Ringo Starr was The Beatles’ drummer and occasional singer. He was the oldest member and the last to join the band.
Ringo’s a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer. He’s not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way as Paul’s bass playing is underrated…
I think Paul and Ringo stand up anywhere with any of the rock musicians. Not technically great. None of us were technical musicians. None of us could read music. None of us can write it. But as pure musicians, as inspired humans to make noise, they’re as good as anybody!
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The early years
Ringo was born Richard Starkey on 7 July 1940, at 9 Madryn Street in the Dingle area of Liverpool.
His mother Elsie (née Gleave) had been born on 19 October 1914. She married Richard Starkey Senior, on 24 October 1936, and they separated in September 1943 when the young Ritchie was 3 years old.
Elsie remarried Harry Graves (born 1913) on 17 April 1953. Graves got on well with Richard and encouraged the boy’s passion for music.
A sickly child, Starkey spent long stretches in hospital. Among his afflictions were a coma caused by appendicitis, a cold which led to pleurisy, and various allergies and intolerances to certain foods. His illnesses made him fall behind academically, and he didn’t return to school after a stay in hospital which began at the age of 13.
Known as Ritchie as a teenager, Starkey became infatuated with the skiffle craze which swept Liverpool and elsewhere in the 1950s. He co-founded the Eddie Miles Band, which later became Eddie Clayton and the Clayton Squares, and in 1959 joined the Raving Texans – backing band for local singer Rory Storm.
It was while playing in these Liverpool bands that he gained the nickname Ringo Starr – the first part due to the rings he wore, and the second because his solos – which Ringo performed reluctantly – could be billed as ‘Starr Time’.
With The Beatles
Ringo met The Beatles in Hamburg in October 1960. At the time he was performing with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, but stepped in on a number of occasions when Pete Best was unavailable. At the time there was a sense of solidarity among the British groups in Hamburg, and The Beatles got to know Starr well.
When George Martin demanded that Best be replaced in the summer of 1962, The Beatles insisted that Ringo was the best drummer for them. The decision was controversial among the group’s fans, who demanded “Pete forever! Ringo never!” at the Cavern, and fights broke out.
However, Starr didn’t play drums on The Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do. Martin brought session drummer Andy White in for the session, relegating Starr to tambourine on ‘Love Me Do’, and maracas on its b-side ‘PS I Love You’. From then on Ringo played on virtually all The Beatles’ recordings.
Ringo Starr quickly established himself as a rock-steady drummer, whose open hi-hat and four-to-the-floor bass drum helped energise The Beatles’ sound. He was a reliable performer who made only a handful of mistakes during the band’s recording career.
A left-handed drummer who performed on a kit conventionally set up for a right-handed player, Ringo formed a distinctive sound – not least his ‘backwards’ fills which were created by leading with the ‘wrong’ hand. As Ian MacDonald noted, “Starr would, during fills, come off the snare onto the tom-toms with his left hand leading so that he could only progress ‘backwards’ from floor tom to small tom or from small tom to snare.
His droll variations on this, including rolling off the hi-hat, delighted orthodox drummers and added to the newness of The Beatles’ sound.
Revolution In The Head
‘Ringoisms’ – expressions coined by Starr and adopted by the band – were used by John Lennon for the titles of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. He also contributed the line “Darning his socks in the night” to ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
He became the central character in the films Help! and Yellow Submarine – which were a testament to his popularity as a band member. A Hard Day’s Night, too, showed his natural ability as an actor, though he subsequently downplayed his performance, claiming he was hungover on the shoot.