Ringo Starr was born Richard Starkey to bakery assistant Elsie Starkey and dock worker Richard Starkey. Ringo Starr comes from a musically inclined family. His grandparents played mandolin and banjo, and his parents had a piano at home. Ringo Starr never actually learned how to play the piano, although he enjoyed spending some time walking over it. Only three years after Ringo Starr’s birth, his father split up from his mother, leaving her to raise Ringo Starr all alone.
In the summer of 1947, during his first year in St. Silas, a Church of England primary school in High Park Street, Ringo Starr was afflicted with an acute case of appendicitis that developed into a peritonitis, after the burst of his appendix. It ultimately led to a serious infection, causing him to fall into a coma. It took one year in the hospital for Ringo Starr to fully recover from his health issues. During his time there, Ringo Starr gained awareness and interest for percussion playing. He was handed a couple of toys to keep his spirits up: a little red bus and a drum. Ringo Starr was quite infatuated by the drum, so he decided to keep it and give the toy bus as a gift to the boy on the bed next to him.
After getting out of the hospital with 7 years of age, and seeing he had fallen behind on his education, Ringo Starr was put in a class with children much younger than himself. Around that time, Ringo Starr was given a mouth organ by his grandfather. Ringo Starr also inherited his grandparents musical instruments after their death, but much like with the mouth organ, never really got into them.
“Drums were just the ones I always felt an affinity with.” – Interview To Modern Drummer Magazine, December 1981/January 1982 Issue
Ringo Starr’s 13th year of life was a very eventful one. While attending Dingle Vale Secondary Modern School, where he showed special aptitudes for art and drama, Ringo Starr saw his mother getting married to Harry Graves. Ringo Starr was also admitted to a sanatorium for two years, after catching a cold that developed into chronic pleurisy. In his second year there, Ringo Starr fell ill to tuberculosis.
It was during that very complicated moment of his life that Ringo Starr fell in love with percussion. As a way to keep everybody entertained, the hospital had a group of people that visited the patients once a week to give them lessons on knitting, modeling, and music. When teaching music, they took tambourines, triangles and little drums with them to distribute by the patients. Ringo Starr wouldn’t play with the other patients as a band unless he was given a drum. Yet another period of hospitalization left Ringo Starr further behind scholastically. In 1955, and after being discharged from the sanatorium, Ringo Starr decided to drop out of school all together and take a job as a messenger for the British Railways.
Ringo Starr bought his first drum at the age of 16. He spent $3 on a bass drum that he used to pound on with a pair of drumsticks he had made out of firewood. Afterwards, Ringo Starr decided to build a drum set out of tin cans.
“Flat tins were cymbals, and a big biscuit tin with some depth in it was the tom, and a shallow biscuit tin was the snare drum, and so forth.” – Interview To Modern Drummer Magazine, December 1981/January 1982 Issue
Ringo Starr got his first real drum set in January, 1958. It all went down when Harry traveled south to see his family on Christmas, 1957 and ended buying his uncles’ drum set for $30. Thinking he would be practicing regularly to improve on his drumming, Ringo Starr set the drum kit in a bedroom. Since his family lived closely to other people, Ringo Starr only got to practice one night. Ringo Starr never practiced from that day on – except with bands – due to the amount of volume his drum set produced. Ringo Starr was never into drummers, but enjoyed Cozy Cole’s and Gene Krupa‘s heavy use of tom-toms.
In February, 1958, Ringo Starr and his friend Eddie Miles formed the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. The members of the band had no sense of time and very few musical skills, since they were just starting out playing. But that didn’t stop them from going to auditions and playing as much free shows as they could.
In 1959, Ringo Starr joined the Raving Texans. By October, 1960, the band was renamed to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. It was around that time that he began using the stage name “Ringo Starr” and, along with the remaining members of the band, decided to leave his job at a factory to become a professional musician. “Ringo” came from the amount of rings he used on his fingers, and “Starr” came from “Starr Time”, which was the way his solo sections were billed. Interestingly enough, his solo spots never included drum solos.
“(…) I never did solos. I hated solos. I wanted to be the drummer within the band, not the frontman.” – Interview To Modern Drummer Magazine, December 1981/January 1982 Issue
Ringo Starr came in contact with The Beatles around 1 year and a half into his gigging with Rory Storm, when they were performing in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles and some other bands played the same venues as Rory Strom and The Hurricanes, who used to be top of the bill. The Beatles were the only band Ringo Starr ever watched from those shows, because he found them very good. On the 16th of October 1960, Ringo Starr drummed in Hamburg with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, recording with them for the first time to back The Hurricanes singer Lu Walters. After returning to England, Ring Starr was invited to sit in for The Beatles’ drummer Pete Best on the 18th of August, 1961, for a lunchtime session at The Cavern – a rock ‘n’ roll club in Liverpool, England. For the following 6 months, Ringo Starr would sit in for Pete Best every couple of weeks.
Ringo Starr came in contact with The Beatles around 1 year and a half into his gigging with Rory Storm, when they were performing in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles and some other bands played the same venues as Rory Strom and The Hurricanes, who used to be top of the bill. The Beatles were the only band Ringo Starr ever watched, because he found them very good. On 16 October 1960, Ringo Starr drummed in Hamburg with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, recording with them for the first time to back Hurricanes singer Lu Walters. After returning to England, Ring Starr was invited to sit in for The Beatles’ drummer Pete Best on 18 August 1961, for a lunchtime session at The Cavern – a rock ‘n’ roll club in Liverpool, England. This went on for about six months where Ringo Starr would sit in for Pete Best every couple of weeks.
