Ringo Starr

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Ringo Starr Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 30/5/15

As a vocalist, he’s a ‘personality singer’ with the delivery of a bricklayer, and yet the demands of certain songs and his patent inability to match them, have generated some endearing recorded performances. As an instrumentalist, he has expanded his musical palette – the song “I Really Love Her” (1997) features him on drums, guitar, slide and piano – yet it is in the field of drumming and percussion that he remains criminally underrated, at least amongst the non- cogniscenti.

Starr’s work is so distinctive, that the process of identifying a Beatles song by listening to one of his isolated drum tracks, is still comparatively easy. As with Harrison’s distinctive guitar solos which most of the world can ‘sing’, he has a unique signature style forged by the combination of a left handed player and a right handed kit. His playing established a new style in ‘musical rhythm’, and is ever growing in popularity today.

His approach was also pivotal in initiating a period in which drummers began contributing equally to the ‘compositional aspect’ of music. Previously, their ability had been simply measured by their soloing technique, a ‘homage to dexterity’ but an essentially unrewarding listening experience.

Nevertheless, throughout his career, Starr has been dogged by ill informed opinion, and misquotes about his musicianship. Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn, laid to rest in 2013, one of the great myths surrounding Ringo’s drumming. Speaking to a journalist on the eve of the publication of volume one of his three volume definitive biography on the group, The Beatles’ most indefatigable researcher was moved to say:

“The London Times newspaper quoted John Lennon ‘famously saying that Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.’ John Lennon never said that, famously or otherwise, and that is the London Times quoting him,” Lewisohn said, making a point about his motivation for trying to separate fact from Fab Four mythology.

“For me, it’s [a case of tracking down] when did he say this? I’ve heard every John Lennon interview, I’ve read every John Lennon interview, I never saw that quote. So when did he say it, let alone when did he famously say it?”

“I determined to get to the bottom of it. And it’s actually a TV comedian’s joke from three years after John was killed, in 1983. So John Lennon never said it — and wouldn’t have said it.”


Starr’s wilderness years lasted a decade from 1978 to 1988, during which time health problems originating in his childhood would alarmingly resurface. His constitution had never been very robust, and even during the Beatle years he had endured problems, including a serious attack of tonsillitis in 1964 that landed him in hospital, causing him to miss a portion of their summer tour. Later that year, those pesky tonsils would be removed to insure that such a mishap did not happen again. In September of 1969, Starr was hospitalized again with intestinal complaints, and finally in April of 1979, the beleaguered drummer would collapse with severe intestinal problems stemming from his childhood bout of peritonitis. Near death, he was rushed to a Monte Carlo hospital for a most serious operation, where surgeons applied laser surgery to remove several feet of intestine. In one of the most poignant of photos, Starr was photographed the following November when he visited with Lennon at the Dakota in New York. The pair’s final meeting would occur a year later, a mere fortnight before John’s assassination, yet even in this snapshot, it seems inconceivable that events would unfold in such a manner. Starr appears ashen, still notably recovering from his near death experience whilst Lennon, four years into his self imposed retirement and firmly committed to a macrobiotic diet, appears the picture of health and vigor. (The photo can be accessed via the following link:)


Throughout this entire period, Starr’s recreational drug taking and alcoholic dependency was increasing. At the root of his problems lay artistic petrification, a never ending quest to rediscover his former ‘commerciality’, and the pursuit of personal happiness. As with many stars, it is comparatively easy to apply the benefit of hindsight in order to understand what was happening.

Studies undertaken this century have determined the changing patterns in our musical tastes as we grow older. These shifting trends can be divided into five distinct categories.

(a) The first is the ‘intense’ period when punk or metal dominates adolescence as teens explore their own identity.

(b) After that listeners gravitate towards ‘contemporary’ electronic and R&B music, which reflects the autonomy of early adulthood.

© That phase of ‘romantic, emotionally positive and danceable’ music gives way to a ‘Mellow’ period, as listeners search for love and start families.

(d) Following that is the ‘sophisticated’ age of jazz and classical pieces.

(e) And finally as we mature and lose the need for peer approval, we become more inclined to ‘unpretentious’ music such as country and folk.

