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Interview: Ringo Starr drum expert has unique edge on Beatle history

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Gary Astridge is probably the world's expert on Ringo Starr's drum kits. He knows their makeup and what equipment was used when and where. His knowledge was used in setting up drum kits for the “Ringo: Peace and Love” exhibit that recently ended at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

His website, www.ringosbeatlekits.com, features his information on Ringo's drums compiled from years of research. The website is offering a special print of “The World's Most Famous Snare Drum” with five rare photos of Ringo's drum kit through the website.

Astridge, who hails from Buffalo, N.Y., said his love for drums started after first seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February, 1964. “My passion for drums started then,” he said. He said he'd wanted to set up kit like Ringo had. "So I did some basic research at the time and bought a drum set.

"Once I had it, I found out it wasn't a Ringo kit. And I found out he had a number of kits. Once I finally collected one, I just collected others. I reached the point where I had the whole Ringo/Beatle drum kit collection. Not all his, obviously, but replicas that were identical in every way to what he used.

"Then, I thought, 'Well now what?' And I started looking at receipts and seeing how much money I had spent. And wasted a lot of cases getting the right thing. I just didn't want anybody that was interested in collecting and knowing more about Ringo's drums to have the same pitfalls I did. So I created this website and posted all the information that I had that could be documented on the site.” The site went up in 2006.

He said he was first contacted for the exhibit in March, 2013 by Jerry Buszek, also a drummer. “He asked me if I'd get involved, and I said, 'Sure.' And then I mentioned to him I knew Ringo's drum technician, a great guy named Jeff Chonis. I'd known Jeff for about five years.” Astridge said Chonis had seen the website, but indicated he specialized in Ringo's drums after the Beatles. “After I got the call from the Grammy Museum, I got a call from Jeff, who said, 'I just got a call from Ringo. It's great that you're involved.' So we worked well as a team.”

He said it took about 3½ months to get his work for the exhibit together. He was involved with the displays of “the maple kit” used in the rooftop concert and the Ed Sullivan kit. “Basically what I did was I created a very detailed list. They said, 'We want to set up the two kits, the Sullivan kit like it was on the Sullivan show and the maple kit like it was on the rooftop.

“I just made a list with specifics and pictures so they could match them up to make sure they were sending the right things over. Once everything came here, with the time we had, we just went over each piece of hardware just to document them, do some mild cleaning and set them up for proper display in the exhibit hall.”

Astridge says Ringo was not directly involved, but he worked with Chonis, who has worked with Ringo for 25 years for “whatever was needed to be done. I guess you don't realize the power of a Beatle, but he was able to move mountains to make things happen.”

“The World's Most Famous Snare Drum” print is the first of a series of Beatles' drum-related prints and is being sold in support of The Lotus Foundation charity of Ringo Starr and wife Barbara. The five never-before-seen photos on the print from Ringo’s private collection are of his 1963 Ludwig Jazz Festival snare drum. This instrument was used on a majority of Beatles songs ranging from “All My Loving” to “The End.” All 1,963 prints measure 18” x 24” and are signed and numbered by Astridge.

Each unframed print retails for $125, but is being offered at the introductory price of $75 plus shipping and handling. Purchasers of the prints are automatically enrolled into the "1963 Club" and are eligible to win a limited edition print personally signed by Ringo. “1963 Club” members will also receive notices and discounts on future limited edition prints and other unique merchandise. Additional benefits include insider updates on upcoming talks and events, open access to firsthand knowledge concerning Ringo's Beatle gear with more to come.

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