The Story Behind Ringo’s Drums
By Charlie West
They are the world’s most famous percussion instrument.
The Oyster Black Pearl, Ludwig Super Classic drum set that bears the name of the most famous band in our history, The Beatles. Certainly no other drum kit is as well known.
Ringo has stated recently that he still has this original Ludwig kit. The Ludwig drums and the Beatles logo became the centerpiece of the Beatles stage set from mid 1963 through August of 1966. Amazingly, not much has been written about Ringo’s drums.
Ringo didn’t always play Ludwig drums. In fact his first drum kit was a used set that was purchased for him as a Christmas gift. Up until this time, Ringo had been playing biscuit tins and pieces of firewood.
In February 1957, Ringo started playing in a band. All of the guys in the group worked at the same factory and played for their fellow workmen in a cellar during lunch. They started playing all the freebies that they could get, such as weddings and clubs. Ringo was becoming a semi-professional. He was an Engineer at the factory by day, and at night he played drums. He would play dances with Eddie Miles and some other groups. Later he would play with Rory Storm, which is where Ringo’s career really got started. He played and practiced with a lot of the groups in Liverpool.
Ringo’s drum kit was old and it was time to step up to something a bit newer. In the summer of 1958 Ringo borrowed £46 from his grandfather, went to Frank Hessy’s Music store, and bought an Ajax single headed kit. The appeal may have been that it looked similar to a Ludwig kit that he had seen.
While playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, Ringo purchased a set of Premier drums. On the front bass drum head was the “Premier” logo and “Ringo Starr” just below it.
When Ringo was asked to join The Beatles, he still had the Premier kit. Many of the early recordings were made with this kit. Sometime between September 4, 1962 and February 17, 1963, Ringo’s name was replaced by a Beatles logo. The logo that appeared on Ringo’s Premier drum kit was based on Paul’s doodles. Terry Tex O’Hara, a Liverpool artist, designed the actual logo. It is a script type font with a “B” that has beetle-like antenna and a tiny “THE” above it. The logo was printed on a cloth banner that was stretched across the drumhead and was held in place by the drums rim. The banner also provided some muffling for the drum. This was one of many of the logo designs to come.
Sometime in early 1963, Ringo planned to replace his Premier kit, so he went to Music City, a large music store on Salisbury Street in London, to order a new Premier kit. The owner of Music City, Ivor Arbiter, had just been granted exclusive rights to distribute U.S. made Ludwig drums in Britain. Dave Martin, a salesman at Music City, talked up the Ludwig Drums to Ringo. Ringo was familiar with the drums because he had played a Ludwig kit owned by Tony Mansfield (drummer for the Dakotas). Ringo fell in love with the new Oyster Black Pearl drum finish. When he learned that it was only available on Ludwig Drums, the deal was sealed. There was one catch. Ringo insisted that a large Ludwig logo be printed across the bass drum head. At that time Ludwig did not put logos on its drumheads. Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager, quickly countered that the band was called “The Beatles” and that the bands name should be displayed on the drumhead. Arbiter, who realized the marketing potential and wanted to save the sale, quickly came up with a compromise. Arbiter thought that a large Beatles logo could be printed across the drumhead, but room could also be left for Ringo’s requested Ludwig logo. He brought out a piece of paper, drew a drumhead and then sketched out the famous “The Beatles” drum logo. Ringo took possession of the new Ludwig kit and new logo on June 17, 1963.
The first time Ringo used his new kit in public, he was at the recording of “EasyBeat”, at the Playhouse, on June 23, 1963. The British community got their first viewing of the new drum kit and logo during the Saturday, June 29, television program.
Ringo used seven different front bass drum heads from 1963 to 1967. Each head sported a logo that was a little different from the others. The original head was of course a “Ludwig Weather Master” and can be identified by the logo bearing the same name, at the bottom of the head. Some of the other drumheads were “Remo Weather King” and can be identified by the logo at the top of the head. Ringo experimented with various muffling techniques. Perhaps this accounted for the different kinds of drumheads and the varied placement of muffling material.
Only two of the heads have ever surfaced. Russ Lease is the proud owner of the head that was used during the first Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Russ purchased the drumhead from Sotheby’s in London. In 1997, Bonham’s Auctioneers and Valuers ran an “all Beatles” auction in Japan. The auction included a Beatles bass drumhead. In the early 70’s a Chicago radio station somehow acquired “the drums that Ringo played at the 1965 Shea Stadium Concert”. They held a contest and gave them away to some lucky listener! The head that Bonham’s auctioned off is from this drum set. There is no word on what happened to the rest of the set.
Ringo had several Oyster Black Pearl drum kits. Some of the photos taken at Abby Road Studios show two of these kits. Expense records indicate that in May 1964, Drum City supplied Ringo with a £350 drum kit at no charge.
It is generally accepted that Ringo played Zildjian Cymbals. 14” hi-hats, 18” Medium thin crash, and an 18” or 20” ride. This is further evidenced by the fact that Don Bennett’s Drum Studio in Bellevue, Washington actually has Ringo’s “original” hi hat, and crash cymbals. We also know that Ringo plays Zildjians today. There is however evidence that exists that maybe Ringo didn’t always play Zildjians.
In Ringo’s expense reports from 1961 - 1963 there is an entry where Ringo purchased a set of Swiss made Paiste Cymbals. This entry is made about the same time that Ringo purchased his Ludwig kit. It would have been easier to obtain the Paiste Cymbals at that time. Ludwig distributed Paiste Cymbals. Also, with Ringo spending so much time in Germany and Sweden, it would have made the Paiste Cymbals much easier to obtain than the Zildjians. Expense records indicate that he purchased Paiste Cymbal, but Don Bennett has an original Zildjian 18” Medium Crash Cymbal with Paul’s inscription to Ringo!
Since not much has been written about Ringo’s drums, one is often left to speculate….
Ringo Starr on tour in 2003