Whilst I can agree, to some degree, with these findings, there are clearly other market forces at work. Amongst my contemporaries, there remained a committed interest in music and the careers of their favourite artists, but financial constraints – courtship, marriage, mortgage and car loan repayments, other leisure pursuits – would impact upon their available ‘vinyl budget.’ For myself, there would no expensive golf club and gymnasium membership fees, nor any interest in spending inordinate amounts of money on alcohol in the pursuit of what is often referred to as ‘having a good time’. That is not to say that I disapprove of such activities, but merely to state that none of them interested me. Naturally, I used gymnasiums and swimming baths on a ‘pay as you go basis’ but pre-commitment to exorbitant annual fees was ‘not my bag’. Acquiring guitars, playing in bands, gigging ‘solo’ – earning money at weekends – and expanding my vinyl collection, remained my primary interests. My contemporaries still sourced music from public libraries, or used the modern cassette storage medium to record friends’ vinyl collections. This was a firm indication of a continuing interest, yet their days of subscribing weekly to ‘Melody Maker,’ the NME or ‘Sounds’ were long gone and with it, knowledge of impending releases. Albums by their favourite artistes, would only be acquired ‘by chance’ anything up to 6/9 months after the initial release date.

The Official Charts Company now manages future chart development in Britain whilst controlling rights to historic listings. It is a joint venture between two key trade associations – the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and ERA (Entertainment Retailers Association) and is responsible for the commissioning, marketing, distribution and management of the UK’s official music and video charts.

The vast array of retailers supplying data provide information on all the sales they have made on a daily basis. These files are collated every day by the OCC’s partner company Millward Brown – one of the world’s most respected market research companies – and matched against databases of products (music and video) held by Millward Brown. The results of this process are verified throughout the week to ensure there are no errors in the data, before the final charts are published on Sunday. The end of week charts reflect all sales which have been reported from 00.01 Sunday, through to midnight Saturday.

By their very nature, charts can only represent weekly sales activity, and not cumulative sales over much longer periods. Equally, significant advance orders can send an album or single straight to the top of the charts, but the recording may not maintain pole position unless weekly sales momentum is maintained. None of this can definitively account for the terminal decline in Ringo’s record sales, but as always, matters were not helped by the changing demographics of various worldwide territories. Whilst McCartney would reinvent himself for a new 70’s audience with his band Wings, and Lennon and Harrison would craft a slew of best selling albums without necessarily finding a fresh audience, poor Ringo was left to survive on any ‘goodwill overflow’ from the The Beatles’ epoch making decade together. Despite their initial concerns, he would surprise his former colleagues, critics, journalists and fans alike, by enjoying a five year commercial period to the spring of 1975 that would surpass all expectations. If John, Paul and George felt pangs of guilt over Ringo’s future when the band split, then their concerns were ultimately well founded. Whilst Charlie Watts has never contributed vocals to a Rolling Stones’ album, Starr’s vocal showpiece was always an agreeable diversion from the main body of work generated by The Beatles’ three songwriters, and an opportunity to contribute more than merely percussive work to the band’s musical oeuvre. The split in 1970 left him with an almost insurmountable hurdle and one that Watts himself, would have struggled to overcome. Yet, in his own way, Starr has done well. Denied a lifelong career as drummer in the world’s best selling act, he has narrated and personally appeared in a hugely popular children’s television series, ‘Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends/Shining Time Station’, fashioned a near twenty five year career as a live act fronting the regular ‘All Starr’s,’ whilst issuing several popular books and launching his own digital art website. In addition, a number of his solo releases contain songs that would have been worthy of his single vocal entry on Beatles albums.

