Ringo Starr on his best drumming moments, the one that's 'not bad,' and wanting to be Frank Sinatra

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·6 min read

Ringo Starr’s new photo book, Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All Starrs, chronicles the history of his touring supergroup, with a full special chapter dedicated to his life-long love affair with the Ludwig drum kit (including a 1963 three-piece set that sold to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay as part of the Jim Irsay Collection for a record $2.1 million at Julien's Auctions). Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment — via Zoom, of course — to promote his latest superstar project, the Zoom In EP, Ringo’s conversation inevitably turns to the topic of his all-time greatest drumming moments. But the affable legend, despite all of his achievements, remains humble, at one point even amusingly describing his playing on one Beatles classic as “not bad.”

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“I used to say ‘Rain,’ because I felt ‘Rain,’ that was another character playing drums itself,” Starr begins. “The way I play, I'm more of there's breaks and tom-toms, and [“Rain”] was all on the snare. So I used to say that. That drove people mad. ‘Let It Be’ — not bad. I mean, ‘Paperback Writer’ rocks. … The crazy thing is, when the Let It Be [reissue] came out, the remaster, they have this new [surround sound] system, Atmos, and we went to England for it. And Paul [McCartney] and I were in this crowd of people listening, and I said, ‘I'm too busy on this record!’ I told him it was too busy. You know, these are just thoughts that go through my head.”

Starr confesses that when he’s playing with his All Starr Band, “I feel I'm even holding back even more than I did in the Beatles, because if you're singing, you don't need me to be doing drum solos! And that's how I've always played. I've never done a drum solo. … Mainly, I want to be in the band, and I just want to play behind those guys, and give them a lift or bring them down and rock on straight.”

Ringo started his All Starr Band in 1989, only six months after he’d gotten sober, and it kicked off a whole new era of his career, even though he didn’t realize that at the time. A random phone call from his lawyer got the ball rolling, so he “opened the phone book” — the sort of A-list Rolodex that only a former Beatle could have at his disposal — and “called a couple of friends,” like the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons, the Band’s Rick Danko, and his brother-in-law, the Eagles’ Joe Walsh. But once again showing his humility, Starr incredibly admits that he “was a little insecure, because there were three drummers in that band. You know, I had Levon [Helm] on my right, I was in the middle, and Jim Keltner, my all-time favorite drummer from L.A., on my left. Very few bands go out there with three drummers.”

And even now, Ringo feels twinges of insecurity every time he goes onstage with his All Starrs. “I don’t know how it’s going to go. You put it together every night, and I’ve done it, let's say, for 30 years. … Every night, seconds before I run onstage, there’s a moment still, how crazy is that, of ‘Ugh, I want to go to bed!’” he chuckles. “Once I run on and grab that mic, I'm home. I'm with you. But it drives me crazy. I want to be Frank Sinatra. I saw him once and he just sort of strolled on, like, ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ So my thought is, ‘Come on, be Frank Sinatra tonight!’’’

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band in Concert in 1989. (Photo: L. Busacca/WireImage)
Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band in Concert in 1989. (Photo: L. Busacca/WireImage)

Starr had to cancel two All Starr Band concert tours, and his planned 80th birthday bash, in the “miserable, miserable year” that was 2020. He ended up celebrating his big 8-0 with a virtual event, and he and his wife Barbara Bach also drove down to Beverly Hills for an impromptu photo opp in front of Santa Monica Boulevard’s famous 800-pound steel sculpture of Ringo’s peace-sign-flashing hand. (“The cars were blasting by, going, ‘What are they doing?’” he laughs.) Eventually, Ringo started working on his home-recorded Zoom In EP. So, was it important for him to document the times?

“No, it was to keep busy in the times!” Starr quips. “I sat around for a while, and then I thought, ‘No, you've got to stand up and do something.’ You know, it always changes your head; you just get up and do anything, even if you walk around the block. And I thought, ‘I'm going to make an EP’ — do you remember EPs? And then, the kids are listening to cassettes! And I thought, ‘I'm gonna make an EP, and put it on cassette and vinyl and stream it in any way they can get you out these days.’ So, that was the start of it.”

Ringo Starr (Photo: Scott Robert Ritchie)
Ringo Starr (Photo: Scott Robert Ritchie)

The finished product, much like Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, became much bigger than he’d imagined, with songs written by Diane Warren, Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh, and Panic! at the Disco hitmaker Sam Hollander, as well as appearances by Paul McCartney, Corinne Bailey Rae, Sheryl Crow, Dave Grohl, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Chris Stapleton, Yola, Robby Krieger, Benmont Tench, and many others. Tracks like “Not Enough Love in the World” and the Warren-penned “Here’s to the Nights” espouse Ringo’s signature peace-and-love message that resonates just as much in 2021 as it did in the Beatles’ heyday, but when asked about the peace movement, Ringo is once again self-effacing.

“I didn't start it!” he says jokingly. “I mean, it started in the ‘60s, more or less in America when the hippie movement started, and we, as the Beatles, joined in. Of course, we believed in peace and love — and we loved the clothes! So it was great for us. And that's how it started. And John [Lennon] was a big proponent of peace and love. It's just something I do.

“And it came to everybody's notice in ‘89, when I put the first All Starrs together and I would ‘peace-and-love’ everybody as I ran on: ‘Peace ‘n’ love, peace ‘n’ love, peace ‘n’ love!’ In fact, in the ‘90s, some newspapers were writing: ‘Oh, he’s peace-and-loving again,’” the unflappable Ringo laughs. “And I'm saying, ‘I'm only peace-and-loving, and you’re moaning about that? Get out!’”

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by John Santo