Zak Richard Starkey was born on 13 September 1965, at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in Hammersmith, London, the son of The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) and Maureen Starkey, Starr’s first wife.He grew up at Sunny Heights at St George’s Hill in Surrey and Tittenhurst Park at Sunninghill, Berkshire and attended Highgate School in London until 1981.
At the age of eight, Starkey was given a drum kit by The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. Moon (known to young Zak as “Uncle Keith”) was one of his father’s closest friends and Starkey’s godfather. Although they never sat together at a drum kit, Moon discussed drumming with him as a boy. The drum kit was later sold at Sotheby’s for £12,000.
Starkey subsequently began teaching himself to play the drums. His father gave him only one lesson, but discouraged his growing interest because of the desire not to see him in the same business. Although Starr has praised his son’s abilities, he had always regarded him as a future lawyer or doctor. Starr’s close friend, Kenney Jones, drummer for The Faces and Moon’s replacement in The Who, stated that he “virtually taught” the young Starkey to play drums.By the age of twelve, Starkey was performing in pubs as a member of the garage band The Next. After Moon’s death, Jones gifted the teenage Starkey a white drum kit formerly owned by Moon, which had been kept in storage by The Who.
In the early 1980s, Starkey appeared with a re-formed Spencer Davis Group.
On 22 January 1985, he married Sarah Menikides. Their daughter Tatia was born on 6 September 1985. Shortly after his marriage, Starkey recorded a musical version of Wind in the Willows with Eddie Hardin. In 1992 and 1995, Starkey toured with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, having previously guested on the band’s 1989 tour. He briefly joined The Semantics, replacing founding drummer Jody Spence, during the recording process for their album Powerbill, which ended up being unreleased except in Japan. He joined the band when they moved from Nashville to Los Angeles, and played in some shows and some recording sessions, but the band broke up less than a year after he joined.
In 1985, he joined his father on Sun City by Artists United Against Apartheid and played on John Entwistle’s solo album The Rock (released in 1996). He replaced Chris Sharrock as the drummer in the Icicle Works in 1989, leaving the band the next year without appearing on any recordings with them. A B-side later issued by founder member Ian McNabb, featured him on drums and is presumed to date from his tenure with the group. Starkey also played on the 1989 album Silver and Gold, a solo work released by Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith.
In 2000, Starkey was a founding member of Johnny Marr & The Healers, although their first album, Boomslang, would not be released for another three years. On 14 April 2001, he featured in both of the backing bands for the “Steve Marriott Tribute Concert”, which also featured Humble Pie, Rick Wills, Rabbit Bundrick, Bobby Tench, Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller.
Starkey performed at Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday party on 7 July 2010 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. He joined his father and guest stars Yoko Ono, Nils Lofgren, Steven Van Zandt and Jeff Lynne for “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Give Peace a Chance”.
In 1994, he joined John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey of The Who on a tour entitled “Daltrey Sings Townshend”, which had developed from a two-night performance at Carnegie Hall to celebrate Daltrey’s fiftieth birthday. In 1996, Starkey left his band Face, to work with The Who on their Quadrophenia tour. He received good reviews in this role and was praised by the music press for his strong drumming presence, without trying to emulate the band’s original drummer Keith Moon. Both Townshend and Daltrey stated that Starkey was the best match for the band since the death of Keith Moon.
Starkey with Roger Daltrey of The Who in concert
On 20 October 2001, he performed with The Who at the Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden. This was heralded as The Who’s “comeback” performance and they stole the show. Rolling Stone called their performance “one of the 50 moments that changed rock and roll”. It was also one of John Entwistle’s final appearances with the band. On 7 February 2010, Starkey appeared with The Who during the half-time show of Super Bowl XLIV at the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida.
During 2004, Starkey joined the Britpop band Oasis and was also featured on two tracks included on The Who’s biographic album, The Who: Then and Now. In May 2005, Noel Gallagher revealed to the BBC that Starkey had participated in the recording sessions for Don’t Believe the Truth. Starkey had recorded all but one track of these sessions which were originally called “Mucky Fingers” and were also for an official promotional video for the album. After the completion of these sessions Starkey stated: “It was amazing. They’re all singers, they’re all guitar players, they’re all songwriters, they’re all producers and they’re all drummers.”
He travelled as a sideman on the year-long Oasis tour that followed and appeared in promotional videos for the associated singles. Despite this, he was not an official member of the band and rarely appeared with them in promotions. In April 2005, Noel Gallagher confirmed that he had been invited to be their official drummer and added that this could not materialize before his current working engagements with The Who were completed in mid-2007. Their former drummer also had to be “paid out” contractually out of the band. On 14 February 2007, Starkey appeared with Oasis when they received the BRIT Award for outstanding contribution to music.
His participation in the making of the Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul, was confirmed on 11 December 2007, when the official Oasis website published a picture of him with the other band members.However, it was announced that he would not perform on the Dig Out Your Soul Tour after falling out with Noel Gallagher subsequently departing in 2008 and was replaced by Chris Sharrock. A year later he recalled that playing with them was “massive” and called the band “some of the smartest musicians I’ve ever met”.
Starkey was not available to record for most of The Who’s 2006 album Endless Wire, as he had been on the road with Oasis and only had time to play on one track. However, he did join The Who for The Who Tour 2006-2007 in support of the album, during which they headlined at Glastonbury Festival in 2007. The tour finished at the Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Finland on 9 July 2007. Pete Townshend’s official website stated that Starkey was afterwards invited to become a full member of The Who, stating: “Some of you may have noticed in one of my recent diary postings that I welcomed Zak into The Who as a permanent member. This is something he doesn’t feel he needs or wants. Let’s just say that the door is always open to this amazing musician and whenever we can, we will always try to make it possible for Zak to work with The Who in the future.”On 12 July 2008, Starkey played drums for the Who at the 3rd annual VH1 Rock Honors, which celebrated the band’s long career.
In 2008, Starkey formed the band Penguins Rising which had previously been called Penguin, along with his partner Sharna Liguz. The band’s original line up also included his daughter Tatia.Penguins Rising went on to support Kasabian and Beady Eye on their respective tours.
On 30 March 2010, he played with the band during their performance of Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. On 12 August 2012, he played with The Who at the finale of the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony and later that year, on 12 December, he joined them at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief. Starkey also joined The Who on their 2012–13 Quadrophenia and More tour, but he had to back out in February 2013 when he developed tendonitis. Scott Devours, the drummer on Roger Daltrey’s Use It or Lose It tour, was called in to take over on drums for the remainder of the tour and therefore appeared on the Quadrophenia Live in London album instead of Starkey.
Starkey did, though, join The Who for their tour of North America. On 28 June 2015, Starkey once again joined the band as they performed as the headline act at the world-famous Glastonbury Festival, and played with them at other shows in 2016 as part of The Who Hits 50! tour, which had started in 2014.
In September 2016, Starkey was interviewed by Rolling Stone about the new covers album he was working on with Sharna Liguz, compiled with songs that had influenced them. They recorded these with the original members from each of the relevant bands. Funding for album’s ten tracks was raised by a crowdfunding campaign through the Pledgemusic site. Under the name SSHH, Starkey and Liguz also recorded other tracks. In October 2016 Starkey performed with The Who at Desert Trip on the grounds of the Indio Polo Club site that hosts the annual Coachella festival in California. On 23 September 2017, Starkey once again joined The Who on stage as they performed as a headline act at the Rock in Rio festival, and he joined them for the 2019 Moving On Tour. He also appeared on select tracks on their comeback album WHO in 2020.