Ringo’s Ed Sullivan Logo Head

The Holy Grail Of Beatlemaniacs

Ringo Starr

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.

{pagebreak} Ringo Starr

Nowadays, of course, it is standard practice for drum manufacturers to display their brand logos blazoned across the front of the bass head. Up until the early ’60s, that had never been done. That original idea, believe it or not, can be traced back to Ringo Starr. A Ludwig advertising sticker was affixed to the front of the Beatles’ first “drop-T” head at Ringo’s urging to emphasize his pride at owning his first set of Ludwig drums. Unfortunately, parts of the sticker kept flaking off due to the constant pounding of the drum. For this, the second head, Ringo wanted the Ludwig logo even larger and more prominent. Also, the decision was made this time to hand-paint the logo on so it would be more permanent. It was this head seen – by William F. Ludwig on the Sullivan show – for the first time with the Ludwig name on the bass head. From that night on, the requests poured in to Ludwig for the front displayed brand name. Although they weren’t geared up for such a demand at the time, quick adjustments were made and from that point on all drum kits that went out the door at Ludwig featured the brand name on the front head. A short time later this was standard practice industry-wide.

It was decided that the Beatles would travel to America as light as possible for their first visit. The decision was made that Ringo would travel without his drum kit. Only his snare drum and cymbals would make the trip along with the new front drum skin. A new set of drums would be purchased when they arrived in the States. The reason for this was that a second kit was going to be needed in any case. Once the Beatles returned from America, filming was going to commence on their first film, A Hard Days Night. One drum kit would be needed on the film set and, since the soundtrack was going to be recorded at the same time during breaks in the schedule, a second kit would be needed at Abbey Road. The powers that be concluded it was easier to pick up the new set in America, rather than carry the old one over.

After the Beatles’ two-week American visit was over, the skin went back to Abbey Road Studios where it was last seen in early 1964 before disappearing entirely, not to be publicly seen again until the 1984 auction.

The current overall condition of the Remo WeatherKing head is very good. It is a 20" coated Ambassador with very slight cracking in the joint where the Mylar film is fused to the aluminum ring, but nothing too serious. You can still see the faint pencil marks where a straight edge was used for letter alignment. None of the original pencil markings were ever erased off. The front of the head definitely shows some use. More so even than one would expect considering its short public tenure of two weeks. It exhibits the usual scuffs and scrapes of being packed and unpacked, and we know that most of these imperfections occurred during the actual first American visit because many of them show up in photos from the time. Most interesting would be a half-circle scrape starting at the top of the “B” and traversing through the “e” and into the “a.” If you complete this arch in full, you get a near perfect 14" circle. It appears that at some point when Beatles equipment manager Mal Evans was breaking down the kit, one of Ringo’s 14" hi-hat cymbals was laid on top of the flat lying bass drum, causing the scrape. This had to happen during the first Sullivan performance because the scrape shows up in the Washington Coliseum show photo I mentioned earlier.

When I took possession of the head in 1994, just the head itself was displayed in a sealed acrylic depth frame for hanging on a wall. It looked okay, but lacked the familiarity in your mind that you associate with the head on the Sullivan show. I thought it should be mounted on the front half of a Ludwig Oyster Black bass drum that would look as close as possible to the original drum that held it 30 years earlier. I called the Ludwig Drum Company to see if they could build such a drum for me. After speaking to Jim Catalano about the project, I was referred to renowned vintage drum restorer, Jack Lawton, of the Lawton Drum Company in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Lawton is quite familiar with the Oyster Black Pearl used by Ludwig back in the ’60s. In fact, Lawton had reintroduced that finish (now called Black Oyster) in 1992. The material stopped being made in the ’60s, so Lawton placed a call to the plastic’s original manufacturer in Italy and asked the company to reproduce the pearl, graying shade, and texture. They did and proceeded to sell him 400 pounds of the stuff for his own use. Ever since, companies like Ludwig have recognized Lawton as one of the nation’s finer restorers of classic drums.

The drum Lawton used was an old 20" x 14" Champagne Sparkle shell manufactured by Ludwig in the mid-’60s. The original finish was stripped off and the shell was then cut in half. The inside was sanded and painted white, and the outside was recovered in ’60s style Black Oyster Pearl. The original hardware was then cleaned up and reinstalled on the shell. A new black inlaid bass drum hoop now holds the vintage drumhead in place. Lawton was unaware of the price paid for the head when it came time to mount the skin on the shell. After a bit of a struggle, the tight fitting head finally went on. When Lawton was later told of its value (many times that now), he nearly went into cardiac arrest.

The Beatles’ Sullivan drumhead is an icon of our generation. It is the only Beatles logo drumhead to appear on any of their album covers (it can be seen on four) and, because of the Sullivan notoriety, is generally regarded as the most famous of the seven. It has been exhibited in Washington museums and on occasion at Jack Lawton’s annual Pennsylvania Drum Show. It recently completed a one-year stint at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and will no doubt be back at some point in the future.

Russ Lease, of Columbia, Maryland has been collecting one-of-a-kind Beatle memorabilia for well over 20 years and has built an extensive collection. Lease also does consulting work for some of the major auction houses and can be contacted by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or via his website at http://www.beatlesuits.com