Gary James' Interview With Jim Martin Of
Beatles Tribute Band
They were voted the Top Beatles Tribute Band three times at New York and Chicago Beatlefest. They beat over one hundred bands to win the title as the top Beatle group as voted on by over ten thousand true Beatle fans. Formed in Chicago in 1994, they are British Export. Pounding the skins for British Export is Jim Martin.
Q - Jim, I've interviewed people who knew Ringo in the pre-Beatle years and later and they weren't particularly impressed with his drumming skills. Since you portray Ringo, just how good of a drummer was Ringo for The Beatles?
A - Ringo was the perfect drummer for The Beatles. They needed someone who would perform a steady beat, offering interesting variations to so many great, original songs. A Keith Moon or Jon Bonham would have been a distraction to the greatest Rock 'n' Roll composers of all time. Most famous drummers utilized the "Ringo grip" of the sticks, instead of the classic grip. Ringo was a left-handed drummer, playing a right-handed set-up. So most of his fills were done basically backwards. It did give an interesting sound and makes for a challenging duplication in a Tribute Band. Ringo was the drummer in the greatest band of all time. That is impressive. Also, Ringo was the first true Rock drummer to be seen on TV. All the Rock 'n' Roll drummers featured with Elvis, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis were mostly R&B drummers that were making the transition from a Swing drumming style of the '40s and '50s toward the louder and more rocking sound that is associated with "I Want To Hold Your Hand". They were dressed in tuxedos and suits and held the drumsticks in the traditional manner of military, orchestra and Jazz drummers. Ringo showed the world that power was needed to put the emphasis on the Rock in Rock 'n' Roll music. So, he gripped both sticks like hammers and proceeded to build a foundation for Rock music.
Ringo started a trend of placing drummers on high risers so that they would be as visible as the other musicians. When Ringo appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, he immediately caught the attention of "drummers to be" by towering over the other three Beatles. Elvis' drummer was looking at a collection of backs. Those same "wanna be" drummers also noticed that Ringo was playing Ludwig drums and they immediately went out and bought thousands of those drum sets, thus establishing Ludwig as the definitive name in Rock 'n' Roll drums at the time. Ringo changed the sound of recorded drums. About the time of "Rubber Soul" (released December 6th, 1965) the sound of the drum set started to become more distinct. Along with help from the engineers at Abbey Road Studios, Ringo popularized a new sound for the drums by tuning them lower, deadening the tonal ring with muffling materials and making them sound closer by putting a microphone on each drum. Ringo has nearly perfect tempo. This allowed The Beatles to record a song fifty or sixty times and then be able to edit together different parts of numerous takes of the same song for the best possible version. Today an electronic metronome is used for the same purpose. But The Beatles had to depend on Ringo to keep the tempo consistent throughout the dozens of takes of the song that you know and love so well. Had he not had this ability, The Beatles recordings would sound completely different today.
Ringo's feel for the beat serves as a standard for Pop Rock producers and drummers alike. It is relaxed, but never dragging. Solid, yet always breathing. And yes, there is a great amount of musical taste in his decisions of what to play and when to play it. In most recording sessions, the drummer's performance acts as a barometer for the rest of the musicians. The stylistic direction, dynamics and emotions are filtered through the drummer. He is the catcher to whom the pitcher / songwriter is throwing. If the drumming doesn't feel good, the performance of any additional musicians is doomed from the start. The Beatles rarely, if ever, had this problem with Ringo.
Ringo hated drum solos, which should win points with quit a few people. He only took one solo while with The Beatles. His eight measure solo appears during "The End" on The "B" side of "Abbey Road". Some might say that it is not a great display of technical virtuosity, but they would be at least partially mistaken. You can set an electronic metronome to a perfect 126 beats per minute, then play it along with Ringo's solo and the two will stay exactly together. Ringo's ability to play odd time signatures helped to push popular songwriting into uncharted areas. Two examples are "All You Need Is Love" in 7/4 time and "Here Comes The Sun" with repeating 11/8, 4/4 and 7/8 passages in the chorus.
Ringo's proficiency in many different styles such as Two Beat Swing - "When I'm Sixty Four", ballads - "Something", R&B - "Leave My Kitten Alone" and "Taxman" and Country - the "Rubber Soul" album, helped The Beatles to explore many musical directions with ease. His pre-Beatle experience as a versatile and hard working nightclub musician served him well. The idea that Ringo was a lucking Johnny-on-the-spot with a showbiz stage name is wrong. In fact, when Beatle producer George Martin expressed his unhappiness after the first session with original drummer Pete Best, the decision was made by Paul, George and John to hire who they considered to be the best drummer in Liverpool, Ringo Starr. His personality was a bonus. The rumors that Ringo did not play on many of the Beatle songs because he was not good enough are also false. In fact, he played on every released Beatles recording, not including "Anthology 1" that included drums, except for the following: "Back In The U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence", on which Paul played drums due to Ringo temporarily quitting the band, "The Ballad Of John And Yoko", again featuring Paul on drums because Ringo was off making a movie and a 1962 release of "Love Me Do" featuring session drummer Andy White.
Q - How did you get the job of Ringo in the band?
A - Well, I answered an ad for the band under a different name and auditioned. I had only been playing drums for a short while and I must say I wasn't very good. But I had a decent look for the part and the right kit, a Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl and I could sing.
Q - You're also the manager of British Export. You're pulling double duty! How'd that happen?
A - The founding member eventually left to join a different band and the gigs kept coming, so I took over as manager under a new name, British Export. I've always been in management in most occupations I've had. Being band manager just came naturally. You just have to be able to do marketing, draw contracts, accounting, booking agent, travel agent and baby sitter. The performing is the easy part.
Q - What were you doing before British Export?
A - I played keyboards in a Beach Boys Tribute Band and sang lead and back-up in oldies bands.
Q - How often does this group perform?
A - About fifty times a year, mostly private and corporate gigs these days.
Q - Before this group, were you a Beatles fan or does that not even matter when you're in a tribute band?
A - The best Beatles tribute performers are the true, rabid fans. I grew up loving The Beatles. I had the pleasure of experiencing Beatlemania from the beginning, watching The Ed Sullivan Show. My brothers and I formed a tribute, lip-synching to The Beatles when I was eight years old. To properly learn your part in a Beatles tribute, you really have to spend hours upon hours listening to the records, watching the videos and movies. It really helps if you love The Beatles.
Q - Can you ever get so carried away that you find yourself acting like Ringo offstage?
A - Maybe a little unconsciously. I think everyone, when they encounter someone they like and or respect, they take a little of the good stuff from their personality, mannerisms and attitude.
Q - Have you ever met Ringo?
A - Closest I ever came was when he came to the House Of Blues in Chicago and I got dressed up in my Sergeant Pepper suit. I waited eight hours to get a front position right by Ringo's microphone. He immediately recognized the resemblance, pointed and laughed at me. That's about it.