He was born and raised in the working class Dingle area of Liverpool, England. Starr's parents split up when he was three years old; his mother, Elsie, remarried Harry Graves, whom Starr liked, and who encouraged his interest in music. His childhood was filled with long hospital stays-an appendicitis-caused coma and a cold-turned-pleurisy were among his ailments-consequently, he fell far behind in school. After his last extended visit to the hospital, beginning at age thirteen, he did not return to school. His health problems had another enduring effect: allergies and sensitivities to food. When he traveled to India in 1968 with the other Beatles, he took his own food with him.
Like the other Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Ritchie (as he was known in those days) also eventually became caught up in Liverpool's Skiffle craze. In 1957, he started his own group with Eddie Miles that they originally named the Eddie Miles Band but evolved into Eddie Clayton and the Clayton Squares; "Clayton" was local landmark and Eddie Miles' stage surname. Starr joined the Raving Texans in 1959, a quartet that backed singer Rory Storm. During this time, he got the nickname Ringo, because of the rings he wore, and because it sounded 'cowboyish' (probably a reference to John Wayne's character in Stagecoach, "The Ringo Kid"), and the last name Starr so that his drum solos could be billed as 'Starr Time'.
Starr first met the Beatles in Hamburg, in October 1960, while he was performing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He also sat in for Pete Best on several occasions. When the Beatles removed Best as their drummer on August 16, 1962, Starr was their choice to replace him.
Although Storm was magnanimous about losing Starr, Best fans were upset, holding vigils outside Best's house and fighting at the Cavern Club, shouting "Ringo never! Pete Best forever!"
Role in the Beatles
While sometimes the least visible member of the band, Starr's drumming style played a pivotal role in the music played and recorded by the Beatles. He filled the role he was hired for in 1962, then went on to establish a new approach to rhythm in popular music that some claim continues to grow in its significance and influence with every decade since the Beatles recorded their music.
Starr is left-handed yet plays a right-handed kit; his tendency to lead with his left hand contributes to his distinctive drumming style.
Lennon said of Starr:
" Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met. He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had Ringo Starr-time and he was in one of the top groups in Britain but especially in Liverpool before we even had a drummer ... Ringo's a damn good drummer. "
Drummer Steve Smith said:
" Before Ringo, drum stars were measured by their soloing ability and virtuosity. Ringo's popularity brought forth a new paradigm in how the public saw drummers. We started to see the drummer as an equal participant in the compositional aspect. One of Ringo's great qualities was that he composed unique, stylistic drum parts for the Beatles songs. His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music, and still identify the song."
Many drummers list Starr as an influence, including Max Weinberg of the E Street Band, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters/Nirvana, Danny Carey of Tool, Liberty DeVitto of Billy Joel's band, Phil Collins, Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater and others.According to Collins, "Starr is vastly underrated. The drum fills on the song "A Day in the Life" are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, "I want it like that." They wouldn't know what to do."
In his extensive survey of the Beatles' recording sessions, Mark Lewisohn confirmed that Starr was both proficient and remarkably reliable and consistent. According to Lewisohn, there were fewer than a dozen occasions in the Beatles' eight-year recording career where session 'breakdowns' were caused by Starr making a mistake, while the vast majority of takes were stopped due to mistakes by the other three members.
Starr is also considered to have advanced various modern drumming techniques (for playing and recording) such as the matched grip, placing the drums on high risers for visibility as part of the band, tuning the drums lower, and using muffling devices on tonal rings, along with his general contributions to the Beatles as a whole. Specific drum parts executed by Starr in notably signature fashion include the fill that brings the drums and bass guitar into "Hey Jude", the steady rock and roll beats in "Please Please Me" and other early Beatles recordings, the drum kit pattern through the bridge of "Hello, Goodbye", and the driving bass drum notes found in "Lady Madonna", underlying the more intricate, double-tracked snare drum. His use of a "sizzle" cymbal (a cymbal incorporated with rivets that vibrate) would bring a much fuller sound than standard "ride" cymbals.
Two song performances where Starr is most reknowned as a drummer are "Rain" (his personal favorite) and "She Said, She Said". His synching with McCartney's bass on the final coda of Rain is considered one of his most memorable moments. On She Said, She Said, his bombastic fills along with his smooth changing of tempos from 4/4 to 2/4 have been highly praised.