The problem as always, has been to fashion a ten track selection with sufficient interesting instrumentation and bonhomie that simultaneously avoids submerging Starr’s personality, whilst deflecting attention from his vocal shortcomings. A tall order indeed but achievable in modest doses – the duet with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders on 2005’s ‘Don’t Hang Up’ and obvious example. The 1989 remake of ‘Act Naturally’ – a duet with the original composer Buck Owens – also works well; Starr sufficiently motivated to ‘raise his game’ in the company of a motley crew of Nashville hotshots. Best of all is the cover of ‘She’s About A Mover’ by the Sir Douglas Quintet, first issued in 1965 and recorded by Ringo for his 1983 ‘Old Wave’ album. Produced by Joe Walsh of The Eagles, who contributes a serrated guitar solo, it’s a powerhouse performance that suddenly takes a truly stunning turn into a jazz second line — complete with a rumbling tuba — in place of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s fuzzy organ fills on the original. Always most at home as a vocalist inside such age-old forms, Starr sounds, at long last, like he’s having fun again after a long dark period following John Lennon’s awful murder. In 1974, it would have top tenned – by 1983 it wouldn’t even receive a UK release.

Starr has nonetheless maintained his jet set lifestyle, thanks in no small part to the quartet of trusted aides who run his financial affairs: his long-term personal assistant, Joan Woodgate; a financial adviser, Hilary Gerrard, who has sat on the Apple board for him since 1991; and the two lawyers who help Gerrard run the ex-Beatle’s interests, Bruce Grakal in Los Angeles and John Hemingway, a tax specialist living in France.

The quartet are famously protective of their client, and their affection for Starr is palpable. Between them, Ringo’s team appear not only to have safeguarded his Beatles legacy – in particular his royalties from the best selling ‘Anthology’ project (1995-2003)- but have also added useful earners. In 1994, he agreed to appear in a Pizza Hut advertisement in America for $500,000, the fee ably complementing his eight per cent stake in Britt Allcroft, the production company which makes the Thomas the Tank Engine videos and owns the cartoon’s merchandising rights. Its founder, originally a freelance television producer, persuaded Starr to take shares as payment for providing voice-overs. This stake is now worth millions.

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In 2008, the drummer had an unfortunate ‘run-in’ with the city of Liverpool, and its intensely proud population. Following a performance by his band at the opening of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year, Starr would subsequently appear on the BBC One show ‘Friday Night with Jonathan Ross’. Asked by the presenter if there was anything he missed, the drummer laughed before replying “er, no…”, though he went on to add that he loved his birthplace and home to many of his relatives.

His comments were greeted with anger from some people in Merseyside and a foliage sculpture of the drummer at Liverpool South Parkway station was beheaded by vandals three months later, with the sculptures of the three other Beatles left untouched.

Asked in 2011 about the offence caused by the remarks three years earlier, Starr told the BBC that Liverpool was still very important to him. He said: “I was brought up there, I went to school there, all my childhood, my youth was there. It’s silly that whoever took offence took offence.”

Reflecting on the incident, one must apportion blame equally between Starr’s PR team for insufficiently ‘prepping’ their man before the show, and the media for fueling the controversy.

A multi-billion pound investment in economic regeneration has undoubtedly transformed Liverpool in the last two decades, a fact I can attest to, as a result of my last visit to the city in 2011. From science to manufacturing, digital technology and maritime, the city has attracted global brands and companies wanting to invest and benefit from its infrastructure and expertise. Equally though, as I drove away from the city centre and new housing estates, I was reminded of the slum areas so indelibly associated with Starr’s childhood, where he would run the gauntlet of teenage gangs in order to safely deliver his week’s wages to his mother. If we can all agree that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, then we can perhaps also agree that it’s preferable to be unhappy in wealth. As Starr relaxes at his Monaco home overlooking the yachting fraternity, would any sensible minded person truly believe that he could yearn for Liverpool? – and equally, with celebrities such obvious targets for the press, would it not have been sensible for Starr’s publicity team to anticipate a possible backlash from society’s fringe elements? It is doubtful the ever publicity conscious McCartney would have made such a mistake, yet Starr made a gaffe much in line with his first wife’s description of him as a great big soddin’ Andy Capp. One has to tread a never ending tightrope where peoples’ sensibilities are concerned, and confusing Starr’s television response with a fundamental lack of pride in his native city, was frankly misguided. He can revisit his roots whenever he chooses, and the inescapable fact remains that the emotional pull is nowhere near strong enough for him to purchase a home there. He moved permanently to London in 1964, and time spent in Liverpool now accounts for a small percentage of his life. What on earth do people really expect? – a disingenuous response on prime time television?

