Ringo Starr turns 79 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.
It was actually Jasper Carrot who said it after stealing the gag from a 1981 BBC radio play – bizarrely this has become rock folklore and ignores the fact that Ringo is a brilliant drummer.
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.