In 1962, and before going to a summer holiday camp with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes for a three months gig, The Beatles talked with Ringo Starr about the possibility of joining the band. Ringo Starr was very receptive to it. Five weeks into his three months gig, Ringo Starr was invited to join The Beatles as their full-time drummer. Worried that he might cost his bandmates the summer gig if he left, Ringo Starr delayed his departure until after they found themselves a replacement. Pete Best was fired from The Beatles on the 16th of August, 1962, and just two days later Ringo Starr officially debuted as a Beatle by performing with them at the Horticultural Society dance at Port Sunglight, Merseyside, England.
Ringo Starr joined The Beatles just in time to make music history, with the release of their first studio album Please Please Me in 1963. The album marked the start of the legacy of one of the world’s most popular bands. Ringo Starr’s success with The Beatles was only toped in 1965 with the birth of his first son, Zak Starkey.
Ringo Starr drummed for The Beatles on 12 studio albums, 4 live albums, and a bunch of compilation albums. Together, the songs written for Please Please Me (1963), With The Beatles (1963), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Beatles for Sale (1964), Help! (1965), Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles (also known as The White Album) (1968), Yellow Submarine (1968), Abbey Road (1969), Let It Be (1970) and a bunch of singles are responsible for the 300+ million albums The Beatles have sold worldwide, making them the highest selling musicians in the world. Their long catalog features about thirty songs that reached #1 in the United Kingdom (U.K.) on the Record Retailer magazine charts and/or the United States (U.S.) on the Billboard magazine charts. If you’d like to learn more about The Beatles discography, click on this link.
Music wasn’t the only medium of artistic expression that Ringo Starr messed around with. Along with The Beatles, Ringo Starr was featured in five motion pictures: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), Yellow Submarine (1968), and Let It Be (1970), which won an Oscar for “Original Song Score”. To learn more about The Beatles’ filmography click on this link.
Ringo Starr, along with The Beatles, has won 3 Brit Awards, 15 Ivor Novello Awards, and 13 Grammy Awards. The Beatles have been awarded 6 Diamond albums and 24 Multi-Platinum albums. In the U.S., The Beatles have been awarded 39 Platinum albums and 45 Gold albums. In the U.K., The Beatles have won 4 Multi-Platinum albums, 4 Platinum albums, 8 Gold albums and 1 Silver album. The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2008, The Beatles ranked at #1 of Billboard magazine’s list of the all-time top-selling Hot 100 artists. The Beatles were collectively included in Time magazine’s 20th century’s 100 most influential people.
In 1965, Ringo Starr was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1984, a planet discovered by Brian A. Skiff was named 4105 Starr in honor of Ringo Starr. In 2010, Ringo Starr was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
After The Beatles disbanded in 1970, Ringo Starr embarked in a solo career. He has since launched 15 studio albums, 10 live albums, and 5 compilation albums. If you’d like to check Ringo Starr’s full solo discography click on this link.
Ringo Starr’s drumming is technically limited. He’s not a flashy drummer, nor does he like to play drum solos or draw attention to himself. Ringo Starr is a song-driven drummer, whose sole purpose is that of making the songs feel good. Ringo Starr doesn’t distract you from songs with his drumming, he makes the drumming an intrinsic part of the songs. Ringo Starr’s drumming has influenced drummers like Dave Grohl, Max Weinberg, Danny Carey, Nicko McBrain, Eric Carr, Phil Rudd, and Mike Portnoy, among others.
The first aspect of Ringo Starr’s drumming that we’d like to direct your attention to is his use of staggered drum fills. Ringo Starr has a very peculiar way of playing drum fills since he’s a left-handed drummer playing a right-handed drum set. Whenever moving from a groove to a drum fill, Ringo Starr leads the new pattern with the left hand. This led him to write peculiar drum fills for The Beatles. Ringo Starr was also keen on including the hi-hat in his drum fills. You can listen to some of his cool and characteristics drum fills in songs like “A Day In The Life” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Hey Jude” and “Rain” from Hey Jude (1970). The song “The End” from Abby Road is another cool tune for listening to some Ringo Starr drum fills – especially at the beginning of the song. This is the only tune from The Beatles where Ringo Starr can be heard playing a drum solo.
Ringo Starr influenced a lot of rock drummers in the way they tune their drums. His deep sounding toms and snares became a staple in the world of rock drumming. The tom-tom work of Cozy Cole and Gene Krupa had a huge influence in Ringo Starr’s playing. Great examples of his use of tom-toms can be heard in songs like “I Feel Fine”, which has a cha-cha-based tom-tom drum beat inspired by Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”, and “Ticket To Ride” from Help!, with the way Ringo Starr added toms to the drum pattern for the verse section.
The main grooves for songs like “Get Back” from Let It Be and “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver are quite interesting, showcasing how original Ringo Starr can be with his drum parts. The use of drag ruffs on the snare drum with a ponding quarter note bass drum pattern is enough to fuel “Get Back” with a thick and driving groove that sounds amazingly perfect, simple and creative at the same time. “Tomorrow Never Knows” has this great syncopation happening on the snare drum with shots on the “and” and “ah” of count 3. This groove sounds like a million bucks, since it adds to the psychedelic feel of the song.
Ringo Starr’s drumming is worth studying if you’d like to learn more about how to use simple concepts to increase the overall feel and creativity of what you play, whether alone or with other musicians.