatles.” – John Lennon, The Beatles

“Playing without Ringo is like driving a car on three wheels.” – George Harrison , The Beatles


Ringo kept his campaign promise to never show-off or overplay

Ringo kept his campaign promise to never show-off or overplay

Just a quick post this time to wish a Happy 75th Birthday this week to the luckiest drummer in the world — but also the most exuberant yet grounded, down-to-earth Beatle of the bunch. More than anybody else, except maybe my super-cool elementary school English teacher Mr, Nestor, Ringo Starr made me want to be a drummer from the moment I heard those early Beatles records, and then saw him in glorious black & white concert footage playing those equally glorious pearl Ludwigs (I owned a presumably cheaper version of that set, but a mid-60s black diamond pearl Ludwig kit nonetheless).

Maybe it was because the other three moptops were obviously unapproachable Gods and yet Ringo, despite being up on that drum riser, looked so unabashedly manic and thrilled to be there, like a gawky regular bloke who just loved to play and kept that great, energetic beat going and going as he loved the music like the rest of us.
Much later, I came to appreciate his relaxed but disciplined less-is-more playing (NEVER over-playing or chewing the scenery of sound) and the accenting dollops of subtle color and emphasis he gave a line, a melody, a bridge. Check out the cool, spare shrug-and-shove Ringo gives the verses on “Ticket To Ride” from the “Help” album. Veteran rock critic and author Dave Marsh, in placing “Ticket To Ride” at Number 29 (what? Behind Van Halen’s “Jump”?!!) on his list of the greatest singles ever made (originally published in 1989 and revised ten years later, his entertaining, opinionated, and insightful book is titled “The Heart Of Rock & Soul”), Marsh wrote about the Beatles being at their apex as players, and “Ringo dispelling all doubt about his prowess as a drummer: The groove comes straight out of his pure backbeat.”
And his syncopated Eastern-style drum pattern on John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the Beatles’ 1966 masterwork, “Revolver,” becomes not only the main signature of this psych-pop masterpiece, but it’s been used, echoed, and otherwise imitated by everyone from Oasis to Primal Scream to the Chemical Brothers as more than just a beat, but a feel as well.
Ringo during the

Ringo during the “For Sale” sessions (also known as Beatles VI to us Yanks), 1965.

The same might be said for “She Said, She Said,” also a Lennon-penned track from “Revolver,” and the laconic spray of snare and cymbal that opens and then rolls through Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” (yes, I’m a John fan). His subsequent work on the George Harrison-penned “Something” from “Abbey Road” is particularly, well, something.  And listen to “Come Together,” also a Lennon track from that album, to hear the marvelous inventiveness Ringo brings to a marvelously inventive song. Although John, once asked by a reporter if Ringo was the best drummer in the world, responded by cheekily saying, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles!”  his work on many of the Fab Four’s tracks say otherwise. (Now, his singing on the other hand … notice I haven’t mentioned the singing).

Ringo auditions for the Beach Boys and hopes that ocean mist doesn't warp the skins (no, not really, silly...on set for

Ringo auditions for the Beach Boys and hopes that ocean mist doesn’t warp the skins (no, not really, silly…on set for “Help”, 1965)

Despite the studio limitations of four-track recording capabilities in the early-to-mid-’60s, which meant that you had to make room for all voices and instruments on any given song across only four separate available “spaces”/tracks (eight, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two etc. track recording only became widely available in the late 1960s/early 1970s), it’s been said that Starr’s superb tempo, feel, and time-keeping made it possible for the Beatles to splice in, fuse, blend, and combine the best bits of many takes of a song because Ringo’s beat never wavered, never sped up or slowed down as to make the  rhythmic and tempo differences too noticeable from take to take to take.
How important and integral was Ringo to the sound and chemistry of The Beatles? To get a sense of what he meant to the band — as a drummer and as a person — you need only to remember the episode around the so-called “White Album,” when Ringo — fed up with the prima donna acts, divisiveness, and bickering between at least two of the other three Beatles, stormed out of the studio and announced he was quitting. Recording stopped. Beatles pleaded. And a big bouquet of flowers and note of apology was left on Ringo’s drum seat. It may have been the first, and only, time the Beatles were actually scared.
As if all of this wasn’t enough to convince you of his cool, Ringo married “The Spy Who Loved Me” Bond Girl Barbara Bach, after reportedly meeting her on the set of the otherwise wretchedly awful movie, “Caveman,” he was “starring” in (I say “otherwise” because the only redeeming thing about the flick was that Barbara at least made the price of admission up to my teenage theater-going self by wearing a loincloth a la Raquel Welch on-screen for the entire duration).  That’s right. Ringo met the Bond Girl who would become his future wife on the set. Now THAT’S what I call perfect timing.
Listen to Ringo play a proto-“Tomorrow Never Knows” drum pattern on “Ticket To Ride” here:
Listen to Ringo do his thing on “Tommorow Never Knows” here:
Listen to Ringo make “Something” even better! (Oh, and some nice video of Patti Boyd too, plus those other guys):
Listen to Ringo on “She Said She Said” right here:
Listen to Mr. Starr on “Strawberry Fields Forever” here:
Ringo brings us all together on “Come Together” here:
Who snagged the beautiful Bond girl? Why, Ringo of course! The ladies love drummers, as evidenced by this shot taken at Ringo and Barbara's wedding, 1981. You just may recognize the wedding party.

Who snagged the beautiful Bond girl? Why, Ringo of course! The ladies love drummers, as evidenced by this shot taken at Ringo and Barbara’s wedding, 1981. You just may recognize the wedding party.


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on RPM: Jonathan Perry's Life in Analog and commented:

    To the man who exemplifies the adage that Less Is More. Happy 75th Ringo!


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