I have to admit that I never thought much about the Beatles’ instruments until just before Christmas when I happened upon a talk by Andy Babiuk, a musician and the writer and researcher of a book called “Beatles Gear.”
The book is huge and attempts to catalog all the instruments the Beatles ever used. It goes for $60 but, let me tell you, it’s worth it. It’s filled with lots of fascinating stories like this one taken directly from the book.
I always knew that Ringo’s famous drum head that he played on the Ed Sullivan show had that famous Beatles drop-T logo and, above it, the name of the company that manufactured the entire black oyster kit that Ringo loved so much.
How did the logo come about? Turns out that, when Ringo joined the band, Brian Epstein took him shopping to a place called “Drum City,” owned and operated by Ivor Arbiter. Around that time, Arbiter was more or less pushing Ludwig drums, an old brand that had fallen out of favor but was in the midst of coming back.
Ringo picked Ludwig strictly because he liked the black oyster color of the drums. A mate had a set so he was familiar with the sound but he picked Ludwig that day solely because of the color.
But there was one problem. On the drum head was the name Ludwig in fairly big lettering. Epstein wasn’t having that–he wanted the drum head to read ‘The Beatles’ so, on the spot, Arbiter drew that famous drop-T logo and promised he’d have it painted on the head right below Ludwig’s name.
A deal was made and all Arbiter ever got for designing one of the most famous logos in music history was the commission he made by selling the kit.
Flash forward to the Beatles historic appearance on the Sullivan show. Ringo’s drum kit was not shipped to America because they’d been assured Manny’s Music store would provide whatever he needed. There was one problem–the kit had no drum head at all.
In the Saturday rehearsals, Ringo is playing a white oyster drum kit but Epstein insisted it be switched to the color he preferred. By the next afternoon, at a taping before the show to be aired at a later date, the now-famous drum kit was all together…black pearly design with the Beatles logo and the Ludwig name above it.
Everyone wanted whatever instruments the Beatles were playing. The brand names of those guitars–Paul’s Hofner bass, John’s Rickenbacker and George’s Grestsch–all took off but nothing was as prominent as the Ludwig name on Ringo’s drums. It was the ultimate product placement and William Ludwig Jr. had not lifted a finger to make it happen.
He later said that was the first he knew that Ringo was using his company’s drum kits. But he could not ignore what happened the next day.
“Our company was besieged with calls from people looking to order that Ludwig drum set. We got the supplies and put on a second shift, a night shift till 1 a.m.,” he told Babiuk. “All day, every night, six days a week, including Saturday, we got geared up to make a hundred sets a day–and we still had nine months’ backlog. We had 85,000 on back order! And they were all ordering it with the Ludwig logo on the front head.”
What’s that old saying? I’d rather be lucky than good? Ludwig was extremely lucky. Stories like this are there galore in Babiuk’s well-researched book.