Back in 2008, a journalist asked Ringo Starr what he wanted for his birthday. “Peace and love,” Starr replied. Ringo is so beloved that, these days, every July 7, social media is filled with “peace and love” tags for Ringo’s birthday.
Ringo — one of the few “one name” celebrities — was 68 that year (he’s 82 now). He brings his still youthful stellar musicianship, along with his “All Starr” band, to Benaroya Hall for an Oct. 11 concert. (Starr tested positive for the coronavirus and had to cancel and reschedule several stops on his tour this week. As of this writing, the Seattle show is still scheduled, but best to check online closer to the date of the show.)
Ringo is a two-time inductee to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, for The Beatles and his solo work. Since 1989, he has toured nearly every year with a crowd-pleasing repertoire of Beatles and solo songs, played by a revolving cast of legendary musicians. This year, his group includes Edgar Winter (“Frankenstein”), Steve Lukather (Toto), Colin Hay (Men at Work) and others.
But the “star” of the show — you pretty much better expect anything Ringo’s involved in to have puns — is certainly the drummer. His reputation as a “players’ player” has always been higher among musicians than rock critics, because Ringo has never been flashy. Still, his musical reputation rose even with naysayers after Peter Jackson’s eight-hour documentary “Get Back” in 2021, which offered an inside look at the integral role he played in crafting the Beatles’ songs (and keeping the band together).
It’s easy to make an argument that Ringo is the most important living drummer, and the most underrated. But I decided to take those ideas to people who would really know: some of Seattle’s most revered drummers. These are people who understand how essential a good drummer is to a band.
Ben Smith has been Heart’s drummer for two decades. “I remember the moment I first heard Ringo play, and how it gave me chills listening,” Smith said. “His parts are so well-composed. Ringo set a standard that we all grew from. Texture, groove and attitude are the high points of a great drummer, and he hits all the marks.”
For Cedric Walker of The Black Tones, just starting their national tour this month, Ringo is an “awe-inspiring” legend not just for his playing, but for how he functioned in a band with “three alpha male” songwriters.
“Ringo could be intricate and fancy — even quirky at times,” Walker said. “What I loved was the simplistic approach he offered. Too often, nowadays, a drummer can look up ‘how to play’ on the internet and be lost in technicality and pseudo precision. Ringo had the skill of a metronome, but he never droned on.”
Faustine Hudson, drummer for The Maldives and others, says some of Ringo’s skills aren’t immediately obvious to nonmusicians. “He isn’t just a rhythm maker,” she said. “He plays melodically, more than just counting or sitting in the pocket. He dances with melody by way of the drums.”
Everyone has their favorite Beatles song, but Hudson cited “And I Love Her.” “The drums stand out as their own piece of work amongst a beautifully curated collaboration,” she said. “Ringo creates art that is identifiable to each piece he writes.”
Dan Peters drums with Mudhoney (and played with Nirvana), and his style comes close to the finesse Ringo is notable for. “Ringo is the master of the left-handed drum fill,” Peters said. “His left hand is his secret weapon!”
Barrett Martin played in some of Seattle’s best bands (the Screaming Trees, Tuatara, Mad Season, more), has written books on drumming and teaches ethnomusicology. He says Ringo’s gift is playing riffs on the drums. “Ringo is one of the best drummers of all time,” Martin notes. “His drum tracks were essentially these timeless riffs that we all remember, and we copy him to this day because of his tastefulness, his sense of pop structure and the timeless quality in his playing.”
Lupe Flores, who drums for the up-and-coming group Wild Powwers, notes that Ringo does something that not every drummer does: “Ringo serves the song,” she said. “Your job as a drummer, or any musician, is to serve the song — not yourself. Ringo epitomizes exactly that. He also writes extremely creative drumbeats, when the song calls for that. Try and replace him with any other drummer, and the Beatles wouldn’t have sounded like the Beatles.”
There’s no Seattle drummer, however, who has seen Ringo’s talent as up close as Michael Musburger, who has been a drum tech this year on the current “All Starr Band” tour. Musburger drummed for the Fastbacks, The Posies and countless other Seattle bands, but getting called to work this tour was a dream come true. “Ringo has always been there in my life, even before I picked up the drumsticks,” Musburger says. “More than any other drummer, Ringo taught me, by example after example, how to play a song, not just notes and rhythms, but songs.”
Musburger said his career highlight was when his 1990 song “Golden Blunders” with The Posies was covered two years later by Ringo. “I’ve gone from dedicated disciple to a musician Ringo Starr has covered!” he said. “That is a long and winding road, indeed.”
Some of the love Ringo generates onstage is generational — he was one of four revolutionaries in changing culture, and with that he certainly brought “love” to the world. Walker made me and everyone else who saw the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” feel old, when he noted that “Ringo was my grandmother’s favorite Beatle.”
Well, Granny Walker had great taste in musicians. That respect and love was echoed among all the noted drummers I spoke with.
Everybody loves Ringo.