A Little Help from His Friends
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Popular local drummer and drumming instructor Todd Harrold said his young students care about exactly two bands that had their heydays in the 1960s and 1970s: Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.
The Rolling Stones no longer register for some reason, he said.
The music of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles will live on indefinitely, of course. But Led Zeppelin has no “face” at present, Harrold said.
“There’s nobody playing those songs, really,” he said. “But there’s still Ringo (Starr) and (Paul) McCartney out there doing Beatles stuff and I think that’s incredible.”
Harrold said Starr and McCartney are two of the last representatives of an artistic renaissance that started in the 1960s and ended in the late 1970s. He believes that we have not seen their like since, and we may never see their like again. So it is important for young people to see them live while they still can.
Young people and other people will get their chance (or one of those chances) when Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band performs at the Foellinger Theatre on June 21.
Starr has been joined on this tour by Todd Rundgren, Santana’s Gregg Rolie, Toto’s Steve Lukather and Mr. Mister’s Richard Page.
Starr’s first visit to Indiana came in 1964 when the Beatles performed at the Indiana State Fair.
Freelance writer and photographer David Humphrey released a book about that concert in 2014 called All Those Years Ago: Fifty Years Later, Beatles Fans Still Remember.
By email, Humphrey shared with me a story about one of insomniac Starr’s nocturnal adventures.
The Beatles returned to the Speedway Hotel after the show, Humphrey wrote, and Starr could not sleep so he “began talking with Indiana State Trooper Jack Marks, who offered Ringo a ride in his state trooper car.”
They drove to Marks’ farmhouse in Noblesville and, at some point in the evening, “Marks let Ringo behind the wheel,” he wrote.
“As the story goes, a state trooper passed Ringo and Marks, and noticed that a civilian was driving a state police vehicle,” Humphrey wrote. “Apparently, Ringo drove down an alley and hid there while the other cop was trying to find them.”
Starr and George Harrison also got to ride around the Indianapolis 500 track during their visit, he wrote.
A half-century has passed, yet the 75-year-old Starr (thanks, no doubt, to a combination of good genes, good living and good hair dye) looks very much the same.
To this day, Starr is dogged by accusations that he isn’t a very good drummer, but Harrold and fellow Fort Wayne drummer Jamie Simon say that such critiques don’t hold water.
While it is indeed true, Harrold said, that Starr is no master technician on that instrument, he repeatedly proved capable of the brilliance that McCartney and Lennon required of him.
“The thing about Ringo is that there was no map for what they were doing,” Harrold said. “When John Lennon brings you ‘I Am The Walrus,’ what do you play on drums? When he brings you ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ what do you play on drums? What do you do? He gets massive points from me for just being so inventive.”
Simon said Starr had the taste and prudence not to get in the way of the music.
“I always looked at the drummer’s position in a band as similar to that of an offensive lineman on a football team,” he said. “Or the whole offense line, I should say. If a football team has a good offensive line, the quarterback looks like a star because he’s able to stand up and throw the ball. If the offensive line is terrible, the quarterback looks horrible because he’s lying on the ground the whole time.
“In a band situation,” Simon said, “you’ve got drummers who can do that, who will go in and just lay time and play super solid. None of them get the credit. It takes a lot to play simple and be disciplined and just make the music work.”
There were a number of flashier rock drummers than Starr in the 1960s, he said, but their flash wouldn’t have worked in the Beatles.
“Can you imagine what the Beatles would have been if Ginger Baker or Keith Moon would have been their drummer?” Simon said. “I really think they would have sunk the ship.”
Harrold said music history is awash in timeless drumming from musicians who were not master technicians.
“Ringo is kind of the same thing as the old Chess recordings with Odie Payne and Fred Below,” he said, “the old Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters recordings. If you go back and listen to those, they still sound great. If you listen to ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ by Muddy Waters – that came out, I think, in the late 40s. It was recorded in Chicago with a drummer named Fred Below, and it still feels awesome. My god, it feels awesome.
“Or Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘Further Up the Road’ with Jabo Starks, who later played with James Brown,” Harrold said. “Those still feel awesome. Those (drummers) were not technicians. That didn’t come along for a while. But (the songs) still feel great.”
Harrold said Starr’s drum work on “I Am the Walrus” has the same staying power.
“The way that Ringo and McCartney worked together was really stunning,” he said. “Like I say, there was no map. Their music didn’t sound like (Bob) Dylan’s music. Dylan’s music came out of the blues, and there was a map for that.
“(The Beatles) sort of invented their own thing,” Harrold said. “I don’t want to overstate my case, but I think it’s pretty obvious they came up with their own hybrid. That’s what makes them so great. There’s nothing like Sgt. Pepper’s. There’s nothing like Revolver. There’s nothing like ‘The White Album.’ Astounding! And the Abbey Road drum solo is really hard to play, just so you know.”
Simon said Starr’s playing on “ComeTogether” is both simple and perfect.
“It’s so simple that almost nobody would think to do it,” he said. “It’s absolutely perfect for the tune. When you hear a drummer not do it that way, it just sounds weird.”
If you want evidence of the high esteem in which Starr is held by his fellow icons, Harrold said, look no further than the people he has been touring with since the late 1980s.
Starr has spent the last three decades fronting bands composed of some of the biggest names in rock music, and Harrold believes that only Starr could have assembled them.
“Think about who is in that band right now,” he said. “Do you think Todd Rundgren would be a sideman for anyone else? Do you think Steve Lukather from Toto would be a sideman for anyone else?”
Reviews for the current tour have been effusive, and it is because Starr knows how to entertain, Simon said.
“People don’t dance to polyrhythms,” Simon said.
Whatever all those women are screaming about on live Beatles recordings, Simon said, it sure isn’t polyrhythms.