Backstage with Ringo Starr–the 4th Beatle

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – Saturday Feb 13, 2021

Sir Richard Starkey[2] MBE[3] (born 7 July 1940), better known by his stage name Ringo Starr, is an English musician, singer, songwriter and actor who achieved international fame during the 1960s as the drummer for the Beatles. He occasionally sang lead vocals with the group, usually for one song on each album, including “Yellow Submarine”, “With a Little Help from My Friends” and their cover of “Act Naturally”. He also wrote and sang the Beatles’ songs “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden”, and is credited as a co-writer of others.

Starr was afflicted by life-threatening illnesses during childhood, with periods of prolonged hospitalisations. He briefly held a position with British Rail before securing an apprenticeship as a machinist at a Liverpool equipment manufacturer. Soon afterwards, he became interested in the UK skiffle craze and developed a fervent admiration for the genre. In 1957, he co-founded his first band, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, which earned several prestigious local bookings before the fad succumbed to American rock and roll around early 1958. When the Beatles formed in 1960, Starr was a member of another Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. After achieving moderate success in the UK and Hamburg, he quit the Hurricanes when he was asked to join the Beatles in August 1962, replacing Pete Best.

In addition to the Beatles’ films, Starr has acted in numerous others. After the band’s break-up in 1970, he released several successful singles including the US top-ten hit “It Don’t Come Easy”, and number ones “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen”. His most successful UK single was “Back Off Boogaloo”, which peaked at number two. He achieved commercial and critical success with his 1973 album Ringo, which was a top-ten release in both the UK and the US. He has featured in numerous documentaries, hosted television shows, narrated the first two series of the children’s television programme Thomas & Friends and portrayed “Mr. Conductor” during the first season of the PBS children’s television series Shining Time Station. Since 1989, he has toured with thirteen variations of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.

Starr’s playing style, which emphasised feel over technical virtuosity, influenced many drummers to reconsider their playing from a compositional perspective. He also influenced various modern drumming techniques, such as the matched grip, tuning the drums lower, and using muffling devices on tonal rings.[4] In his opinion, his finest recorded performance was on the Beatles’ “Rain”.[5] In 1999, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.[6] In 2011, Rolling Stone readers named him the fifth-greatest drummer of all time. He was inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a Beatle in 1988 and as a solo artist in 2015,[7] and appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to music.[8] In 2020, he was cited as the wealthiest drummer in the world, with a net worth of $350 million.[9]

1956: While working as an apprentice machinist at Henry Hunt and Son, Starkey befriended Roy Trafford, and the two bonded over their shared interest in music.[37] Trafford introduced Starkey to skiffle, and he quickly became a fervent admirer.

1957–1961: First bands

Soon after Trafford piqued Starkey’s interest in skiffle, the two began rehearsing songs in the manufacturing plant’s cellar during their lunch breaks. Trafford recalled: “I played a guitar, and [Ritchie] just made a noise on a box … Sometimes, he just slapped a biscuit tin with some keys, or banged on the backs of chairs.”[37] The pair were joined by Starkey’s neighbour and co-worker, the guitarist Eddie Miles, forming the Eddie Miles Band, later renamed Eddie Clayton and the Clayton Squares after a Liverpool landmark.[38] The band performed popular skiffle songs such as “Rock Island Line” and “Walking Cane”, with Starkey raking a thimble across a washboard, creating primitive, driving rhythms.[39] Starkey enjoyed dancing as his parents had years earlier, and he and Trafford briefly took dance lessons at two schools. Though the lessons were short-lived, they provided Starkey and Trafford with an introduction that allowed them to dance competently while enjoying nights out on the town.[39]

On Christmas Day 1957, Graves gave Starkey a second-hand drum kit consisting of a snare drum, bass drum and a makeshift cymbal fashioned from a rubbish bin lid. Although basic and crude, the kit facilitated his progression as a musician while increasing the commercial potential of the Eddie Clayton band, who went on to book prestigious local gigs before the skiffle craze faded in early 1958 as American rock and roll became popular in the UK.[40]

In November 1959, Starkey joined Al Caldwell’s Texans, a skiffle group who were looking for someone with a proper drum kit so that the group could transition from one of Liverpool’s best-known skiffle acts to a full-fledged rock and roll band.[41][nb 1] They had begun playing local clubs as the Raging Texans, then Jet Storm and the Raging Texans before settling on Rory Storm and the Hurricanes shortly before recruiting Starkey.[43] About this time he adopted the stage name Ringo Starr; derived from the rings he wore and also because it implied a country and western influence. His drum solos were billed as Starr Time.[44]

