Richard Starkey was born into a working-class home in the Dingle, a rough neighborhood in Liverpool, England, on July 7,1940. A sickly boy, he spent several years in a children’s hospital, and while there he was taught how to play drums by a percussion band that showed up regularly to entertain the kids. At 16 he bought a $3 bass drum and built a kit around it out of tin cans.
In 1959, Richard—now called Ringo—became popular around Liverpool drumming for Rory Storme & the Hurricanes, a skiffle group that would evolve into the city’s top rock’n’roll band.. .until another outfit called the Beatles started competing with them.
When Ringo joined the opposition in mid-August 1962, he hit the ground running, for the Beatles had just landed a contract with EMI and were beginning one of the most remarkable careers in music history. Within a year and a half, Ringo was an international celebrity.
Because of his sweet, placid nature-coupled with the fact that he rarely sang and didn’t begin writing songs until late in the Beatles’ career—Ringo’s talented, often volatile mates overshadowed him. He was often perceived as the "dull" or "dumb" Beatle.
However, as John Lennon remarked to Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow show in 1974, "He ain’t dumb."
After the 1970 breakup of the group, Ringo enjoyed a string of with Rory Top 40 charters, including two #1 hits, "Photograph" (which he wrote with his pal George Harrison) and "You’re Sixteen," in 1973. He also starred in a dozen or so films, including That ’ll Be the Day. Now closing in on 50, Ringo is married to his second wife, Barbara Bach, and has been a grandfather for five years. He returned to the limelight last year with a successfiil 30-city American tour. He also, in his own words, "returned to the land of the living" by entering a detox center and ending his alcohol dependency.
We spoke to Ringo in Beverly Hills.
SH-BOOM: I understand you changed your name to Ringo Starr while you were with Rory Storme’s band?
RINGO: We all thought we’d change our names because show biz means changing your name. [Laughs] So the guitarist called himself Johnny Guitar, and in the end, because we’re all English, we all picked cowboy names like Ty Hardin, Lou O’Brien, Rory Storme and Ringo Starr—because of the rings, which I always wore then.
SH-BOOM: Did the West fascinate you?
RINGO: Yeah, cowboys. Your cowboys were great heroes to us. To an English kid, a cowboy was a fascinating thing, you know, in his leather waistcoat and his black gloves and all that. Also, where we come from, Liverpool, which is a port, is very heavy into country and western [music] because all the guys on the boats would fetch records from America. It’s the capital of England for country-and-western music. We were like the English cowboys.
SH-BOOM: Did you have any drummer idols who influenced you?
RINGO: No, the only drum record I ever bought was Cozy Cole, "Topsy, Part 1 & 2." [Cole was a black jazz drummer from the ’30s and ’40s whose "Topsy" was a huge 1958 rock’n’roll hit.] I used to like Gene Krupa, although I never bought any of his records. It was that type of drumming, though—heavy tomtom stuff—and Cozy Cole was another tom-tom person. I was never into drummers, and I never did solos. I hated solos. I wanted to be the drummer within the band, not the front man. The longest solo I ever did was 13 bars.
SH-BOOM; Did you always want to play rock’n’roll?
RINGO; I was purely rock’n’roll. Drummers or musicians were either going for jazz or rock’n’roll. I used to get so mad at the drummers who wanted to play jazz. I always felt it was like rats running around the kit if you played jazz, and I just liked it solid. So we’d have these great, deep discussions about drums. It was all so exciting then.
SH-BOOM: How’d you meet the Beatles?
RINGO; I was playing with Rory for 18 months or two years. We’d all played the same venues, and at the time, Rory and the Hurricanes used to be top of the bill, and there’d be all these other bands on, and occasionally the Beatles would play. It ended up that they were the only band I ever watched, because they were really good, even in those days. Just one morning I was in bed, as usual, because I don’t like getting up in the day, I live at night, so a knock came at the door and Brian Epstein said, "Would you play a lunchtime session at the Cavern with the Beatles?" And I said, "Okay, okay, I’ll get out of bed," and I went and played with them. They were doing very few of their own songs then, but they were doing really great old tracks—Shirelles’ tracks and Chuck Berry tracks—they did it so well. They had a good style. I don’t know; there was a whole feel about Paul, George and John. And Pete [Best], it’s no offense, but I never felt he was a great drummer. He had one sort of style, which was very good for them in those years, I suppose, but they felt, I think, that they wanted to move out of it more. So I played the session, then we went out and got drunk, and then I went home.
SH-BOOM: So it was a one-shot deal.
RINGO: It was, but we [already] knew each other. We met in Germany when Rory played there and so did the Beatles, but we didn’t play with each other.
SH-BOOM: Was that gig an audition?
