By John Bryant
Ringo Starr, the luckiest no-talent on earth. All he had to do was smile and bob his head. Oh yes, and keep a beat for three of the most talented musicians/songwriters of this century. What other impression could one have when judging the role that Ringo played in the success of the Beatles? Did Ringo really make a difference? Upon listening to the latest release by The Beatles, Anthology 1, you get a chance to listen to Pete Best and two other drummers play on over twenty songs. Was Ringo simply in the right place at the right time? The following items may help in going beyond the image:

Ringo was the first true rock drummer to be seen on TV. All the Rock & Roll drummers featured with Elvis, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis were mostly R&B drummers that were making the transition from a swing drumming style of the 40's and 50's toward the louder and more "rocking" sound that is associated with "I Want To Hold Your Hand". They were dressed in tuxedos and suits and held the drumsticks in the "traditional" manner of military, orchestra, and jazz drummers. Ringo showed the world that power was needed to put the emphasis on the "rock" in Rock & Roll music, so he gripped both sticks like hammers and proceeded to build a foundation for rock music.

Ringo changed the way drummers hold their sticks by making popular the "matched" grip of holding drumsticks. Nearly all drummers in the Western World prior to Ringo held their sticks in what is termed the "traditional" grip, with the left hand stick held like a chopstick. This grip was originally developed by military drummers to accommodate the angle of the drum when strapped over the shoulder. Ringo's grip changes the odd left hand to match the right hand, so that both sticks are held like a flyswatter. Rock drummers along with marching band and orchestral percussionists now mostly play with a "matched" grip, and drum companies have developed straps and accessories to accommodate them.

Ringo started a trend of placing drummers on high risers so that they would be as visible as the other musicians. When Ringo appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, he immediately caught the attention of thousands of "drummers to be" by towering over the other three Beatles. Elvis's drummer was looking at a collection of backs.

These same "wannabe" drummers also noticed that Ringo was playing Ludwig drums and they immediately went out and bought thousands of these drum sets, thus establishing Ludwig as the definitive name in Rock & Roll drums at that time.

Ringo changed the sound of recorded drums. About the time of Rubber Soul (released Dec. 6,1965), the sound of the drum set started to become more distinct. Along with help from the engineers at Abbey Road studios, Ringo popularized a new sound for the drums by tuning them lower, deadening the tonal ring with muffling materials, and making them sound "closer" by putting a microphone on each drum.

Ringo has nearly perfect tempo. This allowed the Beatles to record a song 50 or 60 times, and then be able to edit together different parts of numerous takes of the same song for the best possible version. Today an electronic metronome is used for the same purpose, but the Beatles had to depend on Ringo to keep the tempo consistent throughout the dozens of takes of the songs that you know and love so well. Had he not had this ability, the Beatles recordings would sound completely different today.

Ringo's "feel" for the beat serves as a standard for pop-rock record producers and drummers alike. It is relaxed, but never dragging. Solid, yet always breathing. And yes, there is a great amount of musical taste in his decisions of what to play and when to play it. In most recording sessions, the drummer's performance acts as a barometer for the rest of the musicians. The stylistic direction, dynamics, and emotions are filtered through the drummer. He is the catcher to whom the pitcher/songwriter is throwing. If the drumming doesn't feel good, the performance of any additional musicians is doomed from the start. The Beatles rarely if ever had this problem with Ringo.

Ringo hated drum solos, which should win points with quite a few people. He only took one solo while with the Beatles. His eight measure solo appears during "The End" on the "B" side of Abbey Road. Some might say that it is not a great display of technical virtuosity, but they would be at least partially mistaken. You can set an electronic metronome to a perfect 126 beats per minute, then play it along with Ringo's solo and the two will stay exactly together.

Ringo's ability to play odd time signatures helped to push popular songwriting into uncharted areas. Two examples are "All you Need is Love" in 7/4 time, and "Here Comes the Sun" with repeating 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8 passages in the chorus.

Ringo's proficiency in many different styles such as two beat swing ("When I'm Sixty-Four"), ballads ("Something"), R&B ("Leave My Kitten Alone" and "Taxman") and country (the Rubber Soul album) helped the Beatles to explore many musical directions with ease. His pre-Beatle experience as a versatile and hard working nightclub musician served him well.

The idea that Ringo was a lucky Johnny-on-the-spot-with-a-showbiz-stage-name is wrong. In fact, when Beatle producer George Martin expressed his unhappiness after the first session with original drummer Pete Best, the decision was made by Paul, George, and John to hire who they considered to be the best drummer in Liverpool - Ringo Starr. His personality was a bonus.

