When I was 13, a little quartet led by the clarinetist Robert Bright, also the music teacher at Orville Wright Junior High School, performed at my best friend’s bar mitzvah. I was transfixed by the drummer’s glittery blue drums, and decided I wanted to be a drummer myself. My dad prevailed on Mr. Bright to allow me into Beginning Orchestra, though membership therein was customarily restricted to 7th-graders, and here I was entering 8th. By and by, I became one of three percussionists in Senior Orchestra. I wasn’t very good at it.
Four years later, I saw A Hard Day’s Night and decided I wanted to be a drummer myself. I’d never played a kit (that is, had never used my feet and hands simultaneously), but was pretty sure that my knowing how to hold drumsticks, and having heard of The Rudiments of Drumming (none of which I’d come close to mastering) would be quite sufficient. I took two lessons, didn’t like them, resolved to teach myself, and had a fool for a teacher. I didn’t practice, wasn’t very good, and stopped playing for around 42 years, resuming in the spring of 2014. I practice hard every day nowadays. My chops aren’t going to make anybody’s jaw drop, but maybe I swing a little bit, and dare to imagine myself qualified to comment on the videos I’ve been seeing lately in which a succession of Noted Drummers talk about what a genius Ringo was.
Here’s what a genius Ringo was. When I was around 19, someone who’d gotten my phone number at Ace Music phoned to talk about my maybe auditioning for his group, a prospect that he abandoned sharpish after I described myself as playing like Ringo. "We need," he sighed, "someone who can actually play."
When I would buy records around this time, I always hoped, as I put them on the turntable, that the drummers wouldn’t be 1000 times better than I. I remember thinking this particularly when I brought home the first Hollies album I ever bought, only to discover that Bobby Elliot was terrific — and, by my estimate, around 900 times better than Ringo. The only two drummers of whom I dared imagine myself within shouting distance were Pink Floyd’s and The Moody Blues’, both pretty clueless, it seemed to me.
How, now, to explain the exalted likes of Jim Keltner (one of my own drumming idols), Stewart Copeland, Tre Cool, Chad Smith, and the inescapable Dave Grohl all lining up to rhapsodize about Ringo, whose style, as best I can make out, was distinguished by sloppiness, imprecision, and lack of technique? Maybe it’s because they love the Beatles’ records, and would, 50 years after the fact, feel churlish pointing out that Ringo’s having been better than the apparently dire Pete Best didn’t mean he was good. Maybe it’s that they saw the 2014 PBS documentary about The Dave Clark 5, and feel that if that group’s namesake, in comparison to whom Ringo was Elvin Jones, was being venerated, it was hardly fair that Ringo wasn’t. Or maybe share a wonderfully arid sense of humor.
Mark Brzezicki, originally of Big Country. Now there’s a drummer. Or the kid at Sam Ash last weekend who was trying out the posh Roland electronic kit that costs as much as used (oops: previously owned) car. On the best day of his life, Ringo wasn’t fit to carry this kid's sticks, Ringo's having had the excellent fortune of being in the second greatest white English rock band ever notwithstanding.
Don't be hoodwinked!