Today is the birthday of drummer Ringo Starr, born in Liverpool, England (1940). He is known as the “easy-going Beatle.” His genial quality proved to be a steady background to the moodiness of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison, his bandmates in the most famous band in the world, the Beatles.
Ringo Starr was born Richard Starkey. His father left the family early on, and his mother worked as a barmaid to support herself and her son, who was often seriously ill. As a child, he’d been hospitalized for appendicitis and peritonitis, even falling into a coma that lasted for days. He lost so much school time that he couldn’t read until he was eight years old. At one point, he was in a sanitorium for two years. The staff tried to keep the patients happy by giving them instruments to form a hospital band, and Richard Starkey was given a kind of mallet made from a cotton bobbin and he used it to bang on the medicine cabinets—he was hooked.
When he was 15, he got a job as an apprentice in a Liverpool equipment factory and working for the British Rail. He also discovered the skiffle craze that swept Britain in the late 1950s. Kids made their own musical instruments and played songs that were a blend of blues and ska. He played in a band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and changed his name to Ringo, because of all the rings he wore, and Starr, because he felt it reflected his love for country and western music.
Ringo Starr was 19 and seriously considering moving to Houston, Texas, to be nearer to his musical idol, the blue musician Lightnin’ Hopkins, when he was asked to join a popular local band called the Beatles. He replaced a drummer named Pete Best, and the band’s female fans were so distraught they followed the band from town to town, crying, “Pete forever! Ringo never!” They even gave George Harrison a black eye during a scuffle after a concert.
When the Beatles came to the United States on February 7, 1964, they set off a craze that lasted for the entire 1960s. Starr says, “I lived in a nightclub for three years. It used to be a nonstop party.” In 1970, Paul McCartney quit the band. Ringo Starr went on to a solo career, earning seven Top 10 hits from 1971 to 1975. His latest solo album is Postcards from Paradise (2015).