Ringo Starr stays positive on 17th solo album 'Ringo 2012'
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
BEVERLY HILLS – "This is an anthem of peace and love," Ringo Starr sings with irony-free fervor on the opening track of his 17th solo album.
It's a fitting sentiment from the celebrated drummer who flashes a peace sign at the click of a camera shutter and wears the hippie-era mantra like a second skin. Sometimes literally. Today, lounging on the patio of his Beverly Hills Hotel suite, he's sporting a "peace and love" T-shirt as part of a natty ensemble that's casual chic from the shades and earrings to the black-and-white high tops.
"It is a commitment," says Starr, looking a generation younger than his 71 years. "We finish every show with Give Peace a Chance. I've been put down so bad for saying 'Peace and love.' This is what I do. I'd love the world to be peace and love. That's my dream."
He makes no apologies for the signature cheer and optimism that infuse the nine-track Ringo 2012, out Tuesday.
"If there's a choice, I choose the positive," he says. "Me being negative is not going to make the world better."
The follow-up to 2010's Y Not was recorded in early 2011 in the guesthouse of his Los Angeles home and compiles five originals, remakes of his own Wings andStep Lightly and covers of Lead Belly classic Rock Island Line and Buddy Holly's Think It Over. Starr produced 2012 with a little help from such friends as Dave Stewart,Van Dyke Parks, Charlie Haden, Benmont Tench, Don Was and Joe Walsh, as well as new recruit Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
He submits his third in a series of hometown flashbacks that started with the title track from 2008's Liverpool 8. In Liverpool reflects on The Beatles' early days of skipping school and playing the Iron Door Club.
"That's my life, and no one else can write that," he says. A fourth may be in the offing, if the mood strikes. Writing songs "is not a struggle. I don't think any song took more than two hours. On Y Not and this, it started with me holding down a key on the synthesizer, a note and some sort of rhythm pattern. Then I play drums to that and maracas or piano and a bit of guitar. There's no song yet. It's like working in reverse, writing the song after the arrangement."
Beatles loom large
Undaunted by The Beatles' towering shadow, Starr released two solo albums in 1970, the year the band broke up.
"It's a shadow or a bright light, whichever way you want to look at it," he says. "The downside is you want to be famous, but when you are, you want it to stop. It never stops with The Beatles."
Constant scrutiny often cast Starr as deficient. Asked whether he believed Starr was the world's best drummer, John Lennon famously quipped, "He's not even the best drummer in The Beatles!" Starr is the only solo Beatle not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Say that louder!" Starr says with a laugh. "There's no animosity. It will happen when it happens. There are people in there who weren't rock 'n' roll, so it's lost its path, anyway."
Any lingering doubts about Starr's talents seemed to vanish with 2009's Beatles remasters. Last year, Rolling Stone ranked him fifth among history's best drummers.
"I love the remasters because now people can hear me," he says. "It used to be John, Paul, George and Ringo. And why not? Look at those writers. Now people say, 'Oh, maybe he could play.' It never stopped me because I knew from hanging out with musicians that my part on those records was always appreciated."
In an era of showy rock drummers like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon, Starr always saw his role as supportive.
"I don't listen to records for the drums," says Starr, who has bought only one drum record in his life: Cozy Cole's 1958 Topsy single. "John Bonham's incredible solos didn't knock me out. I don't feel you need solos. You need to feel emotion in the track. It's no good calling me if you like modern jazz. I play pop and rock. I support the song. I can hold steady time."
An understatement, says bass player Don Was, who has produced records for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Lucinda Williams and now is helming albums by John Mayer and Kris Kristofferson.
"You wouldn't have had The Beatles without Ringo," says Was, who first worked with Starr in 1993. "I'm talking about the feel of his drumming. There's such a humanity to his playing. I don't think any drummer today would demean his contribution. He brought real lyricism to rock 'n' roll playing. The first time I heard him in the studio, I understood totally that without Ringo, those Beatles records would have been cold."
Over the years, Starr has matured into "an astute recordmaker," Was adds. "He makes 21st-century-sounding records, but you can tell he was raised on '50s rock 'n' roll. It has an irrefutable groove. And he's a swinging drummer. It's a joy to work with a guy like that."
Starr's self-effacing charm did little to promote his status as a pioneer of percussion, says Beatles scholar Martin Lewis, the U.S. marketing strategist for The Beatles Anthology.
"You can tell Ringo what a groundbreaking drummer he was, and he'll say, 'We were a great little band,' " Lewis says. "It's not fake humility."
By mid-1965, The Beatles, fueled by the masterful songwriting of Paul McCartney and Lennon, had evolved from a tight live band into a superb, creative recording act. And Ringo didn't miss a beat, Lewis says
"Pete Best could have drummed effectively the first three years, but when The Beatles crossed that divide on Revolver, he and 99.9% of other drummers could not have gone across that line," Lewis says. "Ringo did. Listen to Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life. This is the same drummer from She Loves You? That was the genius of The Beatles. There was no weak link."
In one aspect, Starr never left The Beatles. Sustaining their legacy remains a consuming joy and duty, despite a void left by the deaths of Lennon and George Harrison.
"We only have so much product, and there's never going to be any more," Starr says. "There was no more even in the '70s. But we can move into the future. Now you can download The Beatles.
"You can have fun playing a disco song, but only once in a blue moon. The Beatles' songs and arrangements hold up and sound modern. "
Starr, a recovering alcoholic, credits Barbara Bach, his wife of nearly 31 years, for much of his stability and contentment.
"There have been bad times, but I don't care how bad it gets as long as it's me and her," he says. "I love the woman. She loves me. Some days, I tell her, 'You've got to leave me.I want to leave me.' She says, 'I'll never leave you.' There's nothing better."
More than a half-century after the Fab Four first played together in Hamburg and 43 years to the day since their last performance on the Apple rooftop in London, Starr is gearing up for his 12th tour with his All-Starr Band of revolving hitmakers, a tradition since 1989. Slow down? Not yet.
"As long as I can hold the sticks, I can play," he says. "I want to put a jam band together, where we do a two-minute song and a 40-minute fade like the Grateful Dead. I joke that I'll end up in a blues band and play very, very slow."