Ringo Starr Talks Paul, Meditation and Why He Loves L.A.

Ringo Starr Variety
Yu Tsai

Fifty years after helping lead the British invasion in America and transforming pop culture, the most underappreciated Beatle has arguably become the most beloved.

Ringo Starr is no longer mobbed by screaming packs of fans. But, by no means is the world famous drummer hanging in the background. He’s busy laying down tracks for a new album, and about to embark on another tour of his All-Starr Band; he’s publishing books — and he’s still making the case for peace and love wherever he goes.

Ringo is the older of the two surviving Beatles, but you’d never know it. At age 73, he could easily pass for someone 20 years younger. His rock-star DNA has kept him fighting trim. His skin is taut without looking stretched, and his gait is assured, even springy.

At a fundraising concert Jan. 20 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, where he was honored by the David Lynch Foundation with the Lifetime of Peace and Love Award, Ringo bounded about the stage like Peter Pan. He appeared boyish compared with the musicians surrounding him — among them Peter Frampton and the Eagles’ Joe Walsh — who are several years his junior.

“Everybody loves Ringo!” declared Lynch at the start of the show, and by the end, all his pals came up onstage, including such luminaries as Jim Carrey and Jeff Lynne, joining for the sing-along of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The El Rey love-in was just one part of a perfect storm of Beatles-related activity that has occurred over the past year in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s first visit to the U.S. — their historic appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Paul McCartney and Ringo, who remain friends, accepted the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys on Jan. 26. The following day, they were saluted at “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” taped at the Los Angeles Convention Center and airing Feb. 9 on CBS, a half century to the day after the Beatles touched down in New York, greeted by thousands of frenzied fans.

“It was such an incredible moment,” recalls Ringo. “Americans won’t understand, but we’re English and we came to America, and that’s where all the music I love came from. A couple of years before that, I tried to immigrate to America, to Houston, Texas, to be near my blues hero, Lightnin’ Hopkins. But the paperwork was too much for an 18-year-old.”

Ringo has been a fixture in the City of Angels since 1976, when he bought his first home here.

“You ask anybody who’s ever met me: I love L.A.,” he says. “I love the relaxed atmosphere here, and I have a lot of good friends here, a lot of musicians. It just suits my makeup.”

In a city overpopulated with celebrities, admirers keep a respectful distance.

“I can wander around L.A., wander around Monte Carlo, wander around London,” says Ringo of the three residences he alternately calls home. “London’s always interesting because taxi drivers always say, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ If I’m hassled now, they know I don’t sign autographs. I’d rather say, ‘Hi, how ya doing?’ and move on. I’m shopping. I’m going to movies. I’m doing whatever’s going on at the time.”

Ringo loves movies, and goes often with his wife of 33 years, the actress formerly known as Barbara Bach. They prefer venturing out to theaters rather than holing up in private screening rooms like so many superstar untouchables. So far this awards season, “Lone Survivor” is his favorite. “And then a weird one called ‘Prisoners,’ he adds, “that was really strange. Of course we saw ‘American Hustle’ and we laughed and we loved it. And no one’s going to beat DiCaprio in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ ”

SEE ALSO: Why Ringo Starr’s Movie Career Was More Than Meets the Eye

Waving the peace sign at every opportunity, Ringo is effectively the poster boy for peace and love; it’s the signature of his official website and an essential part of his brand.

If “the love you take is equal to the love you make,” then Ringo has generated enough karma to last another lifetime. He attributes his good health to being a vegetarian. “I believe that helps,” he says during an interview at Sir, a studio instrument rental shop in Hollywood. “I also work out most days.” He employs a trainer three times a week. And he meditates daily, a practice that dates back to the Summer of Love in 1967 when the Beatles were introduced to the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, also an avatar to the Lynch Foundation, which teaches the restorative powers of transcendental meditation to school kids and war vets alike.

“If you listen to the last three CDs, the theme is peace and love,” Ringo says. It’s a message from which he rarely veers, dating back to his first solo works. If there’s any doubt, the opening track on his last studio effort, “Ringo 2012,” kicks off with the lyrics, “This is an anthem/ For peace and love/ We’ve got to keep trying/ We can’t give up.”

