A Conversation with Ringo Starr
Mike Ragogna: Ringo, you've been working with the same musician pals in your All-Starr Band since 2012. How has the group evolved as a unit, personally and musically?
Ringo Starr: Everyone is a really good musician! They all have the songs, including me. This is about hits and beautiful songs, and emotionally, we all get on really well. Every time we do a tour, we think, "Okay, that's it." Then suddenly someone says, "Do you want to tour in a couple of months from now?" and we all say, "Yes," so we keep on rolling. Right now it's four years and a week that we've been together. It feels like being in a band. We've been around each other all this time--not every day of course but at least three or four months a year. It feels like a real band to me. We all realize if someone's going somewhere we can all go with him as musicians, you know?
MR: You featured the band on your last album, Postcards From Paradise, plus you collectively wrote "Island In The Sun" so it's evolved on that front as well.
RS: It has! I've tried with every band to write songs and record, and last year was the first time we achieved it. We were in Biloxi. We had a jam going that was really cool and we had some sort of idea of a melody--just everybody shouting while we were jamming. I just called everyone to my room and said, "Let's write this song." So that's what we did, and then we got back to L.A. and recorded it in my studio. It's really great. It's a lot of years waiting to achieve this. The other one... I had a track I had already done--I'm working in reverse, I get the tracks and then write the songs--and I thought, "It would be cool to use the words 'Lovers Under Mr. Moonlight,'" and then I started writing other Beatles titles--half of them I named, anyway. So I got as far as I could get and then I gave the track and all my notes to Todd [Rundgren] and he went away. Then a couple of weeks later, he sent me the finished product and it was great. That's another good thing you can do when you know each other.
MR: This is blurring the line between your solo albums and your All-Starr Band.
RS: You're absolutely right. It's a pity we didn't make some records on the first gig, then we'd have the product to be with. It's beautiful to me. After this tour, we have a summer break and then we're all going touring again in October. It just goes on and on and on. You'll call me five years from now and I'll say, "Yep! We're still together!"
MR: Great! What does going out on the road do for you creatively?
RS: It satisfies the reason I started doing this, the dream, when I was thirteen in hospital, to play drums. I came out walking around Liverpool looking in music shops, I only ever looked at the drums, and I fell for them. I wanted to be a drummer. Then I got my first kit and in those days, if you had the instrument, you were in the band because we were all just starting out and learning. The first band I was in, Eddie Clayton was my neighbor and he worked in the same factory as I did, he was one of those guys who could really play. I just started playing drums with him, and then my friend Roy [Trafford] played bass, and thanks to Lonnie Donegan, we were playing skiffle. Skiffle was very big in England and certainly in Liverpool. There were hundreds of bands in Liverpool, and I just kept moving up. I got to Rory a few bands later and that was a great band, and then I got to The Beatles. I loved The Beatles front line and then I was in the band. It's like the dream keeps on unfolding. I love to play, and that's why I'm still touring, and that's why I'm still in a band; It's pretty difficult for a drummer to go out just with his drums.
MR: Is it possible the camaraderie is also keeping you going?
RS: It's pure joy. I just love to play, and I love to play with good players, and I achieved that also. That's what I was thinking as a teenager, "I'm going to play with better bands, better musicians," and I moved my way up and in my case I ended up in the biggest band in the land and we were all great players and great songwriters. If you look at when I started making albums myself, I had a lot of incredible musicians playing on those records. I've tried to keep that in mind all the time. When I put this band together, who knew? It was another All-Starr Band with great songs that would probably last a year, so who knows. Now, four years later, it still works. We're still touring and I'm still getting a lot of joy.
MR: It was beautiful that you respected LBGT rights of the North Carolineans. Canceling that concert must have been hard, but what was making that decision like?
RS: I just think it's outrageous that people are still putting signs up and pointing out the differences of these kids. I know two sets of parents whose children are going through this. PBS did a great show on these teenagers; it's hard enough transitioning and then you want to make a big sign on it. People have said this before; well you'd go to jail for being gay in America or England, then you could be gay but you couldn't get married. Now you can get married. Who is it hurting? Nobody! It's enough to go through transitioning since that's how they were born! Everybody has been touched by God. We've all got a soul, and these kids are born with a body that doesn't belong to their being. They need to be the other way and they know that. Now it's great because it's coming to the fore. There are three year olds who are feeling, they don't want to be Bobby, they want to be Betty. How hard is that? They're like three or four in this dilemma. And then they're teenagers. I just think it's cruel of North Carolina to put a big sign saying, "You're different, we don't want you, you'll do this." Nobody has done this. Even the chief of police came out and said, "Well, we haven't had one incident ever." Whoever that woman is who keeps promoting it like, "They're gonna do things!" She should think of the kids who are transitioning. There also are adults transitioning, but there are a lot of children, and we have to look after them. Now you've got me on my high horse here!
MR: [laughs] No, it's beautiful, not to worry.
RS: It's all about the kids. Let's be loving and kind. Let's be understanding. What will it do to you? Nothing. Just be kind and loving and peaceful. How hard is that?
MR: And that's where I want to go next. For your birthday, July 7, you want everybody to pause at noon for a moment of Peace and Love.
RS: We're putting that in the paper now to get everyone ready. I've done it in Germany, I've done it in England, I've done it in many cities in America but we seem to be settling in to doing in L.A. at noon, when everybody in Europe has gone to bed. I'm making a strong motion to try and get the news out that at twelve your local time, wherever you may be--on the bus, in the factory, wherever--you just stop for one moment and say, "Peace and Love." It was started by someone who said, "What do you want for your birthday?" and I thought, "How great if everybody said, "Peace and Love." I'm still working for that. They do it in Japan, they do it in Russia, they do it in a lot of countries. But I think if I promote it more, maybe more people will do it.
MR: Your message of "Peace and Love" must be a little harder to get out there lately because of all this ugly political rhetoric. Ringo, what does "Peace and Love" mean to you these days?
RS: It's not harder for me, brother. I just keep doing it. Several times in the press, I've been put down. "Oh, he's Peace and Loving again" Yeah. I'm only Peace and Loving, and people get uptight. That's too bad, this is what I do and I've done it for many years now. What I get out of it... I have this dream that one day--one year, one month, one day, one hour--all over the world, everyone will go, "Peace and Love." That's what I'm working to. And I have faith it will happen.
MR: What guidance do you have for new artists trying to find their way now?
RS: They have to do the same as I did. You play clubs, you play the best you can, you try and move on up. I don't know if it's as important anymore to make a record but it was huge for The Beatles. A piece of vinyl was like, "Oh my God, that's incredible!" Now we're trying to be modern also; The Beatles are streaming now on every streaming site. Somebody told me the other day that we've had, since Christmas Eve, a billion streams. How far out is that? The Beatles' music is still relevant. The generation of today actually listens to it too, and the generation before them! It's not just us and people who were around when we were around. It just keeps moving on. It's really far out that the gift of The Beatles' music is still relevant out there musically.
MR: Thank you so much for your time, Ringo. Peace and Love, sir.
RS: Peace and Love!
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Remaining Tour Dates:
June 21 Foellinger Theatre, Fort Wayne, IN
June 22 PNC Pavilion, Cincinnati, OH
June 23 Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI
June 25 Pinewood Bowl Theater, Lincoln, NE
June 26 Hartman Arena, Wichita, KS
June 28 Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO
July 1 Humphreys Concerts, San Diego, CA
July 2 The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA