Was Ringo just LUCKY or A BRILLIANT DRUMMER?
Ringo, more than any other Beatle, seems to have received criticism over the years for his ability. Is it justified? “Oh, he is just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time.” “You could take Ringo out of The Beatles and you would still have The Beatles.”
Finding the Fourth Beatle
When we started work on “Finding the Fourth Beatle“, one of the main aims was to examine why Ringo became the drummer who made the grade with John, Paul and George. Was he just the happy-go-lucky guy who was around at the right time, or was he really a good drummer, or even a great drummer?
What I soon learned was that as a guitarist/keyboardist, I was not qualified to answer that question adequately. I have read so many authors who either compliment or condemn Pete Best or Ringo Starr because they feel like it, without offering any justification, as if their reputation as an author is good enough. Trust me, it isn’t. I have played with plenty of drummers of varying capabilities, and know the difference between a good and bad drummer, but anything more than that is beyond me.
Drummers on Ringo
And so, what we decided to do was to get experienced drummers to examine Ringo’s drumming (we did the same for Pete Best too) and try to work out whether he was just a lucky guy, or really was the influence that many great drummers say he was. And if he is that good, why?
So we rounded up several drummers who could examine Ringo’s style, and get their feedback. It was illuminating. First, I spoke to Gary Astridge, who is Ringo’s drum curator, and been working with him for years. Gary is also a drummer in a band, so he could explain the details behind Ringo’s kits, and how he plays. Second, I spoke to Rob Shanahan, who is Ringo’s photographer, but is also a drummer, with a similar style to Ringo.
A Lefty on a Righty
One of the distinctive sounds created by Ringo is that he is naturally left-handed, but plays on a right-handed kit. Shanahan is also a lefty on a righty, and explains why this creates quite a unique sound, and how Ringo uses his kit. Ringo has also always kept quite a simple kit, and resisted the trend to have lots of tom-toms and other additions to his kit.
“Plays the Song”
One phrase that keeps cropping up is that Ringo “plays the song”, but what does that mean? It took a while to understand it, and I did that with the help of several drummers who play in Beatles tribute bands. They are the ones who have to learn to play Ringo’s parts, and I never realised how difficult that was. Ringo plays by feel, at that moment, and that exact moment in the song, which could be different every time they recorded it.
“Ringo Starr and The Beatles Beat”
Two drummers who are considered experts on Ringo’s drumming are Alex Cain and Terry McCusker. Their incredible book, “Ringo Starr and The Beatles Beat” examines Ringo’s style on every Beatles song, and they shared their expertise with us by analysing 10 of the songs that define Ringo’s style. It is only when you listen to Beatles songs for the drumming that you truly appreciate his contribution to The Beatles’ sound. Just go listen to songs like “Come Together”, “Rain” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and you will gain a new appreciation for his talent.
What Alex and Terry also point out is that Ringo, once The Beatles were getting into more complicated musical arrangements, was heavily involved in the arrangement of the song, and contributed not just drum rhythms, but percussion too. He was no ordinary drummer.
Although 3 other drummers were offered the chance to join The Beatles to replace Pete Best, it was Ringo who said yes. And that is just as well! Ringo was the perfect drummer for The Beatles at that time, and became an invaluable, and indispensable, member of the Fab Four.
They Found The Fourth Beatle
As you will read in the book, “Finding the Fourth Beatle“, Ringo was, and still is, a great drummer who inspired a whole new generation of drummers who wanted to play like him. Just read the comments from other leading drummers as to how they feel about Ringo. In conjunction with our findings in “Finding the Fourth Beatle“, it is clear that Ringo is respected as a drummer, and not just because he was a Beatle.
Happy birthday Ringo, the Fourth Beatle.