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Q&A: Ringo Starr, with new dates added to his tour, talks candidly: ‘I’m giving away all the secrets here!’

By George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Published: June 9, 2024, 6:00am

SAN DIEGO — Ringo Starr is on the phone from Las Vegas and he’s got lots of fab things to talk about, including some that have been largely kept under wraps.

“I’m giving away all the secrets here!” said Starr, who has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and as a member of The Beatles.

Simultaneously thoughtful and animated, the illustrious drummer, vocalist and bandleader happily discussed a number of topics. They included his upcoming country album with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” music mastermind T Bone Burnett; a possible new Beatles’ project with Oscar-winning film director Peter Jackson; and the yet-to-be-determined future of “The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil,” which on July 6 will conclude its 18-year run at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

And there’s more.

On May 31, Starr released his fifth EP since 2021. Entitled “Crooked Boy,” the four-song release is a collaboration with former San Diego singer-songwriter Linda Perry, the former leader of the band 4 Non Blondes. His eighth book, “Beats & Threads: Fashion of a Beatle,” was published in November. Proceeds from the limited-edition book go to the Lotus Foundation, the charity that Starr and his wife, Barbara Bach, founded to aid economically challenged families, children and the elderly.

Before his interviewer could pose a single question, however, Starr had something he was eager to trumpet. He and his All Starr Band today are announcing two new Southern California performances as part of their 2024 tour.

The first is Sept. 7 at San Diego’s Humphreys Concerts by the Bay. The second is Sept. 8 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Tickets for the Humphreys show go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at humphreysconcerts.com.

“Great news! We’re coming back to Humphreys, brother!” said Starr, who has regularly performed there since 1995. “It is a special venue for me.”

A longtime Beverly Hills resident, Starr will turn 84 on July 7. His recording and performing schedule indicate he has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

The All Starr Band’s 2024 spring tour opened May 22 at The Venetian in Las Vegas and includes concerts Wednesday and Thursday at Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional. Their fall tour will open with the Sept. 7 San Diego show at Humphreys. It will conclude with a Sept. 25 date at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.

The band’s lineup features Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Men At Work leader Colin Hay, Average White Band mainstay Hamish Stuart, saxophonist, flutist and keyboardist Warren Ham, and former Maynard Ferguson/David Lee Roth drummer Gregg Bissonette.

Edgar Winter, a longtime All Starr member, has been sitting out the spring tour due to illness. He is expected to rejoin the band in time for its Sept. 7 San Diego gig at Humphreys. Winter’s spot is temporarily being filled by Aerosmith touring keyboardist and guitarist Buck Johnson.

Starr spoke with the San Diego Union-Tribune on May 31. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: In our interview last year, you told me the Greek Theatre is your favorite place to play. Is Humphreys a close second?

A: Yeah. I do love the Greek — because I get to go home after the show! I love the sound and the people who are there to (provide) support. But Humphreys is a special venue for me. I’ve always loved it. At times they’ve tried to put me in other venues down there in San Diego, and I’ve said: “No. I play at Humphreys.”

Q: Do you have a special message for the “boat people” who watch your shows at Humphreys for free from the adjacent marina?

A: Oh, yes: “You tight bastards — buy a ticket!” Ha ha ha ha!

Q: Your recent collaborator, Linda Perry, used to live in San Diego. What do you like most about working with her?

A: Oh, she’s great … She’s a great writer, she’s fun to be with. You know, we just get on. I mean, doing the EPs, I’ve been calling people that I’ve never worked with, just to (have a) change … I thought: “Well, I’m gonna work with people I don’t know.”

I didn’t know Linda. I mean, I knew about her, but I didn’t know her. I gave her a call and she gave me a song, and it was really great. Then she said: “When are you gonna let me do an EP (with) you?” And I said, “Great,” and that’s what she did. She called it “Crooked Boy,” and they used a very nice photo of me on the cover.

Q: The great bassist Nathan East is from San Diego. He told me that — beyond admiring you as a musician and a person — he is impressed that you phone him personally when you want him to do a recording session.

A: Yeah, well, that’s what I do, you know? I call and say: “Hi. I’m doing this (record). If you’d like to join in, it would be great!” I mean, with Nathan, we’ve come to a place now where I only call him when I want bass on (at least) three tunes, because he does them all in half an hour! So, I don’t call him right away. I wait ‘till we’ve got a couple of songs for him to record on, not just one, because he is such a fine bass player.

Q: He certainly is. There are a few points during each All Starr Band concert where you go offstage while one of your band mates is doing a song. I’m curious: What are you doing offstage during that time when you’re not up there with the band?

A: I’m having a cup of tea.

Q: Really?

