Yesterday, July the 7th was Ringo Starr’s birthday and, as many of you know, he is a hugely influential drummer for me. I consider myself a song drummer, and Ringo is the patron saint of song drumming. He’s also the original song drummer–the one who started it all. Check out this quote from drummer Steve Smith (Jean-Luc Ponty, Journey, Vital Information):
“Before Ringo, drum stars were measured by their soloing ability and virtuosity. Ringo’s popularity brought forth a new paradigm … we started to see the drummer as an equal participant in the compositional aspect … His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song.”
And I think that’s beautifully stated. I knew that Ringo created some signature drum parts (“Ticket To Ride”, “Come Together”, etc.), but it hadn’t fully dawned on me that he was the first one to do this, or at least popularize it. Amazing–I’ve been studying his drumming for years and absorbing it for decades, and yet there’s still so much for me to learn.
In a recent post (“It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It”) I talked about awakening to my aesthetic approach for music. And, in Mr. Smiths words, it was a transition from drumming focused on “soloing ability and virtuosity” to drumming focused on “the compositional aspect”, or what I call playing for the song–Song Drumming.
At the time I was going through this transition, I had no idea that I was moving to a style of drumming invented by Ringo. But, the more I went on this direction, the more I noticed that all of the drummers that I was now emulating and admiring had been heavily influenced by Ringo.
I’m not sure, but I think that the first time I heard the term ‘song drummer’ was in a Steve Jordan instruction DVD. Throughout the DVD, there were musicians talking about what made Steve a great drummer, and Jackson Browne called him a song drummer there in that context.
At this point in my life I was still working a corporate job, and hadn’t yet made the transition to teaching and drumming full-time. So, this idea just got filed away in the back of my brain.
Then the idea came up again, not long after I switched to teaching and drumming. A great musician and friend in Portland, Rich Layton, mentioned it at a rehearsal at his house. “What you do–that’s song drumming.” And THIS time the idea stuck with me.
As I said in that recent post, this realization led me to really figure out what my musical aesthetic is. And that has been just so huge for me–I know what I stand for and what I believe in my heart as it relates to music.
And I owe it all to Ringo–the original song drummer.
I also wanted to mention that what Ringo does in creating signature drum parts (meaning drum parts that, once you hear them, you immediately know what song it is) is amazing and rare. Steve Smith mentioned it above, and it’s an amazing and rare skill.
Other drummers that do this on a regular basis are Larry Mullen Jr. of U2 (check out “Pride [In The Name Of Love]”, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”), and Earl Young who was the house drummer for for many of the Philly Soul recordings in the 70’s (check out The Spinners, “One Of A Kind [Love Affair]”, and the O’Jays “For The Love Of Money”). Also, Dave Grohl has has been doing it for years in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters (all you need to hear to know the song is “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is his intro drum fill).
This is the type of drumming I love and adore. And my life in teaching and performance is just an attempt to add my small part to the song drumming canon.
And that’s why yesterday, I took a moment to celebrate Ringo on his birthday–the guy who was the original song drummer. In the words of Chuck Berry, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Meaning, we musicians all steal things from those who came before us. Anything I do, Ringo either invented or popularized long before me.
Long Live Ringo! Cheers…