RINGO: No, Pete wasn’t well or something, so they needed a drummer for the session. So I went and played, and that was all there was to it. This went on for about six months where every couple of weeks I’d play, for whatever reasons. Then there was some talk about me joining, and I was asked would I like to. I said yeah, and then went away again with Rory to play a holiday camp for three months. About five weeks into this three-month gig, Brian called and asked if I would join the Beatles. I said, "Yeah, I’d love to. When?" And he said, "Tonight." I said, "No, I can’t leave the band without a drummer," so I said I’d join Saturday, which gave [Storme] the rest of the week to find a drummer. I left on Saturday, played [with the Beatles] on Saturday night, and it was in every newspaper. There were riots. It was okay when I just joined in and played a gig and left, but suddenly I was the drummer. Pete had a big following, and I had quite a following too, so there was this whole shouting match: "Ringo never, Pete forever" and "Pete never, Ringo forever!" But they got over it. Then we went down [to London] to make a record, and I’m not sure about this, but one reason they asked Pete to leave was George Martin, the producer, didn’t like Pete’s drumming. So then, when I went down to play, he didn’t like me either, so he called a drummer called Andy White, a professional session man, to play the session. But [Martin] has repented since. [Laughs]
SH-BOOM: I understand that there were two versions of "Love Me Do."
RINGO: You’re right. I’m on the album, and [White’s] on the single. You can’t spot the difference, though, because all I did was what he did, because that’s what they wanted for the song.
SH-BOOM: So Martin handed you a tambourine instead.
RINGO: Yeah, and told me to get lost. I was really brought down. I mean, the idea of making a record was real heavy. You just wanted a piece of plastic. That was the most exciting period of records, the first couple of records. Every time [our records] moved into the 50s [on the charts], we’d go out and have dinner and celebrate; when it was in the 40’s we’d celebrate. We knew every time it was coming on the radio, and we’d all be waiting for it in cars or in someone’s house. We wouldn’t move for that three minutes. So I was really brought down when he had this other drummer, but the record came out and made it quite well. Prom then on I was on all the other records, with my silly style and silly fills. They used to call it silly fills.
RINGO: Everybody used to say, "Those silly fills he does."
SH-BOOM: Yet your style turned drumming around for lots of people.
RINGO: But we didn’t know that then. Everyone put me down, said that I couldn’t play, and they didn’t realize that was my style, and I wasn’t playing like anyone else. That I couldn’t play like anyone else.
SH-BOOM: You liked to play the toms.
RINGO: That was my style. Also, I can’t do a roll to this day, and I hit with the left first, while most drummers do it with the right first. I can’t go around the kit either. I can’t go: snare drum, to tom, middle tom, floor tom. I can go the other way. So all these things made up these so-called funny fills, but it was the only way I could play.
SH-BOOM: At the Beatles sessions, how much creative input were you allowed?
RINGO: Well, at the beginning, George Martin dictated a certain amount, and then it was John and Paul’s writing to consider. See, what helped me a lot was that I had three frustrated drummers around, because everyone wants to be a drummer for some reason. John could play and Paul could play and George could play, but they had one standard style. We all have one standard style, but they only had one sort of groove, where I have two or three. John and I used to have, not arguments, but discussions because we’d be playing all these records, and he’d say, "Like thatl" And I’m saying, "But, John, there’s two drummers on there," and he could never hear there were two drummers.
SH-BOOM: You played a little Ludwig kit, I remember.
RINGO: They would give me a couple of free kits because I was a Ludwig drummer. I used to play that mini kit on stage.
ouldn’t hear shit! But it was good for me to get behind because I’m not that tall, so I looked bigger with a small kit, so at least you could see me.
SH-BOOM: But by then it didn’t matter how you sounded in concert, did it?
RINGO: No. That’s why we stopped.
SH-BOOM: George Harrison once said that he felt Beatlemania was some sort of hysterical outlet for people. The four of you must have wondered what was going on?
RINGO: Well, we enjoyed them getting their hysterical needs out because no one came to listen to our gigs. They bought records to listen to. They just came [to the concerts] to scream and shout, which was fine, but after four years, I was becoming such a bad player because I couldn’t hear anything. Because of all the noise going on, all I had to do was just constantly keep the time, so we’d have something to follow. If you look at films, you see I’m looking at the [others’] mouths, I’m lip-reading where we’re up to in the song because I couldn’t hear the amps or anything. We were becoming bad musicians. So we decided to go into the studio. It was pointless playing onstage anymore.
SH-BOOM: Didn’t you leave the Beatles at one point?
RINGO: I left for two weeks. I felt that the other three were really together and close, and I wasn’t part of the group, so because of that feeling, I felt I wasn’t playing well. I went around to John, knocked on the door and said, "I’m leaving the band, man. You three are really close, and I’m getting out." And he said, "I thought it was you three." So I went around to Paul and said the same thing, and he said, "I thought it was you three." I said, "Well, I don’t know who it is, but I’m going on holiday." I went to Sardinia for a couple of weeks to clear my head, and that’s when they made "Back in the U.S.S.R."— which I wasn’t on. Then I came back to the White Album which, I felt for me, was really a much better album than [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band] for the group.
SH-BOOM: Why do you say that?
RINGO: Well, we were much more like a band. We’re like session players on Pepper, using all those orchestra and sound effects. I mean, it was good fun, but I felt like we were getting more like a group on the White Album again.
SH-BOOM: I heard that Paul had been critical of your playing on the White Album before you left, and that that’s one of the reasons you left.
