William F. Ludwig himself put it best when he said, “On February 9, 1964, a new musical event burst from the TV screens across America. The Beatles had arrived, featuring Ringo Starr and his Ludwig Black Oyster drums. Literally overnight everyone wanted a drum set like Ringo’s. The drum boom was born!”
Lots of things changed that night, especially for the impressionable school-aged kids who are now in their mid-forties and older. It’s uncanny how many middle-aged musicians as a whole (and drummers in particular) point to that single hour in time as being the defining moment in their professional career. As for me, that was the night I became a drummer. Maybe not in talent, at the tender age of seven, but certainly in mind and spirit. That night also lit a passionate fire inside of me that would manifest itself in what has become a 25-year fixation to collect personal one-of-a-kind Beatles memorabilia. The collection includes clothing, stage suits, contracts, correspondence, and the like.
On September 14, 1994, my world changed again. I found myself in the unlikely position of being one of the last two bidders in a London auction for one of the most significant pieces of Beatle memorabilia ever sold. It was described as possibly being the Beatles front logo bass drumhead from the band’s historic debut performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964. I say possible because, up to that time, no one had done the research necessary to confirm its history, and Sotheby’s was understandably unwilling to go on record as authenticating the theory. My pre-auction investigation seemed to indicate that six or seven different logo skins had been used over the years and, indeed, preliminary measurements using Sullivan photos strongly suggested what looked to me like an exact match with the head that was on sale. Three weeks of intense photographic study and numerous long distance calls later I was reasonably convinced, ready to roll the dice, and go for it.
I had a hunch that the Beatle skin’s bidding interest might be dampened by the slight initial skepticism about its authenticity. And it didn’t hurt that there were several other high-profile items in the sale, most notably the recently uncovered original Sgt. Pepper drumhead (though the Beatle logo head carried a more valuable appraisal).
After maxing out financially on what would have to be my last bid, I held my breath. Seconds dragged on like hours as I again waited, hoping no one would up the ante. Finally, the sound of the hammer banged down confirming my new purchase at $43,000. “Oh my God, is it really mine?” For many hours and days later it seemed hard to believe. It still does.
Upon taking possession of the piece, my mind was set on two objectives. The first was to prove to myself that the drumhead really was what it appeared to be. And number two, proving to the collecting world in general that this was, in fact, the Sullivan show drumhead. This started an eight-year obsession concerning not only my new acquisition, but also my quest to discover exactly how many other logo drumheads Ringo used. Why and how often were they changed and what were the histories of each? The research I’ve done over the years documenting the other six Beatle logo drumheads is another article in of itself.
With the skin now in my possession, my apprehension was shortly changed to jubilation when a photograph fell into my hands providing the evidence I sought. On Tuesday, February 11, 1964 (two days after their debut on Sullivan), the Beatles traveled down to Washington D.C. to perform at the Washington Coliseum. The photo in question was taken this night and was one of the closest and best pictures of the head I had seen up to that point. The angle and sharpness were such that every scrape, scratch, scuff, and brushstroke of the head that appeared on the photo was also minutely evident on the drumhead in my hands. In addition, Sotheby’s top expert, Stephen Maycock, assured me that the provenance or chain of possession from the beginning was impeccable because the skin had been sold by them initially ten years prior, in 1984, and was now in the possession of just its third owner.
The head was first consigned for auction in 1984 by someone within the Beatles’ inner circle (whose identity will not be revealed). It was purchased by an Australian restaurateur named George Wilkins for just under $9,000. Wilkins used the artifact for display purposes in his restaurant before re-consigning the head back to Sotheby’s in 1994.
The Ed Sullivan drumhead is head #2 in the series of seven drop-T heads. It was hand-painted by Eddie Stokes in London in early February, 1964, specifically for the Beatles first American visit. Stokes worked for Ivor Arbiter at Drum City and was employed part-time to hand-paint band logos for the drum retailer. It was also Stokes who had painted the first Beatles drop-T head. In addition to creating the logo heads for the Beatles themselves during the ’60s, Eddie Stokes was asked to paint a handful (estimated between six and eight) of Beatles heads for use as display or for promotional purposes. Some were used in the Sound City or Drum City stores (both owned by Arbiter). Some were used for cinema promotion and at least one was done for Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London. In virtually every known case though, some extra promotional graphic was also painted on the head in addition to the Beatles logo.