Ringo becomes The Beatles drummer
Over the years, the story of how Ringo Starr became The Beatles drummer has been told in so many ways. It has taken on mythical proportions and so created an amalgam of scenarios that, if you look hard enough, is the truth. We have to investigate and piece the events together as best we can with exact times and dates. As more “facts” emerge, it retells more versions of the events, confusing the story even further.
Ringo sits in with The Beatles for Pete Best
No evidence exists to show that The Beatles offered Ringo the drumming job in The Beatles before August 1962. On the few occasions when Pete Best couldn’t make it, Ringo was their go-to drummer. This meant that they got to know each other a little better, musically. They first made a record together in Hamburg back in October 1960. Ringo next sat in with The Beatles was at their Christmas Party on 27th December 1961. On this occasion, Best had asked him to play in his place.
Ringo also played on 5th February at the Cavern, plus 26th March at The Cavern at lunchtime. He then joined them at the Kingsway Club in Southport in the evening. They knew what he was like to play with, and enjoyed playing with him in the group. This must have been a significant factor.
Examining The Evidence
Although some suggest that it would always be Ringo, the evidence says otherwise. Whatever transpired before Ringo Starr became The Beatles drummer, he was the right choice.
How did it happen? How did Ringo become the Beatles drummer? The Fourth Beatle? There are countless stories and multiple, often conflicting, versions of events. What does the evidence tell us?
Ringo explains how he joined The Beatles
In November 1962, Ringo told music journalist Chris Hutchins of the New Musical Express how he became The Beatles drummer. This interview, complete with relevant times, dates and locations, took place just three months after Ringo had joined the group. This interview appeared in my book, The Fab One Hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles.
Ringo sat in with The Beatles on four occasions over the previous year, with conversations about him joining the group. There is no evidence that The Beatles offered Ringo the job before the weekend of 10th August 1962. In the interview, Ringo made no allusions to this, even a short time after joining them. The evidence only supports Ringo’s version.
Friday, 10th August 1962: 10, Admiral Grove
John and Paul asked George to contact Ringo to invite him to join The Beatles.
In an interview with Mersey Beat, Ringo’s mother Elsie recalled this as the first time she had met George Harrison. She explained why he had called. “Ringo was at Butlins when George came up to the house—I hadn’t met him before—and asked if Ritchie was home,” she said. “I told him he wasn’t, and he said, ‘Tell him we’re trying to get him to join us.’”
George Harrison explains
George corroborated this. “I went round to Ringo’s house when he was playing at Butlins, sat and had some tea with his mother and said, ‘Next time, tell your Ringo to call me up because I want him to be in our group’.”
Elsie’s comments confirm that she hadn’t met George before, so there is no evidence of a close friendship between George and Ringo at that point.
Ringo seems to verify this: “I found it harder to get close to George Harrison. As the youngest Beatle, he backed off rather than try to compete for the limelight with the extrovert John and Paul. George was the original Little Boy Lost.”
Saturday, 11th August 1962: The Odd Spot Club and The Blue Angel
Ringo had returned to Liverpool from Butlin’s and later recalled how The Beatles asked him to join on this day. “One Saturday morning,” Ringo said, “Elsie said that George Harrison had called and would I go down to see them at the Hot Spot (sic)?” This was actually The Odd Spot in Bold Street, Liverpool.
“It was my night off and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it. During the break, John, Paul, and George invited me to join them at the Blue Angel later on. Pete Best wasn’t coming, they said. At the Blue Angel, they introduced me to Brian Epstein. We shook hands, and he seemed a bit surprised by my appearance. I had a beard and a gray streak in my hair then.”
Ringo, as he always did, discussed the offer with his best friend, Roy Trafford. “When Ringo was asked to join The Beatles, it was a surprise to him and he didn’t know which way to go,” Roy related, “so he asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I told him ‘what have you got to lose? Have a go. I don’t know whether I made a difference to his decision, but it definitely worked out for the best’.” (Read David’s full interview with Roy in Finding the Fourth Beatle) The key phrase is that ‘it was a surprise’ to Ringo showing that he had no expectation of joining The Beatles.
Tuesday, 14th August 1962: The Drive To Butlin’s?
Did Paul and John drive to Butlin’s to see Ringo? It is possible, but it was a long way—around 180 miles each way, and before there were motorways—with very little time to spare. We can’t be sure if they made the trip.
johnny guitar remembers
There are eyewitnesses though as Johnny Guitar from the Hurricanes remembers seeing them there. “John and Paul knocked on the door to our caravan about ten o’clock one morning, and I was very surprised because John hated Butlin’s. Paul said, ‘We’ve come to ask Ringo to join us.’ We went into the camp and Rory said, ‘What are we going to do because this is mid-season and we can’t work without a drummer?’ Paul said, ‘Mr. Epstein would like Pete Best to play with you.’ We couldn’t stand in Ringo’s way ‘cause we knew The Beatles would be big. We went back to Liverpool and saw Pete, but he was so upset that he didn’t want to play with anybody’.”
Spencer Leigh verified with Johnny Guitar that John and Paul visited Butlin’s, Skegness. “Yes, Rory got a big shock when Ringo said he would leave, and so did I,” Johnny said. “It is possible that Ringo had been tipped the wink on his last visit to Liverpool, but we had no inkling of what was going on.” This would fit with the visit to Liverpool the previous weekend, as Ringo described.
ringo doesn’t remember
However, Ringo denied seeing them at Butlin’s. “I don’t remember John coming over, which was in somebody’s book.” John hasn’t mentioned it, and Paul doesn’t have any clear recollection of it either. Neil Aspinall told author Mark Lewisohn that Paul McCartney The Beatles’ van to see Ringo at Butlin’s, Skegness, though this couldn’t be verified. If it happened, then this was a follow-up to the conversation that John, Paul, George and Ringo had on Saturday 11th August when they took him to meet Brian. If this was the case, then the only day for this drive was 14th August when they were not playing during the day.
waiting for brian Epstein to call
So Ringo was on standby now to receive a phone call from Brian Epstein, and to join The Beatles.
Ringo Starr became The Beatles drummer, but there was a further twist to come…
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