Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Brought to you by
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Ringo Starr on New Beatles Song: It’s ‘a Nice Way to Finally Close That Door’

Sixty years after Ed Sullivan, the Beatles’ heartbeat holds forth on moptop mania, hairdressing, broccoli — and hope springing eternal


VIDEO: Ringo Credits McCartney for the Beatles Being So Prolific

“I’m shaking elbows because I’m getting ready to go on tour,” Ringo Starr says, taking the sanitary route to an introduction. We tap elbows, and I tell him I don’t want to go down in history as the guy who —

“Killed me?” he asks.

No, the guy who got you sick and caused a Beatle to cancel his tour, I clarify. We’ve only met, and I’ve had an immediate glimpse into Starr’s personality and playful sense of humor.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

Starr, who’s 83 and a great-grandfather, is sitting outside a West Hollywood bungalow, a short walk from where he lives with actress Barbara Bach, to talk about Rewind Forward, a new four-song EP that includes a new song by Paul McCartney and one cowritten by Starr and the All Starr Band, the punningly named, mutable ensemble of rock pros he’s led and toured with since 1989.

In addition to anchoring the rock band to which all others have been compared, Starr has been making solo albums since 1970 and released seven consecutive top 10 hit singles in the first half of that decade, including “Photograph,” which he and George Harrison cowrote. His former bandmates took some experimental, deeply personal voyages on their solo albums, while Starr pushed on with the Fab Four’s mix of rock, country and R&B, carrying the mantle of a band he still clearly loves.

spinner image ringo starr poses for a portrait in nineteen fifty nine when he played drums for rory storm and the hurricanes before joining the beatles
Ringo Starr with a pompadour hairstyle in 1959.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before he was a Beatle, the former Richard Starkey was a Beatles fan. He was playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, one of the top bands in Liverpool, when he saw the Beatles for the first time in 1960, while both groups were playing dank Hamburg basements. When he was offered the drum chair in the Beatles, he accepted immediately, even though he was joining a less successful band — a choice that has worked out pretty well. Trim and lively, he’s precisely what he’s always seemed to be: an unpretentious, no-nonsense guy who doesn’t take himself seriously, except for his music.

“My name is Ringo, and I play drums,” he said in 2015 when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. But he’s also been a film and TV actor — a younger generation knows him mostly as Mr. Conductor from the PBS series Shining Time Station — and has published nine books, including this year’s Beats & Threads.

Years ago, he says, he was recording with producer Jeff Lynne, who wanted Starr to drum along to a click track, a prerecorded, metronomic beat drummers use to make sure they don’t speed up or slow down. Starr turned down the offer of assistance. “And in much more dramatic words,” he recalls, “I said to Jeff, ‘I am the click.’ ”

When did the new song “Rewind Forward” start to take shape?

One of my producers said, “We need a song with ‘rewind’ in it.” “Rewind” is a great word, but I don’t want to be in the past, so out of nowhere, I said “rewind forward.” My mouth is faster than my brain. All my life, strange things like that have come out, like the phrase “hard day’s night.” There were rumors John Lennon used to follow me around with his pen and pencil, waiting to hear what I’d say next. I said, “This is all people will talk about. They’ll keep asking me what it means.” And it means that you rewind to a space that was happy, and then you go forward. Which makes perfect sense now. [Laughs.]

spinner image ringo starr in a garden
Photo by Peter Yang

There are very strong emotional and cognitive links between music and memory. Are there songs that bring back specific moments in your life?

Yeah, and on a daily basis, it could be this song or that one. I have great memories of my stepdad, who was a fan of big bands. When I hear big band music, I think of him. And when I drum, it always has a swing to it. That’s what he gave me, all those years ago. I was playing my music to him one day, and he said, “Have you heard this?” And he played me Sarah Vaughn. That’s a huge memory for me, because he didn’t say, “The music you’re listening to is crap, get it off.”

I did that with my children too — that’s how important that moment with my stepdad was to me. If my kids played me their music, I’d say, “Have you heard this?” We all learned a lot. When my son Zak [a drummer who now plays with the Who] was 9, he came running in with a vinyl record. “You’ve got to hear this, Dad. It’s this guy named Ray Charles!” And it was Ray Charles’ big band. I didn’t say, “Eh, I’ve heard hundreds of big band records.” I took the position, well, let’s hear it together.

Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones was also a big band fan, and there are some similarities in your styles.