Recommended listening

Ringo (1973)

Still carried along on a wave of 60’s goodwill, punters would overlook Starr’s chequered recorded output since 1970 – two excellent standalone 45’s, an interesting but hardly mainstream country album, and a nostalgia laden turkey (‘Sentimental Journey’) – by returning the group’s goodwill ambassador to the top of the american charts. Both ‘Photograph’ and ‘You’re sixteen’ would hit the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 whilst the eponymously titled album would peak at number two. There was even sufficient momentum to propel a third single ‘Oh My My’ to position six.

The album top tenned around the world, yet its very success would manoeuvre the hapless drummer into a professional cul-de-sac; the buying public still content to view him as a lightweight act. With hindsight, the ever affable Ringo should have capitalised on the positive reviews for his supporting role in ‘That’ll be the day’, and refocused his energies on sound comedic film roles. Unfortunately, now firmly convinced a full time recording career lay ahead of him, everyone’s ‘second favourite Beatle’ would issue a cluster of albums over the next five years that would be met with both lukewarm reviews, and declining sales. Matters would not be helped by his worsening alcohol dependency.

Nevertheless, whatever ensued thereafter, Starr would ultimately fashion not only his greatest album, (albeit with assistance from some well chosen and extremely famous friends), but also one of the top ten best Beatle solo albums.

The original album packaging had the hallmark of quality, Klaus Voormann’s lithographs suitably enhancing the accompanying booklet, complete with lyrics to the ten original numbers. The back sleeve provided essential information on recording personnel, whilst the front cover offered a wicked flashback to the halcyon summer of love and Sgt Pepper.


Principally recorded at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles,California, and Apple Studios, London, England between February and September, 1973, the album represented détente in the The Beatles’ troubled business affairs. Instrumentally, George Harrison and “fifth Beatle” Billy Preston are all over this album, as are superdrummer Jim Keltner (Ringo’s not too egotistical to share the drum throne) and most of The Band.

Ringo would receive compositional assistance from his former bandmates; Harrison co-writing the infectious “Photograph,” among others, and Lennon contributing the album’s opener, the brash, ironic “I’m the Greatest.” In the writer’s hand, the song would have represented self-aggrandisement at its most offensive, yet with everyone in on the joke, it works perfectly for Ringo.

McCartney imbues ‘Six O’Clock’ with his best pop sensibilities, ‘Devil Woman’ rocks, and ‘You & Me (Babe’) is an engaging heartfelt send off, with Starr namechecking his collaborators.

A definite five stars for all concerned especially Starr. It’s still, after all, his record.

Time Takes Time (1992)

Liberated from the sauce after a mere fortnight in rehab, the ‘lovable nose’ would return to the concert arena in 1989, both reviving and refining the concept of all those 60’s UK package tours with up to eight different acts on the evening bill; only this time, all the musicians on stage would back each other’s hits. Offering diversity, and a ‘hits laden’ nostalgic beanfeast of 60’s and 70’s crowd pleasers, the US and Japanese tours were immensely successful, if – or perhaps – because of their limited horizon. 20,000 seater auditoriums, whilst modest in scale compared to top line arena acts, nevertheless ensured full houses at each performance; precisely the confidence booster a recovering alcoholic ex-Beatle and his musical cohorts needed.

Suitably emboldened, Starr would revive his recording career with his first release in nine years, the apposite title of the record reflecting his period of wilderness amongst the Monte Carlo ‘jet set.’

It’s an unabashedly nostalgic affair, Starr’s four coproducers – Don Was, Jeff Lynne, Peter Asher and Phil Ramone – coaxing a committed performance from him that is never less than engaging if a little derivative; the chiming Rickenbacker 12 string intro on the trailer single ‘Weight of the world’, an obvious homage to his Beatle past.

