July 7, 2009



From USA Today: In Praise of Ringo Starr, One Drummer to Another July 06, 2009 By Dennis Diken. Drummer Diken is a founding member of The Smithereens, who celebrated their 29th anniversary in March. The band's latest album is The Smithereens Play Tommy. Diken's first solo effort, Late Music, will be released this fall.

The Beatles maintain a stronghold on the imagination and hearts of music lovers. They win over new generations without trying, and their appeal shows no signs of waning. So when Ringo Starr turns 69 on Tuesday, his status as one of rock's most renowned drummers is secure, if only by association with the greatest show on earth. Yet inexplicably, Starr's legacy is clouded by misconception and ignorance. Some say he was the luckiest guy on earth, a competent player who stepped into a million-dollar quartet. Why the bum rap? Was it because he didn't overplay and shunned solos? Or was it his unassuming, Everyman countenance? Think about it: Could The Beatles have conquered the world with a mediocre sticksman? John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison found in Ringo an ironclad timekeeper who rocked and swung like mad, with style, imagination and versatility. He was the secret weapon of the best band of all time.

He hit the ground running in 1963 on I Saw Her Standing There with a steady, exciting pulse. This is "How to Groove With Your Bandmates 101," as he established a brotherhood with McCartney's fluid bass and Lennon's underrated rhythm guitar. Within months, Ringomania shifted into high gear with She Loves You, where he introduced the electrifying sizzle of high-hat cymbals that gave the early Fabs' discs a unique imprint. Later that year, Starr helped reinvent Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven, with a fierce backbeat and a joy-of-life fervor. No other records sounded like this at the time, because no other drummers played like this before.

His influence spread like wildfire when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. Perched on his riser, Ringo was clearly in the driver's seat, and it was apparent that his membership in this exclusive fraternity owed as much to his exuberant persona as his musical prowess. An army of kids was mobilized that Sunday night, awaiting their call to the battle of the bands. Among the legion of teenage conscripts were drummers Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, who calls Ringo "my generation's Gene Krupa," and Max Weinberg of the E Street Band, who thanks Starr for "showing us that a day or night spent drumming is just about better than anything else."

The Beatles' music evolved at a dizzying pace, and Starr adapted with gusto. He concocted fresh concepts, like his trademark framework for Ticket to Ride and the controlled chaos of Rain. The lazy lilt behind his vocal on With a Little Help From My Friends is a study in subtle, soulful dynamics and when not to play. To this day, producers direct studio drummers to "play like Ringo." Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith sums it up thusly: "The greatest thing a drummer can contribute to a recorded song is the feel of it -- and every Beatles song feels great."

Ringo "doesn't dazzle with flashy technique and pyrotechnics," says The Cars' lead guitarist, Elliot Easton. "What he does is so much more elusive and difficult: He plays songs on the drums. Anybody who has sat down behind a drum kit in the last 45 years owes him." And in The End, Ringo relented and sent himself out with a 17-second solo on Abbey Road, The Beatles' final studio album. Never considered much of a vocalist, Ringo nonetheless enjoyed a fruitful solo career. He continues to make quality records and tour with his All-Starr Band, appearing amazingly fit and spirited. And he still plays great. Like always, he makes it look easy. That's because to Ringo, it did come easy. (c) Copyright 2009 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Ringo will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 (Photo above by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images), and joins his old bandmates in two exciting releases on September 9th, 2009: The Beatles RockBand video game and (at last) the first complete remastering of both stereo and mono mixes of all Beatles recordings for release on CD. I have seen Ringo perform many times and his joyful exuberance and good humor cannot be overstated. Beatles interviews and lyrics are filled with his quips, yet he also remains a kind of "everyman" character in the Fab universe. His recent hit, Liverpool 8, is a catchy, low-key and personal look back at his roots and life's path.

Many of Ringo's best tunes are either collaborations with fellow Beatles and other music pals, or they are songs that lyrically express Ringo's emotions of love and loss for the friends in his life. I find the cream of his work quite touching and down-to-earth. A short list of post-Beatles team-ups finds Starr on most albums, the consummate drummer and friend. He spent his wild years making mayhem with pals Keith Moon, Marc Bolan, and playing on the Concert for Bangladesh and The Band's The Last Waltz. If you haven't explored Ringo's work lately, below are a few essentials. First and foremost for SpyVibers is The Beatles James Bond-styled comedy film Help (1965). In the age of iTunes/MP3 mixes, I will highlight tracks for those looking for a solid sampler. I hope you will check it out and spend some time with Ringo on his birthday. Cheers, Ringo!


Films: A Hard Days Night (1964), Help (1965), Yellow Submarine (1967), The Magic Christian (1969), The Point! (1971), Ringo Starr VH1 Storytellers (1998).

Beatles Tracks: I Wanna Be Your Man, Boys, Act Naturally, Tomorrow Never Knows, Rain, With a Little Help From My Friends, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life, Yellow Submarine, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, Abbey Road (album).

Solo Beatles Tracks: Beautiful Night (McCartney with George Martin), All Those Years Ago (Harrison with McCartney), John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (album). Take it Away (McCartney), When We Was Fab (Harrison).

Ringo's Stop And Smell the Roses album (1981) saw Starr collaborating with the likes of Paul and Linda McCartney, George Harrison, wife (and Bond girl) Barbara Bach, Harry Nilsson, Stephen Stills, Al Kooper, and Ronnie Wood. Lennon was due to contribute in January 1981, but was killed in December. The album ends poignantly with promo spots for gun control.

Solo Tracks: Early 1970, Step Lightly, It Don't Come Easy, Photograph, Goodnight Vienna (reprise), Back Off Boogaloo, Never Without You, King of Broken Hearts, Liverpool 8, Harry's Song.

For more information, please visit the official Ringo Starr website. Ringo Starr videos on the SpyVibe website. Photo below by Richard Avedon. What's your favorite Ringo song? Have you seen any of his All-Star tours? Discuss Ringo's work and Birthday wishes on the SpyVibe blog.


  1. Live Ringo highlights: singing along with him to Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help From My Friends, the way he warmly shares the stage with his bandmates, Jack Bruce performing Sunshine of Your Love live, Colin Hay performing Who Can it Be Now and Down Under, Sheila E's energy...and seeing Ringo's son Zak (an animal on the drums) play with The Who and Oasis.

  2. Browsing back through images, I see that there are definitely a few periods when Ringo looked a lot like Jason King :)


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