He was the drummer of what is arguably the most influential rock band of all time — and at 79, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is still recording albums, touring and performing.
But Starr’s story is anything but a fairytale: as a child he suffered from tuberculosis; he worked on boats and in factories before hitting the bigtime; and he suffered from alcoholism that was so severe, he ended up in rehab.
Still, his love of drums never wavered, and in a new q feature interview, he talked with host Tom Power about everything from his knighthood to how he first got introduced to drumming.
You can check out the audio above — and here are 10 things we learned along the way.
When he was recently knighted, it wasn’t under the name Ringo Starr
The former Beatles drummer is best known as Ringo Starr, but when he was given knighthood at Buckingham Palace earlier this year, Prince William used his real name: Richard Starkey. Now he’s Sir Richard Starkey.
He recorded his latest album in his one-bedroom apartment
Starr could have access to just about any studio in the world. So why did he choose to record his latest album — which features musicians including Dave Stewart, Edgar Winter and Joe Walsh — in his own one-bedroom flat?
“I live there,” quips Starr, who says he keeps all of the equipment in the living room and has two drum kits and three amps in the bedroom. “There’s no baffle boards, there’s no studio stuff — and this bedroom gives me the greatest sound on my kit. It’s far out. I just didn’t want to go into studios anymore.”
The song Grow Old With Me was written by John Lennon
Starr’s new song Grow Old With Me was penned by his former Beatles bandmate John Lennon decades ago — but Starr hadn’t heard it until former Lennon producer Jack Douglas sent him a CD of songs that Lennon had recorded in Bermuda. At the start of Grow Old With Me, Lennon had left a special message.
“He says, ‘Oh, this would be good for Richard Starkey. This would be great for you, Ringo.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my god.’ It’s so great to hear his voice calling my name,” says Starr. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do it.’ John has written several songs for me over the years, and this one is just perfect for me.”
When it comes to songwriting, he’s not a closer
Starr’s popular 1973 single Photograph was co-written by George Harrison — but in the interview Starr clarifies that he wrote most of the song, then Harrison wrote the ending.
“I used to always go to George to help me end the song. I didn’t have the talent to end a song,” says Starr with a laugh. “I actually have one song that had like 40 verses, and I gave it to Harry Nilsson. He got it down to 11.”
You might not hear many of his new songs in concert
Of course, Starr was the drummer for what is arguably the most influential rock band in history, and one that has an extensive catalogue of unforgettable music. At the same time, he’s releasing new albums.
So how does he balance that when he’s playing live?
“Usually we take one track from the new album. I always say I’d like to thank the five people for buying the CD,” he says with a laugh, “and we usually do one.”
His All-Starr band was inspired, in part, by a stint in rehab
For three decades, Starr has headed up his All-Starr band, which has included everyone from Joe Walsh to Nils Lofgren to Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, but it turns out the formation of that band coincided with Starr going sober.
“They’re actually linked together. I ended up in such a mess. I ended up in a rehab — I haven’t had a drink since — and seven months later, I put the first All-Starrs together,” says Starr, who says it happened because shortly after he left rehab, someone approached him about doing a tour and he “just said yes.”
Then he pulled out his phone book and started calling top musicians, and they said yes too. “I had to stop calling people,” he says with a laugh, “because there would have been 40 of us on stage.”
He learned how to play drums because he had tuberculosis
When Starr was a boy, he contracted tuberculosis, and was kept in bed — but that experience ended up inspiring his drumming career.
“This woman would come in … and to keep us busy, she came in with percussive maracas, triangles, little drums and sticks, and she would point to the red dot and you’d hit the drum, and she pointed the yellow dot, and you’d hit the triangle or the maraca,” remembers Starr.
“That’s when I fell in love with drums,” he continues. “And I only wanted to be a drummer from then on. But of course I had to work on the railways, I had to work on the boats, and I had to work in a factory for several years before it all came true.”
He has published photo books, and most of the pics are taken on his iPhone
Starr is an avid photographer, and he regularly documents what’s around him when he’s on tour — everything from half-eaten food to a boot that washed up on a Malibu beach.
But while he has plenty of pro gear, most of the shots come from his iPhone.
“At least 75 if not more percent of the photos in his book are taken on my iPhone because no matter, I can carry a camera. I pull the iPhone out and I start shooting,” he says. “And, you know, it’s a total mixed bag.”
“My mother always said, ‘Son, you’re always at your happiest when you’re playing your drums.’ It’s a lot of joy, when I play, in my heart.”
He loves beetroot juice — and even paints with it
Starr says he drinks beetroot juice every night while he’s on tour, and loves it so much he even photographs it.
“I just started pouring it on a side plate, and the images were really weird,” he says. “And I took some photos of them.”
When asked what beetroot juice does for him, however, the former Beatle is a little, er, non-specific. “It does a lot, brother,” he says. “Believe you me, it does a lot.”
He still loves to drum
Now 79 years old, Starr has spent more than six decades drumming, and is still passionate about music.
“My mother always said, ‘Son, you’re always at your happiest when you’re playing your drums,'” he remembers. “It’s a lot of joy, when I play, in my heart.”
Download our podcast or click the ‘Listen’ link near the top of this page to hear the full conversation with Ringo Starr.
Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview with Ringo Starr produced by Catherine Stockhausen.
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