Sunday, July 6, 2008


On July 7, the last person to join the Beatles, Richard Starkey, M.B.E., will turn 68. He was the oldest Beatle.

Ringo is the Rodney Dangerfield of music. To non-musicians, he gets no respect. Much like his former drinking partner, Keith Moon, Ringo was known more for his personality than his musical ability. As George humorously noted, both he and Ringo were "economy-class Beatles".

Early live footage of the Fabs shows a smiling, mop-topped Ringo happily bashing away at his drum kit. All subtle nuances were thrown out the window as he tried to keep the beat while watching the other three rock out at the front of the stage. I said "watching" because in those primitive days, the Beatles could hardly hear themselves. There were no monitors, and they only had 100 Watt amps to battle the screams of tens of thousands of teen aged girls.

This does a disservice to his legacy.

The Beatles didn't become "The Beatles" until Ringo joined for good in 1962. Starr's steady beat gave the Fab's music added energy and excitement. According to Mark Lewisohn, Beatles recording sessions rarely broke down because of the drumming. As the Beatles became more of a studio band, Ringo's drumming became varied and experimental. If anyone mocks Ringo's talents as a drummer, put on "Abbey Road" and ask when his drumming is NOT innovative.

Ringo's solo career got off to an inauspicious start in 1970 with two off-beat albums: an orchestrated album of standards, "Sentimental Journey", and a country album, "Beaucoups Of Blues". At the time these seemed like jokes - after all, he was a Beatle, and we expected better things. However, these albums both have a certain charm, and, in retrospect, seem pretty daring. No rockers were doing "standards" in those days. It was years before it became commonplace. Friend Harry Nilsson soon followed suit. Recently Rod Stewart revitalized his career by recording four albums of songs from the Great American Songbook. Also, in 1970, an all-country album from a rocker was still a new idea.

Soon Ringo started having commercial success with the singles "It Don't Come Easy" and "Back Off Boogaloo", and the hit-filled albums "Ringo" and "Goodnight Vienna". While being interviewed by Tom Snyder in the mid-1970s, John Lennon said the fabs were most worried about Ringo's career, as their drummer hadn't written many songs, but laughed when he said that now Ringo was doing better than he was!

We are lucky to still have Ringo with us at all. As most of you know, he was a sickly child, missing much of his early school years recovering from a burst appendix and other ailments. As the Beatles were falling apart, Ringo developed a drinking problem, which developed into a drug problem. Luckily, he and his Bond girl wife, Barbara Bach, went into a detox recovery program, and both have been living a happy, drug-free existence for a quarter of a century.

Since 1989, Ringo has been a productive musician, with a steady stream of fairly successfiul albums and tours, which is amazing considering where his life and career was headed in the mid-1970s.

Some random memories:
-- Going to my friend Keith's house, circa 1971, and listening to "Beaucoups Of Blues", as he was the only person I knew who had it. It was a present from his uncle.
--Reading an interview (in Look Magazine?) after the release of "Beaucoups Of Blues", saying he called himself "Ringo", not because of his rings, but because it was a cowboy name.
--Surprised to see Ringo at the very end (after the credits!) of an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
--Seeing Ringo on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In circa 1970, and saying to my sister as we were about to watch a Beatle on TV : "THIS IS AN HISTORIC OCCASION! "
--Reading an interview with Ringo where he said he screwed up the words to "It Don't Come Easy" during the evening performance at "The Concert For Bangla Desh" because it was "darker"and couldn't read the words - even though both shows were indoors.
--Watching Ringo present an award with Harry Nilsson on the Grammys sometime in the 1970s . Instead of taking turns reading the cue-cards, it went something like this:
RINGO: Hello, Harry. How are you ?
HARRY: Fine, Ringo, And you?
with both Harry and Ringo reading all the above lines in unison, including their own names. both obviously drunk and/or stoned.
--Finally seeing my fourth Beatle in concert in 1989, with the first All-Starr Band.
--Getting a call from someone informing me that Ringo was in a fancy clothing store in Boston's Back Bay a few years back, if I wanted to try and meet him. (I decided against it.)
--Taking my oldest son to see Ringo's All-Starr's in 2003, just as my father had taken me to see John and George three decades earlier.

To celebrate, maybe you can watch a movie Ringo was in. Aside from the obvious Fab flicks (most of them featuring Ringo in a prominent role), you could check out "The Magic Christian" with Peter Sellers (and a couple of the Pythons doing cameos). He also directed the T. Rex documentary "Born To Boogie", which featured Ringo jamming with Marc Bolan and Elton John. While you're at it, you could dig out his early solo albums, and check out "Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On)" featuring Bolan, and "Snookeroo" with Elton. Also worth revisiting are "Sunshine Life For Me" featuring most members of The Band, and Ringo's first tribute to his Fab friends, "Early 1970". Or listen to one of his more recent Beatles-related songs, like "Never Without You" or the extremely catchy "Liverpool 8".

If you have the time, you could check out Ringo on Larry King Monday night. Or put on any Beatles album, and check out the drumming. And give the man some respect.

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