Ringo Starr: The Beatles’ Solid & Inventive Drummer Bloke

Ringo Starr playing the drums with The Beatles
Mr. Starr in action. Image credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images.

Have you heard the news today, oh boy? The Beatles’ Ringo Starr is terrible! That’s the myth. Is it all true? Was he really that bad?

Well, no. He didn’t have the natural genius of his peers (such as Ginger Baker and John Bonham), but he was creative and nifty in his little Liverpudlian way.

A Brief History of Ringo Starr

Sir Richard Starkey (better known as Ringo Starr) was born in 1940. The city? Liverpool. His job? Drummer, occasional singer, and songwriter.

In 1962 he joined The Beatles after John Lennon invited him into the band.

Initially the fans were a bit uncertain about him and the band’s manager, George Martin, thought he wasn’t a good drummer and wanted him out.

But by November 1962 he was getting settled in. And his distinctive style (which you can hear on Come Together above) started to flourish.

Ringo Starr’s Drumming Style

So, yes, Starr’s drumming style isn’t complex or intrusive. He held down a basic beat and often relied upon minimalistic rhythms and innovative flourishes.

Simply put, he played on instinct for each Beatles song. It’s a unique drumming style—very Ringo. No one else plays like that.

However, that’s partially due to his technical limitations. We wouldn’t say he’s a natural drummer. From his era, for example, Buddy Rich could run rings around him.

But he was very much a drummer of his time. Growing up in the 1940s (and in the immediate aftermath of WWII), the type of music he came to play didn’t even exist. Jazz, trad jazz, and skiffle groups like Lonnie Donegan were the norm.

So drummers of the time were expected to just hold a basic beat and do their thing. You can also see this with The Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts.

American soul music, and the arrival of Elvis Presley, added some panache to proceedings. And in line with what was coming out of the US, Starr began adding flourishes to his rock and roll style.

Despite not having a natural genius, Starr’s creativity is what we think counts. His drumming is instantly memorable.

Starr is left-handed, but plays a right-handed drum layout with a cut back, four-piece kit.

You watch his live performances in the 1960s and all he does is hold down a steady beat most of the time.

That, in part, was due to the crowd of hysterical women screaming at the band. So what the others needed of him was to keep the beat steady so they knew where they were in each song.

He was in a band with three songwriting geniuses, which kind of puts the pressure on you to deliver something extra special.

Did he deliver? We think his drumming complements the band’s music enormously.

When The Who emerged in the mid-1960s, The Beatles members struck up a friendship with the Londoners. Particularly with drummer Keith Moon.

At the time, Moon was unhappy in the band and was considering joining someone else. He joked he could take Starr’s place.

Keith Moon in The Beatles? It just wouldn’t work. We find the latter simply needed someone like Starr to be subtle and inventive, assured but cut back.

The best drummers find their place in bands and deliver what’s necessary and we believe that’s one of Starr’s greatest drumming strengths—playing to the song.

Ringo Starr’s Drumming Legacy

You could argue any drummer in that band would have left an indelible impact. The songs are enough to launch anyone up there.

But Ringo Starr was there. The Beatles didn’t sack him. The joke goes John Lennon said he wasn’t even the best drummer in the band, which is regularly misquoted. It’s actually comedian Jasper Carrot who came up with that.

Some of the highlights? His jazzy fills on A Day in the Life from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are quietly brilliant.

And the reality is many of his drumming fills are obscured by some of the best songwriting from the 20th century.

Ringo Starr isn’t a natural genius. But what he did well was to work around his limitations and use his creativity.

Frankly, we often see Dave Grohl in the top 10 of “Best Drummers Ever” lists when he deserves far more scrutiny than Starr.

All Grohl does is hit hard and heavy. He’s a great bloke, but as a drummer he lacks natural technique, versatility, and is wooden and dull.

He’s seemingly much-vaunted due to his time in Nirvana. Watching him play, we’re always baffled why he’s hailed as one of the best ever.

And then you get Starr, with his often brilliant drumming licks (ingenious in their simplicity), the butt of all bad drummer jokes.

Get back, is what we say.

As we’re fans. He’s far from the best ever, but he’s not a nowhere man. His contributions to The Beatles will come together and remain something in the long and winding road of life. So, let it be.

22 comments

  1. I’m not a musician but in my opinion, none of the Beatles were particularly accomplished instrumentalists. In some ways, even their melodies were simple and unadorned. But the combination of all of their talents delivered hit after hit. Starr may not have been as prolific a songwriter as the other three but he created some great tunes himself. How many drumming greats have produced hits like It Don’t Come Easy and Octopus’ Garden. He absolutely fit into the mix. I wholeheartedly agree, that the mockery of his talent is misplaced.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re right – Ringo was a drummer of his time. Drumming has evolved since, and of course it’s an instrument just like any other. But a lot of what he did had a subtle quality that complemented the rest – it wasn’t all just “THOOMP-a-chicka-THOOMP-a-chicka” (I knew a drummer who played that way – he could play any time signature as long as all of them were 4/4). What always struck me about the Beatles, apart from the genius song-writing – which was truly great – was their unhesitating innovation. Most of the defining sounds of early-1970s prog came from the Beatles – the mellotron particularly – from Sgt Pepper onwards. Nobody seemed to notice… George Harrison owned a Modular Moog which featured on their ‘Abbey Road’ album, but it was always Keith Emerson who got the ‘pioneer’ tag for putting a Modular Moog solo on ‘Lucky Man’ the following year. The Beatles really were pioneering in so many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! It’s very impressive to look back at their history and see what they did. Four Liverpool lads and a heap of imagination (and occasional drugs).

      I think Ringo did a great job, really. It’s difficult to imagine many other drummers being in the band, he just was a personality fit alongside his drumming chops. Whereas if you had Ginger Baker in there… better drummer by far, but that would be carnage.

      Like

  3. Great post I’ve always admired Ringo – he was the ultimate support for the others and wasn’t intimidated by being surrounded by geniuses. There would have been no room for a fancy filler in the Beatles – a team of stars (Real Madrid) isn’t a recipe for success!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an awesome post. I’ve listened to The Beatles for years without doing a deep dive into their history and biographies, so I know I have an interesting book or two ahead of me when I finally take the plunge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci! Oh aye, well worth plunging into their history. They had a massive impact of course in my region of England, I’m down the road in Manchester. So they influenced a lot of Madchester era bands in the 1990s too.

      Liked by 1 person

Have some gibberish to dispense with?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.