On Feb. 9, 1964, a certain mop-topped English quartet made history on The Ed Sullivan Show, their first live American television performance. By April 5, The Beatles had monopolized the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 singles' charts with No. 1 "Can't Buy Me Love," No. 2 "Twist and Shout," No. 3 "She Loves You," No. 4 "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and No. 5 "Please Please Me." America was clearly smitten with John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Speaking of one Mr. Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo Starr, the one-time Beatles drummer has begun work on a new solo album, which he's producing. Not only that, Starr has already departed the calm confines of his Los Angeles home for a national tour with his 13th All-Starr Band.
Since 1989, The Beatles drummer has been assembling a cast of stars in their own right to travel and perform with him all over the world. From Levon Helm to Bonnie Raitt, Nick Lowe, Stevie Nicks, and Slash, the list of band members has long been both bizarre and impressive.
This year's ensemble comprises Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana and Journey), Todd Rundgren, Warren Ham (Bloodrock and AD), Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth), and, of course, Starr. Ahead of the band's North Charleston stop, the City Paper was able to catch up with Starr on the phone, an occasion we still can't quite wrap our heads around.
On Starr's birthday last year (July 7), we confess we did as he requested via YouTube. At 12 p.m., we stopped what we were doing to say, "Peace and love, peace and love" to the beloved Beatle. Who knew that a year and a half later, we'd get to utter those words to him personally? We were even told to address him as simply "Ringo." Given only "seven-to-10 minutes" for the interview, we got eight or so glorious minutes with the rock 'n' roll legend to discuss 1964, the new album, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (the band Starr quit to join The Beatles), and Elvis Presley.
City Paper: So this is a really big year for you with it being the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' arrival to the States. What was your first impression of America when you came here 50 years ago?
Ringo Starr: Well, it was incredible. We landed in New York, and it was just incredible. All of the kids were there waiting to greet us, but we were going to a country where most of the music I enjoyed, and I know the other three loved, was American music. We were like, in America. If you're American, you may not understand that, but for us — four lads from Liverpool — we were in America. How great is that?
Just six months before, George had come to visit his sister-in-law in America. And he came back and said, "Oh, this is really hard. They don't know anything about us." He'd go into record shops there and ask, "You got The Beatles record?" And they'd say, "No, who are they?"
And we were used to [fame] now — we were at the height of England loving us. We'd been to Denmark. We'd been to Spain. We'd done all of Europe and France, and so it was at a certain level. We were wondering what was gonna happen when we went to America anyway. As luck would have it, we landed and we had a No. 1. The whole place went mad, so it was incredible. And personally, we were in America, where the music we loved came from, so it was just an incredibly exciting moment. The New Yorkers — they feel that that's Beatles Land, because it was the first place we'd stopped, but just being in America was really exciting for us.
CP: But you spend your time in L.A. now?
RS: Yes, I live in L.A. I think the British make a choice — they live in New York or L.A. I've had a home in L.A. since 1976 — so I picked L.A. I loved the weather; I loved the atmosphere; I loved the sort of easiness of life there.
CP: Lovely. So, I hear you're working on a new album at the moment.
RS: Yes, I'm in the middle of my fourth record that I've made in our guest house in L.A. The other three worked out really well, so I'm doing another one there. There's a lot of writers there and musicians, and if they ring my bell to say, "Hi," and they can play, then they're usually on the record.
It's no big deal. Let's go, you know?
CP: Who all has collaborated so far?
RS: Well, Dave Stewart — I always call Dave for the Liverpool songs. I've got one on this new album called "Rory and the Hurricanes." Then there's Glen Ballard. Van Dyke Parks. Richard Marx. I did two actually with Richard Marx.
So, it's friends in town, and they come over, and I've got the tracks. I usually have the basic ideas and the atmosphere of the song, and we hang out, write it, and then I start putting brass or piano or whatever else it needs — more guitars and musicians who are in L.A.
So it's a very easy sort of style we do it in. And halfway through, if it's not too busy, I can walk the dogs or go have a cup of tea with [my wife] Barbara. I love the atmosphere of working there.
(Publicist signals we have three minutes left. We start to feel a little sad about that.)
CP: What is the title of the album? Have you worked that out yet?
RS: I haven't titled this new one yet. It changes in my mind as the tracks go on. I wrote a song with Gary Nicholson out of Nashville. He had an idea for a song called "Let Love Lead," and I thought that was a great title. And we had another title, "Breathe." You know, every time you work out, the trainer's saying, "Breathe." And you're sort of holding your breath, which isn't a good thing.
CP: I love that you have a song called "Rory and the Hurricanes." So, I suppose you feel like you made the right decision all those years ago?
RS: Ah yeah, I did [laughs]. Yeah, I did. But if you look back at the last four CDs I made, there's always a Liverpool song. And this one's about certain moments with Rory and the Hurricanes, when we first came to London for the very first time. People say, "Well, you should write your autobiography." And I don't want to write the book, you know — only one book about those eight years with The Beatles. I always say, "Well, there'll be 20 books before I got to 1962"
CP: So you're just going to say it in song ...
RS: I am. I'm putting it in songs. And also I have a special-edition photograph book called Photograph, which is coming out next year. And that has lots of memories, lots of quotes, lots of portraits I'd taken, and lots of photos I found — and I could reminisce about that. And so I like to do it that way. Not to sit there and say, "Oh yes, it was Tuesday, 1992, and this happened." You know?
So that's it, so what are you doing with yourself, Kelly?
CP: (Freaks out. Ringo Starr just said my name.) Well, I'm working away in Charleston and being really nervous about talking to Ringo Starr, for starters.
RS: Oh, you never have to be nervous.
CP: Have you ever been this nervous about speaking to someone who may have been one of your idols growing up?
RS: I tell you the truth. I was a little nervous when we all met Elvis, this huge hero of ours. And we were all like, "Ooh, it's Elvis." But I've never been really nervous, and I've met Fats Domino, a lot of people as we've been going around. But I think Elvis was the "nervous" one, because he was like The Guy for us. For me, I came in with Bill Haley, and Bill Haley felt like your dad. And Elvis was the first one who felt like a lad. It was great.
(Publicist says our time is up)
RS: All right, well I'll let you get on with the rest of your day.
CP: Thank you. Can I ask you one more tiny question?
RS: Yeah, go on.
CP: How do you like your tea?
RS: My tea? I like green tea now. I don't really drink English tea [laughs].
CP: All right. Well it was so lovely speaking to you. Peace and love, Ringo, and thank you so much.
RS: Oh, thank you. Peace and love, Kelly. Great. Peace and love.