We both swing, yeah. Charlie was even straighter than me. He played less than me, which isn’t easy to do. [Laughs.]

spinner image paul mccartney left and ringo starr right perform during the thirtieth annual rock and roll hall of fame induction ceremony in two thousand and fifteen
Paul McCartney (left) and Ringo Starr perform onstage during the 30th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Hall on April 18, 2015 in Cleveland.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

How did the new Paul song on your album, “Feeling the Sunlight,” come about?

Paul and I were in England, having dinner together [along with our wives]. I told him I was making an EP, and I said, “Why don’t you write me a song?” He wrote the song and put bass on it, he put piano, he put the drums on — and I had to take the drums off. [Laughs.]

Paul and John wrote “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the song that always ends All Starr Band concerts, and they customized it for your voice and personality. You couldn’t have sung “Helter Skelter” or “Blackbird.”

No, I couldn’t. John wrote several songs for me over the years, and George too. I used to be a rock drummer, and then they ruined my whole career. [Laughs.] “With a Little Help” and “Yellow Submarine” are the reasons I’m onstage every night.

Shopping & Groceries

Walmart+

$20 off a Walmart+ annual membership

See more Shopping & Groceries offers >

It’s a pretty big act of love to write someone a song.

Yeah, they know me. Paul loves me as much as I love him. He’s the brother I never had. As an only child, suddenly I got three brothers. We looked out for each other. We all went mad at different times. You can’t imagine what it was like, being in the Beatles. It got bigger and crazier.

We were playing clubs, and then we made a record, “Love Me Do.” My God, there’s nothing bigger than that, our first vinyl. We found out the BBC was going to play “Love Me Do” at 2:17, or whatever time it was, and we pulled the car over. “Wow! We’re on the radio, man!”

spinner image beatles on ready steady go in nineteen sixty three from left to right paul mccartney john lennon ringo starr and george harrison
The Beatles during rehearsals for the music television show "Ready, Steady Go!" at Television House in London on Oct. 4, 1963.
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Sure, because you didn’t know how long your careers would last.

Nobody knew. There was that terrible interview [with the BBC in 1963], which I pay for even today. Paul and John said they would keep writing songs once the Beatles’ popularity faded. My girlfriend was a hairdresser, so I said I fancied having a ladies’ hair salon, and I’ve been sh- - on ever since for saying that. “Oh, did you ever hear from the hairdressing salon?” [Laughs.]

spinner image ringo starr sitting in a window
Photo by Peter Yang

How do you prepare physically when you’re about to start a tour?I prepare every day. I work out with a trainer three times a week, and I do a couple of days on my own as well, just to keep moving. In the first All Starr Band, Joe Walsh was the guitarist. I said to Joe, “Let’s rock!” I went down on my knees, but I couldn’t get back up. [Laughs.] That’s when I started getting myself together physically.

You’re a big advocate of broccoli. What percent broccoli are you at this point?

I’m 99 percent broccoli. The kids now have posters in the audience: “Peace, Love, Broccoli.” I recommend broccoli to all your readers.

The phrase “peace and love” has become so synonymous with you. It’s an easy motto to adopt if you grew up around peace and love, but when you were growing up in Liverpool ...

There was no peace and love. You were loved by your mother and, in my case, my stepdad and grandparents. In our neighborhood, the Dingle, there was an edge all the time that could get violent. You had to join a gang. And sometimes your own gang would beat you up! [Grins.]

You were also a very sick child, but it seems it created a lucky break.

They told my mother three times, “He’ll be dead in the morning.” They didn’t know I had peritonitis until it went into my appendix, which burst. I was poisoned all through my body. The surgeon was next door, drinking in the pub, because he’d gone off duty. He opened me up the best he could, and he saved my life. Imagine if he’d had more to drink!

But I think being that ill taught me that life goes on. And I was in bed for months, so to keep us busy they brought us tambourines, maracas and little 7-inch drums. It was a magic moment, because once I hit that drum, I only wanted to be a drummer. We couldn’t afford drums, but I ended up getting them, and all has been going well since.

spinner image ringos all starr band at riverfest in nineteen eighty nine from left to right ringo starr levon helm joe walsh nils lofgren clarence clemons rick danko jim keltner dr john
(Left to right) Ringo Starr, Levon Helm, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons, Rick Danko, Jim Keltner and Dr. John of Ringo & His All Starr Band at Riverfest in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 23, 1989.
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Since the Beatles, have you ever been close to joining someone else’s band full-time?

