Zak Starkey: The Story Behind Ringo Starr’s Drumming Son

Drummer Zak Starkey

As the first-born son of rock star royalty Ringo Starr, one might expect that Zak Starkey would have had his path into the world of music paved for him from an early age. 

However, Ringo allowed Zak to pave his own way, free to pursue whatever career he felt drawn to. Ringo never expected that his son would actually follow in his footsteps. In fact, his father believed that he would likely become a doctor, lawyer, or some such.


Early influences wouldn’t kick off his drumming career

At the age of six Zak’s world was transformed in a single evening. His father took him along to a T. Rex concert. He was mesmerized and enthralled! He vividly recalls how this one concert profoundly affected him, effectively lighting the spark of his lifelong love of music.

Growing up surrounded by drumming legends such as his father, and their close family friend Keith Moon, did not initially sway him toward the drums as his chosen instrument. 

Frontman dreams

In fact, in his early years, Zak has often stated that he wanted to be Marc Bolan. The performance he witnessed by this iconic figure made him desire center stage. It wasn’t until he sat in front of his father’s kit at the age of 10 that he began to feel drawn to the drums. At which point, his father asked him if he’d like to learn to play. 


Zak’s first drum set and lessons

Zak’s first lessons were from his father, who made him master the basics of keeping time, playing quarter notes in time with his favorite songs, which included artist The Who and T. Rex, among others. Once mastered, his father advised him to play along with drummers he admired, via headphones.

He quickly proved that he was dedicated to improving his skills.  He spent countless hours listening to his favorite musicians. His father observed this diligence and bought him his first drum kit given at the age of 11, “a Ludwig kit with a 20-inch bass drum, 12 and 14-inch toms, and a piccolo snare” (1) and set up in the kitchen of his family’s home. 


Zak’s first favorite drummers

Listening almost exclusively to Keith Moon, John Bonham, Billy Cobham, and Clem Burke, Zak would play for hours. It did not take long before he felt confident to begin writing and rehearsing original music with one of his friends.

He began playing in small, unknown bands in the music scene of the UK as early as age twelve. During this time, he paid his dues, lugging his kit from gig to gig.

Even though he decided early on that music was a part of his being, he never once turned to his father or the close family friend, Keith Moon, in order to gain momentum in his career. He truly did want to prove his worthiness as a drummer on his own merit.


Discovery

It wasn’t until John Entwistle heard him playing in a small pub that he got a chance to play in larger, more notable venues. He turned this opportunity down, however, being loyal to the band Face, which he was then a part of.

Luckily, the opportunity was still available when that band broke up a couple short years later, freeing him to readily accepted the offer to play drums with legendary band, The Who, and fulfilling a childhood fantasy of his.


Zak Starkey with The Who

In 1996 Zak began playing live shows with The Who on their second tour promoting their classic 1973 album, Quadrophenia, which was truly kismet, as that album was one that he used to play along with as a child.

It was all falling into place, and he did not waste the opportunity. Critics were impressed with just how well he was able to match the style and intricacies of the band’s complex music. One review stated that Starkey “provided a meticulous backdrop for the emotional theatrics of the story.”(2)

Though several have sat in that seat since the passing of Keith Moon, the original drummer, no one else has come close to capturing the nuanced style The Who is known for. Pete Townshend himself has called Zak the “karmic Keith Moon.”


Noteable performances

Apart from his work with The Who, Zak has also toured and/or recorded with other well-known bands. Included in this distinguished list are The Lightning Seeds, The Semantics, ASAP, The Icicle Works, Johnny Marr and the Healers, Oasis, and his father’s group: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.

In each of these he brought his own personal flair, without taking away from the established sound each was known for. 


Red, Gold, Green and Blue

In January of this year (2019), Zak took a trip to Jamaica to pursue a project that he’s been dreaming of for many years. He sees the similarities in the messages that blues and reggae carry and has gathered an illustrious list of reggae artists who, along with his Sshh bandmate Sharna “Sshh” Liguz, are recording a project titled “Red, Gold, Green and Blue.”

Though he’s not divulging the entire list, he has said that many of reggae’s core artists and originators, legends really, will be part of this project. 


Drummer with a large kit

Though a fancy kit does not make a great drummer, good equipment makes a skilled drummer shine brighter. As all musicians can attest, once we find gear that works for us, we tend to be loyal to it.

Zak is no different. He swears by Zildjian cymbals, touting them as, “the best in the world.” He’s also rather partial to Drum Workshop Drums and Remo Drum Heads.

With so many diverse accomplishments under his belt, Zak is definitely a drummer whose footsteps one would want to follow in. What can you learn from Zak’s career thus far?

Being largely self-taught, he was diligent and dedicated, spending hours each week listening to and playing along with tracks of drummers he admired. 

And, although he is the child of a rock legend, he didn’t use his father’s status to gain fame. Rather, he worked his tail off playing faithfully in small clubs in the various bands he was in until his time came.

Zak is a testament to the power of focus and dedication, coupled with a genuine love for one’s art. 

Featured image courtesy of Kubacheck via Flickr.com.

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