How Ringo Broke My Heart At The Grammys

Jan 27 2014, 9:24am CST | by

How Ringo Broke My Heart At The Grammys

Throughout my career in the arts–recording albums with the band Adult Situation in the early aughts, writing (and ghost-writing) musicals to varying degrees of success–I have spent a disproportionate time doing two things: screaming at the top of my lungs (usually while singing), and defending Ringo Starr to all the haters out there.

Unfortunately, now I’m in a position once again to scream at the top of my lungs, though sadly, not in defense of Ringo.

It’s a sad thing to do; the simple fact of the matter is that Ringo’s a hugely influential drummer to a lot of important people. It might be common practice to bash the man’s playing, but to many of the best drummers of all time, he is an undisputed influence.

His bombastic knack for making an entrance can be heard in John Bonham’s work, and though Keith Moon had undeniably better chops, one could glean a sense of Ringo’s feel in Moon’s playing as well.

Love him or hate him, Ringo’s place in the pantheon is one secured in fact, not in opinion, for at least one notable reason: he created (or helped to create, depending on how you look at it) of one of rock drumming’s most exciting developments–the mid-song entrance.

You all know it by now: the piano or guitars laying into a soft bed of chords while the singer does his/her thing in dulcet tones, and then bam! – a drum fill of either simplistic or complex proportions, and we’re in: the chorus blooms in full swing, the vocals soaring, the energy souped to the max by the presence of drums that were not there before.

(listen around 1:20 to hear the mid-song entrance)

Look to the history, and you’ll see Ringo was one of the first–if not the first–to do this in a mainstream setting; certainly he was the first to do it with such gusto. The point is this: the Beatles brought about, amongst other things, a marked change in the sound, placement, and use of drums; you can draw a line and say, “that’s what drums sounded like before, and this is what they sounded like after.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear what Ringo’s drums sounded like last night. Or if we did, it was folded way back into the televised mix.

When Ringo took the stage with Paul, I was over the moon–as were most people, I’d imagine. The tune (“Queenie Eye”) bounced around with the grace and agility of “Lady Madonna“; I looked over to my friend and former bandmate and said, “told you so.” He nodded and agreed.

Then I noticed that the feel was a little rushed for Ringo; his playing is usually significantly more relaxed and behind the beat than what we saw last night.

And then I saw the other drummer. Swathed in darkness, taking up the center stage, there he was, quickly cut to, quickly cut away from, as if the Technical Director gave the order to let the mystery be.

Why, in a song long like this, would we need two drummers? Why, in this broadcast, can we only really hear the sound of one?

Go ahead, look it up for yourself (while you still can–the performance is being taken down for copyright reasons left and right) and you’ll see it: the camera will linger on Ringo as a magnificent drum fill thunders into the next measure, but Ringo’s hands won’t be the one executing it. Instead, more often than not, Ringo will be looking over in the darkened drummer’s direction, a question in his eyes as if he’s trying to discern his cue./>/>

“But couldn’t there have been two drummer’s playing,” you might ask? Sure. But in this case one of them wasn’t mic’d. Or if it he was, I didn’t hear it–certainly not in the kick drum. For a quick gander at what two drummers playing together actually sounds like, click on the link below.

It’s a wonderful sound–as bombastic and huge as you can possibly get–but it’s a messy one: hits aren’t timed up perfectly, fills don’t exactly line up, kick drums are dropped milliseconds apart (creating an effect known as “flamming”), one drummer hits hi-hats for the eighth note pulse while the other rides his cymbals. Wonderfully cacophonous, but as I said, messy.

Now, if you can still find it, switch over to last night’s grammy performance and compare. It’s not messy. It’s very well synchronized, as a matter of fact. There are no kick drum flams. There’s no doubling between high hats and ride cymbals. One drummer was clearly given precedence over the other.

Unfortunately, that drummer wasn’t Ringo Starr.

To be clear, this is not a statement backup by a substantiated quote from an insider–I was not present for that rehearsal, as I was for others. This is only an opinion–but it’s the opinion of a trained ear parsing through what I heard, what I saw, and the lack of correspondence between the two. Look to the video, and you’ll see it for yourself.

I’ll still keep defending Ringo Starr till my dying breath–his drumming is too present in my own not to. But I must admit it’ll be a little harder now. Many of last night’s so-called “Grammy moments” were truly exciting to behold–energetic beyond anything I could have ever expected, and filled with the hallmarks of virtuosic performers coming together in the name of real live music. This, unfortunately, wasn’t one of those moments.

Source: Forbes Business


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