Music History

For All You People Who Think Ringo Starr Sucked as a Drummer, Read This

Gaz Whelan, drummer for the Happy Mondays, was talking to me about drums.

“Ringo’s the man, mate. Ever try to play some of his stuff? It’s hard to figure out. That’s because he was left-handed yet played on a kit set up for right-handers. At the same time, though, he naturally led all his fills with his left hand. This is why people have such a problem learning many of his parts!”

I’ve never really understood why Ringo has always been the target of such derision when it comes to his talents as a drummer. Ask anyone who actually plays and they’ll tell you that Ringo needed to be one of the most invented drummers of all time to keep up with his three bandmates.

If you’re still an unbeliever, read this blog post from Echoes. Afterwards, if you still don’t think Ringo had to be a bit of a genius for his era–and one of the most influential drummers of all time— you’re an idiot.

When musicians talk about the Beatles’ musical influence, what dominates the conversation might often be the songwriting genius of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison’s innovative writing and playing, the group’s ear-worm melodies, and their groundbreaking use of the recording studio.

Few musicians would argue that the drumming of Ringo Starr was one of the most singular aspects to the band’s music.

We’re here to make that argument.

While there are flashier drummers, greater technicians, and more bombastic players from the same era (Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham come to mind), Ringo’s inventive playing demonstrates a keen sense of how to create a drum track that fits perfectly with the intent of every song. His role as time keeper was important, but equally important was his artistry. Ringo’s playing added shape and texture to the band’s iconic recordings while carefully creating patterns and dynamics to create and resolve tension within each song.

Beyond keeping time
A great drum part is much more than a steady kick, snare, and hi hat to which the instruments and vocals play along. Popular recordings often blend a variety of rhythmic patterns that, when combined, create the overall sound, tempo, and texture we come to know as the finished backing track. Once the backing track is judged adequate, lead and harmony vocals, solo parts, and any other instrumental “sweetening” such as percussion, strings, and special effects are added to complete the multi-track master recording. Then, after approving the overall sound, the song is mixed, mastered and released.

Many Beatles songs, especially in the early part of their release history, relied on what can be termed standard rock drum beats. Some of the great Ringo performances contrast from a standard rock drum beat as more of a “composed” part; patterns he created specifically for a song that are anything but a standard rock beat.

Continue reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38156 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “For All You People Who Think Ringo Starr Sucked as a Drummer, Read This

  • When ringo was playing it was only the jazz bands that could understand that the beat was not a typical 4 4 beat it wss not easy to out right on the one you had to know it was closer to 5. 5 beats. This I found out when I went to NYC when a drum teacher told me. Regular bands could not play that 5 5 bettle beat

  • In the early days Ringo’s beats had swing. Deep grooves. Think Baby It’s You. Ask Me Why. He made the cover songs more dancable. And the originals had a funk they would not have had without him. He pushed that band over the top. Then the songs came. It’s the truth.


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