No one loved the cleaned-up and remastered versions of the Beatles' albums that came out a couple of years ago more than Ringo Starr. "And do you know why?" he asks, followed by a pregnant pause.
"Um," we hesitantly reply, "because now you can make out all the drum parts?"
Bingo, says Ringo. "You can hear the drums, yes! It's like, wow! And suddenly people say, 'Ooh, we better re-look at his playing.' Because sometimes that's been in doubt, in a lot of people's minds. Of course, with Lennon and McCartney, what do you expect? And now suddenly people are saying 'Maybe he could play,'" Starr chuckles, long past the point of being defensive, but still a little protective of his legacy.
At 71, he's still playing — and singing, and writing, and even playing a bit of guitar and keyboards — on Ringo 2012, out January 24. He's also still crazy about the same woman — his second and current wife Barbara Bach, the former "Bond girl" he met on the set of the 1981 movie Caveman.
"I'm in love," he proclaims. "Thirty years with the same woman — and she loves me, so I'm doubly blessed! It's not easy every day, because that's life. But I've never cared since we met if we're loving or fighting, as long as it's me and Barbara."
They later kicked their substance abuse problems together. "I was blessed to have met Barbara on that movie. I actually fell in love with her at LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] when her boyfriend was putting her on the plane." A new song, "Wonderful," was written with Bach in mind. Key line: "The worst it ever was is wonderful."
Today, Starr says he's in a "different space," alluding to his 1970s substance abuse issues. Starr had post-Beatles commercial breakouts with the Ringo album (1973) and Goodnight Vienna (1974), but then the decline began. "I was just not conscious," he recalls. "The alcohol and drugs were coming into play, and the musician in me was getting lower and lower. I can see exactly my career go downhill as my use of stuff went uphill. And then it turned around again. And that's a man's life — there's ups and downs."
He gave up the movies after Caveman, having decided, "I'm gonna let the actors act." Starr had also tired, he admits, of perpetuating a constantly comic persona. "People have kept me in this time warp of A Hard Day's Night and Help!, and if I'm sort of not that person, they get a bit upset. Well, [bleep] you, I'm a little different now!"