Ringo's Beatle Kits
UNIQUE HOLIDAY GIFTS RINGO'S BEATLE KITS STORE
CLASSIC DRUMMER MAGAZINE Article | EXAMINER.COM Article | MODERN DRUMMER MAGAZINE Article
VOLUME 1 by Rob Shanahan - Book, Prints & Lithographs
The Beatles in 3D | Fab Four Exhibits
Any text in this color is information discovered from my personally documenting Ringo's gear. Updates done on a continual basis as my time allows.
Ringo's Premier kit has some real musical history and significance. Ringo purchased this kit in September of 1960 before leaving for Hamburg, Germany with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. He used this kit when he first joined The Beatles and played it until May 12, 1963. It was most famously used during the Beatles first marathon recording session. It was used on the following songs: I Saw Her Standing There, Misery, Anna, Chains, Boys, Ask Me Why, Please Please Me, P.S. I Love You, Baby It's You, Do You Want to Know a Secret, A Taste Of Honey, There's A Place, Twist And Shout.
The Cavern Club, August 18, 1962. The above photo's may be some of the first taken of Ringo as an official member of The Beatles.
Ringo and George on November 24, 1961 before Ringo became a Beatle
EMI Studio, Abbey Road. September 2, 1962
May 12, 1963 - The last day Ringo used his Premier kit
PREMIER KIT SHELLS SIZES (as listed on Premier's brochures)
Note: Calfskins heads were used on this kit.
PREMIER KIT HARDWARE
Ringo preferred using a Rogers Swiv-o-matic over the standard Premier tom mount. He also used the same type mount on Ludwig kits 2, 3 & 4.
Most people are unaware of Ringo's first Beatle snare drum, which is actually called a Premier 4"x14" Royal Ace. Remember that this is the snare heard on BIG hit songs like "Twist And Shout" and "I Saw Her Standing There."
This is actually a very well built snare drum
The Premier Royal Ace piccolo snare on the right belongs to Ringo. I gave it to him for his 70th birthday..
Ringo shares old memories with 2010 All Starr bandband mate Edgar Winter and drum tech Jeff Chonis as photographed by photographer Rob Shanahan after receiving my vintage Premier snare drum.
Here's a fantastic article in Not So Modern Drummer magazine by Terry Butz. The article details Ringo's Premier kit and touches on the cymbals that he may have used.
By Terry M. Butz
Part of the Beatles vast musical legacy disappeared on May 12, 1963, never to be seen or photographed again. Whats more, sadly, almost no ones even been looking for it. And yet it remains an icon at the center of musical history, as much as John Lennons first guitar or Roy Orbisons first pair of sunglasses.
Let Me Take You Down
Back in 1963 The Beatles were on the way up to a height that no one has ever seen before or since in the world of musical entertainment. One reason for their success was the guidance of Brian Epstein as their new manager, cleaning up their act, changing their leathers for Edwardian suits and making other improvements to their stage image. But alas, in the background poor Ringo had the same old well-used brown Premier drum set hed been playing since his days with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The bands Beatles logo was hand drawn on a piece of loose cloth that was tucked under the bass drums hoops and shook as he provided the bands thumping back beat. Something had to be done! So in late April of 1963 Ringo got a little help from his friend, Brian Epstein, when he offered to take his sad drums and make them better. Ringo joined Brian on a visit to Drum City on Salisbury Street in London, determined to improve Ringos stage presence. The details of that meeting with Drum Citys owner, Ivor Arbiter, are a story in itself (see the July/Aug., 1997, Vol. 9, No. 4 issue of Not So Modern Drummer for the full story). When the meeting was over Ringo was the proud owner of a new set of Ludwig drums, complete with a modern pearl finish and a hand painted new Beatles logo on the front. His old Premier set was to be traded in and re-sold in Drum Citys used drum section. Ringos new Ludwig drums were delivered to him on May 12, 1963, an afternoon when the Beatles were rehearsing a TV appearance for the show Thank Your Lucky Stars. Photos of the rehearsal for the show Ringos Premier kit up on the riser, but the later photos from the actual broadcast show his new Ludwig kit making its debut to the world. The rehearsal photo is the last photo of this famous drum set ever seen. And then the Premier kit was gone But if Ringo, and the Beatles sound, is so closely associated with Oyster Black Pearl Ludwig Super Classics, then why is this root beer swirl Premier drum set worthy of our attention and a worldwide search? Just ask any Beatles fan Not only did it travel with the Ringo through his days with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany, and then with the Beatles through their most formative years of Cavern Club and Hamburg appearances. But it was also responsible for many of the bands most