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