Ringo’s well-being is all the more miraculous given his sickly childhood, with his formal education severely hampered by life-threatening illnesses. Later plagued by alcohol and substance abuse, he became clean and sober in 1989 (and has remained so ever since). He was approached around that time about touring, an idea he eventually embraced.

“I hadn’t had a drink or a drug in six months,” Ringo recalls. “I was mad as a hatter. And somebody from Pepsi asked somebody would I tour, and they were going to promote it. In the end, I said yes.”

He is about to kick off yet another tour of his All-Starr band, even though the last one ended as recently as Thanksgiving. “We’re back out in the summer,” he says, “with the same lineup we’ve had for two years.” That includes Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather (Toto) and Gregg Rolie (Santana). The upcoming North American trek will comprise approximately 30 dates, kicking off June 6 in Rama, Ontario and ending July 19 at the Greek Theatre in L.A.

Judging by the level of talent he’s been able to attract for these outings, of which there have been more than a dozen incarnations, “With a Little Help From My Friends” is less a theme song than a mission statement.

“The special thing about it is you get to play with really good musicians that you would never get to play with,” says the Eagles’ Walsh, who jammed in the first two editions of the All-Starr Band, a dream lineup that included Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band, Rick Danko and Levon Helm of the Band, and super session players Billy Preston and Jim Keltner. “It was the best group of musicians I’ve ever played with, besides the band I’m in now.”

Steve Barnett, chair and CEO of Capitol Music Group, notes that Starr carved out a very successful post-Beatles career. “He had platinum and gold albums, seven top 10 hits — and two of those were No. 1s.

For those who viewed Ringo as an orphan left to his own devices after the Beatles officially went their separate ways in 1970, the perception is far from reality. He was the first Beatle to initiate a studio solo album, with “Sentimental Journey” in the fall of 1969.

In fact, he released two solo LPs before the end of 1970, when everyone was still in denial about the break-up: “Journey,” which was a top 10 hit in the U.K., and the country-flavored “Beaucoups of Blues.”

He was the one Beatle with whom the others never feuded, and consequently benefited from their input on his albums, while playing on theirs, including the two most acclaimed solo works by former Beatles: John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” and George Harrison’s magnum opus, “All Things Must Pass.” Ringo’s single “It Don’t Come Easy,” co-written by Harrison and the highlight of “The Concert for Bangla Desh,” reached No. 4 in the U.K.

And with all the recent Grammy attention they shared together, his relationship with Paul is stronger than ever. “If we’re in the same town, a lot of times we hook up,” Ringo says. “We’re the two people (left) who actually experienced the life we led in the Beatles. Besides that, we have the rest of our life to relate to. I’ve been on several of his records, he’s been on mine. It’s not like we don’t work together; it’s just that we don’t make a fuss about it.”

As he prepares for his next All-Starr Band closeup, Ringo has another album in the works, and has laid down 14 rough tracks in his home studio in L.A. The DIY setup is not as lavish as one might think for a musician whose net worth is $300 million — making him the world’s richest drummer according to a survey published by Celebrity Net Worth in 2012.

“Mine is really home,” he explains. “We have Pro Tools and a desk, and the bedroom has two kits of drums and a kitchen that’s still serviceable.”

Ringo’s reputation is more than serviceable: An ongoing exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, “Ringo: Peace and Love,” unveiled in June, spurred a 19% bump in attendance, the largest growth in the institution’s five-year history, according to executive director Robert Santelli. “Interestingly enough, of the three Beatles exhibits that we’ve done, the Ringo exhibit has been the most popular,” he adds.

In November, Brit publisher Genesis debuted “Photograph,” a lavish, leather-bound limited edition of Ringo’s photos and memorabilia. The book quickly sold out. And Feb. 4 will see the release of his children’s book, “Octopus’s Garden,” based on the tune he wrote and sang for the “Abbey Road” album, the Beatles’ final studio recording.

Ringo might not be the most technically proficient drummer in the annals of rock ’n’ roll, but his importance to the movement in general, and the Beatles in particular, is beyond dispute. The Beatles didn’t gel as a group until Ringo — the most accomplished professional among them when they were all plying their trade in Hamburg’s red light district and the Cavern Club in Liverpool — joined their ranks in 1962 from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Blue Note label chief, producer and musician Don Was, who has worked with Ringo repeatedly, calls him the most underrated drummer in rock history. “He changed the way rock ’n’ roll drummers approach music,” Was says.

