Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey)
Richard Starkey was the drummer for the Beatles from 1962 through 1970. He has used the stage name "Ringo Starr" since the late 1950's. He was born in Liverpool, England on July 7, 1940. After the Beatles disbanded, Starr had a solo career, recorded several records of his own, produced records for other artists, acted in films, and performed with several different musical groups.
As a child, Ringo was often ill. At six he suffered a coma from complications of appendicitis.
At thirteen he spent two years in a sanatorium to recover from chronic pleurisy. He did not finish his secondary schooling as a result. The long-term effects of his illness were a collection of food allergies and sensitivities that have stayed with him during his adult life. He is a vegetarian, not out of conviction so much as necessity. Whenever he traveled internationally as a Beatle, he packed food as well as clothing so that he could better control what he ingested.
Ringo became a skiffle fan, just like the others who eventually formed the Beatles and formed a skiffle band at age 17. Two years later he joined the "Raving Texans." The stage name "Ringo Starr" came from that era, as he wore lots of rings and he needed a name with a ring of the Old West to it. In 1960 the band became known as "Rory Storm and the Hurricanes."
Ringo went with that band to Hamburg in 1960 and there he met Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. A recording of the four of them, backing up Lu Walters of the Hurricanes, was made on October 16, 1960. Back in Liverpool, Ringo sat in with the Beatles for the absent Pete Best on August 18, 1961 and February 5, 1962. When George Martin suggested that the group find a new drummer after their June 1962 audition with EMI, Ringo was chosen as Best's successor. This was August 16, 1962. Two days later, exactly a year after first sitting in for Best, Starr made his first appearance as a Beatle.
Starr was born left handed. Though his grandmother compelled him to write right-handed, he always felt at a disadvantage with a conventional drum trap set. He described himself as "your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills" – fills that were "funny" because his left-handedness meant he could not "roll the drums to save his life," as George Martin later expressed it. Yet he was constant and consistent, with a good feel for tempo. Martin said that Ringo's solid, rock and roll back beat always made recording the Beatles much easier.
Ringo often underrated himself. He was quoted as saying, "Whenever I hear another drummer I know I'm no good." Once when Lennon was asked if Ringo were the best drummer in the world, Lennon answered jokingly that he was not even the best drummer in the Beatles. Starr replied later on that it was his good luck to be "surrounded by three frustrated drummers" who were limited in their style.
It may be true that Ringo's technical limitations made him a less splashy percussionist than some of the more storied names behind the traps, but his style became an unmistakable part of the Beatles' sound. He disliked drum solos and played only one – at the very end of the Beatles' era and then only because he was compelled to do it. Yet throughout his career with the Beatles he maintained a "spark," a projection of his personality, which made him popular with the fans and a lively and reliable contributor to the music. He created a new role for drummers in popular music ensembles, a role as an equal participant with the other entertainers in the creative process, and not as someone in the back of the group, providing some sort of support service.
In a well-known kudo to Starr by fellow drummer Steve Smith, Smith pointed out the Ringo style, saying: "[H]e composed unique, stylistic drum parts for The Beatles songs. His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song." Ringo's legacy also includes innovations now considered standard procedures for drummers in popular music groups: He had the drums placed on risers behind the band for visibility and sound clarity; he tuned the drums lower than had been the practice; he used muffling on tonal rings; and he employed what is now called "the matched grip."
It took a while for Ringo to carve out this role as an integral part of the Beatles and not just a backup percussionist. His second appearance at the Abbey Road studios as a Beatle showed how the EMI people regarded him at first. He found session drummer Andy White sitting in his place. George Martin was more interested in having a veteran studio session drummer than in training the "new guy." Ringo played maracas and tambourine instead. White's work appeared on the Beatles' first single, Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You. Ringo was worried that Martin thought he was crazy or something, and that "they're doing a Pete Best on me."
This was not true. In fact, Ringo played drums on every other recorded Beatles song, but three: Back in the U.S.S.R. and Dear Prudence (when Ringo had walked out of the sessions for The White Album) and The Ballad of John and Yoko (for Abbey Road). McCartney played drums on those three tracks. The best explanation of Martin's choice to hire a session drummer for the Beatles' first single was simply that Martin still had a conventional view of the drummer's role in the recording studio. Ringo came to change all of that.