significant early musical contributions. While almost everyone (especially American audiences who first saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show with his second Ludwig set) credits Ludwig for the Beatle sound, it was actually this Premier set that provided the final piece of the Beatles musical puzzle that became the soundtrack of the 1960s. It formed the solid tempo and driving back beats for I Saw Her Standing There, Please, Please Me, From Me To You, Thank You Girl, Anna, Baby Its You, P.S. I Love You and the incredible single-take recording of Twist and Shout. It was the set he used for seminal stage material like Some Other Guy, Everybodys Trying To Be My Baby, Sure To Fall, Money, Memphis, Hippy Hippy Shake, Kansas City (Hey, Hey, Hey), Tip Of My Tongue, and to record unreleased studio numbers like How Do You Do It. And while Beatles fans recall Ringos signature windmill tripolet tom/snare/cymbal ending to Pauls Long Tall Sally, this was the set Ringo used to create that attention grabbing stage flourish while playing with Rory Storm, and the set he used to first unleash it on the larger Beatles audiences. That body of work would be a career for most groups, but for the Beatles it was just the beginning. In total, the Premier set was used to record eighteen of the Beatles classic early songs, including Love Me Do and the original version of One After 909. Youll have to go back and listen to the original vinyl mixes of these great records to really appreciate the sound of these great drums (the drums were mixed down in the CD releases), but its a tribute to both Ringos playing and the innovative early recording techniques used to capture signature rock drumming at its most formative stage. Its also been interesting over the years to hear drum collectors tell me stories of trying to tune their Jazz Festival snares to sound just like the Please, Please Me album, without knowing it was a completely different Premier piccolo snare used on those sessions.
The exact origins of the Premier set remain clouded by the haze of forty nine years of rock and roll memories. No definitive bill of sale has turned up for the set to give us an exact date and location of its purchase, and the history of Ringos early bands isnt as well documented as the Beatles musical anthology. Few Beatle or Ringo researchers have even offered a guess on the sets purchase date and location. This leaves early photos and fuzzy memories to give us the best source of its exact origin. One of the best sources of early photos of the set is Chazz Averys well documented and researched Web site Savage Young Beatles (http://www.beatlesource.com/savage/). Photos in early 1960 show young Ritchie Starkey playing the single-headed Ajax set he had bought during the summer of 1958 at Frank Hessys Music in Liverpool. Ajax was an English brand that was second in the hearts of Brits to their favored Premier sets. But the Ajax set was cheaper, selling for only 46 at the time. The Ajax set had been sufficient for his appearances with the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Band, but after joining Rory Storm in November of 1958 he needed a more professional sound. There have been a number of theories about when and where the Premier set was purchased. Many researchers, including Andy Babiuks book Beatles Gear (beatlesfabgear.com) have credited the drum sets origin to the specific time frame of June or July of 1960. Others have nailed the purchase location to Hamburg, Germany while Ritchie was playing with The Raving Texans, later to become Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Charlie Wests account in The Story Behind Ringos Drums (http://web2.iadfw.net/gshultz/drumhist.html) states While playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, Ringo purchased a set of Premier drums. The only problem with that theory is that from June to September of 1960, Rory Storm and the Raving Texans were booked at Butlins Pwllheli Resort in northwestern Wales for a 13 week engagement. And they followed that booking by starting a road trip to Hamburg, Germany on October 1st. In the revised edition of the book Beatles Gear, author Andy Babiuk adds a quote from the Manager of Hessys Music Store, Bernard Michaelson, stating that Ringo had ordered the Premier Drums from Hessys. Mr. Michaelson also claims credit for recommending the Mahogany Duroplastic finish to Ringo, saying hed seen one in this finish at a music show and told Ringo it looked magnificent. But there are problems with that assertion, including the fact that Hessys kept meticulous records. In fact, theyve been able to produce authenticating receipts for many other early Beatle purchases, like Johns Hofner Club 40 guitar, the Selmer Truvoice Stadium amplifier and Stu Suttcliffes Hofner bass, but nothing for Ringos Premier kit. Premier historian, Tam Rankin, believes the set was purchased at Liverpools other major music shop, Rushworths, although like the