Q&A with Ringo
RINGO STARR Q&A: Exclusively for the Norwegian Wood festival, Ringo Starr was kind enought to answer a Q&A about his Liverpool upbringing, Paul McCartney, his solo career, The Beatles and the upcoming All Starr Band tour of Europe.
Q: Two long time friends of yours and former All Starr Band members, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh, will also play the Norwegian Wood Festival…Are there any special fond moments with Walsh & Co you’d like to share with us?
Ringo: There are so many with Joe of course. He has been my friend forever and he married Barbara’s sister so he is now family no one plays better than Joe. He is an incredible guitarist and an incredible human being. Timothy – he needs to get his act together. That long hair is out of style!!! [Laughs]
Q: You being one of the most distinctive and influential drummers in rock music, does the fact that you are two drummers in the All Starr Band affect your drumming? Does it make you adapt your drumming style?
Ringo: No. I don’t have to adapt. We play well together. It is good. It is interesting for me as it gives it more power. If you look at the first All Starr tour there were 3 drummers. Levon on my right. Jim Keltner on my left and I was in the middle; I was so insecure. We had a huge front line and 3 drummers and they all came out for me to try and make it work.
Q: How does it work with Gregg Bissonette?
Ringo: I need another drummer when I’m down at the front doing Little Help, or Photograph. When I’m drumming we are double drumming, I love double drumming, it is a lot of fun. I’ve known Gregg for several years and then I heard that he did seminars on how I play. He listens and we play well together. We play for the band and not for the glory. Jim Keltner he’s my hero drummer from LA. We play so well together. It is very difficult playing with some drummers as they are too busy. I never feel it is a competition.
Q: Playing the Norwegian Wood Festival in June will be the very first time you play in Norway. Do you have any musical surprises for us (hint, hint)?
Ringo: I’m surprised I haven’t played there before. I’ve played Finland and Denmark but not made it to Norway before. There won’t be surprises just a great show.
Q: There have been many incarnations of the All-Starr Band. Which one is closest to your heart and why?
Ringo: Well you know it’s an impossible question. The first All Starr band is very close to my heart of course. It happened by accident. I was sitting at home, wondering what to do and had a call to say that Pepsi had offered a promoter money if I wanted to tour. I didn’t have a band so I called up all my friends…. Joe Walsh, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Levon Helm and Nils Lofgren and asked them if they wanted to come on tour in the summer with me.
I’d worked out that I didn’t want to front it all the time and to be up front for every track. I wanted to do my stuff and then enjoy playing with other musicians and playing behind them when they did their songs. So that is how it came about. For the first tour it was like Ringo and the All Starr Orchestra there were so many on stage. There must have been about nine. On several there have been about five musicians. One of the favourites was Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker…the English line up. Simon Kirke was the other drummer. I have another drummer with us because I do several of the numbers from the front, when I become the entertainer.
I put the best All Starrs together that I can. On this tour we have Richard Page from Mr. Mister, Gary Wright, Edgar Winter on the other side of the coin, Rick Derringer and Wally Palmar of The Romantics. It is a completely mixed bag but it works. Greg Bissonette will be drumming again.
I come on and we open it, I’m down front for three numbers then I’m on the kit and everyone else plays their songs and I get a double hit – the chance to play and the chance to perform.
Q: When was the last time you did a European tour?
Ringo: It’s been a long time. About 15 years I think. And we are going to some countries that I have not played in before. The tour starts in Ukraine and then we go to Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Latvia and Poland before coming back to Britain. I’m playing the Liverpool Empire again and Hampton Court this time in London. I’ve been to the flower show there, you go to Chelsea Flower Show and then Hampton Court Flower Show! And then after the 6 UK dates we go to France, Hungary, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and Austria. It’s a long tour.
Q: Which songs will you be playing on this tour?
Ringo: It works out usually that I do twelve songs and the band do twelve songs between them. It has to be With A Little Help From My Friends, Yellow Submarine, Photograph, It Don’t Come Easy, Boys, and we throw in one or two from the new album usually.
I usually go out every two years…a new album comes out January and then we tour in the summer but the timing for this tour is a bit different as Y Not came out last year and the new album will be in 2012.
Q: Do you add lost gems?