‘Don’t go where the road don’t go’, a sold four in the bar tub thumper is obvious Ringo material, and the album revs up nicely for a closing four title sequence beginning with ‘I don’t believe you’, an infuriatingly catchy ditty featuring the San Francisco power pop band Jellyfish, on vocal harmonies. Best of all, is ‘Runaways’, a Starr-Johnny Warman composition that highlights the world of missing children sleeping rough in big cities. Featuring a Jon Bon Jovi-esque powerhouse guitar solo from session stalwart Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, the track has been conspicuously overlooked as part of Starr’s subsequent ‘live repertoire’ – a somewhat bewildering ommission.

Outside there’s a runaway,
The lights go down, the world goes rushing in.
Neon light takes the light of day,
Stars like dust start falling.

Inside there’s a loneliness,
The demon tries to charm you with his smile.
No time to dream or rest,
In the caves of steel, faces are changing.

They’re the runaways,
They’re the runaways,
Children of the damned.
They’re the runaways,
Running for their life, faster than they can.
They’re the runaways.

On the street the traffic dies,
The break of day, it always comes too soon.
Running out of reasons why
All your life you blamed it on the moon.

Lyrical extract © Ringo Starr-Johnny Warman 1992

‘In a heartbeat’ and ‘What goes around’, two of the five productions courtesy of Don Was, round off the proceedings in grand style; Starr’s idiosyncratic 3.58 stumbling drum fill on the former guaranteed to raise a smile among many, including his former cohort George Harrison.

Worthy of greater public acceptance, the album nonetheless shifted 200,000 american units; sufficient sales to achieve silver disc status. Ringo would celebrate this new found world of sobriety and productivity, with a guest appearance at George Harrison’s Royal Albert Hall concert and several UK dates, including an emotional return to the Liverpool Empire.

Photograph: the very best of Ringo Starr (2005)

Probably now more famous in the UK for being the voice of a small blue train, Ringo’s career has been kept alive in the States by his road jaunts with a crew of stellar mates in his All-Starr band. But why has the man who had the first post-Beatles solo hit fallen off the radar to such a large extent? How could we forget the most lovable mop top?

The clue is in the chronology of this fine compilation of hits and choice cuts from the period 1971-2005. The decade long period of acute alcoholism commencing from the early 80s, was chronicled by fans’ astute observations of his wayward behaviour at public functions, be they concert guest appearances, television chat shows, or video shoots. Slowly but surely, Ringo was becoming an unpopular figure,

But before this unfortunate fall from grace our Ringo was in fact a man who made remarkably fine pop records. Of the eight hits contained here, seven are top tenners. Cleverly he always knew his limitations and wasn’t above a little help from his friends. The cast list on everything from “It Don’t Come Easy” in 1971 to “Hey Baby” from Ringo’s Rotogravure (a record he admits to not even remembering having made) is staggering. Still close buddies with George Harrison (who co-wrote the title track of this compilation and produced his first two hits) and John Lennon (who wrote both “I’m The Greatest” and “(It’s All Down To) Goodnight Vienna)”, Ringo also could call on seemingly every toast-of-Beverly-Hills legend at the time, including Harry Nilsson, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Martha Reeves, Jim Keltner, Arif Mardin, Marc Bolan, Elton John and Bernie Taupin…the list is mind-boggling. With this much talent on board no amount of carousing could totally obscure the results.

Wisely, a large quantity of tracks come from his finest albums, ‘Ringo’ (including the wonderful “Oh My My” and its follow-up, ‘Goodnight Vienna’. But you also get the title track from his country project, ‘Beaucoup Of Blues’, the autobiographical b-side of “It Don’t Come Easy”, “Early 1970”, and even his collaboration with the criminally underrated Jellyfish, “Weight Of The World”.

With candidly direct sleevenotes by the big-nosed one himself, ‘Photograph’ is a heart-warming reminder that Ringo was always more than a drummer.

Recommended viewing

Born to Boogie (1972)

Starr’s directorial debut, capturing Marc Bolan at the very zenith of his popularity. Filming him at the Wembley Empire Pool in March 1972, amidst the incessant mania of glam fandom was, in his own words, “a nostalgic experience.”

Elsewhere, the lovable nose wacks his kit in some rock’n‘roll studio sessions – ably supported by Elton John on piano – whilst co-starring with Bolan in some dream sequences.

An Apple Films release, and full of period charm.