others he is without any proof. Another question is how Ritchie (he wouldnt become Ringo until after he acquired the set) could have purchased the kit in Liverpool when he was booked for a thirteen week engagement up north at Butlins Resort in Wales at the same time? Allan Claysons biography, Ringo Starr: Straight Man or Joker? states that while playing at the Butlins Holiday Camp Ritchie would often make the 102 mile trip back to Liverpool to celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries. So the idea that he could have still purchased the set in Liverpool is not out of the question. But the two questions still remain; Where? and When? While the where may never be known precisely, its time to re-think the when. The fact is that the set couldnt have been purchased by June or July 1960, because the Mahogany Duroplastic finish didnt even exist yet. The answer is again provided by noted Premier researcher, Tam Rankin. His Web site (vintprem.moonfruit.com) is a wealth of information on Premier catalogs, finishes, drum models and historical information. His Web site clearly shows that the 1960/61 Premier catalog doesnt offer the Mahogany Duroplastic finish as an option on any Premier sets. In fact, Tam found the first public evidence of the new brown swirl finish in the Autumn (Fall) 1961 issue of Talking Drums, a Premier marketing publication. The feature article boasts that a relatively unknown drummer with Johnnie Dankworths Orchestra is the first drummer to feature Premiers new Mahogany Duroplastic finish. So if the Mahogany Duroplastic finish was first introduced in the Fall of 1961, we know that all the prior research indicating a July 1960 purchase date is incorrect. This also casts serious doubt on Bernard Michaelsons (Hesseys Music Store) account that he recommended the Mahogany Duroplastic finish to Ringo because hed seen one in this finish earlier at a music show. Chazz Averys Savage Young Beatles Web site shows photos of Ringo playing as late as October and November of 1961 with the old Ajax kit. But they also show what is possibly the very first photo of the Premier kit in the Fall of 1961! Ironically, the very first appearance of the Premier set may have been on a night when over three thousand fans saw Rory Storm and the Hurricanes sharing the stage with the Beatles! On November 10th, 1961, both bands were booked to play the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton for Operation Big Beat. It required both bands to play two sets at the ballroom and make it to other shows during the same night while three other bands filled the stage. Photos attributed to the event show a very young George Harrison sharing a moment with a bearded Ringo on his shiny new Premier set during a break. While the Beatles also shared the Tower Ballroom stage with Rory Storm again on September 21st and later in October, the possibility that this is the first known photo of the set, and the sets shiny new condition of the drums in the photos, is the strongest indication that he purchased it in Liverpool in November of 1961. Richie Starkey, or Rory Storm. Later he replaced his initials with a homemade version of the stage name Rory Storm had talked him into using, Ringo Starr. This was the same head he displayed on August 18, 1962, at a Horticultural Society dance at Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight, Birkenhead. Ringo had finished his last show with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, loaded the Premier set in the back of his Ford Zephyr Zodiac and made the ninety five mile drive from Butlins Holiday Camp in Wales to officially become a Beatle that night.Early photos of the Premier set at Rory Storm appearances show Ringo first put the initials RS on his bass drum head, which could stand for either While Ringo was a big enough local star that his own name or initials belonged on the front of his drum with other bands, now the Beatles name took center stage. So the Ringo Starr head made its last appearance on January 12, 1963 at the Invicta Ballroom in Chatham, Kent. The next night Ringo played a blank bass drum head on a TV appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars, and for the next month. Just before starting a new tour, the blank head was embellished with a drawing made by Liverpool artist Terry Tex OHara. The hand-made drawing was an artists rendering of the Beatles name in script with bug antennae coming out of the B. Tex was the younger brother of Brian OHara of the Liverpool band, The Fourmost, and a friend of the boys. He had drawn five to ten different initial renderings, based on some doodles by Paul McCartney. The band chose the final version which he transferred to a piece of 23 inch by 8 inch cloth that was fixed under the bass drum hoop of the Premier set. Coincidentally, the first photo of the new Beatles-sash head was February 17th, 1963 on their very next TV appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars.
