The Jody Denberg Ringo Starr Interview

Jody Denberg interviews Ringo Starr for the "Ringo Rama" disc. (Copyright Jody Denberg)

Q: Welcome to the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour". During the next 60 minutes we'll have an intimate conversation with Ringo Starr as well as a generous selection of songs from "Ringo Rama", the new album by rock-and-roll's greatest drummer. I'm Jody Denberg. Ringo, we're here today in Manhattan. What are some of the specific memories that come to your mind when you visit New York City?

A: Well, always, our first trip here, which was so incredible. You know, landing in -- at the airport in New York. Before we left, we were all a bit nervous, because we knew that, you know, in England and Europe we were really well-known. And we landed in New York and it was just the same. And the record had got to No. 1 and all the excitement of it all and the kids hanging out everywhere. And you know, for any musician, any band America is the place. And it was great. So I just remember all the excitement was so great.

Q: You look great. How do you keep so fit?

A: Well, I watch what I eat and I work out and I try and live a healthy life.

Q: Folks are already calling "Ringo Rama" one of your best solo works ever. What makes "Ringo Rama" special for you? A: The plan of life is that you improve. And I think since 1989, when I sort of got back into the music business - touring, making records - that, you know, they should get better. That's the only plan, really, that your ideas about what you want to do are stronger and they come through. So on "Ringo Rama" it's more of a band feel, where "Vertical Man" was a band also, but it had too much stuff on top in the end. It was still a good album, I'm not putting it down. But this one, I feel, is better because it's more open and there's more of my personality stamped on it. And that's the aim of the game.

Q: The first song on "Ringo Rama" is Eye to Eye.

A: Eye to Eye.

Q: It sets the tone for what the album and Ringo Starr are all about, peace, love…

A: …and love, yeah. It's -- you know I am a product of the '60s. And if you've ever seen my live tours, you know, the All-Starr tours, I'm -- every song is peace and love. I've got the peace sign going there and I've still got it going because, you know, it's, it's what I'm about. I am about peace and love. I am about non-violence. And so I've just got to express that every chance I get. Actually, you know, what drives me crazy is that I've been put down for that. You know, who does he think he is? (Laughs). I'm just me, folks, saying (lowers voice), "Ringo Rama", peace and love.

Q: Why do you think peace and love are so hard to achieve?

A: Well, you know, everybody has something to hide. (Laughs). I don't know. I have this incredible dream that one day, one minute, the whole world, at the same time, will decide it's time for peace and love. So I just do my part. And I think that's all you can do. I'm not telling anyone else what to do. I do this and that's the end of my story.


Q: That was "Eye to Eye," the first song on Ringo Starr's new album, "Ringo Rama". Welcome back to the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour". Ringo, on the one hand, you say it don't come easy.

A: Yeah.

Q: On the other, you sing: Peace and love and harmony. Now, tell me how hard can it be? You were born during wartime. Violence has affected your loved ones. The world's in turmoil today. Do you manage to stay optimistic or do you go back and forth?

A: I go back and forth, like everybody else. The good thing is I'm optimistic more than not. You know, I was born -- I mean, my mother had the great line that they started the war 'cause I was born. They had to do something. (Laughs!) God rest her soul.

Q: Well, talking about your early days, you were sick a couple of times as a kid.

A: Yeah.

Q: Wasn't it during a hospital stay in Liverpool that you first got interested in drumming? How did that happen?

A: It was my second year in hospital that I had tuberculosis. And in those days, they used to put you in what we liked to call a greenhouse in the country, the countryside. And thank God, someone had invented Streptomycin. And you just sat around for a year getting well. And so to keep you entertained, once a week, they'd have like lessons. Could be knitting. It could be modeling. It could be anything. And occasionally, it was music. And they'd bring in tambourines, triangles and little drums. And the teacher would have a big sheet -- a big card. So if she pointed to the yellow dot, you hit the drum. And if she pointed to the green dot, you hit the triangle or whatever. You know, it was very, very primitive. But anyway, from that moment, I wouldn't play in the band unless I had a drum. And, you know, they just became the love of my life. They became the dream that I one day would have my own set, which happened. And then the other dream was that I would play with other musicians, which came true. And it's still going on.