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison have all said that Starr was the best rock and roll drummer in the world; although, when once asked in an interview "Is Ringo Starr the best drummer in the world?", Lennon quipped, "He's not even the best drummer in the band!" This was in reference to "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence", the first two tracks on White Album (1968), in which McCartney handled the drumming; Starr had walked out earlier and did not return for two weeks until the other three Beatles urged him to come back. He spent the fortnight with actor Peter Sellers on his yacht in Piraeus. Lennon sent telegrams to Starr, and Harrison set up flowers all over the studio for Starr's return saying 'welcome home'.
McCartney sent Starr a postcard on January 31, 1969 (the day after the band's performance on the roof of Apple Studios) stating: "You are the greatest drummer in the world. Really." This postcard is included in Starr's book 'Postcards From The Boys'.
McCartney also played the drums on "The Ballad of John and Yoko", recorded 14 April 1969) since only Lennon and McCartney were immediately available to record the song. Some have stated that while McCartney was able fill in for Starr, he didn't possess the smoothness and dexterity Starr had. Starr commented that he was lucky in being 'surrounded by three frustrated drummers' who could only drum in one style. Starr also did not play drums on some of the recordings of the Beatles' first-ever single, "Love Me Do", as well as the B-side, "P.S. I Love You." Session drummer Andy White was brought in by the Beatles' producer George Martin on short notice; Starr played tambourine on the version of "Love Me Do" featuring Andy White and maracas on "P.S. I Love You".
Starr generally sang at least one song on each studio album, as part of establishing the vocal personality of all four members. In some cases, Lennon or McCartney would write the lyrics and melody especially for him, as Lennon did with "Good Night" from the White Album, and as McCartney did for "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver (1966). Often these melodies would be deliberately limited to take Starr's vocal range into account-most of "With a Little Help from My Friends" (from Sgt. Pepper) is sung within the space of five notes. However, Starr rarely sang backing vocals.
Lennon and McCartney were the most prolific songwriters in the Beatles, Harrison wrote several songs, and Starr is credited with "Don't Pass Me By" (on The White Album) and "Octopus's Garden" (on Abbey Road) as sole songwriter. Starr's name also appears as a co-writer: on Rubber Soul, the track "What Goes On" was co-written by Lennon, McCartney and Starr; while the songs "Flying" (on the Magical Mystery Tour album) and "Dig It" (on Let It Be) are listed as being written by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr; and "Maggie Mae" (on Let It Be) is credited as "Traditional, arranged by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey".
In addition, Starr wrote "Taking a Trip to Carolina" (on the second CD of Let It Be... Naked), and received joint songwriting credits with the other three Beatles for "12-Bar Original", "Los Paranoias", "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)", "Suzy Parker" (heard in the Let It Be film), "Jessie's Dream" (heard in the Magical Mystery Tour film) and the Beatles' version of "Free as a Bird". The Let It Be film also features "Jazz Piano Song", which is credited as a "McCartney/Starkey" composition.
Each member of the Beatles sometimes contributed to songs without being given specific songwriting credits; for example, Starr provided the line "writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear" to the song "Eleanor Rigby", and he suggested that the priest could be "darning his socks", which McCartney liked and retained in the final lyrics of the song.
Starr commented in The Beatles Anthology that when he presented a song to the Beatles, it would often sound to the other three Beatles like another popular song, and Starr recognized the similarities when they were pointed out. The White Album, particularly the song "Don't Pass Me By", continued to show Starr's taste for country music that he had brought into the band.
After the Beatles
After the breakup of the Beatles on April 10, 1970, Starr released two albums before the end of that year. Sentimental Journey featured Starr's renditions of many pre-rock standards and included the production talents of Quincy Jones, George Martin and McCartney, among others. His next album, Beaucoups of Blues, put Starr in a country context, and included legendary Nashville session musician Pete Drake. He scored hit singles with "It Don't Come Easy" (1971) and "Back Off Boogaloo" (1972), the latter of which was his biggest UK hit, peaking at #2. Starr achieved two #1 hits in the US, with "Photograph" (co-written with Harrison) and "You're Sixteen", both in 1973.
He also participated in The Concert For Bangladesh organised by Harrison in 1971, as well as drumming on Harrison's All Things Must Pass, Lennon's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and Yoko Ono's early solo work. Indeed, his song "Early 1970" (the B-side of "It Don't Come Easy") voiced a hope that he could remain friendly and play music with all three of his former Beatle bandmates. Starr then made his debut as a film director with the T. Rex documentary Born to Boogie. Starr became firm friends with T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan and during the period of filming the documentary, Starr released the single "Back Off Boogaloo".