For the more technical collectors (or antiquers, as Bill Ludwig II likes to call them), the drum set was mixture of Premiers Model 54, Model 55, and Model 58 kits, including a 17 X 20 inch bass drum, an 8 x 12 rack tom, 16 X 16 inch floor tom and 14 X 4 inch matching wood snare drum. Different sources have argued over the correct size of his bass drum for years. We know the depth was 17 inches because all Premier sets came only with 22 x 17 or 20 x 17 bass drums. Much of the confusion comes from 1960 Premier catalog that listed the 20 x 17 inch drums with the phrase (14 inch shell) in parentheses. Thus, the shell sizes were listed with (and without) the counter hoop measurements. So while the shell was actually 17 inches deep, the overall dimension, and appearance, was 20 x 20. Premier shells in the 1960s came in thin, three-ply birch with beech reinforcing rings, making them warmer than maple shells, but louder than mahogany drums of the day. It was one of Premiers lower-end kits, listing in the catalog for 125, or around $350. at the time. At first glance the hardware was standard issue; two Premier Model 304 flush-base cymbal stands with tilters, one Model 289 flush-base Hi-Hat and a Model 300 flush-base snare stand, a Model 245 Premier throne with the luxury cushion rubber seat, and the Premier 250 bass drum pedal (billed as the fastest pedal on earth), all factory issued. The set originally came with Premiers disappearing tom holder, which Ringo replaced with a Rogers Swiv-O-Matic rack-tom mount, his preference on both his Premier and Ludwig sets. Its very doubtful that the part would have come mounted from the Premier factory, but was likely provided from a company named Boosey & Hawkes that made Rogers drums in the UK and provided the replacement tom mounts locally. One interesting note for those looking to re-create an authentic Ringo Premier kit is that the Swiv-O-Matic mounts marketed in Europe featured metric tooling, and are not the same as the ones sold in America. Premier sets in 1960 came standard with British-made Zyn or Super Zyn cymbals. However, Ringo was easily able to purchase both German-made Paistes and Zildjians in Liverpool and Hamburg. Since his affinity for the sound of Zildjian cymbals has been known for years, its not likely he would have stayed with the factory-issued Zyns for very long. So while its possible that Ringo never got any cymbals with the set, its also possible that somewhere out there are a four Zyns with Ringos (or Beatles roadie, Mal Evans) dusty fingerprints on them. For every argument that a certain photo shows a certain cymbal bell shape or crown curvature and proves that Ringo used XXX cymbals, theres also a photo showing that Zildjian made a similar bell or shape at the time. So, barring a close-up photograph surfacing that shows a cymbal stamp on it, Ringos cymbals remain largely a mystery. But whether he played his way through Super Zyns, Paistes, Kruts or other local brands, we know he ultimately chose Zildjians. The reason I mentioned Ringos Premier set was either a Model 54 or Model 58 set is because, like his Ludwig set, it was not completely factory-issue as displayed in any of the catalogs. Some have credited it as the Premier 58 set, but that set came standard with a 14 x 14 floor tom instead of the 16 x 16 that Ringo used. The Premier 54 set came with a 22 inch bass drum instead of Ringos 20 inch., and it included the 5.5 inch deep snare. The Premier 55 set included the wrong 16 x 20 inch floor tom and the Model Ten snare drum. So none of the catalog sets match Ringos Premier set. However, there is probably no definitive answer to this catalog question because the Premier catalogs at the time also stated that Any Premier outfit may be ordered with drums of different size or altered in any other way at price adjustment.
