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Ringo Starr's critical issue with John Bonham's drumming style

It is no secret that Ringo Starr and the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham were friends. This will come as no surprise to those who were unaware either, as the era of ‘classic’ rock was characterised by the way the stars were all occupied each other’s orbit.

Musicians, actors and fashion designers all befriended one another, presenting a different image to today where the lines of distinction are often drawn between genre, aesthetic and the rest. In music, those heady days of the 1060s and ’70s were also marked out by the cross-pollination of ideas between the stars. Many projects were undertaken that saw numerous of the day’s most illustrious artists converge.

For instance, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson’s 1974 record Pussy Cats featured Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, and Cream’s song ‘Badge’ featured George Harrison under the pseudonym L’Angelo Misterioso. These are just two brilliant examples from this era-specific kind of revolving door.

After The Beatles split in 1970, Ringo Starr made somewhat of a name for himself as being the man about town, always in two places at once, music’s very own Nightcrawler (the blue one). He made films, appeared at charity concerts, and featured in a whole host of other madcap adventures. 

A man with more than his fair share of tales to tell, and a respected opinion on those heavily mythologised times, in 2012, he shocked fans by not ascribing to popular belief as is held in discourse. He told USA Today that he was actually never that big of a fan of his old friend John Bonham’s drumming style.

For a bit of brief context, the Led Zeppelin drummer is probably the most influential drummer of all time. Technically gifted and versatile, he could play heavy, or he could play lightly, often within the same measure. Popularising the rhythmic triplet, without him, we’d have had no Dave Grohl, Chad Smith or even the late Joey Jordison.

Well, Starr revealed that he was actually never “knocked out” by one particular part of Bonham’s drumming, his lengthy solos. It turns out his insane grooves in the likes of ‘Moby Dick’ never did anything for old Ringo. In actuality, the former Beatles drummer is somewhat of a traditionalist. He explained: “I don’t listen to records for the drums. John Bonham’s incredible solos didn’t knock me out. I don’t feel you need solos.” 

Steadfast in his opinion, he opined: “You need to feel emotion in the track. It’s no good calling me if you like modern jazz. I play pop and rock. I support the song. I can hold steady time.” 

This is interesting, as Starr is never hailed as one of the greatest drummers of all time, but his work in The Beatles was nothing short of brilliant. One would argue that the subtlety in the way he held up their tracks is what truly reflects his genius. Understated but an integral part of the band, Ringo also gave us more complex rhythms, the most celebrated of which is ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper.

In the same interview, Starr also discussed how he feels that in the modern era, he is gaining more plaudits due to the number of remastered versions The Beatles tracks have now had. He said: I love the remasters because now people can hear me.”

Always exuding self-confidence, Ringo said that the fact he often gets overlooked has never phased him. He explained: “It used to be John, Paul, George and Ringo. And why not? Look at those writers. Now people say, ‘Oh, maybe he could play.’ It never stopped me because I knew from hanging out with musicians that my part on those records was always appreciated.”

Ringo’s comments bring up important questions, two of which that instantly spring to mind are: ‘What is the role of the drummer?’ and, furthermore, ‘should we place one instrument at the centre of a piece in a way that is more pronounced than the others?

We’ll let you mull over the first question, as it is a multi-faceted one, and ample discourse has been written on it. However, the second is the one that we can answer concisely. In short, no, unless writing an orchestral piece, that is.

In relation to drumming, within the modern context, it is safe to say that the perfect drummer would sit somewhere in between Bonham and Ringo’s different styles. Flair must be countered by control, and rigidness must be overcome by imagination. The same maxim can be attributed to any instrument – you’ve all seen Whiplash, right?