Before Ringo Starr was one-fourth of the most famous pop group in history, he was Richard Starkey, a sickly child born July 7th, 1940, in Liverpool, England, and raised in and out of hospitals for most of his childhood. A lifelong fan of country music, in 1959 Starkey joined a country group called the Raving Texans, deriving his stage name not only from the many rings he wore but also from Johnny Ringo, a real-life cowboy involved in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Throughout his tenure with the Fab Four, Starr expressed his love of country by singing lead on the group’s remake of the Buck Owens hit, “Act Naturally,” (the B-side of the McCartney gem, “Yesterday”) penned by Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell. While scant few Beatles’ tracks featured their drummer as a writer or lead vocalist, “What Goes On” and “Don’t Pass Me By” were country-tinged tunes that spotlighted his Scouse-meets-Southern vocal style, helping to earn him the admiration of a number of Nashville musicians. Among them was pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake, with whom Starr had worked on George Harrison’s post-Beatles masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. When Starr suggested the idea of recording a country album in Music City, Drake quickly assembled a who’s-who of session musicians, including vocal group the Jordanaires, guitarist Charlie Daniels and singer Jeannie Kendall, with whom he sang the duet, “I Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way.” In typical Nashville fashion, the tracks, engineered by Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore, were cut in just two days. Released in September 1970, five months after the official break-up of the Beatles, the album was well-received by most critics, but only reached Number 65 on the Billboard album chart.
Ringo would continue to revisit country music throughout his career, reaching the Top Thirty in 1989 on a Buck Owens-led duet of “Act Naturally.” His 1974 album, Goodnight Vienna, includes his version of Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives,” (later covered by Brooks & Dunn) and the 2003 Ringo Rama LP features tunes by Nashville writers Gary Burr and Gary Nicholson, both of whom would continue to contribute songs to his future projects.
Since 1989, Ringo has toured with his All-Starr Band, an ever-evolving supergroup of fellow musicians. In addition to Starr’s solo and Beatles material, the concerts spotlight the best-known tunes of the participating players, who have included Dr. John, Billy Preston, Levon Helm, Dave Edmunds, John Entwhistle, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, and many others. On July 7th, 2012, with Rundgren, Walsh, Steve Lukather (Toto), Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) among the players, the All-Starr band hit Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, following a brief appearance by the peace-sign-waving superstar at the downtown Hard Rock Café that morning.
In addition to the crowd’s rendition of “Happy Birthday,” highlights of the hit-filled show included Starr donning a black cowboy hat thrown from the audience and leading fans in a celebrity-backed medley of the Sgt. Pepper classic, “With a Little Help From My Friends” and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” which closed the show. Among those who joined the clearly appreciative Starr onstage for the finale were Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Kix Brooks and Gary Burr, along with Richard Marx, Felix Cavaliere and Brendan Benson.
“I promise you, you do know the next song,” Starr said in his introduction, urging the crowd to sing along. “If you don’t know the next song, you’re in the wrong venue and you waited for Crosby, Stills and Nash,” he joked before announcing his “Friends” and welcoming them to the stage to join in the celebration of peace, love, Beatles and country music.
In 2013, the 27-song extravaganza, Ringo at the Ryman, was issued on DVD.