‘He plays so musically’: All-Starr Band-mate Gregg Bissonette on the magic of Ringo Starr

Many have tried to untangle the mysteries of Ringo Starr’s drumming — why it works when it looks so ungainly, how he remains so definitively in the pocket with so little effort.

Gregg Bissonette, who has just finished his third tour with the All-Starr Band, led as always by the legendary ex-Beatles drummer, has gotten an up-close-and-personal tutorial. Often, the two were featured side-by-side on stage for shows in 2008, 2010, 2012-13.

“My main thing is: I stare at his snare drum,” Bissonette tells iDrumMag, “because any Beatle track, any Ringo solo track, any track that he’s played on for another artist — Tom Petty, or whoever it is — you never feel like it’s rushing or dragging. It just feels good. If he wants to pull back for a verse, or lightly push a chorus, it just feels right for the song.”

His legendary fills, such an integral part of Beatles songs like “Rain” or “Strawberry Fields Forever,” are as unconventional as they are perfectly suited for the moments they arrive. Bissonette — famous for his own stints drumming for the likes of David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani and Steve Lukather — says it’s all in the way Starr approaches the music.

“Ringo doesn’t ask for sheet music or drum parts,” Bissonette adds. “He asks for lyric sheets – so he wants to know what the lyrics are, what they are about, where he can fill and where he shouldn’t fill. He plays so musically. So, my goal is to stare at Ringo’s snare, and just be with him.”

Starr, Bissonette, and an All-Starr Band lineup that included Gregg Rolie, Lukather, Richard Page and Todd Rundgren completed their two-year jaunt with a series of South American dates this fall. That 2012-13 tour was highlighted by a birthday show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville which was later issued as a stand-alone concert souvenir.

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  • Ed Sullivan

    George Martin said much the same thing. He described Ringo’s approach to drumming as “lyrical”.