What good is a mystery search for a long-missing drum set without some questions about what was included with the set? Ringos snare drums have always sparked research and controversy into the details of their construction. For example, while everyone knows he played the Ludwig Jazz Festival, all the Ludwig catalogs all show that they never offered the Jazz Festival in a 5.5 inch shell design. And yet, all the photographs concur that Ringos Jazz Fest was 5.5 inches deep. So obviously, Ringos Jazz Festival wasnt a stock catalog drum. A similar controversy exists with his Premier snare. In those days Premier only published a catalog every two years, so the 1960 and 61 catalogs were combined. But the 1960/61 Premier catalog shows the Royal Ace was only available in a 5.5 inch or deeper version. However, a prolific number of photographs clearly show Ringos snare to be four inches deep. Another problem is that the mahogany duraplastic finish, known as Root Beer Swirl, wasnt even available on the 60/61 catalog. So how could Ringo acquire a four inch deep Royal Ace in the Root Beer Swirl back in the summer of 1960 when it wasnt available in that size or color at the time? The answer comes on page six of the 1962 Premier catalog where they first introduced their new Model 10 wood shell snare drum in the 14 x 4 inch configuration, with floating 18-strand snares, and their unique slotted tension bolts. In that same 1962 catalog they also introduced the new custom finish called Mahogany Duroplastic Root Beer Swirl for the first time. Since the 1962 catalog was printed in late 1961, this further reinforces the possibility that the set wasnt purchased until late 1961 or early 1962. The Royal Ace snare is still one of the toughest drums to find today, it was only in production from late 1961 through 1966. Another question is whether Ringos cymbal stands were made by Premier or their budget division, Olympic. Again, Tam Rankin asserts The snare and hi-hat stands were Premier, but the two cymbals stands were Olympic. Olympic was Premiers budget line of equipment and didnt include Premiers tilters. The difference between the Premier and Olympic stands is the Olympic stands would have been made of lighter weight metal, had round legs, and looked thinner, especially in the flush-base stand legs. Olympic stands also didnt include cymbal tilters, but Ringo could have easily added Premiers Part #307 add-on tilters to his Olympic stands. Without definitive close-up photos it would be hard to tell the difference between the two stands.
The problem seems to be that in every photo you look at, there is controvertible evidence that Ringo mixed and matched his stands at will, just as he did with his later Ludwig kits. In many early photos hes apparently using the Olympic stands with round legs and different rubber tips instead of the typical Premier T-bar leg construction. But later photos clearly show the Premier T-bar leg stands and cymbal tilters. He continued to use the Premier stands as late as 1965.
The next controversy is what kind of drum heads Ringo played on this set. Remo began making USA-made Mylar plastic heads in 1960, but they didnt become popular until Ringo displayed his Remos on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. But even if Ringo had found a UK Remo distributor back then Remo heads werent being made in metric sizes. Back in 1960/61 calf skin heads were still common. And while Remo was making plastic head out of Mylar, Premier had begun making its own line of plastic heads out of British-made Melanex under the Everplay brand name back in 1958. As early as 1960 the Premier catalog already stated that every set included Everplay plastic heads fitted to all snare drums unless otherwise specified. And since we know his set had a new snare model and a new finish, its almost certain that the set was purchased brand new.
But Tam Rankin feels certain he has found definitive proof in the photos from Ringos early Beatles appearances. I am positive they were calf heads. Look at the amount of flesh hoop sticking out under the die-cast hoops. The flesh hoops on plastic heads would not show like that. It is possible that Ringo tried plastic heads so maybe there was a time they had Everplays. But all the photos Ive seen suggest calf.
The most overlooked part of the Premier set is shown in these two rare photos of Ringo playing at Birkenhead in late 1963. They show a pair of matching root beer swirl Premier Model 521 six and eight inch bongos mounted on the bass drum. Ringo used matching bongos regularly with earlier kits, but while this photo proves he owned them, the matching bongos were rarely seen with the Premier kit. This may be the hardest item for any collector to find for an authentic Premier kit reproduction.