If Ringo was overshadowed by the brilliant songwriting of his Fab Four mates, especially Lennon and McCartney, who, says Walsh, “commanded your focus with whatever they were doing,” the spotlight on his percussive gifts was further diminished by a group that stopped touring in 1966, concentrating on studio recordings that became ever more conceptual and inventive with each outing. This occurred at a time when jam bands like the Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin started airing it out in arenas, giving ample room for their flamboyant drummers to shine in front of a captive audience.

“Being an ensemble player in a band is the most important thing,” Was asserts. “The Beatles were a great band because they listened to each other and reacted off each other very much the way a jazz group does. It requires subverting the ego and being part of a whole. The Beatles are an amazing example of that.”

Santelli goes so far as to call Starr the most important drummer in the history of rock. “The reason I say that is prior to Ringo, certainly there were rock ’n’ roll bands, but hardly anybody knew who the drummer was. Ringo comes along and changes everything. (He has) a very interesting and compelling sense of humor and personality, and we get to know him on a first-name basis.”

Anybody who knows the Beatles’ music intimately knows the tympanic accents and fills as clearly today as when they were recorded: the famous drum roll that launches into “She Loves You”; the shimmering incandescence of his cymbal work on so many of those early hits; the impressionistic free-form of “Rain”; the loping cadence and crispy snare of “Sexy Sadie”; the haunting, almost cinematic drama and rich texture behind “Long, Long”; the building, tour-de-force crescendo that leads up to the “The End” on “Abbey Road.”

“Here’s what I discovered in the very first session that I did with him,” recalls Walsh. “He came in and I said, ‘You want to see a chart on the song?’ And he said, ‘No, give me the lyrics.’ He responds to the singer. A great example of that is when he plays on the Beatles’ ‘Something’ and he does that fill that’s such a musical response it’s almost like a guitar player; there’s notes to it.”

Ringo himself says he brought time and openness to the table as the Beatles drummer. He would do things like putting tea towels on the drums. “The towels would deaden the sound, and give you depth,” he explains. “Until I got the Maple kit, which has the depth of real skin. So if you listen to ‘(She Came in Through the) Bathroom Window’ and ‘Polythene Pam,’ it’s like a tom-tom solo all throughout.”

Ringo has just come off several live performances in Latin America in October-November. Recently, he’s been spending time in his most western home.

“I’m in L.A. now,” Ringo says. “I love the weather. I love the casualness. I have a little studio at home. And if you can play and you ring my bell, you’re on the record.”

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    1. Meli Fraser says:

      Dear Ringo, Thank you for the gift of your great music & giving so much enjoyment.to the world. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday on the 7th & good health & happiness. Peace & love, Meli

    2. A. j. Grasso says:

      Never saw the Beatles as a complete group perform live. but I.have seen Ringo Starr 3 times and Paul McCartney once at Shea Stadium (now Citi Field)> Their music is incredible. Tonight, watching them sing together on their tribute show..was musical entertainment at it’s very BEST. Thank you Ringo and Paul for once again bringing such musical pleasure to everyone who saw that show. God Bless you Both and keep on singing.

      • linda dailey says:

        saw ringo tonite… never my favorite… but you got to say the man has aged amazingly. he looks 50, i’m inspired by his youthful appearance.

    3. Jim says:

      Peace and Love L. A.! Peace and Love L. A.!

    4. David Neuman says:

      Brilliant, fascinating article! Especially love the examples you use from various songs–and not just the most well known ones–to help explain to us non-musicians. To that end, one of the songs you referenced is actually “Long, Long, Long” (from “The Beatles” aka the White Album) and not “Long, Long” :) Thanks again!

    5. Pat Mullaney says:

      John, Paul, George and Ringo , All four were necessary in becoming The Beatles …..I LOVE THEM ALL!!!

