Starr a living legend
Editor’s note:?See today’s entertainment page (Page C-6) for the announcement of the winner of the Sun-Gazette’s Ringo Starr trivia contest, as well as the correct answers.
The history of rock ‘n’ roll is rife with stories of artists who left popular bands to forge solo careers of their own, only to see hoped-for repeat success crash and burn – sometimes in spectacular fashion.
Ringo Starr is not one of those artists.
When the former Beatles drummer performs at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., Sunday with his All Starr Band, it will be another notch in the belt of an enormously successful solo career, one that includes 17 albums, innumerable collaborations and a dozen worldwide tours.
Born in Lancashire, England, in 1940, Starr’s music career began in an odd fashion, when he was recovering from tuberculosis at age 13 at a hospital whose staff encouraged patients to play music as a kind of physical therapy.
There, Starr was given a makeshift mallet and instructed to strike the cabinets next to his bed to keep rhythm – and he was hooked.
He honed his skills on a second-hand drumset over the next several years, eventually playing in Liverpool’s most popular band before being asked to join the Beatles in 1962, where his career exploded as Beatlemania swept Britain and then the world.
The Beatles’ popularity seemed to know no limits – but division between the members led to creative differences that were pulling the band in too many directions, and in 1970, their breakup was made official when Paul McCartney announced that he was leaving the band.
It could have been a daunting task for Starr to emerge from the shadow of one of the most popular music acts in history, especially with his involvement in the creative side of the Beatles often downplayed as the band moved toward experimental music in the mid-to-late ’60s that didn’t always require his accompaniment. An anecdote related by Alan Clayson in “Ringo Starr: A Life” says that Starr spent hours playing cards with their manager and roadies while the other members worked on tracks without him.
But Starr, a talented vocalist and lyricist in his own right, was responsible for writing some of the band’s most popular songs, such as “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden,” and sang lead vocals on at least one track on nearly every Beatles album – including the iconic “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” The breakup of the band – although tragic for Beatles fans around the world – was what sparked the prolific output of his solo career.
Starr released two albums in 1970, varying greatly from each other in their genre and influences: “Sentimental Journeys,” released in March of 1970 just ahead of the Beatles’ final album in May, was a collection of standards that Starr has said were some of “his mother’s favorite songs,” while “Beaucoups of Blues” was a country-and-western-influenced album recorded in Nashville with noted record producer Pete Drake.
The following year, Starr co-wrote and sang lead vocals on the single “It Don’t Come Easy,” which reached number one on the U.S. singles charts and would be his first of five consectutive No. 1 hits in the United States.
He followed up the success of “Easy” with “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen” in 1973, singles that again reached No. 1 on the singles charts in the U.S. and in the top ten in Britain, and a full-length album, “Ringo,” the same year that reached number two on the U.S. charts
Starr also founded his own record label, Ring O’Records, and worked with 11 different artists between 1975 and 1978, releasing fifteen singles and five albums.
He continued to work with his former Beatles bandmates as well, drumming on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s self-titled debut album in 1970, George Harrison’s “Living in the Material World” in 1973, and guesting on two tracks of Paul McCartney’s “Flaming Pie” in 1997.
In 1989, Ringo formed the first All-Starr Band, which included members from some of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll outfits in history. The first lineup included, among others, Joe Walsh from The Eagles, Nils Lofgren from The E Street Band, Levon Helm from The Band, Dr. John, and special guests like Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg.
The band played Beatles songs and Ringo’s own solo hits, along with selected material from the other members’ bands, and was an instant success, performing for more than 10,000 fans at their first show. Encouraged, Starr released a live album of one of their performances in 1990, and as far as the All-Starr Band goes, the rest was history.
The band is a revolving supergroup of sorts, with new faces and returning members alike; Steven Van Zandt of The E Street Band, Colin Hay of Men at Work, Ray Davies of The Kinks and Peter Frampton of Humble Pie are only a few of the rock ‘n’ roll legends that have graced the stage as part of the band. In nearly 25 years, Starr and the band have toured roughly every other year, releasing 10 live albums and one DVD.
Somehow, Starr has also still found time to record even more solo material. In 2010 he released his 15th studio album, “Y NOT,” with “Ringo 2012” following two years later.
Of his post-Beatles success, Starr has said that what he has always enjoyed the most is playing as part of a band – likely one of the reasons why he continues to tour with his All-Starr Band.
However, his raw musical talent and enthusiasm for what he does certainly play their part.
“I’ve always believed that the drummer is not there to interpret the song,” Starr said in Clayson’s biography. “I am the foundation, and then I put a bit of glow here and there … If there’s a gap, I want to be good enough to fill it.”