Beyond the Backbeat

It seems impossible that Ringo Starr should be celebrating his 72nd birthday today. But that has less to do with age as is has to do with how much time has passed since we first encountered him when the Beatles were set loose on the American public on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964.

I will safely wager that not one of our Gold Coast drummers can say that Ringo wasn't a huge inspiration to them. How many of you wanted a Ludwig black oyster pearl drum kit like his? And how many of you actually got one? In the mid-sixties, Ringo alone was responsible for Ludwig's skyrocketing sales, making them the definitive name in Rock and Roll drum products.

Because I grew up with three generations of drummers (my grandfather in Vaudeville, my father in Big Band, Swing, and Dixieland, and my brother in Surf music), it was only natural that at 13 I would initially gravitate toward Ringo as my favorite Beatle. Our home had been crowded with drum sets, sticks, keys, practice pads, and skins from the day I was born. (I wasn't a bad drummer myself, if I might brag a little!) I knew my paradiddles from my buzz rolls and I practiced the intro to Wipeout until I finally got it, so yeah, drums, as well as the special, maddening, and endearing quirks of drummers, were no stranger to me. Ringo fit right into my family structure and, when I finally convinced my brother to allow me to comb and cut his Ventures hairstyle into a Beatle do, he even looked like Ringo. I remember Halloween of 1964, when I went as Ringo, complete with a set of my brother's sticks in the back pocket of my Levis.

It has been easy for a lot of people (mostly non-drummers) to take Ringo's gifts for granted through the years because he was pretty happy to sit back there on his riser (no one had ever done that before), contributing his steady, reliable backbeat. He has always been the most overlooked Beatle. A lot of people have described him as a "meat and potatoes" drummer, but I beg to differ. Sure, he wasn't showy like Keith Moon, but who can listen to the entire second side of the Abbey Road album, or the way he carried Tomorrow Never Knows, I Feel Fine, and Ticket to Ride without recognizing his strengths? Perhaps it's his ability to "play the song" that makes him so gifted. Just as a woman should hear, "You look beautiful" not "Great makeup", Ringo is one of those drummers who never draws attention from the music--you hear it, not him. Yet he adds so, so much. Remove the drum track from Get Back and what have you got?

So happy birthday Ringo, and thanks from all of us for a lifetime of amazing work, contributions, and inspiration!