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Zak Starkey's Bio


"Playing with the Who is the biggest rush there is. At eleven years old I used to go to bed dreaming about what I'm doing now. I don't know how many people can say that." - Modern Drummer, July '97

Mom,Dad,Zak in hospital Born Sept 13, 1965, 8 AM, Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, London to Maureen (nee Cox) and Richard Starkey. Dad chose Zak because it's "a nice strong name that can't be shortened…[a] mad cowboy name that had been spinning round my brain at the time". Dad's oft reported response to the press' inquiries about the child's likelihood of following in his footsteps was "I won't let Zak be a drummer"! *(not everyone was taken by his choice of name!)
However, Zak's interests in music were evident and encouraged early on.

Zak circa 1968"The first thing, … he used to play 'Back in The USSR', we put that on a thousand times which he'd ask for so we could all go round the room playing aeroplanes."

"Zak likes the show bands, he likes Alice Cooper and Bowie, he even likes the Sweet, but he's only 8. Alice he couldn't believe - snakes and swords and things like that are comic for him, he loved it-and he has all their records. I'll buy any record he wants, any of them, [even] can-can music, because I think it's important. Jay - he's six - only gets into it because of Zak - but Zak only got into it at six. Now [that] he's eight he's really into it. He has definite people he likes and others, he just hates them."

"He wanted to form a group in school based on Alice Cooper. The only problem they had was they all wanted to be Alice. And he went around the house for a couple of weeks,him and Jay, with big black eye make-up on…It's great, because I don't think I'd have been allowed to do it!"

"Now he's learning the recorder at school. We've got a piano at home and he bashes it, I show him a chord. I think he will be a musician, in fact." - Ringo from Rolling Stone 1/17/74

Other sources report that he did receive formal piano lessons at one point. As for the drums, Zak says he's been drumming "for a long as I can remember". He had one and only one lesson from his dad. "When I went to give Zak a second lesson, he said, `I can do that.' And I said, `You're on your own.' […] He was 10. And so we threw him out of the house. [Laughs] He's been on the road ever since". Zak's take: "He gave me one lesson when I was 10, then told me 'If you want to learn the drums, teach yourself,' so I did." He surprised many with his determination. He would come in every day from school and play to the music through headphones. "I used to drive my mum insane."

Zak with Keith  ©1978-2002 Danny Clifford -   And then of course, there was the dominant influence of Who. At about age of eight, he discovered Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy in his parents' record collection and was hooked. He also realized that he already knew the drummer! Legend has it that it was actually Keith Moon who presented Zak with his first drum kit.
Zak & Keith

"There were parties all the time at our house in the early Seventies," he remembers. "There'd be all these grown-ups who wouldn't take any notice of us kids. But Uncle Keith would always hang out with us, chatting or drawing or painting. Once, he turned up with presents at 11 o'clock on Christmas morning in a horse and carriage, dressed up as Father Christmas." - Zak, Daily Telegraph, May 24 1997

According to Pete Townshend, "Keith used to be a kind of musical godfather to him. He gave him his first drum kit, which I think is rather strange. Ringo may have actually given him his first drum kit, but I think Keith gave him the first drum kit that he really wanted. It had nude women on it." - Oct 1996 Ira Robbins interview

His father's "teach yourself" method was for Zak to put on some headphones and play along with records; advise he took to heart. By ten or eleven, he was playing along to Quadrophenia and others, including Who's Next and Live At Leeds. By the time he was twelve he was playing in a band, doing pub gigs.

"Moon was apparently surprised that anyone could be influenced by his fluid, dynamic playing. Pulling at his sideburns, he admitted at the Navarro, 'I went to Ringo Starr’s recently. I wanted to bring his teenage son Zak a new drum set for his birthday. When I got there, Zak was playing with the headphones on and I could hear My Generation. But Ringo got mad at me because he doesn't want his son to be a drummer too.' " - Circus, Oct 3 1978 (interview conducted Aug 7, 1978).

Lee,Jason,Zak circa 75His parents separated in circa 1974, and were finally divorced in 1975. While growing up, Zak had an open invitation to flee to 'Uncle' Keith's West End apartment. "See, during my puberty, Moonie was always there for me, while my old man was far away in Monte Carlo or somewhere". Sadly, Keith died Sept 7, 1978.

young zak Zak's first band was The Next, of which he was the youngest member. They made use of Startling Studios (located inside his dad's 'Tittenhurst' estate) or when booked used one of the other empty buildings for their practices.

