Reference Library: Ringo Interview
From: email@example.com (Raenna Peiss)
Subject: Old Ringo Interview (a bit long)
Date: 4 Jan 1995 21:36:45 GMT
[from _Oldies_ Fall 1989, published by now defunct radio station WKSG]
A STARR IS REBORN
Interview by Gary Graff
During last summer's world tour--his first in more than a decade--Ringo
took some time out to talk about winning his battle with alcohol, his
relationship with the other Beatles and the thrill of being back on stage.
In the Fab Four's pecking order, Ringo Starr was unquestionably
the Fourth Beatle. Paul McCartney was the cute one, John Lennon was the
wry social conscience of the band and George Harrison was its spiritual
Then there was Ringo, born Richard Starkey 49 years ago in
Liverpool, England. He became known for the rings on his fingers, his
abundant charm and gift for witty wisecracks, his big smile and floppy
After the Beatles split up in 1969, Ringo's celebrity was suspect.
He had some musical success--particularly with his "Ringo" album in 1973,
which included two #1 singles, "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen"--but
never matched his ex-mates as a commercial powerhouse. His foray into
films also yielded lukewarm results, although he was great fun in the 1981
Mostly Ringo has made a living out of being an ex-Beatle.
Unfortunately, that legacy has disregarded his musical accomplishments.
"He's an underrated cat, really underrated as a drummer," says Dr. John,
a.k.a. Mac Rebennac, a member of the All-Starr Band Ringo recruited for
last summer's U.S. tour--his first ever and the first by a Beatle since
Paul brought Wings to America in 1976.
Fellow All-Starr member Nils Lofgren, from Bruce Springsteen's E
Street Band, echoes Dr. John's praise. "It's not often I can lend my
heart and soul to someone else's thing," Nils says. "But if there's
someone you hit it off with and have a good feeling about, you hang on to
that. And Ringo's that type of guy."
For Ringo, the tour was a summer of celebration. It marked his
return to music, as well as his first nine months of sobriety. Last
October, he and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, checked into a clinic in
Tuscon, Arizona, to overcome years of alcohol abuse. Now, says Ringo,
he's clean, healthy and ready to take on the music world again. And with
sunglasses on, his hair back in a ponytail and the ever-present cigarette
in hand, Ringo sits backstage at the Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago
before the second concert of the tour and discusses his life.
OLDIES: This is the first time you've been on tour in years. How does it
feel to be back on stage in front of these huge crowds?
RINGO: It's fabulous. It's a good rock and roll show with songs you know
and love, and a lot of surprizes, too. The audiences have been very warm
and kind to me, and they love the show. I did a radio phone-in program
the night after the first show [in Dallas], and callers said they really
O: Had you considered touring before now?
R: I was asked to go on tour in 1978 and talked to a lot of people about
it. But I just couldn't get around to it, I suppose. We just talked
ourselves into oblivion or something.
O: Was it difficult putting together a repertoire of music for the tour?
R: Nah. I'm just playing what I feel is my best shot for this tour. I'd
be silly not to. There are some Beatle numbers, some of my solo numbers.
People would be disappointed if I didn't do "Yellow Submarine" or "A
Little Help from My Friends." "I'm not here to disappoint people.
Even if we make an album of original songs and tour again, we'll
still have to do some old stuff. It'd be foolish to go out and just do a
new album. Most acts I've seen that do that fail miserably. You've go to
relate to the people.
O: What happened in your life that finally led to this tour?
R: This year, I'm sober. The biggest change in my life is being sober.
Once that happened, I said to myself, "What do I do? I can't just sit here
being sober. I work and I play drums; I play with other musicians."
O: How bad did your drinking get before you went to seek help?
R: I wasted a good number of years. If you look at the last four years,
it's hard to think of anything I did. It kind of snuck up on me, and
suddenly I realized I was out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, I felt I
was comfortable--but the only way I was comfortable was with a drink in my
hand. That gave me all the confidence in the world. If you look at any
interviews, anything I've done, there's always a drink and a cigarette. I'm
still smoking, folks, I just don't drink.
O: Did your therapy and counseling help you find out more about yourself?
R: I'm finding some answers. In a way, it's a miracle that it can happen
at all. It doesn't happen in a flash in one day. You have to work on it.
We got a great grouding [at the clinic] in Tuscon, where we went for five
weeks. They set you up and tell you, "It's up to you now." There was a
real support system for me.
O: Has being sober increased your confidence?
R: Oh, as a drunk you have a lot of confidence. Being sober, you have a
much better confidence.
O: So how did the idea for this tour come about?
R: The way this all came together was me sitting in my apartment in Monte
Carlo saying, "You're going to go out. How are you going to do it?" I
knew I wanted a bunch of great musicians, but I also didn't want to be up
in front all the time. I wanted to have fun on the drums, playing with
other great artists. I wanted top-notch singing musicians.
O: Well, you've certainly recruited an ace group of veteran musicians for
the tour. [Ringo's All-Starr Band included Dr. John, Lofgren and fellow E
Streeter Clarence Clemons, former Eagle Joe Walsh, Billy Preston, ex-Band
members Levon Helm and Rick Danko, and drummer Jim Keltner.]
R: Oh, they're the finest musicians in the land. I'm relly overwhelmed by
it. The joy and love they show me--just by agreeing to come out with me,
not knowing what I was going to be like--that's stunning. And it's not
like this band needs me. They've all got careers in their own rights, so
it's really not "my band." The first three days of rehearsal were really
fun and fabulous for us, but then we realized that we had better stop
jamming and find some order.
O: There aren't many stars, let alone a Beatle, who'd be willing to step to
the back of the stage like you have.