Ringo: Sometimes. Not that they are obscure but they are songs that we don’t play a lot. We always do Yellow Submarine, but we threw in Octopus’s Garden one year. It depends how I feel. Some songs just don’t work. Back Off Boogaloo is one of those songs that we can rehearse for a week and it just doesn’t happen.
Q: What would be your dream All Starr band?
Ringo: You can’t do that can you? Ray [Charles] isn’t going to come is he? I think it would be dismissive of the great people I am playing with. I’m not sitting there thinking “if only so and so would play”. I listen to people who want to be in the All Starrs. We ask people who I think might like to be. We have a list of guitarists; a list of bass players (Paul’s always busy [laughs]). We’ve had Howard Jones; we have had a mixed bag and every time you wonder how it is going to work, but we get in to rehearsals and it works.
It is fun to play. Just to be a drummer in a band I love that. And then I do the other part and we get everyone up you know.
Q: Do you play other instruments?
Ringo: Not on tour. In life? Yes I’ll play anything on the piano as long as it is in E. Same with the guitar, as long as it is in C. That’s how I wrote a lot of the songs. I then give it to a genius who transposes it to E or whatever.
Q: You were the first Beatle to really conquer the charts after Beatles broke up. Did that, in some way, bring the feeling of special satisfaction?
Ringo: Yes it was great being number 1. I’d worked hard. I had Richard Perry as the producer, a lot of the All Starrs are on the first albums, if you look at the list of players on those records it was incredible, you can’t fix it. I was in LA. John came. George came in, Paul, they were pals they joined in. We didn’t plan that.
Q: When people hear the name Ringo Starr they think The Beatles. Is that something you fight or is it something you are at ease with?
Ringo: I am at ease with it now. I don’t fight it. It gets boring when I have a new record and the second question is “how’s Paul”. They can’t help themselves. So far I’ve never ordered the PR to say “don’t ask him about that”, I’ve always been open. You can ask me anything and I’ll either answer it or I won’t.
Q: Is there one song that you are most proud of?
Ringo: Photograph is so well crafted. If I look at a song that I’ve written and the end result with George Harrison….I wrote the song, I wrote the words, I wrote the melody, I wrote the chorus, and 3 verses. I never know how to end so George would end the song for me. I actually have one song with about 70 verses! I just couldn’t stop. I gave it to Harry Nilsson to edit and he got it down to 23 verses.
Q: Ringo has demonstrated his affinity for country music as heard on (Buck Owens’) “Act Naturally” and the album “Beaucoups of Blues”. What made you discover country music ? Was it any particular artist that brought the interest in country music?
Ringo: It was Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, old school guys. Liverpool is the capital of country music in this country (Britain). All the guys in the merchant navy lived in my neighbourhood, every other house had someone from the merchant navy and they brought American clothes and music to Liverpool. That’s how we got to hear all this music that we weren’t getting in Britain. My cousin would give me his old clothes including the Little Richard pants….he was two feet taller than me but I felt like a king.
Q: On the album “Y Not”, you have nostalgic flashbacks in the shape of the songs “Peace Dream” and “The Other Side of Liverpool”. What’s your fondest memories of growing up in post-war Liverpool?
Ringo: Every woman in the street is your mother. We were close. I lived in that neighbourhood. I’m doing a Liverpool track on every CD. This will be the third on the new album that will be out next year
All our family was in the neighbourhood. My grandmother was just down the road….any time I got ill my mother would wrap me in a blanket and take me to by Nan and she would fix me up. My auntie lived on the corner. My two best friends who I mentioned in the song were 2 minutes away….we were kids doing what kids do. We were very close. I didn’t really like school. We’d walk through the park, Sefton Park
Q: Talking of Liverpool, what do you miss about Liverpool?
Ringo: I love the humour, I understand the humour. Liverpool is Liverpool. I know what Liverpool is about. I’ve got all my family there, I grew up there. But I’m not a baby any more. I’m not a child. I’ve moved on. That’s just the way of it. I used to go back more when my Mum and my step dad were alive but I’ve not been back since the Year of Culture.
Q: Eric Clapton, who’s also playing the Norwegian Wood festival this year, once mentioned in an interview when thinking back at growing up in post-war England, he kind of remembered it in “black & white”, does the same go for you?
Ringo: No and I’m a bit older than him.
