- 24 Sep 21
As he releases new EP Change The World , the legendary drummer talks politics, formative musical influences, the All Stars Band, Charlie Watts, and Peter Jackson’s hotly anticipated Let It Be documentary.
Today sees Ringo Starr release his latest EP, Change The World, a wonderful selection of pop-rock anthems, featuring an assortment of guest appearances, a song written by Linda Perry, and a cracking cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’.
Earlier, this week, Hot Press was invited to a virtual press conference with The Beatles legend to make the record’s arrival. Sitting in the studio of his LA home, Starr looks unfeasibly good for his 81 years. He still retains his sharp Liverpudlian wit, albeit the Merseyside accent now has a slight American twang.
Throughout our half-hour audience, the iconic drummer’s commitment to the Beatles’ humanist message of peace and love is also manifest. With the introductions done, he gets down to talking to the assembled press corps.
“One question at a time,” he quips. “Otherwise we’ll be here til December.”
The first query concerns what Ringo would like listeners to take from Change The World.
“Joy,” he responds, “and the expression ‘Change the world.’ We’re changing it for the kids. There’s all those people meeting in New York right now, but half the world’s on fire and half of it’s underwater. But they’re still saying, ‘We can’t do this, we can’t do that.’ I think we have to do a lot, so I’d like to change the world for the kids.
“I do wonder if politicians have kids. Do their kids have kids? Isn’t that reason enough to let us breathe and find water? Anyway, apart from that, I’ve got a CD out!”
Someone ventures that the peace and love message doesn’t seem to be working.
“I think you’re wrong there,” Ringo counters. “Because when I started the Peace & Love Moment for my birthday in 2008 on the streets of Chicago, we had around a hundred people. And now we actually have Peace & Love Moments in 28 countries around the world, so slowly but surely – we’re like the pebble in the ocean – it’s rippling out. You can only do what you do, and that’s what I do: peace and love.
Next up, Starr discusses the ‘Rock Around The Clock’ cover, and how recording it bought up some formative musical memories.
“Well, I’m sitting here and making an EP,” he reflects. “And I love it, because it’s four tracks and I do it in this room. The drums are in the bedroom, it’s a small studio. I was just thinking about tracks for the EP, and I went through some memories. I had my seventh birthday in hospital, and also my 14th. I was still there when my 15th birthday was coming up, and I didn’t want to spend it in hospital.
“So my mother talked to the doctors; I had TB and everything, and I’d been in there over a year. I was doing pretty good, and so they decided they’d let me out. First of all, I went down to London with my stepdad and my mum to see his folks. Then we came back to Liverpool, and my grandparents took me to the Isle of Mann.”
It was there that the young Starr saw first hand the visceral power of rock and roll.
“It was incredible,” he continues, “because I went to see the movie Rock Around The Clock, and it was full of crazy British holiday-makers. They had ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats and they were a little out of their minds. I’d been in hospital and I don’t know too much about what’s going on lately. And they ripped up the cinema! I mean they ripped out the chairs and threw them, and I was going, ‘Wow, this is great!’
“In my head, I remember that moment like it was yesterday. So this time out, I said, ‘I’m going to do ‘Rock Around The Clock.’’ Because it’s my EP, I can do whatever I like, so I thought, ‘Rock Around The Clock’s gonna be great.’ I did do a kind of old school, brushes version of it, and then I thought , ‘Nah, put the sticks on.’ And then I rocked – and then I called Joe Walsh, and he rocked!
It’s a separate solo. You listen to covers of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, and everybody plays that same solo, but this is different.”
The subject turns to touring, which leads Ringo to reflect on a recent trip home.
“Barbara and I were just over in England,” he says. “We went over to see our kids and grandkids, and we had a couple of weeks there, which was great. But you’re still a bit like, ‘Ooh.’ Walking up King’s Road, we’re the only ones with masks on. That’s how it is. This year, because of the vaccination, we can actually move a little more than we did last year.
“So yeah, the pandemic… It’s not like we can go anywhere. I keep thinking, ‘I’ll just get a plane and go.’ Where? It’s everywhere. That’s the way it is. So I’m here talking to you guys!”
How does he go about choosing the musicians for his All Starr band line-ups?
“At first, I used to change the whole band,” explains Ringo. “With the first band in 1989, I’d never done it before, and I just opened my phone book. It was, ‘Oh, Joe Walsh – he’ll be great. So will Levon Helm and Dr John.’ I had all these numbers in my book. For all you youngsters, in those days, we used to have to keep them in a book! It went really well, so I decided to do it again with another band.
“The reason I picked those players – you have to have hits. If you wanna be in the All Stars, you’ve got to have hits, cos we’re a hit band. And you’ve got to play an instrument. So, you’re listening, and you get an offer of three bass players and you think, ‘Oh yeah, he’s got that good song, he’ll be great.’ Same with the piano player.
“I usually have about 12 or 13 to choose from, and I get it down to eight. That’s how I do it. Now it’s been going on for 30 years, people call us – they’d like their artists to be a part of it. I have to know you can play, because I want good players. So if you’ve got a song and you’re a good player, there’s a chance you’ll get into the All Stars.”
As for arrangements, it can change due to context.