A: No, not really! I’m just saying that now. When I’m off stage, I’m just having a break and letting the band run with it. I mean, it depends. When I started the All Starr Band (in 1989), I would invite (the members) to sing one of their songs, just by themselves if they wanted. … When I take a break during a show, the band’s still there (on stage), it’s still rocking, (and) somebody gets a chance to do a song of theirs where it’s just the band, because it’s so good, instead of the spotlight just being on me.

Q: In 1970 you released your first country-music album, “Beaucoups of Blues,” which you recorded in Nashville with Pete Drake and a bunch of other great players. Now, you’re coming full circle and doing a new country album with T Bone Burnett. How did that come about and how is it shaping up?

A: Well, it came about (as a result of) the pandemic. I was working out, doing some painting or whatever, and that kept me going. But after I started doing EPs (in 2021), we went out to the Sunset Marquis (hotel, in November 2022) because Olivia Harrison was reading from her book, “Came the Lightening: Twenty Poems for George.”

There were about a hundred of us there, listening to her, and it was great. T Bone was there. We’d never had dinner or anything, but I had bumped into him over the years, many times. And he said: “What are you doing?”

And I said “Oh, I’m making EPs, and if you’ve got a song — if you feel like it — send it to me and I’ll put it with the other three song I’ve got on my (next) EP.” All of the other three songs for the EP were like pop songs. T Bone sent me a very moving country song, and I thought: “Well now I’m gonna do a country thing!”

But that’s how I work. It’s just like, the moves are made and I continue the moves. It’s not like I sat there thinking: “Well now I’m gonna do a country one.” It just came about because T Bone sent me this track; I never thought: “Oh, it will be a country track.”

Q: There are quite a few people, as you may well know, who believe no other band will ever be as great and as meaningful — or have the same impact — as The Beatles. What do you think?

A: Well, yes, I do think (that will happen) one day. I mean, no one was going to be bigger than Elvis. No one was going to be bigger than Sinatra … But then, always, someone comes up.

Q: Is there anyone now you would point to?

A: No.

Q: After 18 years, on July 7 “The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil” will close its run in Las Vegas at The Mirage, which is being re-branded as Hard Rock Las Vegas. Might “LOVE” take on a new life somewhere else, in or out of Vegas?

A: Well, there’s no plan for that. We were there last night; we went to see “LOVE,” And it was great … We were talking about how the first (2006 iteration of “LOVE”) was so great. We have to thank (the late Beatles’ producer) George Martin and (his son) Giles Martin for how great it sounded. Because they spent months on it, putting different stuff on tracks and taking stuff off, and giving them the (beefed up) harmonies. It was really great and every seat had stereo speakers.

Then, (Cirque founder) Guy (Laliberté) sold Cirque (in 2020) to this company. And they put all these speakers everywhere (throughout the venue), big speakers in the ceiling, so that changed it. But it’s an amazing show. I mean, the changeovers (between songs and segments) — how do they do that? Because you can’t tell things are changing and it’s so beautiful. When we saw it last night, it seemed to be that teenagers were running the show! It was so great and fast, with really crazy stuff. And they have, like, 9-year-olds as John, Paul, George, and Ringo!

Q: How did the 9-year-olds do?

A: It’s interesting for me to, you know, to see “George” speaking and “John” (in “LOVE”). So, we had a great time and right now, (it appears to be) the last time. Because on the seventh of July, the show ends. What happens after that? Of course, people are talking about maybe (this), maybe (that). And one part of me thought, you know, it’d be good to do a late-night “LOVE” show. Because we (The Beatles) have some very, not dark but not-too-bright songs.

Q: That sounds like it could be great.

A: Yeah. But anyway, they’ll do what they do and let me know.

Q: Peter Jackson did a terrific job with “Get Back,” the 2021 Beatles’ film documentary. Might there be another Beatles/Jackson collaboration of any kind in the offing?

A: Not that we know of, yet, but we’re hoping. And so, I’m not going to talk about it, because he (Jackson) said “Yes.” And we’ve had a discussion about that “Yes,” and we need him to say “Yes” again. I’m giving all the secrets away here!

Q: I appreciate that! I’m also wondering if you could talk briefly about the restored version of (director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 Beatles’ film documentary) “Let It Be” that was released in early May. Have you reassessed your negative view of the original film? Or do you you suddenly see “Let It Be” in a new light, now that it’s been restored?

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A: No, no, I always thought it was pointed in the wrong direction — only down. And that’s why I was so glad we found 56 hours of unused “Let It Be” footage, which had been hibernating, for Peter Jackson to use (for “Get Back”) … I was disappointed with “Let It Be,” because I was there (when it was filmed) and we had lots of laughs, as you saw in the Peter Jackson edit.

We had a lot of fun. We did have a few rows (arguments) — that’s what a band does. But everyone thinks The Beatles are like angels and we shouldn’t fight. And we’d have little rows and then we’d get over it. Music is the most important part of what we did, you know, besides the friendships, of course.