Q: When you start working on a new album do you have a plan?
Ringo: I wake up and think what a great day. I call the engineer and fire up the computer. I have no idea how it is going to turn out.
Q: What musicians are on the new album?
Ringo: Benmont Tench from Tom Petty, Don Was the producer and great bass player, Charlie Haden, America’s premier jazz bass player, Joe Walsh of course, Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard, Van Dyke Parks who wrote a song and is playing accordion. If you look at the back of the Y Not record it is a similar group
Q: Who do you mainly work with?
Ringo: Right now I’m in a great space where I made the last record (and the new record which isn’t out until next year) at home with ProTools. People, musicians, pass by and they are on the record. I record mainly in Los Angeles at home in the guest house
The Christmas before last, when the guests left, I had all the furniture taken out to storage. The ProTools and the board are in the living room / kitchen and the two kits of drums and the amp are in the bedroom.
Q: Do you work exclusively with your engineer Bruce Sugar?
Ringo: Well he has been on a couple of records before. Y Not was the first record that I produced, I’ve always had a producer before and on Y Not I had a producer ready but after 3 weeks I decided that I could produce it. I’m working with amazing musicians and there is very little that you have to say to them, they know what is needed. It was interesting. I got what I wanted and I think it worked well. As a record I can sit and listen to it any time and I’m proud of it.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Q: Are you religious?
Ringo: No. But I do believe in God. In my God. When you say God, it is just the atmosphere. You can be sitting and doing something and a line just comes, I have notebooks and I write down lines. And suddenly that line is a song. It’s the start. And now with my iPhone I can sing to it wherever I am. It is interesting as a writer, usually I write the chorus first, I can jam with the chorus and then with other writers we make it into a song. I love to hang out with other musicians. Most of the time we get something.
Q: Any musical dreams to achieve still?
Ringo: I had a dream at 13 that I wanted to play drums. It took 5 years before I got a set. I made my first set out of biscuit tins and bits of firewood. Then my step dad Harry, who was from Romford in Essex….someone in his family died who just happened to be a drummer and they were selling his drums for £12 and he bought them and that was the first real kit that I had. But I couldn’t carry it as I was on the bus, I didn’t have a car, so I could only carry the snare. I started playing skiffle and then rock and here we are.
The band would always get you to the gig but after the gig they’d be gone. I’d get off the bus and be running up and down the street carrying one drum at a time.
Q: Was there one defining moment?
Ringo: I was playing with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes. I worked in a factory, we all had jobs, and we had a chance to play Butlins for 3 months as the musicians. I was an apprentice, but just thought I want to be a musician. I left H Hunt and Son. It was a huge family decision, they all came round and had the big family talk. I only ever wanted to be a drummer. Another well known Liverpool band invited me to be the bass player, I did think about it for a minute…I thought “oooo, up front” but I love to hit those drums.
Q: When have you played just as Ringo?
Ringo: I never have gone out as just Ringo. Even for the promotion of the last record I went out as Ringo & Ben Harper and his band so that was easy, he is so great, he is a good pal you know. He rocks. We have a „thing” as a lot of his songs are so miserable (laughs) I keep saying “lighten up Ben”. I’m on his new record that comes out any minute now, playing and writing.
Q: What drives you to go on tour?
Ringo: Playing. I’m from that era, I’m from the clubs. On the new record I mention the Iron Door in Liverpool which was a club. I always want to play the Liverpool Empire. Brian Epstein, to upgrade us, booked us in the Liverpool Empire. It was the biggest thing in our family it was so great. I like to play there. That’s where I play, it is my only stipulation, the Liverpool Empire. I played the Echo Arena for the Year of Culture, with a lot of other people, and it was great, it is a great venue but I like the Empire
Q: What is your favourite concert that you’ve played?
Ringo: Liverpool Empire would definitely be one of them. As The Beatles I’d have to say Shea Stadium. Before we got that big Glasgow was always great. It depends on the night. I like playing Florida, anywhere in Florida they love Ringo and the All Starrs. New York is always good, it’s great. Last year I had my big birthday in New York, it was fabulous, all these people came out. So did Mr McCartney
Q: How close are you and Paul (McCartney)?
