By the time Ringo Starr joined the Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney had been playing music together for several years. They had built a dynamic that Lennon wanted to keep with the new drummer. Just a few weeks into Starr’s time with the band, Lennon tested Starr to see if he would listen. According to people in the room, it was clear that Lennon was playing a power game.
The Beatles’ original drummer was Pete Best. He performed with the band until 1962 when they unexpectedly fired him and replaced him with Starr.
“Unknown to me, they had approached Ringo,” he told the Telegraph in 2018.
TIED TOGETHER: The Beatles’ first drummer, Pete Best, shared what he would do if he saw the ‘guilty’ Paul McCartney
The band did not speak to Best personally. They had manager Brian Epstein fire him and struggled to meet Best’s eyes when they later saw him.
“He said, ‘Pete, I don’t know how to tell you this. The boys want you out’ — those were the words — ‘and it’s already arranged,'” Best said. “That was another key word. Arranged. Ringo joined the band on Saturday. It was a closed shop. I asked why and he said, ‘Because they think he’s a better drummer.’ The bomb was dropped.”
Starr entered a pre-existing dynamic when he joined the Beatles and wanted to fit in. Before a 1962 show, he sat backstage with his bandmates and several other acts. Lennon appeared uneasy and, after criticizing McCartney’s new haircut, turned his attention to Starr.
“Hey, Ringo,” Lennon said, according to the book Paul McCartney: One Life by Peter Ames-Carlin. “There are two sets of our maracas on stage. Get her.”
Starr looked around the room while Lennon watched him.
“He was looking slyly to see if Ringo would comply,” said drummer Tony Sanders of the band Billy Kramer and the Coasters.
After a punch, Starr got up and casually said he had to get on stage anyway. On the way back he would get the maracas. Lennon seemed happy with that.
“That was Lennon showing them and everyone else in the dressing room who was boss,” Sanders said. “What he always had to be.”
The early stages of their relationship might have been a bit strained, but Starr and Lennon formed a long-lasting friendship. They remained on good terms even after the Beatles broke up, when the former bandmates fought each other. Decades after Lennon’s death, Starr still breaks a sweat when he talks about him.
“I’m emotional now when I think about him when he was talking about me and thinking about me on his tape 40 years ago,” Starr told Rolling Stone in 2019. “The four of us were good friends with a few side issues. And it was far out. Anyway, I didn’t know how to act [after Lennon died]. And then I came back to LA and I grieved, and then of course you always go through grief.”