TNB Night Owl – Ritchie The Drummer

Three-piece drum set for a young player: 16" bass drum, 10" snare drum and one 10" hanging tom. Photo by Andrewa.

Born to working-class parents in a working-class town in England, Ritchie’s mother and father seperated when he was four years old. This was just the first of many possible barriers to success he would encounter in life.

When he was six years old, doctors removed his appendix. Next, he came down with peritonitis, which caused him to fall into a coma for several days. Peritonitis is a potentially life-threatening disease which required Ritchie to be confined to hospital for a year. He fell far behind his classmates but, with the help of a tutor, he was able to catch up just in time for his next big setback.

In 1953, at age thirteen, Ritchie contracted tuberculosis forcing another interruption in his education. He spent two years recuperating in a sanatorium. To keep the ailing children engaged and occupied, the staff encouraged them to join the hospital band. This is when Ritchie first learned percussion, by drumming on the cabinets next to his hospital bed. This is where he developed a passion for drumming. He later explained that although a piano, a banjo, a mandolin, and an harmonica had all been available to him at home, he just wasn’t terribly interested in anything but the drums.

In 1953 or 1954, his mother remarried. This turned out to be a positive turn of fortune, rather than another setback. His new step-father was passionate about music and provided encouragement to the lad. Ritchie credits his step-father, Harry Graves, for showing him kindness; “He was great … I learned gentleness from Harry.” In turn, he learned how to be amiable and kind to others – personality traits that would prove very valuable in the future.

After two years in the sanitorium, Ritchie was too far behind his classmates to catch up again, and he never went back to school. Instead he worked a few odd jobs and became interested in skiffle music (which is the art of making music with ordinary household items – a popular movement in 1950s England). He also helped form his first band, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group.

For Christmas 1957, Harry gave him a used drum kit, Ritchie’s first real percussion instrument. At about that time he left skiffle music behind and became the drummer for the Raving Texans. The Texans evolved into a genuine rock and roll band they called Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and The Beatles were all popular bands in Liverpool, circa 1960.

In 1962, The Beatles (still an unknown band much outside of Liverpool and Hamburg) asked him to become their drummer, replacing Pete Best. If you haven’t yet guessed, Ritchie grew up to become Sir Richard Starkey MBE*, better known by his professional name, Ringo Starr.

You probably already know much of The Beatles’ history, and that there was quite a bit of tension between band members in the latter years. What you may not know is that John, Paul, and George credited Ringo as the glue that held the Beatles together. There is always a group dynamic when individuals get together. For the group to work well, the various and individual personalites that make up the group must mix well. Personality conflicts can be smoothed over by the right third-party. This is where Ringo’s kind, funny, and friendly personality was invaluable to the success of The Beatles. The band almost certainly stayed together longer than they would have without Ringo.

After The Beatles, Ringo embarked on a very successful solo career, which may deserve it’s own Night Owl – so we’ll say no more about it for now.

Despite setbacks and barriers that would prevent most people from achieving success, Ringo’s passion for drumming and his easy-going, friendly personality ultimately helped him overcome every hurdle and disadvantage.

Today considered to be the world’s wealthiest drummer (as well as one of the most famous), Ringo will celebrate his eightieth birthday this year on July 7. He has three children, seven grandchildren, and a great grandchild.

Not bad for a working-class bloke from Liverpool with a series of serious health issues and little formal education, eh?

*MBE: Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Question of the night: What’s your passion?

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About Richard Doud 89 Articles
No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.