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?
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.