Q: Did you ever dream that you would go to Memphis in your mind?

A: I never went to -- dreamt I'd go to Memphis in my mind. But Memphis was in my mind a lot growing up, because all of the music that came out of Memphis. They -- I did try to get to Houston, Texas, when I was 18 because of Lightnin' Hopkins, the blues player. But no, I never thought I'd ever get to Memphis. And I've actually stood in Sun Records where they made... you know, in the recording studio there -- and stood where they've all stood.

Q: In the Anthology video, each of the Beatles had a different recollection of meeting the king of rock-and-roll.

A: Yeah.

Q: Were there any details of that get-together that you all agreed on?

A: No. (Laughs). No, we all came -- just even later than the Anthology, Paul and I -- Klaus Voormann was doing a painting of our meeting with Elvis, because nobody took any photos. And so he gave us both a piece of paper and said, "Now, draw your vision of what the room looks like." And I actually came in the front door from the right and on Paul's drawing, he came in the front door from the left. So I think we were just too excited.


The two covers available for Jody Denberg's "Ringo Rama" interview. (Thanks to Jody Denberg.)

Q: You're tuned to the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour". And we just took a trip with Ringo Starr to Memphis in Your Mind, one of many rockers on the great new disc "Ringo Rama". With this album it is clearer than ever that you're a rocker and not a mod, isn't it? A: I am a rocker, yeah.

Q: We just went to Memphis musically, but you live in England, L.A., Monte Carlo, Colorado. Where do you and your wife, Barbara, spend the most time?

A: It depends on the year. Depends where we empty the suitcase. That's where we feel we live. But for the last 14 years, we've actually lived in Monaco. We're residents of Monaco. And we have homes in England, homes in L.A. So that's the deal.

Q: The next song we're going to listen to is a beautiful ballad called Imagine Me There.

A: Yeah, I love this song. Because the sentiment is so great because, you know, we do -- we separate I'm on tour or whatever. And it can relate to anything -- to children, to your wife, to your loved one -- where when things get tough -- for me, it's great, you know, when I'm just like sad in a hotel I can imagine Barbara there, y'know? I prefer she was there, of course. But I have to imagine it.

Q: We often see Barbara on stage taking photos and videos.

A: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Do you think she'll ever share them with us?

A: Well, you'll have to talk to her about it. When she does put the book together, then you can interview her.

Q: I'd love to.

A: Me too.

Q: After more than 20 years of marriage to Barbara, do you have any tips on making a marriage successful?

A: If you start with the great premise that I love that woman since I first saw her and, you know, I'm blessed that she loves me. And…you have to remember how deep your love is when you're having those bad days. It's too easy to throw it all away. And so far, we've done that. You know, I've heard it over and over again, that, you know, don't go to bed angry. And however bad the day's been, we have always made it up before we go to sleep. Talked about it or we've at least admitted it and acknowledged whatever the distance is. And that way, then you can get back together.


Q: Imagine Me There is the song you just heard from Ringo Starr's fab new disc "Ringo Rama". And it is Fab. In fact, there are mentions of or allusions to "Instant Karma," "Let 'Em In," "Within You, Without You," "Tomorrow Never Knows." Many other clues for you all that repeated listings reveal. I get the feeling that you're a big Beatles fan.

A: Well, I am a big Beatles fan. And, you know, unbeknownst to anyone, I used to be one. But I have no problems of putting titles and lines from other songs in my songs, because they're great lines and great titles. And some of them I even thought of. You know, I think this is the third time I've used "It Don't Come Easy." I used that on "Time Takes Time," I think, as well. So it's just a great line that, you know, expresses so much. So I just put it in again.

