How Ringo Starr Turned His Quarantine Into Music Gold
Pop legend emerges with a new EP, book, upcoming tour and serene outlook on being 80
En español | Battling cabin fever in lockdown, Ringo Starr settled into his home recording studio and made an EP. As with most of his solo projects since his 1970 debut Sentimental Journey, the storied Beatles drummer got the job done with a little help from his friends.
Consider that Starr's Zoom In kicks off with the warm nostalgic single “Here's to the Nights” that boasts an all-star chorus that includes Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Sheryl Crow, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Chris Stapleton and Jenny Lewis, plus rising stars Finneas, Yola and Eric Burton of Black Pumas. Friends, indeed.
The five-song set is his first studio disc since 2019's What's My Name and only the second EP of his career. It bookends 1995's 4-Starr Collection that featured “Yellow Submarine,” “It Don't Come Easy,” “Photograph” and “With a Little Help From My Friends."
Starr, 80, also has a new limited-edition coffee table book, Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All Starrs, available exclusively at JuliensAuctions.com. It chronicles the tour history of his All Starr Band in photographs by Henry Diltz and Jill Jarrett with anecdotes by the drummer and a foreword by his brother-in-law and All Starr alumnus Joe Walsh.
The band, active since 1989 with 14 rotating lineups that have included Levon Helm, Clarence Clemons, Todd Rundgren, John Entwistle, Peter Frampton, Sheila E and Jeff Lynne, pushed its 2020 tour to 2021, and then to 2022 because of COVID-19.
Holed up in the Los Angeles home he shares with his wife, Barbara Bach, the peace-and-love apostle chatted via Zoom from the room where he paints and makes music.
Recording during quarantine
I still hung out with some musicians, but we can send the files over the internet now, and that makes life easier. It's all changed. I prefer when we're all in the same room, but you have to use what you've got. I made the EP, and I'm in the middle of making an EP 2 now. And I like to paint. I have this little room where I can throw paint around, and if it gets on the floor or up against the wall, it doesn't bother anybody. And I have the gym. I truly believe those three things have kept me sane for the last full year.
Corralling pals for ‘Here's to the Nights'
The first person I called, of course, was Paul. Then Ben Harper and Dave Grohl came to this very room to do their vocals. Then Sheryl Crow. It was participation time right now, and everyone came. They did the film for it too, and that made it a lot more emotional, because you saw everyone singing that chorus.
Taking the writing reins on the reggae-driven “Waiting for the Tide to Turn"
That's the only one I'm a cowriter on (with engineer Bruce Sugar). I decided early, I'm not going to be the writer this time. I said, I'll produce, I'll play drums and I'll sing. Let someone else write. But then this track came together. The interesting bit was we got an incredible reggae guitar guy, Tony Chin, to play on it. He started with Bob Marley and played with everybody ever since. And just by chance he lives in the area, so he came over. That was beautiful to get an absolute great reggae guy. Yah, mon!
Why adding a late track mattered so much
I was only going to do four tracks, like the first EP. I had four tracks, and we're finishing up, when Steve Lukather calls up and says he's coming over with a song he and Joe Williams wrote. And the lyrics go, there's not enough love in the world, not enough peace in the world. I had to do it. How could I not do it?
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The decision to scrap his 2020 and 2021 tours
In early March last year there were those rumors that things aren't going right. What did we know? I thought, I won't be going out in May and June, but I'll do the exact same tour next year. And that didn't work out. Rather than do a virtual tour or with separation, I decided we would do it next year. That's when we feel it will be safe, and people will be able to hang and be with each other without the fear. You never know who's got it and can pass it. And I've got the band, the technicians, all the people that work behind the scenes. It's a crowd. I'd love to play. The audiences love me, I love them. We have a lot of fun. But I'm not taking that chance.
What he loves about the Ringo Rocks book
I do honestly love this book. To turn the page and see Dr. John, what a guy. He was just so great in the first band. A lot of my thoughts are on the very first band. Seeing each photo brings back the space I was in at the time.
Touring with the All Starrs versus with The Beatles
I've been doing (All Starrs) tours for 30 years, and I'm not tired. I'm blessed. As long as I can hold the sticks, I can work. It didn't all end when The Beatles ended. I made a few records but I did not go on tour until 1989. It took quite a while for me to go back on the road. With The Beatles, there was a lot of noise from the audience. We expected that. As players, we were giving it all we got, but we were holding back a bit, too. We felt we could move on. When we played live on the roof (in 1969, The Beatles’ final public performance), wow, it felt great, but it didn't go any further.
What aging offers
I'm a lot better at letting go. There's no time for grudges. I'd like to say there's no time for anger, but sometimes I do just explode. But even that's less. Nothing keeps me awake at night. All my memory is in there, it just takes a while for things to bubble to the top. Who's that actor? What's his name? And 10 minutes later, when it makes no sense, I remember it's Burt Lancaster.
Unfulfilled goals at 80
None. It's interesting. Barbara and I were watching TV last night, and the show was about how they're opening Mount Everest again. And we both said, you know, I don't want to climb Mount Everest. Every mountain is getting too high.
Edna Gundersen, a regular AARP music critic, was the longtime pop critic for USA Today.