Q: You recently said in an interview that Paul McCartney having been such a workaholic spurred The Beatles on to be more productive as recording artists. It may be hard to quantify, but how much less productive and how many fewer albums do you think would have resulted if Paul wasn’t such a go-getter?

A: Well, how many (studio albums) do you think we made?

Q: I’m bad at math on a good day, but 10 or 11?

A: We would have done half (as many), I think.

Q: Really?

A: Yeah, because we were like, it was such a change for us (after The Beatles stopped touring in 1966). We enjoyed sitting in the garden, looking at the trees! Paul got us in (the studio) and we went in and we all did our best stuff. It was a great thing. From the count-in (of the first song), nobody was playing around. Anybody who counted in (a song), the four of us, gave our all.

Q: In the Peter Jackson footage in “Get Back,” one of my favorite scenes is the one where The Beatles are in the studio, listening to a playback of a song, and you are sitting next to Yoko (Ono). You’re kind of bopping in your seat to the music, and you pass a stick of chewing gum to Yoko, who breaks it in half and gives half of it to John. You’re all chewing gum and grooving to the music, and it’s a really warm and joyous moment. I don’t know if you even remembered that scene until you saw it when Peter finished the film.

A: Yeah, I only remember it because I’ve just seen it again.

Q: Is there a favorite scene or two in “Get Back” that you hadn’t thought of for decades?

A: No.

Q: No?

A: No. I often think of John. And because of that, I often think of John and Yoko, and — of course — George. You know, it could be just walking down the street and something will catch your attention, and I’ll sort of associate it with one of the boys.

Q: One of the most memorable Beatles’ misadventures took place when your were in the Philippines in 1966 to perform two concerts in Manila. You had to high-tail it out of the country after Imelda Marcos denounced The Beatles on national TV for not showing up for a breakfast at the Royal Palace.

A: Yep.

Q: In the ensuing uproar, I recall that — before you flew out — you and John were at the Manila airport, ducking down behind a group of nuns so that you wouldn’t be spotted by police or soldiers.

A: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. It looked like they were really going to come and get us. And you know they wouldn’t let us get on the plane because Mrs. Marcos was upset with us. When we arrived at the airport, before our concerts in Manila, there were, like, 20 cops on motorbikes to (escort us in a motorcade). And when we went back to the airport, it was with (just) one (motorcycle cop), and people were shouting at us. It was really rough.

John and I shared a (hotel) room; The Beatles, we always shared rooms when we were on tour. We ordered (room service) breakfast (in Manila) and thought: “We’ll turn the TV on while we wait.” And we saw this incredible footage of a cameraman going around a table and kids crying because we didn’t turn up (at the palace). We had said (in advance) we weren’t turning up, but she still went along with it. And so that’s what caused it all.

So, at the airport — when we were leaving — we thought: “Yeah, we’ll be safer with the nuns!” Ha ha ha ha!

Q: Did Imelda Marcos ever reach out after that to apologize?

A: No. She was too busy counting her money.

Q: Your upcoming country-music album sounds very exciting. But when we talked last year, you told me you were done with albums, that you only wanted to make EPs. What made you change your mind?

A: Well, that’s what I’m saying: I am changeable; I’m not stuck in my ways. I mean, I did say I’d (only) make EPs, and I made five of them. And then T Bone sent me that country song and I got other country artists to help me make an EP, which didn’t come out now because the (pop-music) EP with Linda Perry came out.

Then, I said to T Bone: “Would you like to do a (full) record?” He said: “Okay, I’m coming to L.A. and I’ll come over and I’ve got some songs,” and he had nine songs! And so, I thought: “Let’s make an album, let’s change it up.” And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve recorded nine of his songs, uh, 10. And we’re gonna put the one he sent for the EP on (the album) as well. We’ve got 10 tracks already. And I’ve got three others, and maybe this will be sort of a 13- or 14-track record, one way or the other.

Q: What is it about country music that resonates so strongly with people in England, and with you as a young man growing up? I know that Celtic music migrated to America and helped lay the foundation for bluegrass music. And you told me in our 1992 interview that you really like Frankie Laine, who wasn’t a country singer, but …

A: Yeah, I do love Frankie Laine — he was so dramatic! — and Johnnie Ray. I’m a softie, really, you see! (He begins to croon in a Ray-like voice.)

Q: But what exactly was it about country music that attracted you so much when you were young?

A: I felt it. I loved it. In those days — the ‘50s — for me, it was Hank Williams and everybody else. Kitty Wells was my heroine! And, you know, I’ve just loved it ever since. As you said, I did a record with Pete Drake, and now I’m doing one with T Bone. So, you never know what’s going on in the future!

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