Q: As a Beatles fan, do you collect any memorabilia and is there anything you're looking for?

A: No. I don't collect any memorabilia. I wish I'd have kept everything I had. But who knew you had to keep it. Just gave it away. And we lost so much and we didn't look after a lot of it. I believe Paul's got everything he ever had, but I lost a lot of mine.

Q: At this stage of the game, how do you handle overwhelming fame and overbearing, well-meaning fans?

A: Oh, it's part of the job. I am famous, but -- I'm in the limelight now because I'm promoting "Ringo Rama". You know, when I'm not doing that, life is fairly normal. The fans are the fans. You know, I have no problems with them when I'm working. But if I'm on holiday, you know, I just say, "Excuse me, I'm on holiday, too." And most people understand. The kids always understand. But sometimes you can have a hard time with a so-called grown-up.

Q: Perhaps the only English phenomenon as big as the Beatles is the Royal Family. What inspired "Ringo Rama's" psychedelic take on royalty Elizabeth Reigns?
A: The band. The Roundheads were living with me in England. I have a studio there, so we put down 11 tracks. We did five in L.A. and 11 in England. And we had a day off and they all drove into town, to London, to see the city. And they found that pub where the Hanging Tree was. And they came back and it was all exciting because it was the Jubilee year last year. And there was banners everywhere and there was a huge concert in the park -- in the palace, I mean. And Dean came back, Dean Grakal, one of the writers. And he said, "What is this ER?" Because there was a big banner saying, "ER." And I said, "Well, that actually says Elizabeth reigns." So he thought that was a great line for the title of the song. So then we went into the Royal Family with the American's take on it, because they love them, and my take, where I don't feel they're relevant anymore. So my part in it was 600 servants use her detergents… So I'm sort of like, we don't need a King, you know. God save the Queen, if you know what I mean, we don't really need a King. I think it should end with this queen. We started with the Queen Mother, who was well-loved. And I just think it's ended now. If you go to the palace to watch the changing of the guard, which all the tourists do. They don't know if the Queen's in or not or they don't even care. They're just going for the pageant. So I think we can have the pageant without them. I think they should have built a hospital in the name of the Queen Mum, but they didn't. They just decided not to pay taxes and keep the money. Anyway, (raises voice) that's my rant on them. Listen next week for the angry world of Ringo Starr. And so that's what we did. But we let them off the hook because we say, All of our sins are as big as the Windsors, so let's point the finger no more. 'Cause in the end, we don't want to point the finger, we want to just carry on our own lives. End. Play the track.


Q: Ringo Starr with "Elizabeth Reigns" from his new CD "Ringo Rama". At the end of the song, which is a…balanced view of the Queen and company --

A: Yeah.

Q: -- you say, "Well, there goes me knighthood."

A: "There goes me knighthood." Yes. I think it has gone. Well and truly gone now.

Q: Does that bother you at all?

A: No. I don't -- I don't want to be a Sir. I want to be a Duke or a Prince. So if they come through with that, I'll seriously consider it.

Q: Where was the recording for "Ringo Rama"? Was it in England?

A: Yeah. Yes. I have a studio in England, small studio. Now you don't need big rooms. And I decided that, you know, Mark's studio in L.A., which is just -- it's actually an office above a Chinese restaurant, but it's a studio because we call it a studio and we have recording instruments there. I won't go into the so-called proper studio no more with the isolation, you know, and especially the drums are put in a box. And there's no real communication of feeling each other. You know, we can hear each other and see each other, but now nobody is more than four or five feet away from me when we record. We're like a garage band, even though we're making a record. The drums are always live. The drum track you hear on, on the record is the track I played at that moment. There's no edits or drum overdubs. There's maracas and tambourines, but the actual drum track is always live. And the rest of the instruments are direct inject, thanks to technology.

Q: What drum kit are you using these days?

A: I use Ludwig. You know, it's one of those things. I started playing Ludwig in the '60s. I've loved the tone of Ludwig and I'm still with them. So there's a plug for Ludwig.