One source politely states that at 16, he told his father that he was through with school, and was going to pursue musical paths, and that he moved into a lodge cottage on 'the old man's' Tittenhurst estate upon leaving school. Another claims he had little choice in the matter. From the age of 12 on, he was well entrenched in "that whole rock and roll thing, and drink was part of it." Each morning, he would leave home as if going off to school, but instead, he would meet up with older, wilder musicians to jam and get plastered. He got away with it until the truant officer paid his mum a visit. He was sent to tutors, but it was of little use. In the end, he didn't pass a single O-level. Upon continuing his uncontrollable ways, his father threw him out of the house.

The Next evolved into Monopacific, managed by Peter Butler (Keith's former personal assistant). According to Pete Townshend (1982), Zak has the "most accurate emulation of Keith's style… Luckily Zak also has a style of his own but many have been moved when listening to his explosive solo's to say 'My God! It's him'".

His mother's longtime significant other (they eventually married in 1989), was Hard Rock Café founder Isaac Tigrett. This had it's own perks, and even apparently led to brief employment at some point, according to Fact #22 of 25 Things You Never Knew About Hard Rock Cafe London: "Over the years many children of the stars have worked at the Hard Rock Cafe including Rock Brynner (Yul "The King and I" Brynner's son), Lovely Previn (Andre Previn's daughter), Josh Andrews (Anthony Andrew's son) and Zak, Lee and Jason Starkey (Ringo Starr's children)".

He gained a step mum on April 27, 1981, when his father married Barbara Bach at Maryleborne Register Office, London.

He lists his first professional studio gig as drumming for The Spencer Davis Group, at the age of 17.

"When I was about sixteen, there was a studio very close to where I lived that did quite a bit of business. I got to know the studio owner after jamming with him in a pub one night. From then on I started to do a lot of sessions there. It was mostly stuff you've never heard of, but I did some work with the Spencer Davis Group, who had reformed at the time. I was getting paid like fifty pounds a day, and I thought that was it, I had made it." - Zak, Modern Drummer July 1997

Zak's next band was produced by Who bassist John Entwistle, right around the time John had been helping out on dad's Old Wave album. NIGHTFLY, who Ringo described as "heavy and hard, but I'm not allowed to call it 'heavy metal'" (NME 12 Dec '84) featured ex-Bad Co & Whitesnake members.

This was not the first opportunity to work with Entwistle:

"When I was sixteen or seventeen, he was at a gig I was doing at a place called Dingwalls in North London. He saw the band I was playing with and asked if I could do some work with him, but I was busy with the band".
Too busy for John Entwistle?
"There's a lot of loyalty involved in being in a band-an awful lot. I was in a band with these guys from the age of fourteen. I had been in bands with the bass player since I was a kid, and had been with the other guys for something like three years. You don't just drop everything. Luckily John called me again when I was nineteen" - Zak, Modern Drummer July '97

Sarah, Tatia,  Zak 1985On Jan 22, 1985. Zak married Sarah Menikides in a secret register office wedding. Not even his parents were told of it until after the event. On Jan 24, 1985, dad throws a small celebration party at 'Tittenhurst Park'.

His first release credited to him as artist occurred June 24, 1985, with the release of Eddie Hardin & Zak Starkey's Musical Version of Wind in The Willows. There was talk of staging it in London in 1986, but it did not happen. (But a Live concert presentation was done in Germany in 1991)

Zak became a father on Sept 7, 1985 when Sarah gave birth to their daughter Tatia Jayne Starkey. (Thus making his dad the first Beatle grandpa.)

Zak from A.S.a.P posterIn 1985 and '86 Zak was involved in a number of "charity" projects, such as The Crowd's version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" for the Bradford City Disaster Fund, The Sun City anti-apartheid record, and the Anti-Heroin project's It's A Live-In World. His session work credits were also growing during this period. For a brief time, Zak filled the drummer's slot in the band Icicle Works (1988). In 1989 he was anchoring A.S.a.P, Adrian Smith's (of Iron Maiden) solo project. And in 1990, Zak's band ICE did a brief tour and released a full length CD in Japan, on which he plays drums as well as guitar on most tracks. (He even stepped out from behind the kit for a few numbers on guitar during these Japanese shows.)Zak from ICE cover

His dad's first major project after his 1988 alcoholism rehab, was the 1989 All Starr Band Tour. Zak sat in on drums at LA's Greek Theatre, as well as a few other dates. Zak would be a main player for All Starr's #2 in 1992, and again with pal John Entwistle in 1995 for The 3rd All Starr Band. Dad on Zak's style: "He's a more technical drummer than I am…He's got good timing like I do, but my style is more laid back. His is certainly not laid-back, let's put it that way. He knows how to hit those buggers."