The rumors that Ringo did not play on many of the Beatle songs because he was not good enough are also false. In fact, he played on every released Beatles recording (not including Anthology 1) that include drums except for the following: "Back In The USSR" and "Dear Prudence", on which Paul played drums due to Ringo temporarily quitting the band, "The Ballad of John and Yoko", again featuring Paul on drums because Ringo was off making a movie, and a 1962 release of "Love Me Do" featuring session drummer Andy White.

When the Beatles broke up and they were all trying to get away from each other, John Lennon chose Ringo to play drums on his first solo record. As John once said, "If I get a thing going Ringo knows where to go, just like that.." A great songwriter could ask no more of a drummer. Except maybe to smile and bob his head.

John Bryant is a 43-year-old session drummer and producer in Dallas, Texas. He has recorded and toured with Ray Charles, the Paul Winter Consort, and currently is a member of the percussion ensemble, D'Drum. In 1976, Mr. Bryant played a rehea rsal with Paul McCartney and Wings when regular drummer Joe English became ill and could not make it. Mr. Bryant started playing drums after seeing Ringo Starr on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

This story was written in reply to a previous story for The Dallas Morning News which described Ringo as an average drummer who got lucky. It is written within the context of modern Pop music, not to compare Ringo with jazz drummers of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Certainly Ringo was not the first drummer on a riser, but his visibility did proclaim him to be an equal member of the band. This is significant because the earlier drummers were sidemen. Ringo was not the "first" drummer to play matched grip or to muffle his drums, but his exposure as a Beatle made him the leader to the masses.

Nik Everett has since noted that there were other drummers who "were just as 'untrained' as Ringo. Two examples being Jerry Allison from Buddy Holly & The Crickets, and D.J. Fontana from Elvis Presley's first band. Both were just regular guys who appeared on TV with their respective bands in 1956-58."

Over the years, there's always been some media nitwit who spouts the 'Ringo got lucky' spiel as if there were any truth to it. Fact is, Rory Storm thought highly of him, and so did the other Beatles; had Pete Best been so brilliant, they would have kept him, but Ringo was better and a perfect personality fit for the Fabs, too. "Ticket To Ride" remains one of many showcases for any doubters still left, but Ringo certainly has always had the respect of his peers and millions of fans. Maybe because he seemed a tad goofy and maybe too bashful and friendly some got the mistaken impression he was an affable fool who just happened into the gig of a lifetime. If he hadn't been the best, does anybody think John, Paul & George would have wanted him around? They knew how great he was.


Paul McCartney
"Paul has been recently quoted as saying that Ringo Starr is still his favorite drummer, much to the amazement of the drumming community and the world at large. McCartney's worked with Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro- he can have the pick of anyone, just about, but he still loves Ringo." --- Deborah Parisi, writing for Rhythm magazine(1990)

Ringo Starr
"First and foremost I am a drummer. After that, I'm other things. ...But I didn't play drums to make money. I played drums because I loved them. ...My soul is that of a drummer....It came to where I had to make a decision -- I was going to be a drummer. Everything else goes now. I play drums. It was a conscious moment in my life when I said the rest of things were getting in the way. I didn't do it to be come rich and famous, I did it because it was the love of my life." -- quoted in The Big Beat by Max Weinberg(1984)

Ringo Starr
"When we first started, they basically went John and Paul's way because they were the writers and they would say, "This is the song," and I would play as creatively as I could. Sometimes I would have three people telling me how to do it. They were saying playing this like on that track. I'm saying, "For Christ's sake, there are two drummers there." They could never hear that, you know. You'd have to have four arms to do half the stuff they wanted me to do." -- from an interview in Viva magazine (1978)

John Lennon
"Ringo's a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer. He's not technically good, but I think Ringo's drumming is underrated the same way Paul's base-playing is underrated. Paul and Ringo stand up anywhere with any of the rock musicians." -- from a Playboy magazine interview (1980)

John Lennon
"In spite of all things, the Beatles could really play music together when they weren't up tight, and if I get things going Ringo knows where to go just like that and he does well." -- from Lennon Remembers (1971)

George Harrison
"Ringo's got the best back beat I've ever heard and he can play great 24-hours a day." -- from a 1974 interview

George Harrison
"Ringo could be the best rock ''n'' roll drummer -- or at least one of the best rock and roll drummers ... He does fills which crack up people like Jim Keltner. He's just amazed because Ringo starts them in the wrong place and all of that, but that is brilliance, that's pure feel." -- from an interview in Guitar magazine (1987)

Paul McCartney
"We always gave Ringo direction on every single number. It was usually very controlled. Whoever had written the song, John for instance, would say, "I want this." Obviously, a lot of things came out of what Ringo was playing, but we would always control it." -- from a 1980s interview record

Paul McCartney
"Ringo is right down the center, never overplays." -- from an interview in Musician magazine (Feb. 1988)

Kenny Arnoff --
"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. (Modern Drummer,Oct. 1987) . . Ringo always approached the song more like a songwriter than a drummer. He always served the music." (Modern Drummer, Dec. 1987)

Editor of Modern Drummer magazine, presenting the Editor's Achievement Award to Ringo --
"What is beyond question is Ringo's impact on an entire generation of drummers who first became drummers as a direct result of seeing and hearing him play in the early days of The Beatles. Literally hundreds of thousands of players -- including some of the greatest drummers playing today -- cite Ringo as their first motivating influence."

