Former Beatles drummer Sir Ringo Starr on marriage, lockdown and hanging out with music legends
His youthful appearance and fizzing energy belie his 80 years – and had it not been for Covid-19, the man born Richard Starkey in a working-class area of Liverpool would have been on the road in 2020. But it turns out even a former Beatle cannot escape the consequences of a global health crisis.
As it stands, Sir Ringo’s All Starr Band is set to return to the stage in June, though he admits the plans are far from set in stone owing to the continued disruption caused by the virus.
The pause in performing gave him a chance to look back on three decades with the group, putting together the book Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All Starrs.
Reflecting proved to be an emotional experience, Starr explains from his home in Los Angeles. “The first band was like everything else – it’s brand new. And, ‘Oh, wow, it’s working’. And actually, people are coming to see it. That’s the good news. And I had a lot of great players.”
Musicians who have been part of the ever-evolving line-up include Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, rocker Peter Frampton, New Orleans musician Dr John and R&B star Billy Preston, among others.
Starr is arguably the world’s most famous living drummer and as one quarter of the Fab Four was a member of the greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time, a band that changed the face of popular music and was at the heart of a cultural revolution, the reverberations of which can still be felt today.
He spent 10 years in The Beatles alongside the supernova talents of Sir Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, and admits that being the frontman in his All Starrs band was a nice change. “The only master plan is that you have to have number one singles,” he says.
“You have to have top five records... it’s all hit records. And it gave me a chance to be down the front, Mr Personality, while playing the drums for all these other tracks. So, I won both ways.”
In the absence of touring, Starr has been keeping himself busy by making new music – the single Here’s to the Nights, an uplifting track perfect for the pandemic, features a star-studded guest list including Sir Paul McCartney.
It will appear on the appropriately named EP Zoom In, due for release in March. “I like to do stuff, so I’m just doing stuff,” Starr, who was knighted in 2018, says while discussing the difficulties of recording amid the pandemic.
“I have a little guest house here and it’s now my studio, it’s been my studio for the last 10 years actually. This time it was a little awkward because people were getting tested to come and play. Or, if they had a studio, they could play in their own place. So that took the pressure off the lockdown a little because I was drumming and singing and hanging out with musicians.
“I do go to the gym quite a lot. And I also took half of the gym, and now that’s where my paint studio is. So I can make a mess without Barbara getting crazy.”
Barbara is of course actress Barbara Bach, his wife of 39 years, who is best known for playing Bond girl Anya Amasova opposite the late Sir Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me.
While lockdown proved to be the undoing for many a relationship, the Starrs are as strong as ever and he describes being with Bach as a “pleasure”, while reminiscing about their first meeting. “I love the woman,” he says. “I loved her from when I first saw her at LAX in 1980. She was at the airport with a boyfriend and I was at the airport checking in, and we happened to be going to Mexico to do the same movie.
“And that’s how it happened. Not like it was a big plan. It was just ‘OK, here we go’. And we get on real well together. Of course, some days, I don’t do it properly. My room’s not tidy. I mean, regular s*** that goes down in any couple that has been together a long time. But I’m blessed she’s in my life, that’s all I can ever say.”
The Starrs have had their permanent base in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade. Sir Ringo cites the glorious Southern California sunshine as one of the biggest attractions (“This is just such a bad place to get through the pandemic, isn’t it?”) but he also loves the fact his famous friends are just a call away.
When putting together Here’s to the Nights, he flicked through his star-filled phone book and had Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl and Grammy-winning blues musician Ben Harper over by the following Monday.
It can be dizzying speaking to a music legend as he casually mentions the other celebrities in his near orbit. Name-dropping is probably the wrong expression – after all, former Beatles are the stars towards which others gravitate – but it brings home his significance in not just the musical world but the wider cultural universe.
I am conscious that on the other end of the phone is a superstar. Which brings us on to another – Sir Paul McCartney, the other surviving ex-Beatle.
The two former bandmates had just got off the phone when I called. The two knights of the realm took to the stage together in July 2019 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, to the delight of the millions of Beatles obsessives around the world.
So, can Starr promise a repeat when Covid-19 is vanquished, some light at the end of the tunnel for us all to look forward to?
It is something he is open to. “I love that, getting up with him,” says Starr. “We did it at the O2 in England (in 2018). And then he called me and he said, ‘I’m doing Dodger Stadium, if you want to do a few numbers’.
“Sure. So he picked three numbers, and I got up and went down there. And it’s magic for the audience as well as us. I love playing with him. The audience is like, ‘Oh, there’s two of them! Wow’. It lifts everything, in a joyous way. So, yeah, I had a great time.
“We’re still pals. We don’t hang out with each other a lot. But if we’re in the same country, and if we’re in the same town we always have dinner, and we say hi or he comes over here, or I go over to his house.”
Our call comes to an end, but not before some wise words from the man himself. While the pandemic offered the chance to look back, the world’s favourite drummer prefers to look forward. “You know, life goes on.”
Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All Starrs is available now from www.juliensauctions.com