3 - Giving Ringo his due credit

Return to all essays >>

3 - Giving Ringo his due credit



Ringo “unified” the sound of The Beatles. He was the glue that connected the parts of a song and banded together the musicianship of the other three to create the unique “oneness” of their sound.


Despite being the “father of modern drumming” his brilliant musicianship has yet to be recognized.


Musicologist Walter Everett says that The Beatles’ music had always been driven by interesting rhythms – Ringo’s fills, irregular phrase lengths.


Beatles scholar Ian Macdonald writes:


His faintly behind-the-beat style subtly propelled The Beatles, his tunings brought the bottom end into recording drum sound, and his distinctly eccentric fills remain among the most memorable in pop music.”


Ringo was able to lay down the suitable backbeat to fit any song that was put before him. He instinctively knew how to interpret the structure of a song: to take whatever music was presented and come up with that meaningful background (backbeat) for it to come alive.


On his own skill set he said:


I’m your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills. The fills were funny because I’m really left-handed playing a right-handed kit. I can’t roll around the drums because of that.”


George Martin said that Ringo always got that unique “looser, deeper sound” out of his drums. He said his impeccable timing was a key component to their signature sound, adding:


Although Ringo does not keep time with a metronome accuracy, he has unrivaled feel for a song. If his timing fluctuates, it invariably does so in the right place at the right time and yet at the same time keeping the right atmosphere going on the track (i.e., to unify their sound, JB). He always helped us to hit the right tempo for a song, and gave it that support that rock-solid back-beat.”


Ringo was proficient in nearly any type of music: rock, pop, ballad, experimental, country, calypso. His fills were unique as they were always a little laid-back, just a tad behind the beat. This made it easier for the other musicians to “play along” with him, rather than just in the background of the backbeat.


Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn remarks that only on a handful of occasions during all of the several hundred session tapes and thousands of recording hours can Ringo be heard to have made a mistake or wavered in his beat.


How Ringo influenced the world of drumming


Ringo brought forth a new paradigm as to how the public viewed drummers. Because he sat on a raised stool the audience could see the drummer’s head. Other drummers followed suit and raised their stools – thus becoming full, integral members of their bands.


He also changed the way drummers hold their sticks by popularizing the “matched” grip method of holding them – essentially clutching the sticks like hammers.


Where Ringo was truly unique is he was able to play his drums without taking over the beat of the song – to play in the background – so the other musicians could contribute to the sound. He also knew better than any drummer how to “deliver” the song. Speaking on the radio documentary program by Paul Inglis, In Praise of Ringo, drummer Tom DiVito remarked:


“Nobody delivers a song like Ringo did. He plays the song before he drums it. It’s almost as if his drums are secondary – an after fact. No other drummer has been able to take the drums so far into the world of the other musicians because he made them so unimposing –his beat being just far enough behind so that it doesn’t interfere with what else was going on in the song. This is an extremely difficult task for a drummer to do. Ringo knew how to “carry a song” which enabled him to ‘deliver” it.”


DiVito says that Ringo also performed the crucial role of closing the gaps between the changes in different parts of the song. He knew exactly what to fill in the space between the notes giving any song its unique feel or texture. His cymbal playing is also very unique, as he was able to “swish” them, which gave the song a very swing, honky-tonk feel.


The formation of Ringo’s sound


In the only academic research study on Ringo’s drumming style, Professor Steven Baur, of the Department of Music at Dalhousie University Canada, points to several unique characteristics of his drumming which formulated his unique signature sound.


In his research study Ringo Around Revolver: Rhythm, Timbre, and Tempo in Rock Drumming, Baur writes that with the overwhelming din of screaming fans, Ringo was an extremely hard-hitting drummer. Thiscontributed to the idiosyncratic ride timbres that distinguish his early drum sound. He writes:


The shrill, pulsating hiss produced by the hi-hat cymbals vibrating against each other gives these recordings a live feel and approximates the excitement audible at The Beatles’ live performances. The resulting overdriven sound of loose, hard-hit hi-hats energizes each song with a kinetic intensity that is difficult to achieve in the studio.


Uncommon prior to The Beatles, this noisy, aggressively percussive timbre was crucial to the band’s early sound.”


Baur says that Ringo’s drum tracks do more than just serve the vital role of establishing and maintaining the beat. They become part of the composition itself. On many songs he varies his part for each verse, enabling these songs to develop dynamically in spite of harmonic and melodic repetition.


Ringo managed to propel his band without resorting to faster tempos or playing on the front edge of the beat. Most Beatles recordings feature percussion parts that double Ringo’s drum patterns. This allowed them to develop their own methods of bolstering the beat, endowing it with remarkable substance which was the result of his performative nuances and the extensive use of multiple percussion tracks.”

Return to all essays >>