Every classic-rock fan knows the titanic twosome that fronts the [artist id="1159"]Who[/artist]: singer Roger Daltrey and windmilling guitarist Pete Townshend. But as the only two original members left of the iconic British rock band, the duo front a group of backup players who are decidedly more anonymous than late madman drummer Keith Moon and steady-on bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002 on the eve of one of the band’s seemingly endless final tours.
One of the sidemen that stood out for many football fans watching the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza on Sunday was splashy drummer Zak Starkey, who kept the beat on a medley of the band’s most beloved hits : “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You?,” “See Me, Feel Me” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Though at 44 a relative youngster compared to Townshend (64) and Daltrey (65), Starkey is actually a nearly 15-year veteran of the touring version of the Who and a well-regarded rock sideman. He’s played with Oasis, the Waterboys, the Icicle Works, Paul Weller and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. The son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and his first wife, Maureen Cox, Starkey has been a touring member of the Who since 1996.
The gig is a fitting one, considering that Moon was Starkey’s godfather and one of dad Ringo’s best pals before the Who drummer’s death in 1978. In fact, Starkey received his first drum kit and lessons as a child from Moon, despite Ringo’s desire that his son not follow in his rock-and-roll footsteps.
Starkey began performing professional gigs in British pubs at age 12 with his band the Next and hooked up in 1985 with the reunited Spencer Davis Group, lead by Steve Winwood, when he was still a teenager. In addition to touring with his dad’s All Starr Band, Starkey performed with Daltrey in 1994 on the singer’s Daltrey Sings Townshend tour, as well as performing on Entwistle’s solo albums.
Starkey was formally asked to play with the Who in 1996, during the band’s string of special dates performing their iconic album Quadrophenia. He has performed with the group ever since, alongside other longtime sidemen bassist Pino Palladino, rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick.