Once upon a time in Liverpool, the former Richard Starkey played drums in a local quartet called the Beatles, earning himself millions and a reputation as the Yogi Berra of the Fab Four with such cockeyed pronouncements as “America’s like Britain, only with buttons” and “I like Beethoven, especially the poems.” What’s not as well-known is that Ringo Starr was the most commercially successful Beatle in the first five years after the band broke up, charting seven top-10 singles, including back-to-back U.S. number ones “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen.” Starr continues to record and tour, recently releasing Liverpool 8 (Capitol) and taking his show on the road with the 10th edition of Ringo Starr & His All-Starrs, which includes Edgar Winter, Billy Squier and Men At Work’s Colin Hay. We pass the mic to Ringo:
For the All-Starrs, I was invited to put something together in 1989. I didn’t really want to be up in the front singing all night. I wanted to play as well. I went to my phone book at the time and made a few calls. I called Dr. John, and he said sure. Joe Walsh is a friend of mine, Nils Lofgren was a new friend, Billy Preston I’d known since the Beatles. My idea was, if you had hits in the ’60s and ’70s—which I had—if you had hits in the ’80s, then that’s it. It’s kind of the “1-800-LIVE-BAND” because that’s what we do. [Laughs]
It was (producer) Dave Stewart’s idea to write something of a “mini-biography” for Liverpool 8, but of course I had to write the words, because only I know what my life is about. I was a sailor first, I did sail the sea. I did work in a factory. We went to Butlin’s Holiday Camp, where I turned professional. And the only difference between a professional and amateur musician is that you get paid and don’t have to go back to the factory.
I’ve been doing this a long time, and I do think I’m improving. When I was writing things like “Don’t Pass Me By” in the Beatles, we had the finest writers in the world [in the band]. That was the deal. Lennon and McCartney were the finest writers, both together and on their own. And George came into the picture as a writer, from “Taxman” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and that’s huge. He got really good. I started somewhere after that. So I have no problem with being overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney at all, but since we’ve broken up, I’ve had my own world. I’ve always written songs more in collaboration than other people might. I like hanging around with musicians more than other writers, and since I don’t play guitar, I always kind of need one of them around me. So you could walk into the studio and say, “Ah, what a great day,” and suddenly we’re writing a song about it. It’s not a hard job for me. I don’t sit there suffering, you know?
—interview by Corey duBrowa