He was recruited into the 'almost Who' in 1994, when Roger Daltrey took his "Daltrey Sings Townshend" event on the road. Zak was elated to have "beaten out some name drummers" to get what he described as his "dream gig". The band included John Entwistle, Simon Townshend and enlisted the help of the various venues' local area Orchestras. In an brief Sep '94 interview from this tour, published in BeatleFan, Zak reveals that he has been "on the wagon" for 17 months. The tour, though originally scheduled to go on to Australia and the Far East, ended in October. (They did regroup a year later, September '95, for their live appearance at the Who Convention in Shepherd's Bush, London.)

Around this time, Zak and Simon Townshend were gigging around in their band Animal Soup. A number of tracks were recorded for an LP, some of which were later reworked and released by The Simon Townshend Band on the CD Among Us. Although Zak was not a member of this band (the drumming spot now belonged to Simon's son Ben), he does play a bit of guitar on the tracks "Ecstasy Heaven" and "When She Sleeps".

In late Sept 1994, his mother Maureen, battling a form of leukemia, underwent a bone marrow transplant at The Fred Hutchinson Center for Cancer Research in Seattle WA. Zak was the marrow donor. She survived 63 days following the transplant. Surrounded by family, she passed away on Dec 30, 1994 due to complications caused by an infection.

The DST show was slated to go on into 1995 to the far east and Australia, but it didn't materialize. Now with time on their hands, The Ox and Zak were free to join up with the 3rd All Starr Band's tour. That tour was cut short on Aug 24, 1995 (cancellation of last 4 shows), when Zak's sister Lee collapsed in London, and was later diagnosed with a brain tumor. In September, she traveled to Boston MA, where she was (on Sept 16th) successfully operated on and later received a series of follow-up radiation treatments.

A Dec 4, 1995, German teletex reports that while "his sister indulged a wild life-style before her operation, Zak has no ambitions to attend the commotion that father Ringo likes so much. 'I am a fanatic Englishman. When I'm somewhere else, I search for 'Eastenders' episodes on TV, drink tea or do other things that remind me on home.' Currently Zak is drumming for the band Face."

1996 saw the release of the John Entwistle CD The Rock, of which Zak was an original band member. This had been recorded back in the mid-to late 80's, but failed to get released due to label dilemmas. Zak plays drums on the LP, but apparently was not a member of any incarnation that toured it 'round.

Sarah, Tatia, Zak 1996 In the Spring of '96, not long after joining his next band Face, Zak was asked to join Pete Townshend, John Entwistle & Roger Daltrey as their drummer for a special presentation of Quadrophenia. Billed, not as The Who, but as Pete put it, "a Who Thing", (often referred to as TED) Quad was performed on June 29, 1996 in London's Hyde Park as part of the Prince's Trust Benefit. Apparently all went well, as a German Teletex from July 7, 1996 proclaims: " ZAK STARKEY TO JOIN THE WHO: … Zak Starkey has been forced to quit his up and coming British rock group Face - to become a permanent member of The Who. The delighted 29[sic]-year-old drummer was reportedly given the news on Monday after he played with the band at the Quadrophenia concert in Hyde Park. Starkey has already signed up to perform Quadrophenia with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle for six nights at New York's Madison Square Gardens from July 16 and more dates are expected to follow."

Pete talks about working with Zak:

"We're really pleased to have him in the band. He's just stunning. He's very easy to play with. Mind you, I'm very spoiled with drummers. I don't fuck around anymore. I only play with people who are really easy to play with: Simon Phillips is a different kind of drummer, but he's very easy to play with, he's very much a listening drummer. But what Zak has is a lot of karmic Keith Moon about him, which is wonderful. It's easy to make too much of that - - he really is his own drummer. He has his own style. But he's very intelligent. What he did was adapt his own style as an imitator of Keith Moon -he does a garage band imitation of Keith Moon which is probably unbeatable- but he's modified that, moderated it, in a very intelligent and musical way so that he won't be directly compared. He won't evoke uncomfortable memories for the audience." - Oct 1996, Ira Robbin's interview

Roger had high praise for him in a recent BBC radio interview, and John was quoted in The Boston Globe (Nov 13) ''With Keith,'' says Entwistle, ''we never knew if he'd remember the songs or not. He used to sing all the way through them so he knew where he was. He never used the high-hat. He thought it was a pain ... keeping time with the high-hat. We weren't exactly a normal rhythm section. Zak is more together.''