“It depends on the track,” notes Starr. “One time, Sheila E did ‘Come Together’ and I was like, ‘I’m not doing that fill!” She said, ‘Okay’, then got on her congas and did her version! That was so cool… Anyway, we love Sheila. I’m just hanging out, doing stuff and having fun. Being real when we play.
“You can’t see it, but next door there’s a gym, and I work out nearly every other day. There’s another room past that where I get me paints out. This star on the wall in the background here, I painted that. On top there, you might see the record that you’re going to buy! We’re promoting!”
Starr then returns to how he’d like people to react to Change The World.
“I’d like them to be kind, considerate, loving,” he says. “Peace – that’s what I’d love. We live in America, and half the world is starving, half the world doesn’t have water. Everybody knows I support Water Aid, because I believe if you don’t have anything, you should have water if you’re on this planet. It’s necessary, they’re drinking crap water that’s polluted.
“And a couple of years from now, it’ll be hard to breathe because of the pollution in the air. Just be kind to your neighbour, to your friends, to the person next door. Let’s try and understand what they’re going through, not only us. I mean, I’m not political, but they sent all those Haitian people back from Texas.
“What are they going to do? They left their country because there’s no food, there’s nothing for them. Thousands of them died. And then the storm. I can’t do it, this is why governments have to take charge – not only of their countries, but these other countries that are really suffering… Ooh, you’ve got me on me high horse now!”
One of the most influential drummers in music history, Ringo then reflects on the late Charlie Watts, who was similarly inspirational to successive generations of musicians.
“Charlie was a great guy, he was a lot of fun,” says Starr. “He had a harder band than I did to keep together! I’d meet Charlie, we’d hang out, he’s been up here. It’s not like we lived together. We lived close in London, we’d bump into each other on Kings Road or whatever. Or we’d find ourselves at dinner or a gig.
“But I had a party in the ‘70s, and I had a drum kit up in the attic – it was like a cinema and music space, or whatever you want to do up there. And Charlie came, and so did John Bonham. So we had three drummers just hanging out, and Bonham got on the kit. It’s not like on-stage, where it’s nailed down so it’s steady.
“So as he was playing, the bass drum was hopping away from him. You had Charlie Watts and Ringo holding the bass drum for him as he played! And you think, ‘Oh man, that would have been a great little TikTok, or a photo that would have gone worldwide.’ But in the ‘70s I had parties and you’ll never find any photos, because I wouldn’t let you take photos in my house. But I always think that would have been a great shot to have. So yeah, we will miss Charlie, he was a beautiful human being – he was the quiet man.”
Starr is then asked if he think The Beatles changed rock history.
“I wouldn’t say rock history, I think they changed music history. One of the biggest things The Beatles did was write the songs, and then we’d all record them. In those days, you had the writer, which was like a separate gig, and then the band recorded it. We had a moment with George Martin where he would bring great songs, and George and I said, ‘No, no, we want to do John and Paul’s.’
“That’s how it happened. And you know what I love to this day? The Beatles are still out there, and the music still holds up. We worked real hard, and of course we had some great songs.”
To conclude, Ringo talks about Peter Jackson’s hotly anticipated documentary on the making of Let It Be, which incorporates a huge volume of new archival footage, to greatly expand on the original film about the sessions.
“The documentary was great,” says Ringo. “It’s a little longer now, because Apple, our company, found 56 hours of unused footage from the Michael Lindsay-Hogg documentary. We were blessed that Peter Jackson took it on, to put it together to make it different. I was always moaning about the original – there’s no real joy in it. It’s all based on this downer little incident.
Anyway, Peter would come into LA and he’d bring stuff to show me on his iPad. He’d say, ‘We found this’, and there’d be footage of us laughing and fooling around. You have to think, from the beginning to the end of January, we’d made a record, and we’d done that rooftop gig, which went great. We’d played live again.
“There’s a great piece on in the doc for me, where Paul says, ‘Well, who wants to play live?’ And you can hear me in the background going, ‘I do!’ And we did. With The Beatles, we were always going to Turkey or somewhere, or we were going up Everest. Or we’ll be in a desert, or we’ll go to Hawaii and a volcano… So it was like, ‘Sod it, let’s just walk across the road.’”
Which, of course, led to one of The Beatles’ most iconic performances.
“With that one, it was, ‘Let’s just do in the roof,’” says Ringo. “And that’s what we did, and it was great. The police played a huge part; not that they did anything, but they were moaning at us. They look really silly in the film now. But we’ve got all this extra footage, so surprise surprise, we’re still hanging out.
“Peter’s locked up in New Zealand because of the pandemic. So now the documentary is six hours long, and it’s going to come out in America over three nights, through Thanksgiving. But it’s got the start, the middle and the finish. The start is very slow, then we get into it, and then we’re out. I mean, I love it, but I’m in it of course – so six hours is never long enough!”
Ringo feels the film will be warmly received.
“I think everyone will enjoy it,” he enthuses, “because you’ll see this band who worked really hard, and went through emotional ups and downs to get where we got, every time. But that’s just how it was. Four guys in a room; you’re gonna have a few ups and downs.
“That’s all I can say about that – that Peter Jackson is our hero, he’s done a great job. The actual roof gif, in pieces, is 43 minutes long, whereas it was a about eight-and-a-half. The end result is I loved it.”
Change The World is out now.
- Film & TV
- 13 Jan 21