Ringo: As close as we want to be [laughs]. We are the only two remaining Beatles (although he likes to think he is the only one [laughs]!). The only two who went through it. He is on my last record. I’ve been on several of his. He’s often touring and I’m doing my thing so it just depends. If we are in the same neighbourhood we always say hi.
Q: Has there ever been discussions about doing a whole record or touring together?
Ringo: No. The only thing about touring is that every time I asked him to join the All Starrs he says he is too busy [laughs]…I tell him he’ll have his two numbers!!!
Q: What are the plans to celebrate your birthday in Hamburg on July 7th?
Ringo: Since 2008, we’ve celebrated my birthday at noon. It is the Peace and Love moment. This year we are doing it in Hamburg at the Hard Rock as I have some relationship with Hamburg. Wherever you are in the world at noon, take a moment do the peace sign and say peace and love. It started as my birthday gift from everybody and that was plenty. So that is what we are doing in Hamburg, as well as playing that night at the Stadtpark.
This year I have a T shirt with the Hard Rock for the special signature series. All of my revenue goes to Make A Wish Foundation and some of the Hard Rock revenue goes to Make A Wish. We have a great rapport. I love the Hard Rock.
Q: How long has your charity the Lotus Foundation been going and what is the aim?
Ringo: The charity supports many projects including those working with addiction, battered women, children, cerebral palsy and cancer
Q: How do you choose?
Ringo: We go through the applications together and pick. I always nominate Water Aid. Everyone should have water. We drink out of fancy bottles and there are people drinking slush. That’s one of my pet charities that I like to support
We’ve found out that if we support a charity for 3 years, whether it is paying the rent, the phone bill, whatever it is, they can relax a bit on whatever level we have joined with them
Q: Would you say that you are a musician, composer then producer?
Ringo: I’m a drummer, first, I’m a drummer. Drumming is still my madness
Q: Are there any young drummers you look at?
Ringo: The only one is my son Zak. I never bought drum records, I bought records for the emotion of the whole thing. As everyone knows I only ever bought one record (Cozy Cole’s Topsy) for the drums.
Q: What is Zak doing?
Ringo: He has a new band called Penguins, who are opening for Beady Eye and the other night he played a club and it went well.
Q: Do you ever drum together?
Ringo: Live? Yes, he was on two of the All Starr tours. We had Sheila E and Simon Kirke as well
Q: What are you listening to at the moment?
Ringo: Well when in doubt I always play the blues. Lightnin’ Hopkins is one of my heroes. At 19 I was trying to emigrate to Houston, Texas because Lightnin’ Hopkins lived there and I got a list from the British Consulate in Liverpool of factories I could get work in, and tried to emigrate in a way that teenagers do, or me as a teenager anyway. They gave us some forms, this friend of mine and I, we filled them in, sent them off and they gave us more forms. If they’d have just said yes or no, you never know which way my life would have gone.
I’m listening to Plan B; I love Mumford & Sons’ record, that was great. I don’t usually buy the CD, I buy tracks on iTunes. I’ll spend a couple of hours listening to the new stuff that’s out. But when in doubt it is Ray Charles: it’s the blues, music I grew up with.
Q: Do you embrace the digital / download age?
Ringo: I only embrace it when they pay for it. Of all the downloads today something like 25% are paid for and legal, the rest are stolen. The bands are putting in the effort and they should get paid for that. But unfortunately everyone expects something for free.
Q: Do you buy vinyl?
Ringo: I have a lot of vinyl. A lot of vinyl. But then I think what do I need it for? I’ve just got rid of tapes, cassettes. I have to be forceful and now I’m strictly CD. I bought one of those vinyl to CD machines, but it drives you mad. The programme didn’t seem to realise that the hiss was the gap between songs so it thinks the whole record is one track. I’m sure there are other programmes but I gave it up. There are vinyls I’ve had in my cupboard for years that I haven’t listened to.
Q: What is left for you to achieve?
Ringo: To be a better, more loving, human being. Musically, to have a great night when I am on stage with great players. That’s what it is about
Q: How do you relax?
Ringo: Dinner, movies. Walk round the fields. I’m pretty relaxed anyway
Q: Do you ever think about stopping?
Ringo: I did a long time ago. After every tour I’d say “that’s it I’ve retired”. But now I have no thought of retirement.