For Ringo, It Don't Come Easy
Mar 14 2006
Paul Collins concludes his series of reflections on the individual Beatles with an appreciation of the Crown Prince of drummers, Ringo Starr
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RECENTLY, I watched Ringo Starr make a guest appearance on one of the late night TV talk shows.
It was strange that all these years later, I still found myself somewhat excited at the prospect of seeing the famous Beatles drummer again after so out of the spotlight.
For an instant, the very mention of his name was a catalyst that brought back a floodtide of memories of the Beatles.
As it turned out, he was a delightful guest, and shared some wonderful remembrances of his Beatles days with the audience.
That same old Liverpudlian wit was still very much in evidence, as he joked and gave as good as he got with the host.
However, as he looked back over his long and illustrious career, and I watched him say - not out of any sense of conceit or ego, but merely as a matter of accepted fact - "Where do you go after you've been the drummer in the greatest band in the world?", I was struck by the look of melancholy in his eyes as he thought back on those long ago days when the Beatles reigned supreme over the music world.
In the former Beatle drummer's eyes I saw what appeared to be a deep sadness that his smile and his quick wit could not conceal.
It was a momentary lost look that he seemed to recover from and push aside as quickly as it came.
For many people across generations, there remains a host of vivid images of the Beatles that are forever tucked away in their collective memory.
Crystal freeze frames of a long ago sweltering summer night in New York's Shea Stadium when Paul belted out a wicked, but barely audible, version of I'm Down over the roar of 56,000 screaming fans.
Of John sitting on a stool singing All You Need is Love before a world wide television audience, of George at Madison Square Garden during his 1971 Concert for Bangladesh; a world-wide humanitarian initiative that was born long before Live Aid was even a vague thought in anyone's mind.
They are scenes from long ago and far away that are etched into our memories forever.
However, in the grand scheme of things, what place, if any at all, does Ringo Starr occupy in the collective mind of the generations who loved the Beatles, and who have such fond memories of them to this day?
I believe it's fair to say that when most of us think of the Beatles, we usually find ourselves not even including Ringo as we conjure up images of John, Paul and George.
But again, not so with Ringo Starr. While he was always an intricate part of the Beatles, and contributed an essential element to the mix, he has somehow always taken a back seat to his band mates, and never been given credit for his skills as a drummer.
He was always able to win our hearts with a persona that some characterized as the Clown Prince of rock music, but he consistently fell short in garnering the praise of which he was always deserving.
In the minds of many, Ringo has always been perceived to be lacking that same sense of deep spirituality, and that creative genius that was present in the others.
To be fair, who could ever hope to compete with talent on the grand scale of Lennon, McCartney, or Harrison?
But without Ringo's unique drumming style that anchored the band, the dynamics of the Beatles would have been far different.
For those who have discounted his abilities across the years, the Anthology CD serves as a tangible proof point for just how good a drummer he always was.
For in this collection of out-takes and alternative versions of songs, one can clearly hear his steady beat that was the underpinning that held the sound together.
Born in Liverpool as Richard Starkey, he grew up in Madryn Street as a rather sickly child who always had a love of music in general and a fascination with the drums in particular.
Before replacing Pete Best as the Beatles drummer in 1962, he had played drums for the little-known Liverpool band, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes were popular band with locals, but over time they were dwarfed by legendary Liverpool bands such as The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and Bill J. Cramer & The Dakotas.
It seems ironic that today, the Hurricanes are remembered only for the fact that Ringo was once their drummer.
In the early '60s, Ringo was considered by those on the local music scene to be the best drummer in Liverpool, and he often sat in with the Beatles at local gigs.
At the time, John, Paul and George felt that they were very lucky to be able to push aside the often unreliable Pete Best in favour of a drummer who they also saw as an accomplished musician who had the skills needed to complement their musical style.
The others also saw in Ringo a strong personality match. He fit in perfectly.
This said, today there are people who have always considered Ringo to be the accidental Beatle, the classic example of being in the right place at the right time.
To be fair, timing is often everything in life, but in mind, Ringo Starr may very well be remembered as being one of the best drummers in rock music.
For what it's worth, I'm one who has never subscribed to the belief that Ringo's success was an accident.
As the drummer in the world's greatest rock band, he was always the master of understatement, and he always made it look so easy.
While he never showed the wild flamboyance of a Keith Moon, or the technical skill of a Charlie Watts, Ringo was always steady, proficient, and often innovative in his drumming style.
At the end of the day, he never needed to pound the drums into oblivion to show what he could do.
It seems apparent that his main goal was always one of aiming to complement the music, and not to put himself in the spotlight through employing wild and raving antics.
Simply put, the jovial little drummer was right for the Beatles from Day One.
When I pull up my memories of the Beatles, in my mind's eye I always see a faded filmstrip of Ringo that captures a small and slight man sitting on a raised platform behind the others.
In that faded film he is wearing, not the sad smile of today, but a happy smile as he plays his drums.
Separate and apart from all of the money and the fame, he always seemed to truly love what he was doing, and treasured his role in the band.
He was the last one to join the Beatles, long after the others were settled into their respective roles and personalities, but by no means were his contributions in any way trivial or insignificant.
In the early days of "The British Invasion" Ringo became more popular with American fans than Paul or John as scores of young American girls thought of him as a cuddly little teddy bear type.
After going through a stint in alcohol rehab in the late '70s and early '80s, his life has been on the right track for years.
Today, life still seems to smile on Ringo Starr.
He's been married to actress Barbara Bach for the last 25 years, which must surely be some kind of a world record in the music industry, and he divides his time between palatial homes in England and California.
Beyond this comfortable and financially secure lifestyle, he's still out there touring and making CDs, and virtually every major rock star in the business is readily available whenever he requests their assistance on a particular project. The Beatles have now become a part of music history.
To the generations of kids who were born well after they broke up, the Beatles are like ghosts in the mist, and are more the stuff of legend than flesh and blood reality.
To all intents and purposes, the band ceased to be the day that John Lennon died.
So the question begs to be asked, why does Ringo still do what he does?
One has to believe that he keeps doing it not for the money, for he surely can live like a sultan for the rest of his days, but rather because he still loves what he does.
The passion that was inside him all those years ago in his Liverpool days still burns brightly in him today.
This in itself speaks volumes about who he is as a performer and as a person.
He will be forever remembered for his signature song, With A Little Help From My Friends, but there can be no doubt that he has achieved some very notable successes in his post-Beatles career as well.
Songs like Photograph, It Don't Come Easy, The No No song and even the rather juvenile '50s rocker You're Sixteen were all major hits for Ringo, and their unique style and presentation has made them instantly recognizable.
To a song, they are indeed those tunes that one simply can't help but sing along with whenever they come on the car radio.
Looking back from the vantage point of this time and place at what the Beatles left behind, we see now that they were a magical sphere of their times.
They were creative writers who penned what was a memoir for a generation, and Ringo Starr was always a key element in that dreamy mix.
Not an accident at all, but one of rock music's premier drummers whose steady cadence was the underpinning of a sound that changed the course of rock music forever.
Sadly and unfairly, today he still wears the label of being the most underrated and unappreciated drummer in rock music.
For Ringo, across the years it has always been a case of It Don't Come Easy.
*Paul Collins is an American freelance writer and public relations consultant who lives in Massachusetts.