Ever one to get by “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Ringo Starr was applauded by a stellar array of friends, colleagues and admirers Saturday night when he took the stage at Cleveland’s Public Hall to accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Award for Musical Excellence from his former bandmate Paul McCartney.
The award corrected a glaring (and lengthy) oversight on the part of the Hall, which had inducted Starr into the institution in 1988 as a member of the Beatles. Fab Four members McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison had all been inducted as solo artists — Lennon posthumously in 1994, McCartney in 1999, and Harrison posthumously in 2004. Beatles producer George Martin was inducted in 1999 in the Non-Performer category; and in 2014, the late Beatles manager Brian Epstein was posthumously given the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. But before this year, the Hall had yet to recognize Starr’s contributions to music as a sideman and solo artist.
Not that the jovial drummer was particularly troubled by the oversight. “I didn’t think about it much or expect it,” he told Rolling Stone in December, when asked about his induction. “I didn’t know that George and John were in it [as solo artists].” Still, Starr — whose 19th solo album, Postcards From Paradise, was released in March — admitted that he was excited about the honor. “It means recognition,” he said. “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.”
Ringo Starr’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech:
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Thank you. My name is Ringo and I play drums. I want to thank Paul for all the great things he told us. Some of them are true. You know, it’s a great honor to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was doing the press and they’re all saying, “Well, why did you wait so long?” It has nothing to do with me. You have to be invited. But anyway, apparently I’m invited and I love it. I also love that I got lucky that it’s actually in Cleveland, and I’ll tell you why. When I started playing, I was playing in skiffle bands, sort of house party bands, and we had a guitarist and the first band I was in was really great. I had a snare drum and Roy, the bass player, had a tea-chest bass with a hole in it and strings.
And so we’re playing this skiffle music, playing anywhere we could. And then I joined a couple of other bands and I always wanted to play with great players and I kept moving up a little; up to the next band. Of course, I did end up with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and when I joined them, we were still a bit of a country-folk band, and the guitarists in those days — this is a nice one for all you big-shot guitarists with the big amps — we played the Cavern Club, which was a jazz club in Liverpool. And he brought a radio to plug into so we’d be electric. And we got thrown off. “Get out of here! That’s not quite jazz.” Anyway, we started off with a radio; the first amp we had. Things got going a lot better and we ended up playing a lot in Liverpool and around Liverpool. We never really made it anywhere else, but while that was going on, I was working in a factory. [Responds to Paul McCartney jokingly tapping on his watch] After the things I’ve sat through tonight. Blah blah blah. I got some stories.
I was working in the factory and playing at night and every Sunday, you know we lived in England, we only had the BBC. There was a small country in Europe called Luxembourg…very small. Population of about six. And for some reason, they had the biggest radio master. And they bought the Alan Freed Rock & Roll show. And for the first time I heard. . .well, I have to backtrack now to ’55. . .Bill Haley was my hero. . .he was like the first one. Elvis came in.
But anyway, I’m listening to this guy on a Sunday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and I hear Little Richard, first time ever. I hear Jerry Lee Lewis. And I heard rock & roll music, because we weren’t getting a lot of that stuff in England, and it came from this very small country. So 4 o’clock every Sunday, Roy and I would go to his house and turn on the radio and Alan Freed would introduce us to so many great rockers. And when I was a teenager, once. . .we played Little Richard, “Shag on Down to the Union Hall.” Means nothing to you but to us, it’s very meaningful. We couldn’t believe we could hear this guy on the radio! Shag on down to the Union Hall! That seems a good place to go!
Also, I came from a port. A lot of sailors came to and from Liverpool, would bring music from New York and all over America. They’d drink all the money; they’d sell all records. Anyway, I started collecting a lot of records, listening to music, and ended up in this rock & roll band. With Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, we go to Germany, and that’s where I met, you know, the Beatles. I met Paul, John (God bless you), George (God bless you).
We came back to Liverpool, and there was a knock on my door. The drummer wasn’t well and would I sit in? Sure. Anyway, I was living that life then, I was out of the band, and I didn’t have to get up till noon. So, that was good. So I went and played a lunchtime session with George, John and Paul, and we had a great time. And then I went and showed them some clubs in Liverpool. They’re not around now. I’m sort of part of their downfall. And we became friends, we hung out, and then I would go back to Rory and then come back and play with the Beatles because the other drummer couldn’t make it.
Then, I got a call. We were playing a holiday in England, three-month gig, couldn’t believe how great that was. Like $24 a week. And I got a call from Brian Epstein. . .I got a call to say, this was Wednesday, would I join the Beatles? And I said, “Well, when do you want me to join?” And he said, “Tonight!” And I said, “No, I can’t do that. I’ve got a band here. We’ve got a job. I’ll come Saturday.” Because everybody in Liverpool, we were all playing the same songs so, they picked the drums and he could play. That’s when this journey started.
It’s been an incredible journey for me with these three guys who wrote these songs. I was talking just the other night. Paul had come in, strummed some song to us, and we played it! We would get it done in an hour and a half. We didn’t spend a lot of time. There was a lot of joining. . .the Beatles, you know, they were so big and so famous, but they shared rooms, you know. . .every hotel, when we’d gotten one, or guest houses. But when we’d got to a hotel, we always had two rooms. And it didn’t matter who was with who, what would happen is we hung out. But I’m telling every band in the room, you really have to get to know your other players. And another tip I brought for all bands who are starting out: When you’re in a van, and you fart, own up. It’ll cause hell if you don’t own up because everyone will blame everyone else. Make a pact that you’ll own up to it. We did and that’s how we get on so well.”
I wanna tell ya, it’s been a beautiful night, hanging out with a lot of musicians. . .we’re gonna do a few numbers for you next. We gotta follow John Legend and Stevie Wonder for God’s sake. Anyway, we’re gonna start with a number of. . .1960, I did this number. It was a song sung by the Shirelles and it just took my fancy — and it’s called “Boys.”