RINGO: No, I left for the very reason I told you. And while I was away, I got telegrams from John saying, "The best rock and roll drummer in the world," and when I went back, George had the whole studio decorated with flowers. So Paul may have been pissed off, I don’t know. He never actually said to me, "That’s not good," so I don’t know where that rumor came from. He was never that critical.
SH-BOOM: John and Paul wrote most of the Beatles’ songs, but you began to write too, didn’t you?
RINGO: First of all, I used to rewrite Jerry Lee Lewis B-sides and not really know it. I just put new words to all the songs, and I’d fetch this song in. It took me years to fetch a song in because I, as much as anyone else, was in awe of our two writers, who I felt were the best writers around. So I’d write my little songs, and I’d be embarrassed to fetch them in because of John and Paul. So then I started fetching them in, and they’d all be laughing on the floor— "Oh, you’ve rewritten ‘Crazy Arms’!" [Laughs] So then I started writing a bit more like: "I listen for your footsteps, coming up the drive," some song I wrote, don’t know the title anymore. ["Don’t Pass Me By"] That was the first one that we did of mine. But they used to write songs for me, tailor-made, because they knew my range, and it was like a personality thing I used to put across, or then I’d pick [a] country song because I always liked country and western. Then I wrote "Octopus’s Garden." [Chuckles] I always mention "Octopus's Garden."
SH-BOOM: That’s the first one you were proud of, wasn’t it?
RINGO; Well.. .it was so silly.
SH-BOOM; Did you write it on your holiday in Sardinia?
RINGO: Yeah. We were on this boat, and they offered us this meal. We’d ordered fish and chips—fish and french fries to you Americans—and the fish came, and I said, "What’s that?" There were legs and things. And the guy says, "Oh, it’s octopus." Being English, that blew me away. "Are you kidding? Nobody eats that. Tentacles, it’s not fish, it’s jet-propelled." Then I got talking to the captain, and he was telling me the story of octopuses building gardens under the sea. They find shiny rocks and tins and whatever, and they build these gardens, and I found it fascinating. I was sitting on the pier one day and wrote "Octopus’s Garden" for me and the children. And some days you really feel like you’d like to be there, under the sea, in an octopus’s garden, because it gets a bit tough out here, and it was a tough period then.
SH-BOOM; Are there Beatles recordings you’re particularly proud of?
RINGO: I still think the finest stuff I did was on "Rain." "Rain" is my all-time favorite drum track.
SH-BOOM; After the Beatles broke up, how did you go from the best to. . .what?
RINGO: It’s not even just the best. A lot of it was telepathy. We all felt so close. I felt so close to the other three that we’d know when any of us would make a move up or down within the music, and we’d all make it. No one would say anything or look at each other, you’d just know. The band worked so well, and we were four good friends a lot of the time, but like any four friends we had rows and shouted and disliked each other for a moment. Then it ended, and I started playing sessions and had a really good time, but I was just playing. That band was something special to me, and it’s never been like that again.
Robyn Flans is a Reseda, California, writer who covers the drum beat.
Ричард Старки родился 7 июля 1940 года в рабочем квартале в Дингле, суровом районе Ливерпуле, Англия. Мальчик часто болел, и он провел несколько лет в детской больнице где его и научили играть на барабанах в группе перкуссионистов, которая регулярно появлялась там чтобы развлечь детей. В 16 лет он купил басовый барабан стоимостью 3 доллара и смастерил вокруг него набор из жестяных банок. В 1959 году Ричард, теперь называемый Ринго, стал популярен в Ливерпуле играя на барабанах в группе Rory Storme & Hurricanes. Это была скиффл-группа которая стала одним из лучших рок-н-ролльных коллективов в городе до тех пор пока другая группа, названная Битлз, не стала конкурировать с ними. Ринго "удачно спрыгнул с поезда" когда присоединился к конкурентам в середине августа 1962 года, потому что "Битлз" только что заключили контракт с EMI и начали одну из самых замечательных карьер в истории музыки. А через полутора года Ринго стал международной знаменитостью. Из-за своего нежного и спокойного характера и в сочетании с тем, что он редко пел и не писал сам песни вплоть до поздней карьеры Битлз, он находился в тени своих талантливых, но часто ветреных товарищей. Его часто воспринимали как "скучный" или "молчаливый" Битл. Однако, как заметил Джон Леннон Тому Снайдеру на шоу Tomorrow в 1974 году: "Он далеко не глупый". После распада группы в 1970 году Ринго занимал строки в чартах Rory Top 40 со своими двумя хитами № 1 "Photograph" (которые он написал со своим приятелем Джорджем Харрисоном) и "You’re Sixteen" в 1973 году. А также снялся в дюжине (или около того) фильмов, в том числе и в "Вот это будет день".
Ему сейчас почти 50 лет, Ринго женат на второй жене, Барбаре Бах, и уже стал дедом пять лет назад. В прошлом году он вернулся в свет рамп с успешным американским турне по 30 городам. По его словам, он "вернулся в жизнь" поборов свою алкогольную зависимость в центре реабилитации. Мы поговорили с Ринго в Беверли-Хиллз.