Starr remains the only Beatle to have failed to top the UK singles charts as a solo artist, although he did chart two number one singles in the US. He is also the only Beatle to have failed to top the UK album listings, his highest position being #7, achieved in the UK with both Sentimental Journey and Ringo; the latter reached #2 in the US charts, giving Starr his highest album position there.
In 1971, he started a furniture company with designer Robin Cruikshank. Starr's own avant-garde designs included a flower-shaped table with adjustable petal seats and a donut-shaped fireplace.
The 1973 album Ringo remains his biggest-selling record. Produced by Richard Perry with participation by the other three former Beatles on different tracks, Starr became the most commercially successful ex-Beatle at that time. The album Goodnight Vienna followed the next year and was also successful. Hits and notable tracks from these two albums included "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen" both reaching number one on the US charts, and "I'm The Greatest" (written by Lennon) from Ringo, and "Only You (And You Alone)" and "No No Song" from Goodnight Vienna. In late 1975 these singles and others were collected for Starr's first greatest hits compilation, Blast from Your Past, which was also the last album to be released on Apple Records.. During this period, he became romantically involved with Lynsey De Paul and inspired her prophetic song "If I Don't Get You, the Next One Will". He also played tambourine on a song that De Paul wrote and produced for Vera Lynn, called "Don't You Remember When".
Starr's recording career subsequently diminished in commercial impact, although he continued to record and remained a familiar celebrity presence. Starr signed with Atlantic Records in the mid '70s, and in 1976 the album Ringo's Rotogravure was released. While it did feature a minor hit single, the album sold only fairly well. This caused the label to revamp Starr's formula; the results were a curious blend of disco and '70s pop. The album Ringo the 4th (1977) was a commercial disaster, and Starr soon signed with Portrait Records. His stint with Portrait began on a promising note: 1978 saw the release of Bad Boy, as well as a network TV special. Sadly, neither were very popular, and Starr did not release another album with Portrait.
In 1975, Starr founded his own record label called Ring O'Records, and four albums were released on the label between 1975 and 1978 (Startling Music by David Hentschel, Graham Bonnet by Graham Bonnet, Restless by Rab Noakes and a re-release of an Apple Records album, The Whale by John Tavener) as well as 16 singles by artists such as: Bobby Keys, Carl Grossman, Colonel Doug Bogie, David Hentschel, Graham Bonnet, Suzanne, Johnny Warman, Stormer, Rab Noakes and Dirk & Stig (the last being names of characters from the Beatles pastiche band "the Rutles", created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes).
In 1980, George Harrison wrote "All Those Years Ago" for Starr to sing on his album Can't Fight Lightning which was later released as Stop and Smell the Roses, but then took it back and sang a re-written version himself, including it on his 1981 album Somewhere in England following John Lennon's murder. Starr, along with Paul and Linda McCartney, also played on Harrison's track. Starr was interviewed by Rolling Stone and Musician around this time. Stop and Smell the Roses was a well regarded album, but again did not sell particularly well. The Harrison-penned "Wrack My Brain" became Starr's last Top 40 single to date.
After Lennon was murdered in 1980, Starr and his girlfriend Bach flew to New York, to comfort Lennon's widow Yoko Ono. They were noted for having done so, while McCartney and Harrison did not.
Old Wave, produced by Joe Walsh, was released in 1983, but the album was only released in Germany, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia and Brazil (the album finally saw belated US release on CD in 1994).
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
In 1984, Starr narrated the children's television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. He was unsure about taking the role at first, having never previously read the books by Reverend Awdry, and at the time he felt that children would be more interested in "dinosaurs with lasers". Nevertheless, he had a change of heart and took the role, narrating the first two seasons. Starr also portrayed the character Mr. Conductor in the program's American spin-off Shining Time Station, which debuted in 1989. In an interview with Q Magazine in 1998, he admitted he was "really pleased he did it".
In 1985, Starr played the Mock Turtle in the film version of Alice in Wonderland.
