Ringo Starr was hoping to have a big party for his 80th birthday on July 7th, but the pandemic is keeping him away from his friends and loved ones. Instead, he’s throwing Ringo’s Big Birthday Show, a virtual charity concert that will hit YouTube at 8 p.m. EST July 7th, and he also recorded an episode of the Rolling Stone Interview: Special Edition video series. Below are some highlights from the wide-ranging conversation; for the full interview, press play above.
How have you been coping with the semi-isolation of this time?
Mainly, I haven’t left the house, I think, in 11 weeks now. And only this month, I had the engineer over and I played. This is just a one-bedroom cottage and the bedroom has the best drum sound we’ve had in a long time. I do a bit of that and I have a paint room, a little art room. And I’m going in there, painting and doing stuff. And I love to sit in the sun. I love L.A.. I love the brightness and hanging out. That’s all we’re doing.
I couldn’t help but think of when you were a child and you were trapped in a hospital for so long. I don’t know if it reminds you of that time. Obviously, this is a lot better, I would assume.
Yeah, there’s less pain. Physically. You know, you’re a kid, you’re in a hospital. I mean, first time was [at age] seven for a year. I went in six and a half, and I came out at seven and a half. And the second time, I had my 14th birthday in hospital and we sort of convinced everyone that I was fit enough to go out. So they let me out a couple of weeks before my 15th birthday.
But you know, what came out of that was incredible, because it was the second time when I was 13, with [tuberculosis]. I learned to crochet and stuff like that. They just give you stuff to do – not like schooling. And they had, like, the music day where this woman would bring in tambourines, maracas, triangles and little drums. Six-inch, seven-inch drums. And from that moment, I wanted to be a drummer. Yeah, that’s all I wanted to be – a drummer.
And so then I got out of hospital and in the couple of music stores in Liverpool, I would just go and look at the drums. I didn’t look at the guitars, or pianos. My grandparents had a piano that I had no interest in. I used to walk on the piano as a kid! Anyway, that’s how it started. And that you know, that was my dream at 13 and my dream is still unfolding now. That’s what’s incredible.
You look decades younger than 80. It’s interesting, because you had all these sicknesses as a kid, but here you are.
I think that gave me the impetus. I didn’t work out for many years. I worked out in nightclubs! [Laughs] But that’s not me now. I started working out. Next door, I have a gym. And I’m in the gym at least three and sometimes six days a week. And, you know, we walk. When I started walking, I was living in Monte Carlo. I’d walk around the port, I’d come back and go into a local restaurant, bum a cigarette, and have a double espresso. I haven’t smoked in a long time, but I still enjoy a double espresso. And I’m a vegetarian. I have broccoli with everything and blueberries every morning. I just do stuff that I feel is good for me.
How do you feel about turning 80?
80? Man, I’m only 24 in here. [Laughs.] That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Yeah, 80, it’s like, far out. I mean, it’s like, “What?” It’s a difficult one. 70 was easy. And we had a great time in Radio City Music Hall in New York where Paul surprised me and got up and played. I think 40 was the hardest. Crossing 40 was like – you know, that damn song, “Life Begins at 40.” That was just the hardest. And this one is just going to be what it’s going to be. And the celebration is going to be very small. And we’re sort of saying I’m still 79, because we’re hopefully celebrating properly next year.
There’s a couple songs called “Life Begins At 40” – there’s an older one, and there’s the one John wrote for you, right?
I don’t think he wrote “Life Begins at 40” for me, did he?
You would know better than me, to say the least.
I think the finest song he wrote for me was “I’m The Greatest.” And look, you got me going. I miss the guy. Miss him, I miss George. I still miss those two boys. But you know, I’ve still got my brother. So we’re okay.
“I miss the guy,” Starr says of Lennon. “I miss George. I still miss those two boys. But you know, I’ve still got my brother”
What I love so much about you as a drummer is the way you can convey your full personality through your playing, the same way that you can convey it on screen. Is that a conscious thing, and how did you get to that?