My personal search for this set has taken me many years and has produced a few near misses. I began by interviewing Ringo back in 1986, but found that he didnt pay close attention to the details of his drums (or droooms as he calls them). They were simply the tools he used to produce the music, and in the midst of Beatlemania he couldnt cherish them as the icons we collectors have made them into. In fact, in his December, 1981 interview in Modern Drummer magazine, Ringo doesnt even recall owning a Premier kit, saying he used his Ajax kit right up to the Ludwig set.
Apparently Premier is just as willing to forget that Ringo was a Premier player. His name isnt mentioned even once on their Web site or history. And when I contacted the company for their historical perspective on this article, their spokesperson wrote back Unfortunately, nobody at Premier has the expertise to help you with the information you require amazing, eh!
I last spoke with Drum Citys Owner, Ivor Arbiter, in 1996, shortly before his death. While his memories of the meeting with Ringo and Brian Epstein were vivid, he remembered nothing of the Premier set and said he never actually saw it. Hes not alone The Beatles own Anthology didnt mention it even once, and many Beatles equipment Web sites also leave it out completely. But a few others at Drum City did remember the Premier set.
So Let Me Introduce You To
Long before he became famous as the drummer for 1970s band Argent, back in 1963 Bob Henrit was a Trixon endorsee, playing with Adam Faith and spending a lot of time at Drum City. His long-time friend and Drum City Manager, Gerry Evans, was the man who delivered Ringos new Ludwig set to the Alpha Television Studios in Warwickshire where the Beatles were appearing on the show Thank Your Lucky Stars on May 12, 1963. The Premier set was already set up on stage for rehearsals, but the switch was made before the broadcast began. Ringo christened the new Ludwig kit with From Me To You, and Gerry took the Premier kit back to Drum Citys shop. He gave this simple account to Andy Babiuk in Beatles Gear; I took his old Premier drum kit from him and brought it back to the store. We renovated it in our workshop, and then sold it. I ripped off the bit of material from the bass drum head where hed handwritten the Beatles name and threw it away.
Some believe the Beatles name sash was sold at Sothebys years later, but thats not accurate. Beatle drum head expert, Russ Lease, works with Sothebys and says the answer to this mystery goes back to when the sash was created. Tex OHara did consign for [Sothebys] auction a brown Beatle bug sash back in early 90s. It was identical to Ringos black one. OHara said that he initially did two versions of the sash for the Beatles and let them choose which one they were going to use. The two sashes were exactly the same except one was done in chocolate brown to match Ringos drums, and the other was done in flat black paint. The Beatles chose the black one and Tex kept the brown one in a drawer for 30 some years until selling it about 15 years ago. The unused piece of Beatles history (although smudge marks at the time of sale show it had been fastened under a bass drum hoop at some time in its life) sold at Sothebys in July, 1993, and is now in the hands of an anonymous bidder.
Bob Henrit recounts I did see the mahogany set in 1963 in Drum City immediately after Ringo had traded it in for the Ludwig. It was just underneath the front window facing into the shop. To be brutal it was everything we Beat-Boomers didnt want in those days. We wanted Ludwig, or failing that, Trixon. I always believed the set came from the very late 50s because Ringo looked like it had done a lot of work.
Back in 1996 Gerry Evans and Ivor Arbiter told me the set didnt stay in the window very long. Due to a long-standing disagreement between the Arbiter family and Premier, Drum City didnt carry the brand, and Arbiter would have priced the kit to sell quickly. They recalled a businessman from Australia, who was vacationing with his family in London, and had stopped into Drum City. He immediately took a liking to the set and because it was priced so cheaply, had it packed up and shipped back to his home in Australia.
But Ringo didnt trade in the complete Premier set at Drum City. Its commonly known that Ringo preferred floor stands to bass drum cymbal holders, and that he kept both of the flush-base cymbal stands for use with his first two Ludwig sets. The Premier throne, and cymbal stands can also be seen in later shots with the Ludwig sets, and are shown at the end of the Youre Going To Lose That Girl scene in their 1965 movie Help!
