Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ringo Starr

Few drummers, regardless of age, who have played the instrument long enough to appreciate the musicians who have developed the instrument's language blink when they hear Ringo Starr mentioned as one of the all-time greats to ever sit in front of a drum set. But just the other day I had to explain to a relatively young and inexperienced drummer why Ringo is so great. Here is what I told him:

1. Ringo was the drummer for The Beatles. The two greatest pop/rock songwriters ever, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, could have picked anyone to play their songs. They picked Ringo.
2. Ringo was the first pure rock drummer. Most drummers that played on pop, rock, rockabilly tunes before Ringo were trained in jazz, big-band and other kinds of traditional music. Ringo was the first real drummer to hit clean and hard, use a matched grip and really push a band. He also brought the "rim shot" into rock drumming so you could hear the snare drum above the amplified instruments. Remember, Ringo's drums were not miked in the early days of The Beatles' live performances.
3. Ringo was the first rock drummer to play a "swishy" hi-hat. Drummer before Ringo played the hi-hat tight. Ringo opened it halfway and filled up the sound. Listen to "She Loves You" and you'll get the point.
4. Ringo had perfect time while keeping a loose feel. Listen to "A Hard Day's Night," "Rain," "Drive My Car." "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "Fixing a Hole" just for starters. And he had an unmatched knack for choosing the right tempo.
5. Imagine what "A Day in the Life," would sound like with any other drummer. You can't. No one can play like that. I can play Steve Gadd's solo in "Aja" note for note. I cannot play "A Day in the Life."

6. Ringo was the first drummer to close-mike the bass drum. Listen to how the bass (kick) drum sounded before "Sgt. Peppers." Listen to it on the that recording and on most rock recordings after "Sgt. Peppers." The standard boom-snare-boom-boom-snare" definition you hear? All Ringo -- his idea. He also "standardized" much of the muffling and tuning techniques that are now the norm in rock drumming.
7. Ringo picked perfect patterns for every song. He never overplayed or felt the need to show off. Take all the instruments away and you would still know it was Ringo.
8. The backwards roll with that hi-hat "clatch." Drummers will know what I'm talking about.
9. The drum solo on "The End," one of the few quotable rock drum solos ever.
10. Finally, and most important, you know who Ringo is after the first bar -- not first few bars, even. There are dozens and dozens of rock drummers (and jazz drummers) with amazing technical proficiency but no stamp of individuality. Nobody plays like Ringo, and no one ever will.

Enough said.

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