    6. we have to find a fault or problem with everything or everyone .. comparing ringo and paul by how large of a venue they sell out is ridiculous .. justin berber sells out stadiums, soooo .. why does it matter who is the favorite or most loved beatle … next, we can argue about which one of our kids we like the most .. these guys aren’t going to be around forever..let go of our egos, appreciate all the things or people you enjoy in life then still back and enjoy the music

    7. I’m surprised that no one else has mentioned the inaccuracies in this article:

      1. “Arguably the most beloved Beatle”?? Really? And just exactly what evidence does the writer have regarding this statement? Paul is way more popular — just look at the huge stadiums he continues to command. I seriously doubt Ringo (as much as I like him) is more popular with Beatles fans than Paul.

      2. The Beatles didn’t touch down in New York on February 9, 1964. They touched down on Feb. 7 of that year. Feb. 9 is the anniversary of their first show on Ed Sullivan.

      3. Ringo most certainly DID feud with another Beatle — Paul. According to biographers, Ringo was sent in by the others to try to negotiate with Paul over “Let It Be” being released around the same time as Paul’s first solo album, “McCartney.” Apparently, Paul went berserk and screamed at Ringo, and possibly even punched him in the face!

      4. The Beatles song that the writer references toward the end is called “Long, Long, Long.” He is short one “long.” ;-)

    8. Tyson Hinton says:

      I’ve seen both Paul and Ringo in concert. Paul’s concert was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. When he played in Rio Tinto stadium in SLC I couldn’t pass it up. I saw Ringo about a year and a half ago and while it didn’t have the excitement of Paul’s concert I had a lot of fun. Took my Dad and little brother and each ticket was about 23 dollars. We even won 2 front row tickets in some contest and took turns going to the front. Some girl just about to start college really wanted to go up front so I gave her that ticket because she said Ringo was her favorite Beatle. If Ringo plays near you don’t pass it up. Solid show.

    9. Ringo looks more like 54 years old vs. going on 74 years old and having been in The Beatles as far back as 50 years :-D It seems like everyone is in agreement on that sentiment ;-)

    10. NWBL says:

      I liked Ringo back in the day and I still do. But underappreciated and arguably the most beloved Beatle? Talk about hyperbole. He is certainly a fine drummer and a decent guy but I haven’t seen him selling out stadiums worldwide as a solo act. And Paul’s current drummer Abe Labouriel, Jr. is an even better drummer IMO.

    11. Lisa Wilkes says:

      I love Ringo and Paul…. I was a Beatlemaniac and continue to admire the music of Ringo and Paul which has been a thread through the fabric of my life since I was 12 yrs old. Give me a song (of theirs) and I’ll tell you what was going on in my life at the time…… Would make a great game show, yes?

    12. Kathy Gerber says:

      I really enjoyed his concert in Bethel Woods center For The Arts. I would have loved to have met him. He looked like a young boy from where I was sitting!!!! I am an avid Beatles fan I have some nice pictures on my wall. Especially the one I have in 3D from New Hope New Jersey. I would love to see Paul sometime. I also have a Sargent Peppers wallet and several glasses as gifts from my daughter. To meet one of them would be my dream come true!!!! The only thing is that it might be nice if he did an oncore.

    13. Debi Snider says:

      Thank you for this writting. I have followed the Beatles from their first arrival and will continue, until I am gone. My heart was always with Paul, although after meeting Ringo and getting a picture with him , I must say he is by far the most caring to his fan’s. Ringo is Ringo, He tells it like it is and he is as normal as the next guy! Like the scene in a Hard Day’s Night, where he is out taking photo’s and comes across the boys at the river, he meets and greets and has a good time. Peace and LOVE to a great talent and caring human.

    14. Melanie Smith says:

      What color were Brian’s eyes?

    15. Ellen Orchid says:

      Very gifted man who still performs and inspires us- wow.

    16. Marino says:

      Ringo was very unique and unorthodox style of his time, until other caught on, you listen some his drumming you will know it difference,that what made him and The Beatles.

    17. Fabiola González says:

      Ringo id simple the best!!! I love him, he is an excelent person and artist
      Peace and love!!!
      God bless Ringo

    18. Tango Eliott says:

      As I am a huge Beatles fan it was really nice to read what we fans already knew. There were 4 Beatles who made the group successful and each part completed the whole. Ringo is and always will be the BEAT in Beatles and I am so happy for his continued good health and success. I doubt Ringo or even Paul for that matter really understand what they meant to us. I am grateful to the 4 of them for the gifts that keep on giving and it is only because their music is timeless and wonderful.
      Peace to you Mr. Starkey.