Q: Did being in England for much of the recording make it easier for you to track down a couple of the guests? One's name is Eric Clapton another's name is David Gilmour.

A: It was very easy to track them down because they both live five minutes away.

Q: Oh.

A: And Dave Gilmour -- we were doing a charity gig in England. He was playing with another band and I was playing with a band in England that my son, Zak, puts together called the Ravens, for Tibet. It was a charity gig for Tibet. And so I was making the record. And I asked Dave, "I'm making a record, would you like to play?" And he said, "Sure." So I said, "See you Thursday." And he said, "Sure." And he came and it was great. And Eric was the only person I wanted to play on Never Without You, the tribute track to George -- or the love track. I don't really like the tribute -- you know, the word "tribute." It's just to let George know we loved him. And they were good friends. Eric and George were good friends. You know, George and I and Eric and I are good friends. So I just asked him, too. We called him up, said, "I've got this track." And he said, "Sure."

Q: Your main collaborator on this album, on "Vertical Man", "I Wanna be Santa Claus", a man named Mark Hudson, who's worked with everyone from Aerosmith to Celine Dion. How did your collaboration begin?

A: It was like an incredible set-up accident, because a -- a mutual friend of both of us -- when I was coming to do Vertical Man, a mutual friend said, "You should hang out with Mark and see if you can write or see how you get on." We mainly were just going to get together to write. And so he came to the house and within hours we were having a good time. And so we started writing. And then we went to his studio to do demos of the tracks we'd written. And five minutes into the first demo, I said, "Well, why are we making demos? Let's make a record." And that's how it all started. And we had a big sign in the studio: We do not make demos -- or mistakes!

Q: "Ringo Rama" is also a collaboration, not only with Mark, but the band the Roundheads.

A: The Roundheads with Steve Dudas on guitar and Gary Burr, another great writer and guitarist. And Dean Grakal. That's the nucleus of the Roundheads. Q: You said that you're happiest when you're playing in a band. Does being a Roundhead bring you the same feeling of joy you had when you were playing with the Skiffle -- when you were playing with a Skiffle group or Rory Storm or the Beatles?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I like playing with a band. I mean, and also, as a drummer, you need the guitarists. Not a lot of melody just going out on your own. I've always loved that emotion of being with other musicians. And that's what I was saying about recording. So I can see you sweat and I can see you wondering if we're going to a verse or a chorus, the same as I'm doing. You know, so emotionally, it's an incredible place for me to be, to be playing with other musicians.


Q: Ringo Starr and the Roundheads on the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour" with "I Think, Therefore I Rock and Roll." Ringo, you rocked here the other night in New York City at the Bottom Line --

A: Yeah.

Q: -- with the Roundheads. But you tour most summers with your All-Starr band. Would you ever tour with your recording band, a situation where you'd have to do all your songs?

A: Well, we could tour. The longest set we ever did -- we did the Bottom Line a couple of years ago where we had like an hour's show, where Saturday night we did 35 minutes. And then we did Storytellers with the Roundheads. So it depends on the project, really. But for me, the summer tour is with the All-Starrs. It's such a good vibe and a chance to play with all these musicians. You know, there's no other way we could get together. So the question you asked about going out with the Roundheads is possible. And this year, we actually looked at it, because I've got a new record. Should we go out and just do promotion with the Roundheads or do an All-Starr tour? So, you know, you have to make decisions. So I thought, well, we'll promote the record the way we are, mainly on TV, the gig at the Bottom Line. And -- no, this Summer, I'm going to do the All-Starrs again.

Q: You began the Summer All-Starr tours in 1989, around the time that you got sober. Was it that fresh energy that got you going with the All-Starrs and back on the road?

