The Beatles were a legendary band, for sure. But even the members of the Fab Four would admit that one of the secrets to their success was groundbreaking producer George Martin. It is not an exaggeration to say that Martin helped define The Beatles’ unique sound.
Martin was long considered the “Fifth Beatle.” The London-born producer had honest opinions about “the boys’” music. This included, of course, the performance of drummer Ringo Starr.
Martin didn’t love The Beatles on his 1st listen
In the first volume of his biography on Martin’s life, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926–1966, author Kenneth Womack noted the producer’s underwhelmed first assessment of the band. Their manager Brian Epstein had run a demo by Martin who later recalled, “I was not knocked out at all.”
“As the meeting came to an end, George recalled telling Brian, ‘Look, if I have to judge them on the strength of these demos then the answer is no,’” Womack wrote.
“Seeing that Brian ‘looked crestfallen,’ George added, ‘If you care to bring them to London I will have a listen to them in the studio and see if there is anything I like.’ In this instance, George was following his own dictum that being an astute recording manager means that you “keep your ears to the ground.”
What Martin thought of Starr’s drumming
In 1962, with “just two weeks as a Beatle under his belt,” Starr showed up at Abbey Road studios for a recording session. As Starr biographer Michael Kenneth Starr (no relation) stated in Ringo Starr: With a Little Help, it was Martin’s “first time meeting Ringo. It was the beginning of an uneasy relationship.”
The producer had already met former drummer Pete Best at a previous session and immediately made the recommendation that Best be the band’s performance drummer only. They would need a new drummer for recordings. Instead, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison decided to drop Best altogether and recruited Starr for the job.
They practiced in their first session with Starr for three hours. “Please Please Me” and “Love Me Do” were among the songs they’d been working on. Martin was not pleased with Starr’s handiwork.
“Martin, who was hearing Ringo’s drumming for the first time, was not thrilled with his timekeeping abilities on “Love Me Do,” the author said. “‘I didn’t rate Ringo very highly,’ Martin said later, adding the condescending remark, ‘He couldn’t do a roll – and still can’t – though he’s improved a lot since.’”
To be fair to Starr, Martin wasn’t a pop music producer at that time. His experience had been in working with instrumental artists and comedians. He compared The Beatles’ drummer, perhaps unjustly, to jazz drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa who Martin said could “run rings around [Starr].”
Martin decided on the band’s first recording, “Love Me Do,” to hire a session drummer to replace Starr. He would come to regret it.
Why Starr ‘never totally forgave’ Martin
Starr was “devastated,” his biographer noted, “that Martin doubted his ability. He was embarrassed that he was being supplanted on the group’s very first single by a session drummer.”
Ringo said: “I thought, ‘That’s the end. They’re doing a Pete Best on me.’ I was shattered.”
It was only decades later that Martin, who died in 2016 at age 90, learned how he had wounded Starr.
“I didn’t realize until quite later on how much I’d hurt him, and I didn’t mean to,” the producer said in an interview. Martin did give Starr his due credit eventually saying, “he is a good solid rock drummer. Above all, he does have an individual sound.”
The producer apologized to Starr repeatedly many years later for the Andy White incident. Starr, though, “never totally forgave Martin” for insensitively replacing him on the recordings.
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