Here, There and Everywhere
Of course, Im not the only person whos been searching for this rare drum set. Beatle aficionados and collectors all over the world have been custom building and collecting replicas of the Premier kit, right down to the Roger Swiv-O-Matic tom mount, for many years. Beatle Web forums like http://beatgearcavern.com/ and http://voxtalks.com still post questions and messages about the set frequently. Drum forums, such as http://www.mikedolbear.co.uk/forum/, also address questions on the sets makeup and history.
In my search for the set I have been monitoring sales of Premier drums on e-Bays Australian site (http://ebay.com.au/) for years, with no luck. I also monitor the above-mentioned Web forums for any Premier sales. I closely watch the auction houses for Beatles memorabilia sales, and while some have sold what they thought was the authentic Premier set, so far they have all turned out to be a fakes.
The finish Root Beer Swirl pattern is significant because just like the Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl, it provides a distinctive pattern, or fingerprint, that allows us to verify the authenticity of the original drums from vintage photos. While many drums have been presented as Ringos Premier kit, they were easy to discredit because the swirl pattern is running in the wrong direction or the swirl fingerprint doesnt match vintage photos.
The best known pretender to the (drum) throne is currently on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, New York. This is the same set pictured prominently in the book Beatles Gear. Both Hard Rock and Beatles Gear are careful not to actually say this was definitely Ringos set, but neither clearly states that its not. But I will. Its not.
The sets journey to legitimacy began when it was sold by Sothebys Auctions on September 14, 1995. Stephen Maycock of Sothebys provided the following description of Lot #683 from their London RockN Roll Sale: Ringo Starrs Premier Drum Kit, 1961. This kit was purchased by the vendor in 1966 from the drummer in a Southport-based group called Rythmn & Blues Incorporated. He in turn had bought it from the drummer of The Gems, who had acquired it from Hessys in Liverpool, where most of the Merseyside groups bought/ hired their instruments. Ringo used it whist playing with Rory Storm. Estimate: 3,500 4,500.
The winning bidder was the Memorabilia Acquisitions Manager for the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, with a winning bid of 3,800, just over $6,000. at the time. The set was immediately put on display amidst a sea of Beatles memorabilia in the hotel, and visitors came from near and far to see it. That is, until I contacted the hotel and had a chance to look at the set up close. I was not the first to point out to him that the root beer swirl patterns on the rack tom ran in the wrong direction, the snare drum and tom mount were wrong and the set bore little resemblance to Ringos actual drums. But the provenance provided by Solthebys Auction House took priority over any doubters. Then I offered him visual proof to back up my assertions.
When I contacted the Las Vegas hotel one week later he said the set had suddenly been sold to another buyer, the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, where it remained on display for six years. Following the conversion of the San Diego Hotel to become a condominium project in 2006 the set was moved to Hard Rocks New York Cafe on Broadway. The current management at Hard Rock International and their public relations firm have refused to respond to my further inquiries into the set, except to assert that all the items on display at all Hard Rock properties are completely authentic. It remains on display today with a small, vaguely deceptive plaque that simply reads Ringo Starr.
And In The End
While the exact whereabouts of the real Premier set are currently unknown, perhaps this research will renew the search and start others looking for this Holy Grail of Beatles musical history.
I know its out there somewhere in someones basement or attic, in some dark room waiting to be cleaned out. Lets hope its not in some landfill next to Roy Orbisons first pair of sunglasses. Whoever has it, its almost certain they dont know what they have. Its even possible that a Beatle collector has it and thinks they have a reproduction of the Premier set. Or maybe its been split up and is being used as orphan drums.
Whats more, I know that as soon as this article is published someone will discover previously unseen photographic evidence that will question every fact Ive put forth. Any writer will tell you thats just the nature of continuing research. But I welcome any new evidence, especially if it brings us closer to finding the Premier set.
So right now I want each of you to put this magazine down, go to your attic or basement and look for something big and brown. Then go next door and do the same. If enough of us do this I know well be able to reunite Ritchie with his vintage Premier kit.
In the mean time, those vinyl recordings are the closest thing to having them back. But while were looking, where do you suppose Ritchies Ajax kit is today??? Hmmmm?!
Terry Butz is a frequent contributor to Modern Drummer Magazine and Not So Modern Drummer Magazine, and resides in Wisconsin.