Ringo Starr had a reunion with his past yesterday when he got his first look at "Ringo: Peace & Love," an exhibition of vivid artifacts from his life and career, opening today at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Gathered along the walls and within glass cases is Starr's personal collection of memorabilia, from childhood snapshots to his pink satin suit from Sgt. Pepper, and complete drum kits dating from The Ed Sullivan Show to his current All-Starr Band. There are letters from his pre-Beatles days playing with Rory Storm and a small painting by George Harrison celebrating Starr's birthday in 1974.
"It was in several places on the planet and we pulled it all together," Starr said at a press conference at the museum, which has previously shared artifacts from the lives of Harrison and John Lennon. Grammy Museum executive director Robert Santelli called Starr "the most significant drummer in the history of rock & roll."
The effects of early Beatlemania can be seen in a vintage "Ringo for President" sticker and black-and-white photographs of the drummer's parents having Ringo Rolls bread delivered by men in white coats. There is also the black velvet Nudie suit he wore in the Band's concert film The Last Waltz, and nearby is a booth for singing along to "Yellow Submarine" and interactive drum kits where a videotaped Starr gives drum lessons.
Before the press conference, Starr relaxed in the Grammy offices and spoke with Rolling Stone about the exhibition, his upcoming tour with his All-Starr Band and the early stages of a new album.
Is there any one thing in the exhibit that you treasure the most?
The [drum] kit, actually. Not because it's the Ed Sullivan kit, but because it's the kit I loved. It's always the drums. Probably the biggest thing out there is the Pepper suit.
It looks new.
Well, I haven't worn it lately. I only wear it at home.
You seem to have taken very good care of all of this stuff.
I didn't take care of all of it. I was shocked that I had it. It was in basements, it was in storage facilities. It was put in places of safety mainly by two of my assistants through the years in England. I'd like to say I was the one, but no, I was pretty careless, myself. But we found it, which was great.
For a piece of the exhibition, we have to thank my mother. When she died in '86, we took a couple of boxes from the house, and we found the Rory Storm letter that's there, which I love, because I didn't know I had anything like that. There's also letters from Brian Epstein about an important gig: "Dress smart." I was blown away by some of the stuff I found.
What was your reaction when you saw it all together?
I've just seen it and it's a lot to take in, even though it's mine.
Will this exhibit travel anywhere else?
When we started, it was going to go on tour. We had big ideas. But I just wanted it to be here. It's a natural place for it. Then we'll close it down and think again. If you want to see it, you better get down here.
There are a couple of interactive drum kits in the exhibit where you're giving drum lessons.
I am giving the boom-chick lesson. For a while in L.A., I gave a lot of kids lessons in the house. And they loved that you could make so much noise in a house. Some kids, it's just not their instrument, and they're kids, so you can say, "Hey, you know what? I think you should play guitar." [Laughs] "Piano would be great for you!"
I gave my son Zak the boom-chick lesson. It's called the boom-chick because the bass is the boom and snare's the chick – and then the hi-hat. And with my son, a couple of weeks later, I said, "Let's hear you play. Ah, that's really good. Now let me give you the next lesson – which is the boom-boom-chick." And he says, "Oh, I can do that, dad." He was 10. And I said, well, you're on your own. He found his own style and he's an incredible drummer.
Your son has become a major rock drummer, playing with the Who, Oasis and others. It's rare to pass something like that on.
It was hard when he was a teenager [laughs]. It was weird. And he plays great guitar and piano. He's more musical than me. His brother plays drums, too, in a band. All daddy's children played drums.
What do you look for in people you play with?
With the All-Starrs, I like to call it the "1-800 number band." It's a mixed bag but it's great for me, because I get a chance to just be the drummer, and I play to other people's songs. And then I'm the performer – I do half the show down front, because I like the reaction from the crowd. It's a win-win for me. We're going to get all together and tour South America in November, and end in Vegas.
Are you working on new music?
I've started the next record. I've got seven basic, basic, basic tracks – which I do and is how I've done the last three records. I put patterns down with the synth and then I play drums to that. "That's a verse, that's a chorus." With modern technology, it's so great. The notes are there. It's in the key I want, and the idea I want. We'll be bringing in the guitars and bass players and if we get lucky, a big brass section this time.
Was there a point where you realized that interest in the Beatles was never going to fade out?
Some days you wish it did, in all honesty. You live with it. It's gone on a long time. The music's gone on, which is more important, because the music is great. You didn't know it was going to last. If you look back at the footage, John said it would last four years. Paul thought he'd be writing, George was going to open a garage, and I thought I would open a hairdresser salon.
To make a record, to make a single on vinyl, man, in those days was just incredible, and then we were being played on the radio. We worked hard, but you'd know it was coming on the BBC at 9:17. We'd pull over and listen to it. It was great.