There is no more seemingly unlikely pairing than musicians Dave Grohl and Ringo Starr. But the iconic drummers-turned frontmen have a lot more in common than would be expected from their starkly contrasting outward appearances and musical styles—and Grohl isn’t afraid to showcase his high regard for The Beatle’s drummer publicly and as frequently as possible.
Speaking at the Arclight Theatre In Hollywood, California for the release of Starr’s photograph portfolio and limited-edition book, Grohl explained how his lifelong admiration for the Fab Four’s drummer, and his own musical journey, originated: “My introduction to music really was the Beatles,” said Grohl. “In listening to the drums, that became my reference point for everything. [I would notice] ’Oh, that guy’s too busy, Oh that guy doesn’t have any groove,’ because I had the Beatles in the middle— and it still is.”
It started with the records, then a copy of the complete Beatles anthology chord charts, where he created his musical foundation. But he quickly took to Starr, which he now recognises as the original rock ’n roll drummer. Grohl discussed how, when drumming in Nirvana, he looked to Starrs’s journey, especially in times of uncertainty. “There’s a famous old joke. ‘What’s the last thing a drummer said before he was kicked out of the band. ‘Hey guys, I have a song I think we should play!’” said Grohl.
While in Nirvana, he admitted he still had a desire to sing and record his own music, which he would do in his basement when not with the band, but he never thought he had much swing. “When I would watch Ringo sing a song or play the drums, it seemed so effortless because it was coming from a real place,” said Grohl. “And that to me is what a musician should be.”
Grohl’s public admiration eventually sparked a friendship and even led Starr to photograph the cover of the Foo Fighters 2014 album, Sonic Highways. In a 2015 radio interview, Grohl revealed how this opportunity came about: “When it came time to do pictures for the record, someone said, ‘Okay, it’s time to do band pictures,’ and I was like, ‘Oh god, I hate doing them.’ And I thought, are there any musicians who take pictures? I’ll call Ringo!
“We talked about it, and he’s so cool, man and so humble, he was like ‘I’m a little nervous you know,’ like he really wasn’t sure how to do it because a lot of those iconic pictures he took of The Beatles, they were just hanging out in a hotel room,” explained Grohl. “The best pictures of The Beatles, I think, were taken by Ringo because he caught those really candid moments.”
Similarly, in a Ringo Starr salute video for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with drummers like Questlove, Max Weinberg, Stewart Copeland, and more, Grohl sat down at Ringo’s signature Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl downbeat drum kit and reflected on the importance of the drummer. “Define the best drummer in the world,” requested Grohl, “Is it someone who’s technically proficient, or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.”
In 2019, after years of a growing string of public praises, the pair did an interview with Rolling Stone for their Musicians on Musicians series. The drummers’ shared quirkiness was showcased when they interviewed each other sitting fully clothed in a bathtub devoid of water. When joking around with their similar sense of humour, they also found that they shared an eerie tragedy— the devastating trauma faced from the tragic fates of their frontmen, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and The Beatles’ John Lennon.
Further discussing Starr’s tremendous impact, Grohl shares in the interview, “I think that the sign of a great drummer is knowing who that drummer is within eight bars of the song. I think that’s the goal. I think a lot of it has to do with being self-taught because you were just doing what came naturally to you, so you weren’t restricted by any of that stuff,” said Grohl. “To this day, when we’re in the studio — I’m sure every band in the world, if they want that fill — they say, ‘Hey, do a Ringo thing right there.’” To which Starr replied, “Well, that’s high praise coming from you, Dave.”
In 2020, Starr released a single called ‘Here’s to the Nights,’ which features vocals from the Foo Fighter’s frontman himself, along with Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz, Eric Burton, Joe Walsh, and so many more of his friends and musical counterparts. With Grohl being on the roster of so many people near and dear to Starr, it’s safe to assume that the high regard is undoubtedly reciprocated.