    19. Orville says:

      RINGO defines the role of a percussionist (as opposed to “drummer”) on the Beatles work. Sure, there was a lot of “rock” drumming, but he magic is in how he played the silence and gave the percussion accents and flavor that completed the sound. However he did it, he did it well, and I respect that.

    20. Angela says:

      I enjoyed reading this article about Ringo and his perspective on being part of The Fab Four.

      I think it’s great he supports peace & love, and agree that Ringo has generated enough karma to last another lifetime.

      I look forward to following the music he continues to make!

    21. Leech says:

      You should mention his playing on A Day in the Life, absolutely beautiful!

      • nashville says:

        Agreed. In A Day in the Life, Ringo’s drums sound as if they are draped in funerial black. Perfect accompaniment to the ominous tone of dread that permeates the song. I think it’s their greatest single work, personally.

    22. A true icon, love his attitude.

    23. Roger Gomez says:

      I DO NOT LIKE HIM! CUZ HE TELL FANS TO PISS OFF WHEN THEY ASK FRO AUTOGRAPHS. KISS MY ASS RINGO! PETE BEST IS BEST!

      • Why does he owe you his autograph? What makes you entitled to that? As the interview states, he is happy to shake your hand and say hello.

        As far as Pete Best being the best, well, that simply is not true. When the Beatles auditioned with Best as the drummer, they were told, on all four auditions, that Best was not a good drummer. He could not keep the beat, a drummer’s basic task– the songs’ tempos sped up and slowed down erratically as a result of his lack of ability. Ringo was an essential member of the group.

    24. Always love Ringo, but I don’t believe he was the first Beatle to initiate a solo album. George’s Wonderwall Music was first in 1968.

    25. Ronny Paulsen says:

      I Love Ringo. He’s a big inspiration for me, and he still makes good music! An icon for all drummers and musicians.

    26. Elaine Cray says:

      Ringo, You are awesome and all that fame, wealth, and success didn’t tarnish your image. Also you are a great role model to those talented young musicians who seem to be going down the wrong path!! I am a 62 year old school teacher and still remember when I was 12 and saw the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan. Thank you for enriching our lives with your music, your great wit and charm!

    27. william pierce says:

      I’ve been a huge Beatles fan all my life, so much so, that, I actually learned to play the drums by watching Ringo, and playing along to Beatles songs! Ringo was truly an inspiration to me! The Beatles will live on forever!

    28. I have one of the first 45’s the beetles made. It was made in Germany with tony Sheridan.the songs on it are, my bonnie,cry for a shadow, the saints,and why.my brother was a DJ in england and he gave it to me as a gift.

    29. Polo Leal says:

      Check sources because it is widely known that no Beatle other than George played in “Something”. I may be wrong, but that’s how the story goes.

    30. Karen Spurlock says:

      Love Ringo, he has such a big heart for the Beatles and his musician friends. Thanks for the well written article.

    31. Tenzin says:

      Great article. It’s interesting that he still meditates after all these years. I have meditated for many years I and know how hard it can be to stick with it. Guided meditations can help, such as: http://stillnessdaily.org

    32. Wonderful interview and well-written. The writer clearly gets it. And Ringo’s personality comes across better than any interview I’ve seen with him in years. Great pics, too.

    33. This is a good article.

      Ringo will probably be the last surviving Beatle. He seems to have a good marriage, and takes care of himself; and he stays busy with all of his interests.

      Why he loves LA is simple enough to understand: it is not the UK in the winter; and the weather is nearly perfect during the rest of the year. :-)

      Apparently he was the “glue” that brought together warring or disgruntled factions within the Beatles, and made peace. He roomed with John Lennon, and he was respected by the others, and did not make enemies within the group.

      Kudos to Ringo!

    34. sharley says:

      I always thought Ringo was the best. All the teenage boys picked a favorite Beatle. I picked Ringo and imitated him. A brother from Bronx !!

    35. “A Perfect Storm”? That cliche is supposed to mean a bad thing. It isn’t applicable to a flurry of Beatle activity. It doesn’t make sense. Very bad writing.

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