No, I never joined anybody’s band. I played with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and a lot of other bands, and other Beatles played with me. If you look at the Ringo album [from 1973], the Beatles are all on it, and John is also on [1974’s] Goodnight Vienna.

Then they asked me, did I want to put the All Starr Band together and go on the road. I said yes. And then you go, “What the hell did I just do?” It was a great experience. I like to mention my insecurity, because I was the middle drummer, with Levon Helm on my right and Jim Keltner on my left. I think it’s the first band that ever had three drummers.

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

spinner image the beatles rehearsing in sweden in nineteen sixty three from left to right ringo starr george harrison paul mccartney and john lennon
The Beatles together in their hotel room in Stockholm during their autumn tour of Sweden in October 1963.
Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

You mentioned Ringo, the only album on which all four former Beatles play. I don’t want to say you were the glue in the band, but you were the guy who didn’t feud with anyone.

No, I was the glue. [Laughs.] That’ll be in big letters: I WAS THE GLUE, SAYS RINGO. George was the first one to make a solo album [Wonderwall Music], and I was the drummer. John started the Plastic Ono Band, and I was the drummer. Paul likes to play drums himself, or I would’ve been on his albums too.

There’s a “new” Beatles song coming out, called “Now and Then.” How did that happen?

Last year, Paul called and said, “You remember that unfinished song of John’s, ‘Now and Then’? Why don’t we work on that?” He sent it to me, and I played the drums and sang. We had a great track of John singing and playing piano and George playing rhythm guitar. There were terrible rumors that it’s not John, it’s AI, whatever bulls- - - people said. Paul and I would not have done that. It’s a beautiful song and a nice way to finally close that door.

Do you play the drums much?

No, because I hate playing on my own. There’s an interview of George saying, “Oh, Ringo’s bad, he won’t even practice. But he played great on my record.” [Laughs.] He saved himself. But it’s true I could never sit by myself and play. I did once, and there were lots of loud voices, people in our Liverpool neighborhood shouting about what they’d do to me if I didn’t stop.

spinner image ringo starr making a peace sign
Photo by Peter Yang

Is peace and love still winning?

Yes. The press used to say, “Oh, he’s peace-and-loving again.” What’s wrong with that, brother? The world is still crazy, it’s ruled by dictators and palace owners. There’s a lot we could do.

You made a lot of films. Do you have a favorite?

Blindman [a 1971 Western]. You haven’t seen that one? Oh dear, oh dear. [Laughs.] I’m the bad cowboy’s younger brother. Every time I went to get on my horse, we had to cut, because the stirrup was over my eye level. They’d bring a ladder and then I’d get on the horse.

spinner image nineteen eighty one ringo starr marries barbara bach in london
Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach leaving the Marylebone Register Office after their wedding in London on April 27, 1981.
Photo by Bryn Colton/Getty Images

On one of your movies, Caveman, you met actress Barbara Bach, and you’ve now been married for 42 years. What is the secret to a long marriage?

Love is deep and odd. People think, Oh, you never have a bad day. We have bad days, and we’ve had a few rows, but we get through it. We don’t have bad months. I still love her, and hopefully she’s still got some feelings for me. [Laughs.]

spinner image an assortment of beatles memorabilia including buttons flyers keychains and pens circa nineteen sixty five
An assortment of Beatles memorabilia including buttons, flyers, keychains and pens.
Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images

February 9, 2024, will be the 60th anniversary of the Beatles’ momentous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What do you remember?

Wow, 60 years. I can’t tell you how incredible it was. All the music I loved came from America: country, blues, probably half the records I bought were Motown. It was always American music, and 60 years later, I’m still here talking about it. Ed Sullivan was at the airport in London when we came back from a tour of Sweden. He didn’t know who we were, but when he saw the reaction of the crowd, he booked us. By the time we got to America, we had a single [“I Want to Hold Your Hand”] that was number 1. Everything just worked out for the Beatles.

I was 22 when I joined the Beatles in 1962, and I was 30 when it was all over. We did eight years, and look at how much we packed in. We loved to work — well, Paul loved to work more than all of us. John and I would be hanging out in the garden and the phone would ring. We were psychic — we knew it was him. “Hey, lads, should we go into the studio?” Otherwise, we’d have put out three albums and then vanished.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?