You know, I’m left-handed. My grandmother made sure I wrote with my right hand. But golf, anything else, I’m left-handed. But the kit was set up. I just sat behind it and I started playing. So I do have some moves. I love the depth of toms, so there’s a lot of tom-toms in my fills, and I try and be part of the song. And I don’t really play when the guy is singing. I’ve always played with the singer. That’s been the most important thing, and if I do a fill, it comes emotionally where I just feel it’s needed. And many times, in take two that fill may be a little different. It’s not a thought process. I don’t know where it came from. I’d like to say it came from God.
Paul said at one point that he loved that you could cop the feel of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” And I do hear that feel in your early playing a lot. Was that song influential for you?
No, I know the song really well. I listened to the records, but I wasn’t, like, big on listening to the drums. You know, in Al Green’s [1971 song] “I’m A Ram,” the drummer uses the hi-hat as a part. Well, it blew me away. I love that. And the only drum solo I talk about is Cozy Cole’s [1958 instrumental] “Topsy” from all those years ago. That’s the only one I liked. But John Bonham did quite a good one one time.
It’s wild that you were pretty close with both Bonham and Keith Moon. Who was more of a handful?
No, that’s two handfuls. And John Bonham, when I started living here in the Seventies, every time [Led Zeppelin] came to L.A., he’d get this thought in his mind that he has to drive up to Ringo’s, grab him and throw him in the pool. And that’s what he did. It’d be the middle of the day or the night, and he’d throw me in the pool.
Keith was a beautiful human being, a beautiful guy, but we all liked substances, and so did he. He is Uncle Keith to my children and came and sort of lived with us for a while. Those two drummers have given all drummers the reputation that we get – brain damaged! There’s a lot of drummers out there who aren’t that crazy, but those two were my friends.
There’s a story that Keith Moon kept buying presents for your kids, except he wasn’t really buying them.
He’d come up to the house with a jukebox and we’d say, “Wow, thanks, Keith, that’s really great.” And I’d get the bill. One Christmas he came dressed as Father Christmas and the girlfriend dressed as the Snow Queen and he brought gifts. Then I get the bill! So in the end, I said to Keith, “Look, don’t buy me any more presents. I just can’t afford it!”
“I don’t really play when the guy is singing. I’ve always played with the singer. That’s been the most important thing”
The Beatles encountered a lot of things when you first came to America, including the racism in America at that time.
We had this gig [in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964], and it was [supposed to be] segregated. And that was really hard to understand. I mean, most of our heroes are African American musicians and singers, so we just didn’t understand it. And we said, “Well, we’re not going” and I think so there wouldn’t be a traffic hold-up in the town, they said, okay, you can play it [integrated]. That was a good move on our part, but it was strictly because lot of black musicians were our heroes. So it just didn’t seem right.
What do you make of what you’ve seen of the Peter Jackson film Beatles film that’s coming?
I’ve only seen on the roof. Man, on the roof stands on its own. In the original documentary, it was, let’s say, 12 minutes. I don’t know. And he’s got it up to 45. And it’s great. There was no joy in Michael Lindsay-Hoggs’ documentary. He picked one moment and just canceled out everything else. And he was in so many shots anyway. We found 56 hours of unused film. And so Peter, thank God, decided to join us on this endeavor. And he’s been stopped, of course, right now. It should be out this year, but it’s not coming out. He’d come into L.A., come up and hang out with me and he’d have his laptop. and he’d be showing me pieces they’ve found, and storylines. And we’re laughing. I mean, it’s joyous. We have people coming to visit us while we’re making the documentary, and there’s a lot of really great humor and the closeness of the boys. Anyways, we have to thank Peter Jackson for taking this on. And he has a great sense of humor, too. But we had a showing of just on the roof. And it’s really, really great. And the rest of it, when he’s finished, I’m sure will be cool.
You got up on stage with Paul McCartney in July and played “Helter Skelter.” Had you ever played that since you recorded it?
No, I did listen to it once before [the performance], but why would I play it? I love playing with Paul. And he’s great. You know, if he’s in L.A., and I’m making a record, he’s on a track. He’s still for me, the finest, most melodic bass player in the world, and I love what he does. But, you see, this is when you realize I’ve said that for forty years. I’m still saying the same line!
Before you go, I wonder if you could just look back at the song “Good Night.” I’ve never heard you talk about it.
Well, I blame that band. I used to be a rock singer and they’d always give me those soppy songs. And so they ruined my whole career!
Again, happy birthday.
Thank you for that. And peace and love to everybody out there.