By early 1960, the Hurricanes had become one of Liverpool’s leading bands.[45] In May, they were offered a three-month residency at a Butlins holiday camp in Wales.[46] Although initially reluctant to accept the residency and end his five-year machinist apprenticeship that he had begun four years earlier, Starr eventually agreed to the arrangement.[47] The Butlins gig led to other opportunities for the band, including an unpleasant tour of US Air Force bases in France about which Starr commented: “The French don’t like the British; at least I didn’t like them.”[48] The Hurricanes became so successful that when initially offered a highly coveted residency in Hamburg, they turned it down because of their prior commitment with Butlins.[49] They eventually accepted, joining the Beatles at Bruno Koschmider’s Kaiserkeller on 1 October 1960, where Starr first met the band.[50] Storm’s Hurricanes were given top-billing over the Beatles, who also received less pay.[51] Starr performed with the Beatles during a few stand-in engagements while in Hamburg. On 15 October 1960, he drummed with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, recording with them for the first time while backing Hurricanes singer Lu Walters on the George Gershwin/DuBose Heyward aria “Summertime”.[52][nb 2] During Starr’s first stay in Hamburg he also met Tony Sheridan, who valued his drumming abilities to the point of asking Starr to leave the Hurricanes and join his band.[54]

1962–1970: The Beatles

Replacing Best
Starr performing with the Beatles in 1964

Starr quit Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in January 1962 and briefly joined Sheridan in Hamburg before returning to the Hurricanes for a third season at Butlins.[55][nb 3] On 14 August, Starr accepted Lennon’s invitation to join the Beatles.[57] On 16 August, Beatles manager Brian Epstein fired their drummer, Pete Best, who recalled: “He said ‘I’ve got some bad news for you. The boys want you out and Ringo in.’ He said [Beatles producer] George Martin wasn’t too pleased with my playing [and] the boys thought I didn’t fit in.”[58] Starr first performed as a member of the Beatles on 18 August 1962, at a horticultural society dance at Port Sunlight.[59] After his appearance at the Cavern Club the following day, Best fans, upset by his firing, held vigils outside his house and at the club shouting “Pete forever! Ringo never!”[56] Harrison received a black eye from one upset fan, and Epstein, whose car tyres they had flattened in anger, temporarily hired a bodyguard.[60]

Starr’s first recording session as a member of the Beatles took place on 4 September 1962.[57] He stated that Martin had thought that he “was crazy and couldn’t play … because I was trying to play the percussion and the drums at the same time, we were just a four-piece band”.[61] For their second recording session with Starr, on 11 September 1962, Martin replaced him with session drummer Andy White while recording takes for what would be the two sides of the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do”, backed with “P.S. I Love You”.[62] Starr played tambourine on “Love Me Do” and maracas on “P.S. I Love You”.[57] Concerned about his status in the Beatles, he thought: “That’s the end, they’re doing a Pete Best on me.”[63] Martin later clarified: “I simply didn’t know what Ringo was like and I wasn’t prepared to take any risks.”[64][nb 4]

By November 1962, Starr had been accepted by Beatles fans, who were now calling for him to sing.[65] He began receiving an amount of fan mail equal to that of the others, which helped to secure his position within the band.[66] Starr considered himself fortunate to be on the same “wavelength” as the other Beatles: “I had to be, or I wouldn’t have lasted. I had to join them as people as well as a drummer.”[67] He was given a small percentage of Lennon and McCartney’s publishing company, Northern Songs, but derived his primary income during this period from a one-quarter share of Beatles Ltd, a corporation financed by the band’s net concert earnings.[66] He commented on the nature of his lifestyle after having achieved success with the Beatles: “I lived in nightclubs for three years. It used to be a non-stop party.”[68] Like his father, Starr became well known for his late-night dancing and he received praise for his skills.[68]

Worldwide success

During 1963, the Beatles enjoyed increasing popularity in Britain. In January, their second single, “Please Please Me”, followed “Love Me Do” into the UK charts and a successful television appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars earned favourable reviews, leading to a boost in sales and radio play.[69] By the end of the year, the phenomenon known as Beatlemania had spread throughout the country, and by February 1964 the Beatles had become an international success when they performed in New York City on The Ed Sullivan Show to a record 73 million viewers.[70] Starr commented: “In the States I know I went over well. It knocked me out to see and hear the kids waving for me. I’d made it as a personality … Our appeal … is that we’re ordinary lads.”[71] He was a source of inspiration for several songs written at the time, including Penny Valentine’s “I Want To Kiss Ringo Goodbye” and Rolf Harris’s “Ringo for President”.[72]

During an interview with Playboy in 1964, Lennon explained that Starr had filled in with the Beatles when Best was ill; Starr replied: “[Best] took little pills to make him ill”.[79] Soon after, Best filed a libel suit against him that lasted four years before the court reached an undisclosed settlement in Best’s favour.[80] In June, the Beatles were scheduled to tour Denmark, the Netherlands, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Before the start of the tour,[81] Starr was stricken with a high-grade fever, pharyngitis and tonsillitis, and briefly stayed in a local hospital, followed by several days of recuperation at home.[82] He was temporarily replaced for five concerts by 24-year-old session drummer Jimmie Nicol.[83] Starr was discharged from the hospital and rejoined the band in Melbourne on 15 June.[84][nb 5] He later said that he feared he would be permanently replaced during his illness.[87] In August, the Beatles were introduced to American songwriter Bob Dylan, who offered the group cannabis cigarettes. Starr was the first to try one but the others were hesitant.[88]

