Thirteen Reasons To Give Ringo Some Respect
by John Bryant
as Ringo Starr the luckiest no-talent on earth? All he had to do was
smile, bob his head, and keep the beat for three of the most talented
musicians/songwriters of the century. Sadly, there are people who actual-
ly feel this way about Starr. Frankly, they're missing quite a bit. The fol-
lowing list shows just a. few of the contributions Ringo made to the Beatles,
to music in general, and to the art of drumming.
Ringo was the first true rock drummer to be seen on TV. All of the early
"rock 'n' roll drummers" featured with Elvis, Bill.Haley, Little Richard,
Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis were mostly R&B drummers. These
players were barely making the transition from the swing drumming style of
the '40s and '50s to the louder and more "rocking" sound that is associated
with "I Want To Hold Your Hand."
Ringo changed the way drummers hold their sticks by making popular the
"matched" grip. Nearly all drummers in the modern Western world prior
to Ringo held their sticks with the "traditional" grip. Ringo showed the
world that power was needed to put the emphasis on the "rock" in rock 'n'
roll music, so he gripped both sticks like hammers and proceeded to build a
foundation for the music.
Ringo started a trend of placing drummers on high risers so that they
would be as visible as the other musicians. Certainly Ringo was not the
first drummer on a riser, but his visibility did proclaim him to be an equal
member of the band. This is significant because most drummers before him
were considered only sidemen. When Ringo appeared on The Ed Sullivan
Show in 1964, he immediately caught the attention of thousands of future
musicians by towering over the other three Beatles.
These same viewers noticed that Ringo was playing drums—Ludwig
drums, in fact. Ringo's influence was immediate. A mad rush to purchase
equipment ensued, and subsequently the entire percussion industry went
into a "boom" period that would last for years to come.
Ringo changed the sound of recorded drums. About the time of Rubber
Soul (released December 6, 1965), the sound of his drumset started to
become more distinct. Along with help from the engineers at Abbey Road
studios, Ringo popularized a new sound for drums—a clearer, more up-
close effect. He did this by tuning the drums lower and deadening the ring
with muffling materials (especially pillows in the bass drum). This sound
was to become very influential.
Ringo has nearly perfect tempo. This allowed the Beatles to record a song
twenty-five times, and then be able to edit together different parts of
numerous takes for the best possible version. Today click tracks are used
for the same purpose, but the Beatles had to depend on Ringo to keep the
tempo consistent throughout the dozens of takes. Had he not had this abili-
ty, the Beatles recordings would sound completely different. His perfect
time and good feel give Beatles tunes an "ageless" quality.
In most recording sessions the drummer's performance acts as a barome-
ter for the rest of the musicians. The stylistic direction, dynamics, and
emotions are filtered through the drummer. He is the catcher to whom the
pitcher/songwriter is throwing. If the drumming doesn't feel good, the per-
formance of any additional musicians is doomed from the start. The Beatles
rarely had this problem with Ringo.
Ringo's "feel" serves as a standard for pop-rock record producers and
drummers alike. It is relaxed, but never dragging; solid, yet always breath-
ing. There is a uniqueness to Ringo's playing that can in some ways be
attributed to his being a left-handed drummer playing a right-handed drum-
set. Ringo's distinctive tom fills that lead with the left hand are just as
important to his sound as Steve Gadd's rudimental stickings are to his. And
yes, there is a great amount of musical taste in Ringo's decisions as to what
to play and when to play it.
Ringo hated drum solos, which, like it or not, wins points with quite a few
people. He only took one solo with the Beatles. His eight-measure break
appears during "The End" from Abbey Road. Some might say that it's not
a great display of technical virtuosity, but they would be at least partially
mistaken. Set a metronome to a perfect 126 beats per minute, line it up with
Ringo's solo, and the two will stay together!
Ringo's ability to play odd time signatures helped to push popular song-
writing into uncharted areas. Two examples include "All You Need Is
Love," which is in 7/4 time, and "Here Comes The Sun," with the repeat-
ing 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8 passages in the chorus.
Ringo's proficiency in many different styles such as two-beat swing
("When I'm Sixty-Four"), ballads ("Something"), R&B ("Leave My
Kitten Alone" and "Taxman"), and country (the Rubber Soul album)
helped the Beatles to explore many musical directions with ease. His pre-
Beatle experience as a versatile and hard-working nightclub musician
served him well.
The idea that Ringo was a lucky Johnny-on-the-spot-with-a-showbiz-stage-name
is wrong. In fact, when Beatles producer George Martin expressed his unhappiness after the first session with
original drummer Pete Best, the decision was made by Paul, George, and John to hire the
person they considered to be the best drummer in Liverpool—Ringo Starr. His personality was a bonus.
The rumors that Ringo did not play on many of the Beatle songs
because he was not good enough are false. In fact, according to
Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles: Recording Sessions [Harmony,
1988], Ringo played on every Beatles recording that include drums
except for the following: "Back In The USSR" and "Dear Prudence," on
which Paul played drums due to Ringo temporarily quitting the band,
"The Ballad Of John And Yoko," again featuring Paul on drums
because Ringo was off making a movie, and a 1962 release of "Love Me
Do" featuring session drummer Andy White.
When the Beatles broke up and were trying to get away from each
other, John Lennon chose Ringo to play drums on his first solo
record. As John said in his famous Rolling Stone interview, "If I get
a thing going, Ringo knows where to go—just like that." A great song-
writer could ask no more of a drummer—except maybe to smile and bob
John Bryant is a session drummer and producer in Dallas, Texas. He
has recorded and toured with Ray Charles, the Paul Winter Consort,
and the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band, and is cur-
rently a member of the D'Drum percussion ensemble. Bryant started
playing drums after seeing Ringo Starr on The Ed Sullivan Show in
1964. In 1976, he played a rehearsal with Paul McCartney & Wings
when regular drummer Joe English became ill.