Ringo Starr is one of the best drummers in the world. But he wasn’t the source of inspiration when his oldest son, Zak Starkey, chose to start playing the drums. Zak gave that credit to The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. Zak only wanted to become a drummer because he’d heard Moon’s work with The Who. Lucky for Zak, Moon was already a family friend when he made this realization. In fact, Zak referred to Moon as “Uncle Keith.”
No one could have known at the time that Zak would later step into Uncle Keith’s shoes (more like drum stool) and become The Who’s touring drummer. It’s a good fit, though, and Moon would be proud.
Zak Starkey initially wanted to play the guitar
When Ringo and his wife Maureen welcomed Zak in 1965, Ringo declared that he didn’t want his firstborn to become a drummer. For a while, Ringo got his way because Zak initially wanted to play the guitar. After seeing the rock band T. Rex live in concert with his father as a kid, Zak asked his parents for a guitar. He wanted to be like his father’s friend Marc Bolan.
“When I was about 7, I went with my dad to see T. Rex, and I said to my dad, ‘I want to be like that guy. I want a guitar,’” Zak told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2019. “I got a guitar and started to learn, and I was playing guitar for two or three years.”
Ringo might not have wanted Zak to become a drummer, but the odds of one of his children following in his footsteps were high, considering they were constantly around music growing up. However, after playing the guitar for a few years, Zak’s instrument preferences quickly changed.
Zak Starkey started playing the drums because of his babysitter, Keith Moon
After years of playing the guitar, Zak realized he wanted to learn the drums after hearing Keith Moon play with The Who on his parents’ records. Suddenly, the man who’d babysat him as a child was inspiring him to become a drummer.
“I found a Who record in my parents’ record collection, and I made this connection between the guy on the cover and a guy that was always ’round at our house,” Zak explained. “This guy used to come and hang out with me and my brother and play Monopoly and feed the hamsters and stuff like that.”
Zak, who was 10 at the time, played The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, and the energy “just blew me away, and that day I switched to drums. I started learning to play drums by listening to The Who and playing along with it.”
Ringo might not have initially wanted his son to become a drummer, but he wasn’t going to let Moon get all the credit for bringing Zak over to the drums. Soon he was showing Zak the ropes. “One day we were together in the studio, and he said, ‘Do you want me to show you how to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he gave me one lesson and the next day came back and said, ‘Try doing this,’ and I said, ‘I can do that,’ and he said, ‘You’re on your own, mate.’”
While his father left him to his own devices, Uncle Keith was there for him too… sort of.
Uncle Keith gave Zak Starkey a Premier drum kit
Moon was such a family friend that Zak often referred to him as Uncle Keith. When Ringo would take his kids to hang out with Moon at his house, Zak would talk to his hero about everything and anything. “He was a really fantastic guy to hang out with. He wasn’t crazy in any way, except for that look in his eye,” Zak told Modern Drummer.
They talked about many things. However, Moon seemed to have a similar way of teaching Zak the drums to Ringo. Moon wasn’t too forthcoming with his drum lessons. Instead, he gifted Zak with the necessary tools he’d need. He gave a 10-year-old Zak a white and gold Premier drum kit with a double bass and elven toms, later sold at auction for $16,000 in today’s money. A year later, Zak was using the kit at gigs.
After playing with various bands in his early career, Zak got the opportunity he probably never saw coming. In the early 1990s, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend invited him to play as The Who’s touring drummer. They said Zak was the best match to play in Moon’s stead. Zak has received praise for his work with the band, especially for not trying to sound exactly like his hero, not that that’s possible anyway. Moon often played songs differently every time.
Now, Zak has been with The Who for over 20 years, longer than Uncle Keith’s time in the band. We know Moon would have something witty to say about that.
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