Beginning in 1989, following a stint in detox for alcoholism, Starr became a visible presence on the summer touring scene, organising a series of concert tours under the name Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, teaming with well-known musicians from various rock eras. The format of the concerts had Starr singing a couple of his Beatles or solo songs, then each of the other musicians taking a turn to sing one of their songs with Starr behind the drums, then Starr singing a couple more, then another go around, and so on. In this way, Starr is relieved from having to carry the full burden of the show, and the audience gets to hear a variety of music. The ninth such All-Starr Band tour took place in 2006.
The success of the initial All-Starr tour led to Starr releasing his first album in nine years, 1992's Time Takes Time. It received substantial exposure and the track "Weight Of The World" got considerable airplay. Critics were on balance positive about Starr's return to the studio, but it would be another six years before the artist would release a studio follow-up.
Other than the films Starr did with the Beatles (A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help! (1965), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), Let It Be (1970)), he has acted in several films such as Candy (1968), The Magic Christian (1969) (alongside Peter Sellers), Blindman (1971), Son of Dracula (1974) and Caveman (1981). For the 1979 documentary film on the Who, The Kids Are Alright, Starr appeared in interview segments with fellow drummer Keith Moon. He starred as Larry the Dwarf in Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1971). His voice is also featured in Harry Nilsson's animated film The Point! (1971). He co-starred in the British film That'll Be the Day (1973) as a Teddy boy. He also played 'The Pope' in Ken Russell's Lisztomania (1975).
Ringo: "Hello, what's this?" (Blows on the dusty envelope) "From Springfield, USA." (Takes out a portrait, revealing a painting of himself in 1964) "Gear!"In 1989, he appeared with his daughter Lee in a US television commercial for Oldsmobile, in which he sang the automaker's new jingle, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile! This is the new generation of Olds!"
In 1991, Starr appeared as himself in an episode of the animated comedy program The Simpsons, titled "Brush with Greatness". He was the first Beatle ever to appear on the show. Both Harrison and McCartney have since lent their voices to the series.
In the same year Starr recorded the song You'll Never Know, which was played over the end credits in the James Belushi motion picture Curly Sue.
In 1996, Starr appeared in a Japanese advertisement for apple juice; 'ringo' is Japanese for 'apple'.
In the mid-1990s, Starr appeared in an advertisement for Pizza Hut, pronouncing that the time is ripe for 'the lads' to get back together. At the commercial's pay-off, he is joined by three members of the Monkees and quips to the camera, "Wrong lads."
In 2000, he appeared in the first of the "Smart Investor" TV commercials for Charles Schwab Brokerage. In the commercial, Starr is trying to help a group of young songwriters come up with a rhyme for "elation". Starr suggests such financial investment terms as "dividend reinvestment participation", "market capitalisation", "European market fluctuation" and "asset allocation", as an instrumental version of the song Money, recorded by the Beatles, plays in the background. At the commercial's pay-off, he looks at the confused songwriters and says, "What? Too many syllables?"
In 2001, Starr and Harrison were both guest musicians on the Electric Light Orchestra's album Zoom, playing on two tracks each.Later, on November 29, Starr was devastated to hear that Harrison had died of cancer, and he attended Harrison's funeral.
In 2002 Starr was inducted into the Percussive Hall of Fame joining the elite group of percussive inductees, which includes Buddy Rich and William F. Ludwig, Sr. and his son.
On November 29, 2002, Starr performed "Photograph" and a cover of Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" at the Concert For George held in the Royal Albert Hall, London, on the first anniversary of Harrison's death. According to the official website, "Ringo Starr caught everyone with a tear in their eye with a rendition of 'Photograph', a composition he wrote with George, which seemed to sum up how everyone felt." The song includes the lines, "But all I've got is a photograph / and I realise you're not coming back anymore".
When drummer Carl Palmer was asked by fans in Mexico City about his drumset he used in a tour with Emerson, Lake & Palmer (reportedly valued at $25,000), his answer was that he sold it to Starr.
In 2003, Starr began recording for the independent label Koch Records, releasing Ringo Rama that year and Choose Love in 2005; the former includes his stylish tribute to Harrison, "Never Without You", and the latter features appearances by Billy Preston and Chrissie Hynde.
In January 2005, it was announced that comic book creator Stan Lee would be working with Starr to produce a new animated musical superhero based on Starr.
In September 2005, Liverpool City Council decided they would bulldoze Starr's birthplace as it had 'no historical significance' , despite a previous reprieve back in July. The LCC later announced that the building would be taken apart brick by brick and preserved after all.
