With the Beatles behind him, Ringo Starr still wants to keep on drumming
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
ORILLIA, Ont. (CP) - Ringo Starr - ex-Beatle, former kiddie-show host and current band leader - really is a down-to-earth, black-and-white bloke.
With a little help from some of his musical friends, the diminutive drummer lit up the entertainment centre Wednesday at Casino Rama with his quick wit and forthright answers during a jam session and news conference before the launch of his North American tour.
Starr - dressed, appropriately enough, all in black and white - said he agrees with Canada's plans to decriminalize marijuana, and then bashed England's Royal family.
"I don't think they're much use any more. You can't be clearer than that, can you?"
Then, in a later interview with The Canadian Press, the funny Beatle got downright humble and sentimental.
The Beatles mayhem "was all pretty weird," said Starr.
"But always the saving grace was we were making great music, the boys were making great music. The music was holding it all together. It was always most important. The fame wasn't all that important, although we got all of that."
He also mourned the loss of his ex-wife and the mother of his three children, Maureen, to leukemia, and the passing of ex-bandmate George Harrison, also to cancer, saying, "It was a big loss for me when George died."
In fact, Starr said, Never Without You, a song on his new album Ringo Rama, is a tribute to the Quiet Beatle "that says more than I could express in words."
Starr opened the jam session with the 1967 Beatles anthem With a Little Help from My Friends, and then introduced his All Starr Band - John Waite, Colin Hay, Paul Carrack, Mark Rivera and Sheila E.
Starr and his band kick off their North American tour with shows Thursday and Friday at Casino Rama - their only Canadian stop - before travelling through the United States, ending Sept. 7 in San Diego.
Responding to a flurry of other questions after the jam session, mostly about his historic early-1960s-1970 period with the Beatles, Starr also said he's sick of being asked "How's Paul?" although he quickly added: "It's just a joke. He knows that."
Now 63, Starr is the only child of working-class parents who lived in a rough section of Liverpool. Born Richard Starkey, he was named after his dad, who left the family when Ringo was just three. Starr later adopted the name Ringo because of his love of rings and then shortened his last name.
A sickly child, Starr's appendix ruptured when he was six and he spent several months in hospital in a coma. A series of health problems resulted in him leaving school at 15. After working at a series of menial jobs, he began drumming for a skiffle group before replacing Pete Best with the Beatles in the early 1960s.
After the Beatles' breakup 33 years ago, Starr enjoyed success with two hit albums, Sentimental Journey and Beaucoup of Blues. He continued drumming, including for John Lennon before the rebel Beatle was slain in 1980.
But in between, Starr's life and musical career crashed.
He again suffered from health problems, including stomach complaints that led to doctors removing some of his intestine, and a fire destroyed his Los Angeles home and much of his Beatles memorabilia in 1979.
In 1980, he met his wife of 22 years, actress Barbara Bach, while filming the movie Caveman - a union, he said Wednesday, that is still "great" despite going through some ups and downs, including Starr's bouts with alcohol abuse in the 1980s around the time he began narrating the now-defunct animated series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
"I went into hibernation for several years," Starr recalled. "But I dragged myself out of the hole by putting together the first All Starr band" 14 years ago.
Starr said that through nearly a half-century of music, his greatest satisfaction has been continuing his love of drumming.
"I got my first set of drums at 13, and my dream was to play with people, and that dream has continued to this day," he told media at Casino Rama.
"I feel truly blessed it's still happening after all these years."
What does Starr plan to do when he's 64? He gave every indication that his musical ambitions aren't over.
"At the end of every (All Starr Band) tour I always say I'm never touring again," he said. "But by November, I say (to my manager), has anybody called?"
A sketch of members of Ringo Starr's 2003 All Starr Band:
Sheila E.: American drummer who landed opening slot on Prince's Purple Rain Tour in 1984 and '85. Best-known for '80s hit The Glamorous Life. Founder of Heaven Productions Music, she released her most recent CD, Heaven.
John Waite: Musical career as a bass guitarist who plays harmonica began in London in 1975. Most notable for his time with The Babys, his solo career in the early 1980s with hits like Change and Missing You, and a time in the 1990s with Bad English. His latest album is Figure in a Landscape.
Colin Hay: Helped form the Australian rock band Men at Work in 1979, notable for hit singles Down Under and Who Can It Be Now. The defunct band last played at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Hay's new album is Man at Work.
Paul Carrack: Now a solo artist after playing in the 1970s and '80s with Mike and the Mechanics (The Living Years), Ace and Squeeze. In 1995, the British singer co-wrote Love will Keep Us Alive with Pete Vale and Jim Capaldi. His latest album is It Ain't Over.
Mark Rivera: Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the saxophonist toured with Sam and Dave and later joined the band Tycoon in the mid-1970s. He later met producer Mutt Lange (Shania Twain's husband), and performed on an album with Foreigner. Has also worked with John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates, Elvis Costello, Bill Ocean and Joe Walsh. Joined the All Starr Band in 1997 and is now Ringo Starr's musical director.