The Night That Changed The Music World

Forty years ago, The Beatles’ first American appearance on television made Ed Sullivan “the show that launched a thousand purchase orders.”


"I have never known a drummer more widely acclaimed and publicized than you, Ringo Starr. Your millions of fans have honored you and the other members of the Beatles by their overwhelming acceptance of your recordings and concert appearances," declared William F. Ludwig Jr., then president of the Ludwig Drum Company, as he presented Ringo Starr with a gold-plated Ludwig Super-Sensitive snare drum. "On behalf of the employees and management of the Ludwig Drum Company, I would like to thank you for choosing our instruments and for the major role you are playing in the music world today."


The date was September 5, 1964. The Beatles were scheduled to make their first-ever Chicago appearance at the Amphitheater in a few hours, police were scrambling to contain the 25,000 screaming fans that had hopelessly tied up downtown traffic, and Ludwig had managed to get a few precious minutes to deliver a personal thank you to Ringo and the "Fab Four" before they held a much anticipated pre-concert press conference. To say that he had a lot to thank them for was something that even the flamboyant Ludwig would describe as a major understatement.


Bill Ludwig and his daughter, Brooke,  present a gold-plated snare drum to Ringo and the Beatles before the band made its first Chicago appearance in 1964.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had come together as the Beatles in 1961. Under the guidance of producer George Martin, they released their first hit single in September 1962  – “Love Me Do”.  Successive hits over the next six months – “Please Please Me,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” catapulted them to the top of the British charts and gave rise to what the press dubbed "Beatlemania."


When manager Brian Epstein scheduled the Beatles' first U.S. appearance in February 1964, Americans and the American music industry expressed a curious interest at this British phenomenon, but no one anticipated the magnitude of what would happen next. First, on February 7th, the group took to the stage of Carnegie Hall for a sold out performance. Reports of hard core fans who had slept on the snow covered sidewalk waiting for the Carnegie Hall box office to open, followed by rave reviews, were picked up by wire services, whetting the appetite of the rest of country.


Two days later, when Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, a record 73 million viewers, roughly 30% of the U.S. population, tuned in. The next morning, an unprecedented surge of teenagers began crowding music stores coast-to-coast, demanding guitars, basses, and drums kits.


On the Ed Sullivan Show, Paul McCartney had appeared with a Hofner bass, John Lennon sported a Rickenbacker, George Harrison had a Gretsch hollow-body; and Ringo was seated behind a oyster black pearl Ludwig kit. All four manufacturers subsequently experienced a huge and unexpected increase in demand after the show; however, Ludwig probably received the single greatest windfall. Overnight, the company's Chicago factory on Damon Avenue began running 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in an effort to keep up with the flood of orders demand. Ludwig liked to joke that Ed Sullivan was the "show that launched a thousand purchase orders." He later recalled that for three years after that fateful hour on prime time, the only days his factory shut down were Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.



In 1964, Ludwig Drum Company had sales of $6.1 million. Two years later, sales had more than doubled to $13.1 million and the company's biggest problem was keeping up with the burgeoning demand. Expanding the Ludwig factory on Chicago's Damen Avenue required buying up adjacent property and placating residents who complained about the endless noise and truck traffic. To keep the peace and maintain the factory expansion, Bill Ludwig explained, "I had to visit all our neighbors up and down the block and invite them to factory tours, followed by 'jollification' at Boris's bar afterwards. Over beers, we worked out compromises. I agreed to shut down certain machines after ten o'clock, like the stick lathes and the scarfing machines, and the neighborhood allowed us to expand."


Ever since the mid '30s, when Gene Krupa's epic performances with the Benny Goodman band had transformed the drummer from a timekeeper to a soloist, drum companies began courting artists. As the world's largest drum company, Ludwig had the industry's most aggressive artist endorsement effort. However, the story of how Ludwig and Ringo came to be linked was more a factor of coincidence and happenstance than carefully executed corporate strategy.


In 1962, Ivor Arbiter had opened London's first exclusive drum shop, Drum City on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of the theater district. To differentiate himself from all the other music stores on the block, he was also the first to stock a complete selection of American drums--Ludwig, Slingerland, and Gretsch. At the previous NAMM show Bill Ludwig had agreed to sell him a few drumkits without thinking much of it. Ludwig recalled, "In those days, our export department consisted of an Atlas on the shelf of my office. If someone from abroad inquired about buying drums, we checked the Atlas to find out where they were, and shipped them COD. It didn't amount to much."


One of the reasons for Ludwig's limited export market was high import duties and shipping costs. In London, a Ludwig kit typically sold for twice the price of a comparable English-made Premier or Ajax kit. Because of these straightforward economics, Ringo Starr was like most English drummers and initially got his start on an Ajax kit. By the time he met Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison in Hamburg, Germany, while touring with Rory Storme and the Hurricanes, he had moved up to a Premier kit.


In late 1962, Brian Epstein, a record store manager who had just signed on as the Beatles' manager, strolled into Drum City, announced that he had a band that was going to be really big, and asked for help in getting a better drum kit. Arbiter was initially non-committal, but after doing a little research, concluded that it might be worth giving the Beatles a special deal. A few days later, Epstein and Ringo came back to pick out a drum kit. They initially wanted an all-black outfit. But when, Ringo saw a sample chip of Ludwig's new Oyster Black Pearl finish lying on Arbiter's desk he had an immediate change of heart. The story goes that he pointed to the sample and said, "That's what I want." Fortunately, Arbiter had an Oyster Black Pearl Downbeat kit in stock.  Ringo particularly liked the small scale of Ludwig's Downbeat kit, with its 20" bass drum, because he "wouldn't get lost behind it."


Epstein wanted the kit for free, but Arbiter balked at the prospect of giving away such an expensive item. After some negotiations, he agreed to trade Ringo the Ludwig kit, which was worth about $380, for his Premier kit. He also agreed to throw in at no extra charge a bass drum head painted with the Beatles logo. Two days later, the resourceful Arbiter sold the Premier kit for $150 to an Australian who had heard of the Beatles. He then called Bill Ludwig long distance with a deal: reimburse me for Ringo's drum kit and I'll make sure there will be a huge Ludwig logo on the bass drum head.


"In 1962, you never got telephone calls from Europe," recalled Bill Ludwig. "When Arbitor was on the phone from London, I dropped whatever it was I was doing. I think I was in such a state of shock that I agreed to the deal on the spot."


According to Beatles historians, Ringo made his first public appearance with his Ludwig kit in June 1963 at the Playhouse Theatre for a recording of the radio program, Easy Beat. The rest, as they say, is history. Until the Beatles finally disbanded in 1970, Ringo and Ludwig were inextricably linked in the minds of drummers worldwide. Ludwig's artist program in 1963 was a modest affair, when compared to current drum companies, where full-time endorsement departments travel the world to secure artist endorsements. Yet, it is safe to say that no single artist has had a greater impact on a company or an industry than Ringo and the Beatles. 


Features on the original 1964 kit:

Black Oyster Pearl Finish
4-ply maple and American veneer shells
Speed King bass drum pedal
22' x 14' bass with fold out bass drum spurs
16' x 16' floor tom
9' x 13' tom
5' x 14' Supersonic chrome snare
Medium-coated white batter heads
Standard Ludwig Hardware: Speed King hi-hat stand, low snare stand, cymbal stand, shell mount cymbal holder, multi adjustable single tom holder mount

Original Zildjian Brass
20" Heavy Crash
18" Medium Ride
(2) Matched 13" Hi-Hats

Ludwig is a division of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc.