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Join Date: Apr 20, 2000
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2003-05 - Record Collector Magazine - Ringo Starr
Interviewed by Ken Sharp
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Published May 2003 In Record Collector Magazine, Issue #285, Pages 84 & 85
The man who sang "drumming is my madness", Ringo Starr, is back and better than ever with Ringo Rama, his first new studio album in four years. Co-produced by Starr himself and Mark Hudson, his able associate on albums such as Vertical Man, VH1 Storytellers and I Wanna Be Santa Claus, Ringo Rama is an impressive tour de force, mining a variety of styles including thundering hard rock, finger-snappin' C&W, hazy psychedelia, jaunty music-hall and elegiac ballads. There's even a track that features Ringo playing all the instruments.
Recorded primarily with his group, the Roundheads, Ringo Rama resounds with the infectious joy of a man having the time of his life - and on his own terms. Despite the appearance of special guests Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Dave Gilmour, Van Dyke Parks and Shawn Colvin, this record is a showcase of the Roundheads' talents: a cornerstone is undeniably 'Never Without You', Starr's tribute to the late George Harrison, featuring an appropriately fiery solo by Clapton.
RC sat down with the ever-affable man with many rings in Beverly Hills, California for an all-encompassing look at the world of Starr. Take it away, Ringo...
KEN SHARP: With the current situation in Iraq and unrest around the world, the 'peace and love' theme you espouse seems even more apt today.
RINGO STARR: I just wrote about it 'cause that's how I feel. I wasn't trying to make a statement about this war, I was trying to make a statement about all war, all violence.
KEN: “Never Without You” is a very poignant song you wrote about George Harrison. Did you set out to write a song about him?
RINGO: Initially it was a song of “We were young, it was fun, and we couldn’t lose.” And I just went directly to 1962. George was heavily on our minds at that period in time so the first line we put it was “I dig love.” And then we tried to create a Harry Nilsson situation and then we tried to put in John Lennon. We tried to put them in all together. It was gonna be like this huge thank you to those people in my life. In the end, it got too messy so I just cancelled all of that. And I thought no, this was just gonna be for George, and that’s how it ended up. That gave us the opportunity to even use some of his lyrics in the song in our way.
KEN: With the success of your 1971 single, “It Don’t Come Easy,” followed by the Ringo and Goodnight Vienna albums, you were on a roll. In fact, you were the first solo Beatle to have a #1 hit as a solo artist. [That honor actually goes to George Harrison.] But then all that went dramatically south.
RINGO: I came out of the Beatles, then there was a dip with the Sentimental Journey and country album [Beaucoups of Blues]. Then we got to the Ringo album, which was huge. Goodnight Vienna did well too. Then we started to dip again for several years.
KEN: Why the dip?
RINGO: I wasn’t taking enough interest in my own life; I wasn’t taking enough interest in my own career. Not that people around me weren’t doing their best. I think it’s how much I put into it, and now the results are better. And so we got to the end of that downward phase and we started again with Time Takes Time, which was great. It was my getting back into the water sort of thing and trying again. There was a little insecurity, trying things out with this producer, that producer; I wasn’t writing so much either. And then when we got to the Vertical Man album, we found this incredible team with Mark Hudson and the Roundheads. That was our ‘getting to know each other’ record. Then we did the Christmas album (I Wanna Be Santa Claus) and got to know each other more. And then we got to Ringo Rama and I just think you can see the playing’s better. I’m more active. I’m more active. I’m a co-writer on each song.
KEN: You have been dabbling with songwriting since the 60s, haven’t you?
RINGO: Since “Octopus’s Garden” [laughs].
KEN: Even earlier.
RINGO: “Don’t Pass Me By.”
KEN: And “What Goes On.” But the point I wanted to make is with Vertical Man and Ringo Rama; you’ve really come to the fore for the first time as a songwriter.
RINGO: Yeah, the team is great. But remember, even on those early records, “Photograph” and “It Don’t Come Easy,” I was only good at two verses and a chorus really. And then I would give it to George Harrison in those days. We’d always finish the third verse together and he’d do the production. With my limited guitar ability, I could only play three chords, and George would put in the passing chord and make me sound like a genius. So with the Roundheads, who are really good players, we’re all part of the team. Everybody’s egos are all the same.
KEN: As a teenager, didn’t you plan to move to Texas?
RINGO: Yeah. I was trying to emigrate to Houston because Lightnin’ Hopkins, the blues player, lived there. I’m still into the blues and Lightnin’ is my hero. I was working in a factor at the time and so was my friend, and we were looking for factory jobs. We had no real qualifications for anything else. But we just wanted to be around Lightnin.’ We went to the actual consulate and they gave us a lot of forms to fill in, which was the wrong thing to give any teenager. And we filled in the first set of forms and then took them back and they gave us an even bigger set of forms. It was very difficult then to get into America. But it would have been interesting if that ever happened. You know, when you look back, it’s like that movie, Sliding Doors—a minute later something else could have happened.
KEN: Did the Memphis scene make an indelible impact on you when you were growing up?
RINGO: Yes. Not the Memphis scene so much but records that were coming out of Memphis. Elvis and things like that were coming out at the time, Jerry Lee Lewis. They were coming out of Sun Studios, that type of rock ‘n’ roll record. Memphis is part of rock ‘n’ roll history. We were trying to capture some of that spirit. We were just writing our rock ‘n’ roll songs. You see, that’s what’s so great. Everyone knows what you’re doing as soon as you use those song titles. It’s universal.
KEN: Why did you choose to learn the drums over guitar or bass? I know you also played piano early on.
RINGO: We always had a piano in the family, not actually in our house but in our family. It was of no interest to me. And my grandparent’s banjo and mandolin were of no interest to me. And they gave me those instruments. I might as well have thrown them into the fire. From 13, I only wanted to be a drummer. It was one of those things and guess what? It happened.
KEN: Obviously the Beatles met Elvis in 1965 but you also met the King later on.
RINGO: Yeah. The second time I met Elvis, they took me to Vegas just because of the video for “Sentimental Journey,” when I was dressed up with the bow tie and we had the dancing girls. They said, “Oh he can play Vegas now” [laughs]. It was just far out. Elvis’ show was good but it was a bit scary for me. It was fine seeing Elvis and that but the idea of playing that room was pretty scary.
KEN: “Elizabeth Reigns” has clever lyrics and bears a very cool psychedelic motif.
RINGO: “Elizabeth Reigns” was a question from vocalist Dean Grakal, who asked what ER meant when we were recording at my place, Rocca Bella, and it was Golden Jubilee madness all over England. When the Jubilee concert was coming on, one of the boys was there. On a day off they went into town and saw all these banners about the big Jubilee. Dean got the song going and I said, “I’m not gonna sing about the Queen!” [laughs]. And they went into town and they found this pub where the hanging tree used to be. There’s artistic license: “A letter encased in a cement hung from the hanging tree.” It makes no sense even to me, but lyrically it says quite a lot. So they’d found all this British heritage, and I’m the only Englishman there. They started writing this thing and I joined in: “Six hundred servants use their detergent scrubbing the palace floor.” They’re just like everyone else, the royal family. I wanted to get in the line “we’ll point the finger no more ‘cause all of our sings are as big as the Windsors’”—the divorces, and the madness and the kids. And the track turned out really cool. And in the end I say, “There goes the knighthood.” So I feel you’ll only see Sir Paul McCartney!
[size="1"][ Jun 17, 2003, 10:57 PM: Message Edited By: Jerry ][/size]