What Makes Ringo Starr a Great Drummer: Demonstrations from a German Teenager & Ringo Himself

The question of whether or not Ringo Starr is a great rock drummer — maybe one of the greatest– seems more or less settled among drummers. “From the simplistic heavy-hitting of Dave Grohl, to the progressive mind bending of Mike Portnoy, and way beyond,” writes Stuart Williams at Music Radar, “all roads lead back to Ringo.” Not only is Ringo “your favorite drummer’s favorite drummer,” but when he took the stage in 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show, “you’d be hard-pushed to find another moment where one drummer inspired an entire generation of kids and teenagers to pick up a pair of sticks and beg their parents to buy them a kit.”

There was little precedent for what he did in rock drumming even in the band’s earliest years. Ringo helped change “the role of the drums from an orthodox, military and jazz-led discipline into a more democratised art form. If there was a blueprint for what drummers ‘did’ in rock ’n’ roll, Ringo’s approach widened it,” adds Music Radar. Much of his expansive vocabulary was accidental, at least at first, a product of what Beatles biographer Bob Spitz calls a childhood beset by “a Dickensian chronicle of misfortune.”

Like many a groundbreaking musician, Ringo played at what might be considered a physical disadvantage. He learned the drums in “the hospital band,” he once said, while convalescing from tuberculosis. “My grandparents gave me a mandolin and a banjo, but I didn’t want them. My grandfather gave me a harmonica… we had a piano — nothing. Only the drums.” Like Hendrix, he was a lefty forced to adapt to a right-handed version of the instrument, thus enlarging what right- (and left) handed drummers thought could be done with it.

As German drummer Sina demonstrates at the top of the post, Ringo’s unique style involves a great deal of subtlety, “tone, taste, musicality, and that left-handed drummer on a right-handed kit reverse-fell tom-tom work,” writes Boing Boing. We’ve previously featured Sina in a post in which great drummers pay tribute to Ringo. The daughter of a musician in German Beatles tribute band the Silver Beatles, she shows off an unimpeachable grasp of Starr’s signature moves.

In the clip above, Ringo himself demonstrates his technique on “Ticket to Ride,” “Come Together,” and his highest-charting solo single “Back Off Boogaloo.” In explaining how he employed his most highly praised talent — playing exactly what the song needed and no more — he shows how the drum pattern in the Abbey Road opener came directly from John’s vocals and Paul’s bass line. In “Ticket to Ride,” he shows how he works from his shoulder, producing a downbeat that’s slightly ahead.

Where do Ringo’s quirks come from, according to Ringo? “It has to do with swing,” he deadpans, “or as we keep mentioning, medication.” More seriously, he explains above in an interview with Conan O’Brien, he “leads with his left,” a limitation that he turned into a musical legacy on his favorite Beatles drum moments and on everyone else’s.

via Boing Boing

Related Content: 

Musician Plays Signature Drum Parts of 71 Beatles Songs in 5 Minutes: A Whirlwind Tribute to Ringo Starr

How Can You Tell a Good Drummer from a Bad Drummer?: Ringo Starr as Case Study

Isolated Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Greatest: Bonham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • James Drummer says:

    Oh, please. Ringo seems like a great guy, and I wish him all the best, but he’s a mediocre drummer.

    You could walk into any jazz bar in NYC any day of the week and find a better drummer.

  • Dan says:

    The body of work created by a group called the Beatles was done in the eye of a hurricane without the benefit of sound monitors, a.k.a. they could not hear each other play. Live at Hollywood Bowl, is a good example. Somebody was holding all of that together, and that is Ringo Starr. Easy to comment on, but I guess you had to be present to understand it.

  • David says:

    When the Beatles first arrived in the states, they held hundreds of interviews.

    At one such interview, the band was asked is “Ringo, the greatest drummer in the world?”

    Not missing a beat, Paul responded and said “he’s not even the greatest drummer in the Beatles!”

    Such quick wit, and the deep love the members had each other in 1963-64.

    I could care less whether the lads were good musicians or not.

    They were creative, innovative, made a door in the world and they said “follow us” and we did.

    I never thought sny of the Beatles were great musicians – whatever they were changed the landscape of music, life, clothes; and, when you listen to one of their songs you feel happy and a bit giddy.

    No band, no, not one has done that since John, Paul, George and Ringo – first met.

  • Suprême god jesus says:

    Can you please tell ringo to stop paying for these articles, I know it’s hard to monetize online news sites but this a new low. I am unsure what is worse calling this journalism or being so detached from reality to think that anyone cares about ringo’s drumming in 2021. Please find something better to do with your time than polluting the internet.

  • Tom says:

    That quote by Lennon saying Ringo is not the best drummer in the Beatles is an urban legend. Never happened. Not even close.

  • shiloh says:

    Ringo was not a good drummer, he even struggled with time keeping, this article was conjured no doubt to get ringos nod of approval, Ringo was not a good drummer period. So please a worthy attempt to raise the bar, but lacks credibility

  • Rich king says:

    I agree with the previous posts.he is mediocre at best put him in the same room with ginger Baker or Jon Bonham end of contest…

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