At age 73, Ringo Starr, the world’s most famous rock and roll drummer, has no plans to slow down. He’s just embarked on a tour of South America with his latest incarnation of the All-Starr Band, a troupe that includes Todd Rundgren, Toto’s Steve Lukather, Gregg Rolie of Santana/Journey fame, multi-instrumentalist Mark Rivera (Billy Joel/Foreigner) and drummer Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth/ELO).
Also just published is a remarkable new book, Photograph. A limited edition of 2500 copies with all proceeds channeled to The Lotus Foundation, this Genesis Publications tome, half bound in Italian leather, is a work of art. The book weaves together an extraordinary assemblage of over 250 previously unseen images culled from Ringo’s personal collection—many taken by Ringo himself–and vintage facsimile ephemera spanning his entire career. In terms of its depth and scope, Photograph serves as a mini memoir offering revelatory nuggets that offer a candid and charmingly evocative snapshot of a life well lived.
Rock Cellar Magazine was fortunate enough to speak with Ringo one-on-one for an exclusive new interview – enjoy it below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’ve mentioned in the past that you had little interest in an autobiography as most people want to focus on the Beatles years, which was just a small part of your life. However, looking at Photograph and reading your wonderful commentary, it really feels like this is your official autobiography in words and photographs.
Ringo Starr: Well, that’s what I’ve come to believe. I’ve been asked to do the autobiography but I have no real interest and I haven’t had an interest in doing that for twenty years now. But I started looking back on my life on the records I’ve been making and there’s always a song about Liverpool. So I thought I’ll do it on record; they were like three or four minute autobiographies and then last year when we started looking at what I have and we started archiving, surprise surprise, I did find all these old photographs and I also found two books of negatives, which just blew me away.
So I thought I’m gonna do a book this way. I’ll put a selection of the photographs from when I was one years old, which is the first picture in the book up through my early days growing up in Liverpool and through the Beatles and my solo career all the way up to the All-Starr Band. That’s a good clear amount of time that we can cover properly.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The photos and accompanying text really evoke a sense of time and place.
Ringo Starr: Oh yeah. I have a million more photos but then it makes the book too cluttered. It wasn’t the easiest thing to go, “No, not that one.” (laughs) or “I’ll keep that one.” But you have to watch when you’re doing that so you don’t get attached to something that only means something to you.
Rock Cellar Magazine: There are wonderful photos in the book along with heartfelt memories of your mother Elsie and your stepfather Harry. From what I can gather, music was a big part of your household and the parties they threw helped instill that great love of the classics. What kind of music were you hearing in the household?
Ringo Starr: It came from my stepdad because he loved all the big bands. He taught me all about the big bands—Billy Daniels, Billy Eckstine, all the Billy’s we used to laugh about. He was a really good singer. At parties in Liverpool everybody has to sing. He did one incredible thing that I have also passed on to my children. When I was playing the music I was playing he would never say, “Oh that crap!” He’d always say, “Oh that’s fine but have you heard this?
And it would be Sarah Vaughn or Ella Fitzgerald or whoever but he did it in such an incredible way that I thought I’d do the same thing when my kids were growing up. They were playing what they were playing and I’d say, “Oh, but have you heard this?” (laughs) so I’m passing that experience on to my kids; I don’t know if they’re doing it with their kids but I did I because of Harry.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do you think that influenced the direction of your first solo album, the standards collection Sentimental Journey?
Ringo Starr: Oh definitely. They say about me as a drummer that I swing no matter what. It’s always got an edge of swing to it (imitates a beat), even if it’s straight rock and roll and I think I got that from him.
Rock Cellar Magazine: As a kid, you were in the hospital for two extended periods, often over a year. There are photos of you in your hospital room in the new book. How did all that time spent away from your family and being stuck inside a hospital affect your outlook on life?
Ringo Starr: I think that really hard to tell. How can you measure it? I mean, how were you affected by something that happened to you when you were seven-years-old? I can’t say that it made me like that. The one thing that it did make me realize is I never want to go back into hospital. (laughs) But I think it must have had some effect on me. You can’t sit in a hospital bed for two years of your life and not be affected by that experience. It has to do something to you. I’m not saying it was a bad thing or a good thing but it must have had an affect on me someway.
Rock Cellar Magazine: I guess the one good thing that came out of spending all that time in the hospital is that’s where you first became interested in the drums on a very primitive level.
Ringo Starr: Very primitive, yeah, I was a 13–year-old boy in bed and played a seven inch snare drum (laughs). You never know when the ball starts rolling for some people but I know exactly where my love of drums started and that was in hospital.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You were playing with others in the hospital?
Ringo Starr: Don’t forget, we were in the ward and they would send people in to keep us busy. I also learned how to knit in hospital because that was sort of a thing you could do in bed.
Rock Cellar Magazine: I actually need a knitted scarf, can you help?
Ringo Starr: You need a scarf? (laughs). I’m gonna make it for you! (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Why did you pick drums over guitar or bass? I know you also played piano early on.
Ringo Starr: We always had a piano in the family, not actually in our house but in our family. It was of no interest to me. And my grandparent’s banjo and mandolin was of no interest to me. And they gave me those instruments. I might have just thrown them into the fire.
For some reason, from the age of thirteen I only wanted to be a drummer. It was one of those things and guess what? It happened.
Rock Cellar Magazine: There are wonderful images of you in the book with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at Butlins. What did you learn from that band in terms of showmanship/entertaining?
Ringo Starr: Rory was quite the showman and I Iearned about being in a band from him. We were very close and Rory was the showman and he also booked the gigs. He was the manager/show guy and in the Grammy Museum’s exhibit on my career there’s a great letter that he sent me. It was a letter because we didn’t have phones. He sent me a letter telling me, “We’ve got a gig on Thursday and I’ll bring your cymbals and your money.” (laughs) Imagine these days doing it by post: it’s like mad. But that’s how it was.
We knew we had a gig on Tuesday but if Rory got us another gig he’d have to write us a letter. I didn’t have a car. It was very difficult for a drummer in those days when you didn’t have a car. I’d take the snare drum to the gigs and I’d beg a drummer at the gig who’d had his whole kit there to let me add my snare to his kit. Sometimes they said yes and sometimes they’d say no.
And when I did get a car and would be able to take my kit to the venue, other drummers would ask me, “Can I use your kit?” and I’d say “Sure.” I’d tell someone he could use my kit and this guy sat on the drum stool and he put his feet on the beater of the bass drum like he was on a motor bike and was doing this (imitates pedaling). I had to say, “Excuses me. Get off!” But anyway, that’s how it was.