A: Yeah. Well, you know, when you're not drunk you've got time to do other things. And so the other thing I do really well is play drums. And then we're back to, and then I want to play drums, so I need people to play with. And it was like really strange that I got a phone call from David Fishof from New York -- never met the man -- who said that Pepsi had given him a lot of money for me to go on tour. I'd never thought of it before. So that's how it came about. And so -- for the first band, I just opened my phone book and called Dr. John and Billy Preston and Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, all the Band, Levon and Rick. All the people I knew. And called them and said, "Look, they've offered me a tour in the summer. Do you want to come?" Because I made the decision then that I didn't want to front it for two hours, 'cause that's how long you have to play now, you know. I just wanted to front it, play drums with all these other great artists. And, you know, it's worked, so far, nearly every year since then.

Q: Can you believe that you've been doing the All-Starrs longer than you were with the Beatles?

A: Well, I've done most things longer than I was with the Beatles! I mean, it was only eight years, you know, start to finish.

Q: (Are) you gonna add any songs to the set this summer?

A: We're going to use Never Without You and probably Memphis from the new record. When it's the All-Starr tour -- and it doesn't matter where we play, even with the Roundheads, I'm still doing Little Help and Yellow Sub, Photograph. You know, tracks that people know and love.

Q: You mentioned "Never Without You." That's the next song we're going to hear from "Ringo Rama". You said, not a tribute. What did you say?

A: It's just with love.

Q: With love for George.

A: Yeah.

Q: I saw you play at The Concert for George.

A: Yeah, I'm looking at your T-shirt.

Q: And seeing you drum on "Something" and "All Things Must Pass" was a beautiful experience. How did you handle that night emotionally?

A: I feel it was good for all of us. But it was certainly good for me that through rehearsals -- first of all, before me, we have to thank Eric Clapton, because he did such an incredible job putting the band together and, you know, organizing it. But for me, it was great to hang out with all those people who knew George. You know, the whole deal about that concert was it wasn't just "oh, it's a charity gig, let's call people up." Everybody who was on stage knew and loved George and George loved them. And so that made it a lot easier for all of us to understand why we were there. And so besides our playing together, we were hanging out together. And, of course, we all had our George stories and we were laughing. And you know, there was some not quite so funny stories. But it helped with the closure, I felt, that we all sort of -- we had this focus of the show, but we could hang out with each other and, you know, deal with the loss of George, who, you know, I still miss.

Q: The song "Never Without You" didn't really start out purely about George, did it?

A: Well, it started out just as a band. And then I thought, wow, this would be great, after the first verse, that we were brothers through it all. It just became natural that it was about the Beatles, in a way. And, of course, George had just left us then. It was like four months after he died. And so then I thought, oh, that would be great. I can say this about George. Then, oh, well, I can say this about John. Oh, and I can say this about Harry Nilsson. And so it just got too cluttered and too crazy. So I had to stop everything and say, Now, where are we going? Okay. This is just for George. And that way, I -- you know, I could use some of his lines in the song itself, Never -- you know, "within you, without you" is his line. Sometimes you just go mad and you've got to stop and look at what you do and then you do it right. And I think the song says everything that I ever want to say.


Q: Why was it so easy for you to write with George on classics like "It Don't Come Easy" and "Photograph" so soon after the Beatles split?

A: Well, you know, George was my good friend. And I was very good at two verses and a chorus. And then I would take it over to George's and he'd finish "Photograph." And he finished "It Don't Come Easy." And also, you know, I'm not the best guitarist in the world. I have to admit that. I might be a great drummer, but I'm not the best guitarist. And so he would put in all these chords that made me sound like a genius and tie the song up. No, I have one song that has 43 verses because I couldn't end it. And I even gave it to Harry Nilsson once, who got it down to, like, 18. (Laughs). That was his edited version. So George was always great. We always had a lot of fun in the studio, you know.

Q: You and the other Beatles have so many memories that only you share. Up until the recent release of the Anthology DVDs, most of us didn't know that you, George and Paul played a handful of songs live for the production of the Anthology. Why didn't you include them on the original Anthology and who decides that they should come out now?