That'll be the day (1973)

Starr’s cinematic tour de force, in a movie that ably recreates his days at Butlins with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. That’ll Be the Day effectively evokes late 1950s Britain, focusing on the rites of passage of its shiftless young protagonist, Jim Maclaine (David Essex), rather than on adult manipulators as depicted by Laurence Harvey in ‘Expresso Bongo’ (1959). It’s even more effective in its low-key way, than its conventional sequel ‘Stardust’ (1974), which Starr declined to participate in, as the screenplay veered uncomfortably close to his peak years with The Beatles.

The film’s period charm is ably supported with telling details: the radio plays orchestral arrangements by Robert Farnon, and ‘Take Your Pick’ (ITV, 1955-68) is on television. But change is in the air. The energy of the fairground and rock ‘n’ roll are contrasted with restraint and conformity, promoted by religion (a religious service is heard on Mrs MacLaine’s radio). The contrast between a tamed middle-class, and untamed working-class youth is depicted through their respective music, trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll (tellingly, the holiday camp judging panel for a jive contest includes a vicar, presumably to ensure decorum). Rock ‘n’ roll supplies raw energy, and suggests no such restraint. With almost continuous rock ‘n’ roll on the soundtrack, the film was also able to exploit EMI’s back catalogue. The soundtrack album sold well, and the film soon recovered its modest investment.

The film honestly chronicles Jim’s sexual encounters in this pre-pill era, in which he is tutored by fairground hustler Mike (Ringo). Jim thinks only of himself and instant gratification, and the girls, though willing, associate sex with guilt and shame. On two separate occasions, his partners beg him “you won’t tell anyone will you?”, and it is surely no coincidence that two of his sexual exploits are interrupted by the moral rejoinder of screaming babies.

Ray Connolly’s screenplay cleverly references the early 1960s British New Wave: Mike’s fairground beating up recalls Albert Finney in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (1960), while a dying grandfather evokes ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ (1962).

Directed by Claude Whatham, fresh from Granada TV, this is one of the best British films of 1970s. Rosemary Leach was BAFTA nominated (Best Supporting Actress) and David Essex (BAFTA nomination Newcomer) achieved film stardom. The settings (whether domestic, fairground or holiday camp), vividly captured by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, are real and convincing, and the performances are true, conveying a sense of lives as actually lived. If Sinatra brought his childhood experiences vividly to life as Maggio in “From Here to Eternity,” then Starr equally recreates his pre-Beatles period with style, humour and panache, the film benefiting hugely from his on-screen presence. He would sadly, never find another film project worthy of his Marx Brother persona.

Recommended reading

Postcards from the boys (2004)

A Dose of Rock'n'Roll (Nancy Andrews)


Ringo: With a Little Help (Michael Starr) 2015

Photograph (Ringo starr) 2015

The closest we’ll ever get to an autobiography,

Originally available as a signed limited edition box set from Genesis publications, Starr’s photographic memoirs would eventually receive a wider retail release in 2015 for the still princely sum of £35.

Evocative shots of Britain in the grip of post War austerity combined with idyllic holiday locations which only the privileged few could afford, provide a stark reminder of the drummer’s rapidly changing fortunes by 1964.

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Ringo Starr Official Site


Regularly updated touring schedual for the All Starr Band, topical news and a merchandise page. Surely people don’t actually buy Ringo t-shirts these days?!!!

Ringo Starr Art - Official Website


Listen, if anyone wants to dabble with art and enjoys doing so, then who the hell am I to complain? And digital art, is simply another format to work with.

Ringo is collected worldwide and has had exhibitions of his art in Europe, South America, Australia, and the United States. He designed a painting for the Knot For Violence campaign that sold out in one day, and another of his paintings was used for the Hard Rock Hotels Signature Series t-shirt collection. In addition to that, his images have been used on Timberland boots and clothing for the menswear company Robert Graham. And as always, 100% of his proceeds go to support the Lotus Foundation.

So hats off to him, and it’s all for a worthy cause, namely his Lotus Foundation. But honestly, beyond those well intentioned individuals with more money than sense, is anyone else truly meeting the asking price for these prints!