Starr toured again in the summer of 2006, with an All-Starr Band featuring Sheila E. on percussion, bassist Hamish Stuart (formerly of the Average White Band and Paul McCartney's touring band), and Edgar Winter. The tour was underway on Ringo's 66th birthday, July 7, 2006, when the All-Starr Band performed in Clearwater, Florida.
Starr appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on June 20, 2006. He sang two songs; "What Goes On" from Rubber Soul and "With a Little Help from My Friends" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Most recently, Starr featured on the Jerry Lee Lewis 2006 duet album, Last Man Standing; he performed a cover, with Lewis, of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen".
In June of 2007 the newest studio album of Ringo Starr is expected, produced by Dave Stewart and titled Liverpool 8.
Sir Ringo Starr?
In December 2006, Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein started a campaign to get Ringo Starr knighted in a petition to the Prime Minister. Whilst it is an attempt to test the recently introduced petitions section to the government website and Finkelstein admits its triviality, Finkelstein thinks "he [Starr] deserves it" and has set out ten "unanswerable" reasons as to why Starr should be knighted:
The Beatles are not just another pop group; they changed popular culture.
Ringo has an MBE. Tom Jones (a solo artist) has a knighthood.
The Beatles are a symbol of this country's creativity that is recognised in every part of the globe.
Ringo has an MBE. Cliff Richard (a solo artist) has a knighthood.
Have you heard the drumming on Abbey Road?
Ringo has an MBE. Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate has an MBE.
Before Ringo joined the Beatles they were nothing.
Ringo has an MBE. Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers has an MBE.
Have you seen Help!?
Ringo has an MBE. Jeffrey Archer has a peerage.
The petition has been met with widespread press coverage from The Sun newspaper and the Canada National Post and has received 1,886 signatures.
Starr married Maureen Cox on 11 February 1965, and they had three children, Zak, Jason, and Lee; the couple divorced in 1975. In 1980, on the set of the film Caveman, he met actress Barbara Bach, who played the role of Major Anya Amasova (female lead and main 'Bond Girl') in The Spy Who Loved Me. They were married on 27 April 1981, just a few weeks after the release of Caveman.
His son Zak Starkey is also a highly respected and prolific drummer, who is currently drumming for Oasis and The Who. Starr arranged for Zak to receive drumming instruction from Zak's idol, the late Who drummer Keith Moon, who was a close friend of Starr. In 1990, Starr was the first of the Beatles to become a grandfather upon the birth of Zak's daughter, Tatia Jayne Starkey.
Awards and recognition
On 12 June 1965, Starr and the three other Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE); they received their insignia from the Queen at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 26 October.
All four of the Beatles were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the group was inducted in 1988. Since then, Lennon (1994), McCartney (1999), and Harrison (2004) have been inducted for their solo careers as well. Starr remains the only Beatle not to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo career.
The minor planet (4150) Starr, discovered August 31, 1984 by B. A. Skiff at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, was named in his honour.
All-Starr Band editions
All with Ringo Starr and:
1989: Clarence Clemons, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Dr. John, Jim Keltner, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston, Joe Walsh
1992: Timmy Cappello, Burton Cummings, Dave Edmunds, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, Timothy B. Schmit, Zak Starkey, Joe Walsh
1995: Randy Bachman, Felix Cavaliere, John Entwistle, Mark Farner, Billy Preston, Mark Rivera, Zak Starkey
1997-98: Gary Brooker, Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Simon Kirke, Mark Rivera (dropped in rehearsals - Dave Mason)
1999: Gary Brooker, Jack Bruce, Timmy Cappello, Simon Kirke, Todd Rundgren (dropped off before start - Joe Walsh)
2000: Jack Bruce, Eric Carmen, Dave Edmunds, Simon Kirke, Mark Rivera
2001: Sheila E., Greg Lake, Ian Hunter (singer), Howard Jones, Roger Hodgson, Mark Rivera
2003: Paul Carrack, Sheila E., Colin Hay, John Waite, Mark Rivera
2006: Rod Argent, Hamish Stuart, Richard Marx, Billy Squier, Sheila E., Edgar Winter
Starr's Website is updated by Starr himself, most notably with video clips that remain archived, on a somewhat regular basis (as of August 2006). Starr's mantra, often expressed on these video clips, is: 'Peace and Love, Peace and Love, Peace and Love'.
Starr is the only Beatle to have his recent and past albums on the iTunes Music Store, apart from McCartney's single "Fine Line".