Max Weinberg --
"D. J. Fontana had introduced me to the power of the big beat. Ringo convinced me just how powerful that rhythm could be. Ringo's beat was heard around the world and he drew the spotlight toward rock and roll drummer. From ;his matched grip style to his pioneering use of staggered tom tom fills, his influence in rock drumming was as important and wide spread as Gene Krupa's had been in jazz." (The Big Beat, 1984)

Jim Keltner --
"I will always be there to support him. He's more than a dear friend. He's like an idol. He's everything to me. I still think of him musically every time I sit down and play drums. He's a very important guy to me. (Discoveries magazine, April 1993)

Phil Collins, drummer for Genesis --
"I think he's vastly underrated. The drum fills on A Day In The Life are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, 'I want it like that.' They wouldn't know what to do." (interview for The Making of Sgt. Pepper, 1992)

Alex Van Halen --
" One of the most interesting things about Ringo is how he manage to maintain a level of self-esteem -- in addition to being a great player, of course. But he wasn't overshadowed as a human being by McCartney, Lennon or Harrison. I think he did a wonderful thing for drums because drummers would see him and think, "Hey, he's part of it, too." (Modern Drummer magazine, July 1993)

Andy Sturmer, drummer for Jellyfish --
"Ringo is a great guy and really amazing drummer. He has that feel that's between a shuffle and straight eights -- Ringo territory that nobody else can do. He played some amazing stuff on that (Time Takes Time) album." ( Modern Drummer, Aug. 1993)

Rory Storm --
"During the four or five years Ringo was with us, he really played the drums. He drove them. He sweated and swung and sung. Ringo sang about five numbers a night. He even had his own spot. It was called 'Ringo Starrtime.' " (Beatles Companion by Ted Greenwald)

D. J. Fontana --
"I was playing maracas or something behind him, just listening to him. I swear he never varied the tempo. He played that back beat and never got off it. Man, you couldn't have moved him with a crane. It was amazing. He played a hell of a back beat, Man, and that's where it's at." (interview for The Big Beat by Max Weinberg)

Don Was --
"As a drummer, he influenced three generations of rock drummers. It's not very flashy playing, but it's very musical. Instead of just counting the bars, he's playing the song, and he puts fills in unusual places that are directed by the vocal." (The St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1992)

George Martin --
"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. This held true for every single Beatles number Richie played ... Ringo also was a great tom tom player." ( Summer of Love, 1994)

Mike Finkelstein --
"If you have ever been in a band where you had to recreate Beatle songs, you would have realized that Ringo Starr was no slouch. Those drum parts were very tricky and subtle. He did have a special ability to create interesting rhythmic structures within the music. This gave the Beatles a unique sound without loosing that distinctive drive in rock and roll. ... Ringo moved smoothly from verse to chorus without loosing the groove by subtly changing a texture in the rhythm. Ringo is an important drummer to study well." (Teach Yourself Rock Drumming, 1979)

Bob Cianci --
"He must have done something right. People today still look for people who play like Ringo. If you don't believe me, just check the musical ads. On top of all this, he certainly inspired countless millions of teenagers worldwide to learn drums. There's no doubt it, Ringo's a very important rock drummer. ... What Ringo does on the most basic of terms is make the music feel good. He refers to his playing as being fraught with silly fills due to his self-admitted lack of technique, but he says it proudly. ... Sometimes chops do not a real drummer make." (Great Rock Drummers of the 60s, 1989)

Peter Blake --
"Ringo is one of the most important drummers of the 20th century. While he hasn't got any technique to speak of, he realizes how important It is for a song to feel good. His feel is absolutely tremendous. He got some great sounds on the Beatles records. It wasn't all production and microphones, a lot of it was down to the way he tuned them. ... He has tremendous basic ability. Obviously there were people playing in a straight-forward manner before him, but he had a definite feel and he changed pop drumming around. He changed the sound from hat of the high-pitched jazz drummers. I think he's tremendous." (Speaking Words of Wisdom)

Mark Lewisohn --
"It is true that on only a handful of occasions during all of the several hundred session tapes and thousands of recording hours can Ringo be heard to have made a mistake or wavered in his beat. His work was remarkably consistent and excellent, from 1962 right through 1970." ( The Beatles Recording Sessions, 1988)

