Ringo Starr first learned he was receiving the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Award for Musical Excellence when Paul McCartney called him up about two weeks ago. “He said, ‘Would you accept the award?'” Starr says. “I said, ‘Sure, man.’ He said he’d been talking to Dave Grohl and other people and they were stunned that I wasn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he needed something to do that night and he’s going to give me the award.” Rolling Stone spoke to the affable drummer about his reaction and why he’ll still be drumming.
Congratulations on the big news.
Yeah, the big news! My goodness! I’m so excited.
What was your first reaction?
I think it’s good. I didn’t know that George and John were in it. I’m not keeping up with it all the time. We’ll have a very nice evening and it’ll be my pleasure to receive the award.
So this isn’t something you thought about much?
No. I didn’t think about it much or expect it. This year has been quite busy. I’ve been touring a lot. I got the humanitarian award from GQ. I became a male model for John Varvatos, so my life is busy anyway. This came out of the blue. I didn’t expect it. I got the call from Paul two weeks ago. He said, “This could happen. Do you want to do it?” I said, “Sure.”
What does this mean to you personally?
It means recognition. And it means, finally, the four of us are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even though we were the biggest pop group in the land. You know that won’t look funny in black and white.
Finally, the four of us are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even though we were the biggest pop group in the land.
Tell me your memories of the 1988 ceremony when the Beatles got inducted.
1988 was a long time ago, I’m afraid. It was a big dinner with a lot of people. Mick [Jagger] was there. It’s interesting that you do those gigs and you bump into a lot of people you haven’t met in a long time, so that’s always good.
Do you recall Mike Love’s speech that night?
I don’t. Did he mention me?
He chewed out most people in the room, including the Beatles, and said that Mick Jagger was too “chickenshit” to get on stage with the Beach Boys.
Yeah. I don’t really ever listen to what he has to say [laughs].
They’re also inducting Bill Withers.
Oh, great! I only know about me, but Bill Withers! How great is that.
He hasn’t really performed much in public in the last 25 years.
I met him about six months ago. He came to a session we were doing. It was so great. He’s not playing anymore or coming out much. We all said, “Come on, Bill, get up and play.” He was like, “Oh no, I don’t do that anymore.” But that’s great company already. Who else is on the list?
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Oh yeah, Joan Jett is great!
Oh yeah, I love Green Day. It’s actually, in its fashion, very rock and roll this year. Some years it’s not very rock and roll.
As an early influence, they’re bringing in the 5 Royales.
Do I know them? I can’t put my finger on it.
They were an American R&B band that was popular around 1952.
That was before even my time.
The ceremony is back in Cleveland this year.
I was just in Cleveland over the summer. It was great. I had a really good time and the people were great.
Are you going to perform?
Not that I know of. I told Paul that I’m not putting a band together. If he puts a band together, I’ll do “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
I can’t think of a better song for the all-star jam at the end of the night.
That part of it I’m leaving to my producer, Paul [laughs].
If I can hold the sticks and I can stand up, I can do what I love to do.
You’re going back on tour in a few months.
I’m doing America and South America in February/March. I come back in April and I’ll be in Cleveland, of course.
You used to take a year off between tours, but they seem to go every single year now.
I often do three tours a year now: summer, spring and fall. This year, we’re going back to South America. We did Japan. I’m doing anywhere I can. I love this band. I’m trying to keep it together. The next tour we’re doing is mad because we do four gigs in America, fly to Puerto Rico for a gig, fly back to Florida for a gig, fly to Brazil and do a gig and then work our way through South America until we get to Mexico City and then back to California and we’ve got four gigs there and a gig in Vegas.
Do you see yourself still doing this in your 80s and beyond?
I can only look to Tony Bennett and B.B. King. We can go as long as we can go. That’s always been the way. If I can hold the sticks and I can stand up, I can do what I love to do. If people are still coming, that’s the deal. I don’t want to play with myself.
Tell me the coolest thing about having Joe Walsh as your brother-in-law.
The way he plays. I just finished my next record and Joe and I wrote a track and I asked him to come back and play on another track that I wrote with Todd Rundgren. He’s just the best. If you look at my Twitter site, I keep saying that Joe Walsh is the best.
I see that most of your solo albums are on Spotify. Do you ever use that or other streaming services?
No. I go on iTunes and pay the artist so at least there’ll be some remuneration for them and they can keep going. I heard the story of some artist, who we all know and love, who had five million streams and they gave him a check for $17. We’re not all very excited about those streamers.
So I imagine the Beatles catalog won’t be on Spotify then.
It’ll probably be streaming before I put the phone down [laughs]. I’m only joking.