Ringo Starr turns 77 today, so to celebrate here’s an interview I did with him for Take 218 for our An Audience With… feature.
Topics include: Butlins seasons in the late Fifties, acting with Peter Sellers and, of course, The Beatles.
“Pepper – yes, all its good points, it was great,” he said. “But there was a lot of downtime. The White Album, we were rocking.
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“I was just in the car coming here,” begins Ringo Starr. “They were playing ‘Eight Days A Week’ on the radio, and it rocked. You know, it rocked!” Starr is marvelling at the remarkable early accomplishments of The Beatles while installed in a hotel suite in Los Angeles. There, he is in throes of promotional duties for his new solo album, Postcards From Paradise. In fact, it is proving to be a particularly busy year for Starr: apart from his new album and an upcoming tour for his All-Starr Band, there is the not so small matter of his induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame – the final Beatle to enjoy such an honour. But according to his publicist, Starr has spent the last few days fielding questions on two current news stories: the departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction and the death of Cynthia Lennon. Fortunately, a temperate mood appears to have prevailed, and Uncut finds Starr well disposed towards a bulging postbag. “So what do you want?” He asks, adopting a mock serious tone. Indeed, an encounter with Starr is best described as good-natured. He is happy to chat about subjects as diverse as from his formative experiences playing in Butlins, his friendship with Peter Sellers and also the eight years he spent as a Beatle. A few months shy of his 75th birthday, one wonders what the secret to Starr’s positive disposition is. “Peace and love!” He booms. “That’s right, brother!”
What is your favourite period of The Beatles? And what is your favourite drum fill on all he Beatles records?
There’s too many great drum fills! I think one of the all-time killer drum fills for Jeff is “Free As A Bird”. I did do some fills and I do have a style. I’m a left-handed person playing right-handed drums. So that gave me a whacky attitude to the fills. I can’t go snare drum, top tom, floor tom. I can only go floor tom, top tom, snare, because I lead with my left. So for me, the fills were fine. I always put them in what I call ‘the right place’, never over when the singer was singing. Those early years, we were learning, we had very little microphones. Somehow, I just came up with the open hi-hat. I didn’t know anyone who was doing it, it gave it a lot of ‘shushyashushyashushyashushya’. I always loved that. If you listen to early records, that really comes into play. But then there’s ‘A Day In A Life’… You know, I like the whole song, the whole track. I liked what Paul played, and John’s rhythm and George’s guitar was in some cases as important as any words. Great solo work. I can’t really tell Jeff what my favourite is, because there’s too many of them. I think they’re all my favourite, if I’m doing them!
How did you and I meet? I was “there”, so I can’t remember.
Van Dyke Parks
Yeah, Van Dyke was “there” and I truly understand why he wasn’t there! I was in a house in Woodrow Wilson Drive here in LA, I was borrowing it from a friend. I’d moved over to LA in ’76, and Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke came to see me, to hang out. They’d just been on an interesting journey of hallucinations. That’s how I met Van Dyke. He came in and we got on well right away. I worked with him through the Seventies, through the Eighties occasionally, the Nineties and now into the 2000s. But that’s where we met. It was a great experience. And he was with my best friend Harry Nilsson, of course, so that was that. But Harry’s no longer with us. He’s been gone 20 years now. I still miss him.
From around 67, your drumming style changed quite dramatically. Especially on things like “I Am The Walrus” and “Flying”, it’s not quite as syncopated. Where did that come from, why did it change?
The songs had changed, our attitudes had changed and our well-being had changed. I think all that came into play. It was like a natural progression: “We’re going that way, let me do this now.” I think it’s just a confidence thing. Certain things happen in your life. He’s absolutely right. I did have a drumming change of direction, the only thing that stayed constant was my time keeping. And also people could hear the drums better than the early Sixties when we were on four-track, where it was the drums and the vocals and a tambourine, say. If anything was going to get lost on the tracks, it was always the bass drum. I love all the remasters, because you get to hear what I was playing!
I love your unique drum playing. I guess it’s intuitive but were there drummers who influenced you and whose style you tried to emulate?
No. Really, when I listen to the records, I hear the whole thing. I never said, “Oh, that’s Carl Palmer.” I didn’t have hero drummers. I went to the movies and saw Gene Krupa in a movie and that’s about it. I just ound my own style. The interesting thing, when I started playing, if you had the instrument you were in the band. You didn’t have to be great. We all learned together. So, no, I didn’t have any big heroes, drummers.