George Martin --
"Ringo has a tremendous feel for a song and he always helped us hit the right tempo the first time. He was rock solid. This made the recording of all the Beatle songs so much easier." (interviewed in 1988 for The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn)

Tim Riley --
"Ringo wanted to serve the songs rather than show off. As a song writer's drummer, Ringo was the type of musician who could follow instructions as he completed the overall sound. His commitment to the music was bigger than his ego." ( Tell Me Why, 1988)

Kenny Aronoff --
"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." (Modern Drummer magazine, Oct. 1987)

Al Kooper --
"Sgt. Pepper was the album that changed drumming more than anything else. Before that album, drum fills in rock and roll were pretty rudimentary, all much the same, and this record had what I call space fills where they would leave a tremendous amount of air. It was most appealing to me musically and the sound of the drums got much better. What I had to figure out now was what am I going to do to get drums to sound like that." (Summer of Love by George Martin, 1994)

Martin Torgoff --
"If I could think of a single passage in which Ringo's quintessential style as a drummer is most identifiable, it could well be something as, say, the drumming behind George's guitar solo in Paul's "Let It Be" after the organ trails off. There, in simple 4-4 time, Ringo comes in with a trademark thump of his base drum, clear tattering snare, and his insistent smashing of the high hat, unvarying, unyielding, yet distinctively Ringo, and you can't help but smile not for its banality but because it is so perfectly adequate and because one can readily envision Ringo behind his kit as he plays, his beringed fingers clutching his sticks, swaying beatifically from side to side as he gets on with his work, blinking those astonishingly saturnine blue eyes." (The Compleat Beatles, 1985)

Dino Danelli, drummer for The Rascals --
"I liked him. He had great style. I never saw anyone play the way he did. I liked his simplicity. (1984 interview for The Big Beat by Max Weinberg)

George Martin --
"I did quickly realize that Ringo was an excellent drummer for what was required. He's not a technical drummer. Men like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa would run rings around him, but he is a good solid rock drummer with a steady beat, and he knows how to get the right sound out of his drums. Above all, he does have an individual sound. You can tell Ringo's drums from anyone else's and that character was a definite asset to the Beatles' early recordings." (All You Need Is Ears, 1979)

Mike McCartney --
"There were quite a few drummers around Liverpool and I used to go home and tell Paul about Ringo. I often saw him play with Rory Storm. ...With Rory he was a very inventive drummer. He goes around the drums like crazy. He doesn't just hit them -- he invents sounds." (1983 interview for The Beatles: A Celebration by Geoffrey Guilliano, 1992)

Max Weinberg --
"More than any other drummer, Ringo Starr changed my life. The impact and memory of that band on Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 will never leave me. I can still see Ringo in the back moving that beat with his whole body, his right hand swinging off his sock cymbal while his left hand pounds the snare. He was fantastic, but I think what got to me the most was his smile. I knew he was having the time of his life." (The Big Beat, 1984)

Lenny Kaye --
"He was always meant to be utilitarian, a drummer to provide feisty beat. He did this directly with wit imagination and the famous Ringo personality. And his Spartan Ludwig kit showed his ability to cut economically to the heart of the rhythm." (interview for The Compleat Beatles, 1985)

Martin Torgoff --
"As a drummer, he was a natural, purely intuitive, remarkably tasteful, spirited, but always basic, a proponent of less is more school of minimal drumming. ...He had an uncanny understanding of John's rhythm and Paul's base line. Time and again, the Beatles rode his backbeat to glory. Precisely because he never overstated a beat, or over accented a phrase (unless it was appropriate) he managed to get more mileage out of his licks than most drummers could ever dream of. The results were extraordinary." (The Compleat Beatles, 1985)

Don Was --
"Ringo's drums are one of the greatest things you can have on a record."

Buddy Rich --
"Ringo Starr was adequate. No more than that." (Speaking Words of Wisdom by Spencer Leigh [Leigh's note: "Buddy Rich's opinions were as forceful as his drumming. So don't be dismayed, Ringo, he paying you a compliment."])

Dave Ballinger --
"Technically brilliant drummers do not necessary make good rock drummers. ...You don't have to be a technical Buddy Rich type drummer, you just need to be inventive. He (Ringo) did things I would never have thought of doing." (interview for Speaking Words of Wisdom)

Chris Whitten --
" I think I understand why he (Paul) loves Ringo, now after working with him. Paul loves 50s Rock 'n' Roll and Ringo is a great 50s Rock 'n' Roll drummer." (Rhythm magazine, 1990)

Hal Howland --
"It is fascinating to trace the drummer's stylistic development from rock-steady club veteran to studio innovator ... Ringo's command of an exhaustive list of arrangements and new originals is matched only by his versitility. (review for Modern Drummer magazine, June 1995)


Bill & Sue-On Hillman Musical Odyssey