According to Mark Lewisohn, who made the most detailed analyses of the recording sessions of the Beatles, Ringo was indeed the reliable element in the band's work. In an eight-year-long series of many thousands of takes, Lewisohn can point to no more than 12 times that a take would be disqualified because of a goof by Ringo. The other three accounted for easily 99% plus of the errors committed during recording sessions.
The fans in England and the United States quickly bonded with Ringo. His affable personality in live performances quickly won them over. He was often called "the favorite Beatle" and "the funny one." In the films, Ringo came to appeal to the fans even more, and even young children enjoyed the puckish twinkle with which he delivered his lines. "Beatlemania" became a world-wide phenomenon in part because the fans warmed up to him so easily.
Ringo's distinct Liverpool accent and his penchant for inventing curious phrases added to his popularity. "Ringoisms," as they came to be known, inspired Lennon and McCartney to write songs for him. He is credited with conceiving "A Hard Day's Night" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," phrases that especially appealed to Lennon, who enjoyed paradoxical, nonsensical turns of phrase. Paul said of "Ringoisms" that they were "sort of magic" and "always wonderful, very lyrical." Starr also made some important lyrical contributions to Beatles' songs, such as the line from Eleanor Rigby: "darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there."
Starr wrote a few of the songs performed by the Beatles, notably Don't Pass Me By and Octopus's Garden. The latter is important, as he wrote it while in Greece, on Peter Sellers' yacht. He had become fed up with conflicts that had flared amongst the others, and took a two-week hiatus from the Beatles during the sessions for The White Album.
As a singer, Ringo was usually featured in at least one song on each album. This was done to satisfy the fans who admired him and to provide a recognizable vocal personality for each member of the group. Lennon and McCartney would write songs just for him, in his key and within his range. Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help From My Friends were two well-known examples. Ringo sang backup vocals from time to time as well, as in Carry That Weight, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and All Together Now.
As a musician, Ringo also continued to be active in making and producing records after the Beatles' era came to a close. He released several singles and over 15 studio albums. He recorded music with each of his former band members. His first two albums came out the same year as the breakup of the Beatles: Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups of Blues. Of his single releases, It Don't Come Easy and Back Off Boogaloo charted in the US and the UK. He had number one hit records in the US with Photograph, which Harrison co-wrote with him, and You're Sixteen. His 1973 album Ringo, which included collaboration with the other former Beatles on some of the tracks, was a commercial success. In 1974 Starr came out with Goodnight Vienna, which also did well.
Starr was not only starred in the four Beatles films, but he went on to make acting appearances in several different contexts after the Beatles disbanded. He hosted TV variety and awards shows, narrated a children's series for television called Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons and has made several special appearances at concerts and benefits.
He was in Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. He played drums on Harrison's releases of All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World. He also drummed for the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. As a film director, he created a documentary on T. Rex called Born to Boogie. In more recent years Ringo organized "Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band," which toured from 1989 to 2003. On December 24, 2007 Time Magazine's European edition printed an extensive article on Ringo, emphasizing his love of music and his happy-go-lucky karma.
On the personal side, Ringo was probably the least moody and complicated of the Beatles. He was collaborative, cooperative and chronically optimistic about how things would go. He avoided ego battles with his band mates, and, more than any of the others, stayed clear of rivalries and tantrums. He left the Beatles once, in the sessions for The White Album, not because he was feeling abused or under-appreciated, but rather because he just found the tensions among the others too wearing.
During the Beatles years he was the one least associated with drug use, though he later sought treatment for alcohol abuse. He also managed to avoid personal dramas in his relationships with women. He married his wife Maureen (Cox) in 1965, and they had three sons: Zak, Jason and Lee. His eldest son, Zak, is a successful drummer in his own right. The marriage lasted ten years. In 1980 he met Barbara Bach, famous as a "Bond Girl" in The Spy Who Loved Me. The two met on the set of the film Caveman. They were married in 1981. Ringo lives mainly in Los Angeles, but has homes in Surry, England and on the Riviera in Monte Carlo.