Rock myths debunked – ‘Ringo Starr couldn’t drum’

Ringo Starr turns 75 on July 7th and we celebrate the great Beatles drummer…

It’s one of rock’s greatest urban myths, a story retold in a thousand pub conversations with a knowing nod…’Ringo Starr couldn’t drum…’. It usually comes accompanied by the dusty old tale of John Lennon saying that ‘Ringo Starr was not even the best drummer in the Beatles.’

Lennon would never have been so dumb to insult Ringo like that. In all the Beatle civil wars Ringo gets away scot free – not because he was the oldest and they all looked up to him but because the Beatles knew how lucky they were to have him on drums. When he joined the band in 1962 it was like Dave Growl joining Nirvana – the moment when they turned into a proper band. Joe Strummer once said ‘you’re only as good as your drummer’ and to insult Ringo is to prove you know little of the art of drumming.

Ringo is trapped by his history. The Beatles made him stupidly famous but stupidly famous for being the lucky man surrounded by supreme talents, the goofy fall guy with the funny face whose skill as a drummer was often overlooked.

In recent years he has sometimes become better known as the curmudgeon who won’t sign autographs and was rude about his birthplace of Liverpool. Both quotes seem to have been taken out of context- the autographs perhaps because professional autograph hunters sell on the signatures on the Internet and the Liverpool quip was a sarcastic aside on a TV chat show and didn’t seem to be a major condemnation of the fine city of his birth and was nothing worse than the kind of quip lennon would have been celebrated for.

And as for the drumming, Ringo is one of the greats, perhaps the best drummer in the sixties with his own highly influential, distinctive style that was a major part of the Beatles songs. The fact that he could pick up and play the songs very quickly was a major part of the Beatles incredible work rate and his style is very distinctive. There are several modern drum techniques and styles that he popularized and his hard hitting offbeat style is so much part of the Beatles style that it is impossible to imagine their songs without him. Whether he was technically proficient or not is irrelevant he made a generation of kids play drums and his own style and was perfect for the most influential band of all time and was both innovative and exciting- not bad going really.

And that’s not counting Tomorrow Never Knows built around his tape loops and his brilliant detuned toms – one of the best pieces of drumming ever. Solo Beatles never sounded so good again without Ringo – the band was the sum of its parts – each member was key and there was no lucky rider in the fab four.


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22 comments on “Rock myths debunked – ‘Ringo Starr couldn’t drum’”

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  1. Bravo!
    Having worked with tons of drummers I can honestly say that very few could ever be deserving of the nick-name “One-Take” as Ringo was.
    The man was as reliable a time-keeper as they come, the primary thing you want from a drummer.
    It’s about time people stopped taking the piss out of Ringo for his drumming.
    Thomas The Tank Engine, however, is another issue…

  2. As a session drummer the most important aspect is timing followed by the groove. keeping it in the groove and in time was what Ringo excelled at. His drum style was about the music and not about his drumming and that contribution in it’s self is enough to put him in the “great” category. As for his one take’s! no click track, no over-dubs! Solid, dependable and as the drumming saying goes! “In The Pocket”.

  3. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I to find this matter to be really one thing that I think I’d never understand. It sort of feels too complex and very extensive for me. I am taking a look ahead for your next submit, I will attempt to get the hold of it!

  4. Well said, John. The influence of Ringo’s playing style is impossible to underestimate, he’s the root from which Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Ian Paice etc all spring from. Without him modern drumming (and by extension popular music) would, unquestionably, not sound as it does.

  5. I’m always defending Ringo when us drummers get talking about ‘the greats’. OK, so he didn’t have a kit that took nine hours to set up and he didn’t play 40 minute drum solos but let’s remember that Ringo played on some of the greatest songs ever recorded. His style is truly innovative and unique. Take for instance the beat on While My Guitar Gently Sleeps. It fits the song beautifully and is perfectly minimal, and the drums on the track ‘Wait’ from Rubber Soul is years ahead of its time. Like the best musicians, he plays for the song rather for personal glorification. Shows he was truly one of the greats and I love him.

  6. Lennon never made that comment. Some comedian said it in 1983 as a joke and it gets repeated as a fact.

  7. Always taken great umbrage at the dismissal of Ringo as a drumming talent. It is patently obvious that he was quite the opposite and, as the article states, a huge contributory factor behind the band’s success. Couldn’t sing for shit, mind.

  8. Listen to “I Saw Her Standing There”. Nuff said.

  9. Well said, sir.

    The song “Rain”, tucked away on the B-side of “Paperback Writer”, is perhaps the cockiest snook to the hordes of the Ringo-bashers.

    Not one of Lennon’s finest compositions, it is elevated to classic status by Ringo’s drumming, honed by years of providing the backdrop to two / three geniuses (jury’s still out on Lennon).

    For further examples of how drumming can elevate meh material, see Keith Moon’s work on “My Generation”, Rick Buckler’s thunderous rolls on “In The City, and the entire career of The Stone Roses.

  10. Ringo is a great drummer, timing and keeping a solid beat. It can be annoying when a beat is interrupted. Jet black is another similar type of solid drumming without the over the top flurry.

  11. Ringo was not only a great drummer he also helped to revolutionise the way drums were recorded. Unlike other drummers of his era he was very fussy about how his drums were miked up, made sure that sound engineers close-miked his snare and toms. This was not remotely common practice at the time and because Ringo did it on Beatles records, everybody copied it to try to emulate The Beatles drum sound. If you compare a Beatles record to other records of the period it is noticeable how much cleaner they sound, and this isn’t entirely down to George Martin and the engineers on the recording, the individual Beatles had input too.

  12. I seem to recall Mark Lewisohn—the only non-Beatle to have listened to every take of every studio session they ever recorded—say that of the thousands of studio takes of the 200 or so songs they recorded and released, only a dozen or so of those takes broke down because Ringo got something wrong.

    That is testament to his phenomenal abilities as a drummer.

  13. Simply the Beatles sound wouldn’t be without Ringo.

  14. Never tried to be the flashiest drummer or overdo the fills, but Ringo was rock steady and could handle all the time signatures that the others could throw at him. Ringo Starr and Bobby Elliott were the best drummers of the 60s.

  15. Like many, I thought I knew the Beatles songs, until my band decided to cover some. I listened closely and – as a drummer was amazed by Ringo’s innovation. ‘Come Together’ is one example. Easy style but takes real disclipine to stay on track and underplay. I was around in the 60’s and didn’t really care much for the Beatles (Who fan/Mod) I should have listened closer.

  16. I personally think the drumming on “All I’ve got to do” on With the Beatles is a great example of great drumming to complement Lennon’s fantastic vocal.

  17. Just listen to the drumming on “All I’ve got to do” on With the Beatles.

  18. The most obvious fact his he was left handed and learned to play on a right handed kit that his grandmother bought him. It is another case of necessity being the mother of invention.

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