Ringo Starr is grateful for the past and upbeat about the future, saying he’s looking forward to celebrating his 80th birthday on 7 July, even though it will now be online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve got a huge birthday; I am going to be 80,” says Starr. “But I am going to celebrate it a little differently this year from the last 12 years, where we had the peace and love moment at noon.”
This annual tradition began in 2008 at a 100-guest gathering for his birthday at the Hard Rock in Chicago. Since then it has expanded to 27 countries, with its epicentre on a big stage in Hollywood.
The Beatles drummer celebrates the event with music performances from himself and his friends, in front of 100s of fans. But he had to cancel the event this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead, he will put on a virtual charity concert on YouTube called Ringo’s Big Birthday Show. He’ll be joined by Sir Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark Jr and Sheila E to benefit Black Lives Matter, The David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares and WaterAid.
“I’ve asked several of my friends to either send me footage from a show they’ve done and I’m using some of mine from the All-Starrs [his band] last year and I’ll be there introducing.
“We’re putting the show on at 5 o’clock (PST). But it’s still my birthday and still peace and love,” says Starr.
Neither age nor the pandemic that has forced him to cancel his upcoming tours have dimmed his spirit.
“I’m playing actually more now than I ever did,” he says.
“With the All-Starrs we do one tour a year, now I’m doing two tours a year. And I have many blessings: family blessings, children blessings.
“I’ve got eight grandchildren now and a great-grandson. Life has been very kind to me. And we’re in a great business because we don’t have to retire; we can just go on as long as we can go on. And I plan to go on a lot longer than 80.”
The Liverpool-born musician began his love affair with music at the age of 13, when he was in the hospital recovering from tuberculosis.
“The music teacher came round to keep us busy. We were all in bed with tuberculosis. He gave me a little drum. And from that minute I only wanted to be a drummer. And look at this now; I’m still doing it.”
Soon he started listening to music and developed a taste for Country. But it was his infatuation with Blues that drove him to apply for immigration to the US in order to move to Houston, Texas.
“I wanted to be where Lightnin’ Hopkins was – my all-time favourite Blues player,” he explains.
Starr went to London to submit the paperwork at the US embassy. “We even had a list of factories that we could’ve applied for jobs. But they gave us more paperwork and more sheets to fill, so we ripped them up.”
Back in Liverpool, the 19-year-old drummer was recruited by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes before replacing The Beatles’ drummer, Pete Best, in 1962 and becoming the fourth member of the band alongside John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
Soon, the Beatles were catapulted to the pinnacle of worldwide influence and fame. “At the beginning, we wanted to make music, which we did.
“But we got so big the price to pay was that we couldn’t go to a restaurant. But now it’s eased off. We can go where we like. And thanks to the pandemic we’ve all got masks on so they don’t know me,” Starr laughs.
The pressure of Beatlemania, the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967, and disagreements among the members led to the breakup of the band in 1970.
Some laid the blame on Lennon’s partner, Yoko Ono but Starr speaks fondly of her, saying “the press put it all in a strange place”.
Starr met her for the first time at their studio. “She was in bed, and John,” he laughs. “We never had our wives there, because we were working. They’d come in, say ‘hi’ and leave. So we saw this bed and that was pretty freaky.”
Lennon said afterwards: “When you go home, and your wife asks you, ‘What have you been doing today?’ You say: ‘Oh, we made a few tracks’ or, ‘We had a cup of tea.’
He added John told them: “What we are planning is for her (Ono) to know exactly what I’m doing and I’ll know what she’s doing. So we know each other better.”
Starr accepted Lennon’s reasoning and became friends with Ono and later played on The Plastic, Ono’s first record. “You know, she made a lot of records and I said one day: ‘Yoko, you should make a record, sing the songs.’ And she did.
“The next time I saw her, I said: ‘You should go back to the yodelling,'” he laughs, adding that he always says hello to her whenever he visits New York.
After the Beatles, Starr released several solo records, scoring several hits in the ’70s before alcohol paused his career until 1989, when he made a comeback with the formation of the All-Starr band.
To this day, however, he remains attached to his iconic band. “The Beatles are still relevant today to the next generation,” he says.
“If they’re interested in music they listen to our stuff. And to this day, thanks to Giles Martin, who’s remastering everything, I’m still playing it.”