Ringo Starr has an image of being a lightweight. The happy-go-lucky drummer with the droopy, sad-sack eyes. The guy who rode to success on the backs of his more talented Beatles bandmates.
But don’t let the image fool you: Starr’s drumming was as central to the success of the Beatles as his cohorts’ songwriting and guitar-playing.
And those eyes? They were always watching. They were as razor-sharp observant as his drumming was expressive and precise.
For proof, look no further than some other images: the ones in “Photograph,” Starr’s new book. Some of Starr’s photos in the book are of him; others are ones he took of his family, friends and band mates.
“These are shots no one else could have,” Starr says in the accompanying press materials.
And indeed, the images showcase more than just Ringo. They’re snapshots of 1950s English life, of the fever of Beatlemania, of relaxed days with his wife and pals.
There he is, with a beatnik mustache and goatee, getting ready to back up one of his first bands, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. There’s a postcard from Hamburg, Germany, where he honed his talent. There are pictures from Butlins, the British vacation resorts where working-class families spent their holidays.
Even in those pre-Beatles days, Starr had a reputation for his tireless rhythm.
“During the four or five years Ringo was with us, he really played the drums. He drove them. He sweated and swung and sung,” Storm once recalled. “He even had his own spot. It was called 'Ringo Starrtime.' "
When Starr joined the Beatles in 1962, “Starrtime” reached a whole new level – and he documented it. In the book are casual letters to his parents – “Having a great time on the tour, we are next to top of the bill,” one begins – and accounting statements from NEMS Enterprises, manager Brian Epstein’s company.
There are also photos of the band at leisure, just as unparalleled fame descends: John Lennon clutching an Epic Records folder; Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the back of a train car; the motorcades and modernism of 1964 New York City, where the Beatles played the “Ed Sullivan Show” and Carnegie Hall.
And then, of course, comes the rock-star life in full bloom. In Starr’s photographs, a windblown George Harrison smiles winningly. Beatles pal Mal Evans swirls in a multiple exposure. There are images of Starr and Keith Moon playing greasers in 1973’s “That’ll Be the Day”; a snow-covered Mercedes-Benz; and Polaroids of wife Barbara Bach, friend Harry Nilsson and Harrison.
Starr often had an eye for the passing show. He toted a still camera in the famous “This Boy” sequence in 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night.” Eight years later, he aimed a movie camera at Marc Bolan for “Born to Boogie,” a documentary on Bolan’s band T. Rex. It’s been another way of keeping time.
And few can doubt he’s one of the best at that.
“Ringo laid down the fundamental rock beat that drummers are playing today and they probably don't even realize it,” said John Mellencamp’s drummer, Kenny Aronoff. “He always served the music.”
“I didn't do it to become rich and famous,” Starr said of his drumming. “I did it because it was the love of my life.”
Sometimes images are deeper than you imagine.
Ringo Starr's signed limited-edition book, "Photograph," is available now from Genesis Publications.
–Todd Leopold, CNN