R: That's the truth. I'm right there playing the drums behind them,
supporting them like they support me. Everyone supports everyone in this
band. There's no ego madness or anything like that.
O: Is there a particular reason why, including yourself, there are three
drummers in the band?
R: I wanted three drummers. I play drums, so let's have drummers up there.
If I played flute, I'd have five flutists on stage. I love being down
front; I've never done that before. I've always been behind the kit, so
this way I'm doing both.
O: Over the years, you haven't recieved the same kind of public respect
and reverence for your musical skills that, say, Charlie Watts or the late
Keith Moon get. Yet other musicians, particularly drummers, hold you in
high regard. Does that lack of respect bother you?
R: Not any more. In the early days, that was going around. People heard
that I wasn't good in '62 and '64 and kind of kept along with that. But
that's okay, because it's not up to them. I have to realize, in the end,
that I know I'm a good player. That's what's important, and that other
musicians think I'm a good player.
O: With that said, how would you evaluate yourself as a songwriter?
R: I'm famous for bits. I'm great for two verses and a chorus; after
that, I get into trouble. Look at all my writings--it's with George or
Joe Walsh or other people. I'm great for hooks: [he sings] "Back off,
boogaloo" or "Photograph..." or "I'd like to be, under a tree, in an
O: So what did you think of Rhino Records' greatest un-hits collection,
which includes some of your past work?
R: I thought it was good. I worked with the guy who did it and we were at
least able to put some tracks from my "Old Wave" album, which didn't come
out in America. That's how you can tell who the real fans are, the ones
who are shouting for something off of "Old Wave."
O: While we're on the subject, what's the latest news on your legal
battle to prevent Memphis producer Chip Moman [who several years ago
staged a reunion with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl
Perkins] from releasing the album you recorded with him two years ago?
[Ringo is suing Moman, charging that the album is of inferior production
R: I can't really talk about it. We're talking to judges right now and
all that, so I really have nothing to say. We're having a problem and
it's being dealt with. In my opinion, that's an album that should not
O: Even though you've gotten your act together, so to speak, have you--or
do you even want to--shed your Beatle past?
R: I'm a Beatle. That's the biggest thing you can be in life in rock and
roll. That's what I am. Everything I do relates to that. That's why
you're interviewing me, because I'm an ex-Beatle on tour. If I was just
Ringo Starr, no way, man, you wouldn't be interested.
O: Your former band mates have had plenty of work released in recent years.
What do you think of it?
R: I think George is brilliant lately. He's really come around. We all
have our slow spots, but because it's the ex-Beatles, no matter what we
do, you just can't sneak it out. It's big news all the time. If I went
out there with a crowd of performing dogs, there would be some interest.
It's a fact that whatever any of us does, people will want to know what
Paul's been pretty steady, too, more steady than George and me.
He's put out at least one album a year most of the time--not that they're
all great or that they've done a lot, but he's kept at it. He gets a
winner every couple of years.
O: What do you think of Paul's latest album, "Flowers in the Dirt?"
R: I haven't heard [the whole album], to tell you the truth. I called "My
Brave Face," his single, "My Old Face" at the press conference announcing
the tour and now everybody brings it up. I say it once and it haunts me
O: You're probably sick of the questions, but how are the three of you
getting along these days?
R: George and I, at this moment in time, are closer than Paul and I. But
as far as I'm concerned, none of it is a definite thing. If you look down
and then look up again, suddenly George and I are on an album, I'm in a
movie with Paul, Paul's written a song for me. It keeps going around,
depending on who gets on the rocking horse.
We've been in court for 19 years. That's nothing new. Sometimes
we get flashes of good inspiration, even though we're in court, and we can
put that behind us. Then suddenly it rears its ugly head and everything is
O: Do you think you'll ever work with them together in the future?
R: Paul has said that if the lawyers get out of the way there's a chance.
But a chance for what? If the three of us play together, it won't be the
Beatles; it'll be Ringo, George, and Paul. And I have no burning desire
to do that. Oh, sometimes I have a throwback in my brain that remembers
the great times we had together and how well we played together. But that
was a long time ago. We've all moved around since then. I have a
fabulous band with me now. I can't imagine more interesting people.
O: When you were a Beatle, it was hard to have a normal life because you were
always swarmed by fans. Is that still the case?
R: Not really. After 30 years you get used to being a big star and you
don't let it get in the way of your life anymore. My line was that it
always got me a great seat in a restaurant.
If I wanted to get into it, I suppose I could be trapped in the
house, running into the hotel, into a gig, always hiding, no privacy.
It's all those little prisons you put yourself in. It's turmoil; you
fight for all this recognition and once you get it you start hiding.
It's great now, though. Everyone's been real kind. If they want
an autograph, we sign it. If we don't have time, no one screams or pulls
out your hair. We still have people outside the hotel and I do as many
hellos and autographs as I can on the walk-in.
O: So is this tour Ringo's re-entry into active musical duty?
R: Yeah, of course. We've got 30 dates to play. I would certainly think
there will be a live album from this show, so that'll be next. And as we
all chat together--on the bus and on the plane and in the dressing rooms--
we have great plans for writing together. I would love to do an album of
origianl music with this band.
FOR THE RECORD
7 BEATLES SONGS ON WHICH RINGO SANG LEAD
Honey Don't (1965)
Act Naturally (1965)
What Goes On (1966)
Yellow Submarine (1966)
With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)
Octopus's Garden (1969)
"Matchbox" and "Honey Don't" were remakes of songs Carl Perkins did for
Sun Records in 1956-57; "Act Naturally" was a remake of Buck Owen's 1963
[Ringo also sang lead on "Don't Pass Me By". -dh]
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