A: Well, we do, in the end. We have…Apple is the company. And they put it together. They have to pass it through us. When we agreed to do the Anthology, to all hang out with each other, first of all, to record "Free as a Bird." And then we hung out at George's. And there's actually a piece of it in the first Anthology, because we have that pull-back shot of me playing "Love Me Do." You know, if you give musicians instruments, they're going to play. So we just jammed for an hour. There's a lot more dialogue of us chatting around the table, of us sitting in the grass. There's more ukulele stuff. And it's going to be on DVD. And because it's DVD, you can give them more information and this is what we, with the director and the producer of the anthology, we think would be good. And they send us a copy each and then we say yes or no. And that's how it becomes bigger. And it did mess my brain up for a second, because I thought we had done "The Anthology," which means, you've done it now. And then a couple of years later when they say, "We've got more Anthology." (Laughs) Didn't we do the Anthology? Okay. Let's go.

Q: In the Beatles, you only played one drum solo. That was on "Abbey Road's" "The End." During the All-Starr concerts, you and Sheila E. seem to push each other when you were playing those drums. Now, on "Ringo Rama" there's a track called "Instant Amnesia" that has a jazzy vibes break that you play and a bunch of drumming at the end. Seems like you're more comfortable with your drumming now.

A: Well, I think it's coming more to the fore. And it is my record, so I can do that, you know. I think it's all a question of, you do it, you get more confident. And that's how it works. You know, we have some great players. I mean, everyone mentions, including you, like Dave and Eric. But we do have Charlie Haden on there, who is like America's premier upright jazz bass player, though he doesn't like the word "jazz." He plays beautiful music and so do we. And that's that jazz bit in "Instant Amnesia," which is just -- it's an electronic drum set. And the cymbal actually turns into a vibraphone. And I play it. Wherever it takes you, so we thought, "Oh, let's bring Charlie in he can play around this and it'll make us sound great." And he did and we do.


Q: That was -- oh, I almost forgot. "Instant Amnesia," by Ringo Starr --

A: Oh no! Oh, there you go…

Q: -- on the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour". Is the concept of "Instant Amnesia" about surrendering your pre-programmed habits, like when you said on "Vertical Man" it's time to put the puppet to bed?

A: Yeah. Well, "Instant Amnesia" … it happens to everybody. And sometimes we not only forget what we're doing, sometimes we forget for a minute who we are. And it's about that, is that, okay, I forgot who I was for a minute. I mean, emotionally and spiritually. Let's get back on track.

Q: You always come at us from the heart when you're flashing that peace sign. I know it's more than peace. What's in your heart when you flash us that sign.

A: Well, it's peace and love. And at the concerts, there's a lot of peace and love. That's why I love playing, because the audience. I know the audience loved me and I love -- and they know I love them. And there's certain moments when it's all together. The band is great, the emotion is great, the audience, the band. They're just -- it's the high of life, really. It's just the highest place. And you mentioned pushing Sheila and Sheila pushing me. We made push each other, but we do it in a loving way.

Q: So much of "Ringo Rama" is about the healing power of love, both universal and personal. On behalf of millions, I want to thank you for the love, Ringo. And I wonder how you and Barbara heal and relax when you're not touring or recording?

A: Oh, the same as everybody, in the Jacuzzi with bananas.


Q: "English Garden" is the final song on Ringo Starr's brand new disc "Ringo Rama" -- and the final song on this, the "Ringo Rama Radio Hour". Thank you for listening. And thank you to Chuck Oliner and all at Koch Records. To Elizabeth Freund, to Mark Hudson for sharing his love of the music. And a very special thank you to Ringo Starr, simply for being himself. We get by with a little help from friends like Ringo.

A: Thank you.

(End of Interview)

(Note The CD is currently being mailed to AAA and Public Radio stations. Programmers ONLY who would like to air the special but have not gotten it by next week can contact Chuck Oliner at Koch Records: Fans who wants to hear it should request it from their favorite radio station.)

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