On 11 February 1965, Starr married Maureen Cox, whom he had met in 1962.[89] By this time the stress and pressure of Beatlemania had reached a peak for him. He received a telephone death threat before a show in Montreal, and resorted to positioning his cymbals vertically in an attempt to defend against would-be assassins. The constant pressure affected the Beatles’ performances; Starr commented: “We were turning into such bad musicians … there was no groove to it.”[90] He was also feeling increasingly isolated from the musical activities of his bandmates, who were moving past the traditional boundaries of rock music into territory that often did not require his accompaniment; during recording sessions he spent hours playing cards with their road manager Neil Aspinall and roadie Mal Evans while the other Beatles perfected tracks without him.[91] In a letter published in Melody Maker, a fan asked the Beatles to let Starr sing more; he replied: “[I am] quite happy with my one little track on each album”.[91]

Studio years

In August 1966, the Beatles released Revolver, their seventh UK LP.[92] It included the song “Yellow Submarine”, their only British number-one single with Starr as the lead singer.[93] Later that month, owing to the increasing pressures of touring, the Beatles gave their final concert, a 30-minute performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.[94] Starr commented: “We gave up touring at the right time. Four years of Beatlemania were enough for anyone.”[95] By December, he had moved into an upscale estate on three acres in Saint George’s Hill called Sunny Heights.[96] Although he had equipped the house with many luxury items, including numerous televisions, light machines, film projectors, stereo equipment, a billiard table, go-kart track and a bar named the Flying Cow, he did not include a drum kit; he explained: “When we don’t record, I don’t play.”[97]

For the Beatles’ seminal 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Starr sang lead vocals on the Lennon–McCartney composition “With a Little Help from My Friends”.[98] Although the Beatles had enjoyed widespread commercial and critical success with Sgt. Pepper, the long hours they spent recording the LP contributed to Starr’s increased feeling of alienation within the band; he commented: “[It] wasn’t our best album. That was the p

ak for everyone else, but for me it was a bit like being a session musician … They more or less direct me in the style I can play.”[99][nb 6] His inability to compose new material led to his input being minimised during recording sessions; he often found himself relegated to adding minor percussion effects to songs by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison.[101] During his downtime, Starr worked on his guitar playing, and said: “I jump into chords that no one seems to get into. Most of the stuff I write is twelve-bar”.[102]

Epstein’s death in August 1967 left the Beatles without management; Starr remarked: “[It was] a strange time for us, when it’s someone who we’ve relied on in the business, where we never got involved.”[103] Soon afterwards, the band began an ill-fated film project, Magical Mystery Tour. Starr’s growing interest in photography led to his billing as the movie’s Director of Photography, and his participation in the film’s editing was matched only by that of McCartney.[104] In February 1968, Starr became the first Beatle to sing on another artist’s show without the others. He sang the Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally”, and performed a duet with Cilla Black, “Do You Like Me Just a Little Bit?” on her BBC One television programme, Cilla.[105]

In November 1968, Apple Records released The Beatles, commonly known as the “White Album”.[106] The album was partly inspired by the band’s recent interactions with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[107] While attending the Maharish’s intermediate course at his ashram in Rishikesh, India, they enjoyed one of their most prolific writing periods, composing most of the album there.[108] Starr left after 10 days, but completed his first recorded Beatles song, “Don’t Pass Me By”.[109][nb 7] During the recording of the White Album, relations within the Beatles deteriorated;[112] at times only one or two members were involved in the recording for a track.[113] Starr had grown weary of McCartney’s increasingly overbearing approach and Lennon’s passive-aggressive behaviour, exacerbated by Starr’s resentment of the near-constant presence of Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono.[113] After one particularly difficult session during which McCartney harshly criticised his drumming, Starr quit the Beatles for two weeks, holidaying with his family in Sardinia on a boat loaned by actor Peter Sellers.[114] During a lunch break the chef served octopus, which Starr refused to eat; a conversation with the ship’s captain about the animal inspired Starr’s Abbey Road composition “Octopus’s Garden”, which Starr wrote on guitar during the trip.[115] He returned to the studio two weeks later[116] to find that Harrison had covered his drum kit in flowers as a welcome-back gesture.[117]

Despite a temporary return to congeniality during the completion of the White Album, production of the Beatles’ fourth feature film, Let It Be, and its accompanying LP, further strained band relationships.[118] On 20 August 1969, the Beatles gathered for the final time at Abbey Road Studios for a mixing session for “I Want You”.[119] At a business meeting on 20 September, Lennon told the others that he had quit the Beatles,[120] although the band’s break-up would not become public knowledge until McCartney’s announcement on 10 April 1970 that he was also leaving.[121]

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