T.E.D, now billed as The Who, kept rolling along, having performed spring '97 dates in Europe, followed by a return visit to the USA that summer - Presenting Quad and an extended "hits" encore. There were rumours of it continuing on to a second round in Europe late summer/fall -- but they never materialized. It looked as if that faze of "The Who" was over.

Zak's was to have participated in a tribute project that was to have surfaced in '97. The XTC Mailing list "Chalkhills" had this little blurb: "Dave [Gregory]'s recently been working with ex-Take That singer, Mark Owen & he's also looking forward to participating in the Sgt.Pepper 30-year tribute project... They're waiting for Zak Starkey to finish his touring stint with The Who!" Unfortunately, EMI never did get that project off the ground in time.

Zak was also slated to do some session drumming for (Smithereen) Pat DiNizio's solo album - recording of which was scheduled to take place in April '97 with Don Dixon producing. Zak's Who schedule forced him to drop out, and he was to have been replaced by drummer Tony Williams. (Probably best known for playing with Miles Davis, Tony unfortunately passed away Feb 22, 1997).

Late October/early November 1997 brought the announcement that Zak would be the new drummer touring with the UK band The Lightning Seeds!

February 1998 saw the release of "Who's Serious? Symphonic Music Of The Who" This recording with The London Philharmonic was mentioned way back in the 1995 All Starr Tour Book, but only now has been released. Along similar lines, Zak has joined another "All-Starr type" show, but with a classical twist. The British Rock Symphony gave three debut performances in the NY/CT area in April of 1998, with Zak on drums. It featured a full orchestra of musicians from London's Royal Academy of Music, a full gospel choir, and many guests of from the Rock world - including Peter Frampton, Zak, & Leslie West! Zak worked on some studio recordings for this project as well.

Meanwhile, Zak was also busy with the Lightning Seeds both in the studio and on the road. The band appeared at a few UK festivals during the summer of 1998, including the Glastonbury Festival, The V98, and Guilford Festival.

The British Rock Symphony Tour made its way through Europe in the summer of '99 and Zak was along for the ride, as was Simon Townshend! Also, the long promised BRS CD was released in Europe during the summer of '99 and in the fall in the US.

October of 1999 brought a flurry of WHO activity, with Zak on drums! The band played the iBash99 launch party for Pixelon (Oct 29), which earned them more than enough to be able to cover expenses for two charity gigs: Neil Young's Bridge Benefit Concerts (Oct 30, 31) and Maryville Academy Benefit (Chicago HOB, Nov 12, 13)!

November of 1999 saw the release of the long awaited Lightning Seeds album TILT. The band made the promo TV scene (Zak missed a few due to Who activity) and then went out on a mini UK tour in December of 99, and Scandinavia in January 2000.

Late December 1999 was also graced with two WHO shows at the Shepherd's Bush Empire! These and the previous HOB shows were professionally recorded and the resulting CD The Blues To The Bush was released exclusively through MusicMaker.COM on April 10, 2000!!

The Who hit the road for a three leg US tour, which started in June of 2000 continued on through September, with 4 NYC gigs in early October. They returned to the UK for a brief tour in November, which included the benefit show for The Teenage Cancer Trust, which was released on DVD in Spetember of 2001.

with the Healers And, as if The Who wasn't enough to keep Zak busy, there is Johnny Marr & The Healers - with Zak on drums. In May 2000 the band played a number of warm-up club gigs and opened for Oasis on several European and UK dates.! Their CD was originally expected in the fall of 2000, but after doing some label shopping, Johnny started New Voodoo/Pacific, and the first official single, The Last Ride, was finally released Oct 1, 2001.

Though his work with the Healers continued, 2001 was full of reports that The Who were going to step into the studio for work on a new album. Though it did not happen, The Who did rally together, with Zak again on drums, to appear at The Concert For New York on Oct 20, 2001. They performed a blistering 4 song set at this all-star benefit for the victims of the Sept 11th attack on the World Trade Center.

A summer US 2002 Who Tour took place, despite the sudden death of John Entwistle the night before it was to have begun. They managed not only to continue on, but to do it with power and energy as a tribute to John. Quite a few shows were released as "official bootlegs".

2003 will bring the January release of Johnny Marr's Healers album Boomslang on imusic, as well as a brief February US tour, followed by the band opening for Pearl Jam in Australia.

The Bands, Sessions, Gigs section has a more detailed list of his work.

Other Sources include:

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Created: Dec 1996
Copyright © Kathy VanTassell

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