Ringo Starr: Beatle Celebrates 80 amid the Pandemic–Happy Birthday!!!

To ring in the big 8-0, Ringo Starr plans an online celebration with a broadcast benefit called “Ringo’s Big Birthday Show” today, July 7.  Starr usually spreads peace and love outside of Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, but he’s not letting the pandemic stop him. He asked fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, Ringo Star & His All Starr Band guitarist Joe Walsh, Gary Clark Jr, Sheryl Crow, Sheila E, Ben Harper, to host at-home performances, and the show will display new concert footage (which he’s reluctant to disclose).
“My 70th birthday was great,” says Ringo, “but this year I’m going to celebrate it a little different than I have for the last 12 years. We started the movement in 2008 in Chicago. We celebrated it in Nice last year, and I’ve done it in Hamburg and other cities.”
Reflecting on his life, he says “I don’t look back at it seriously, I’m here, the road I’ve taken had many good
choices and some other choices, but here I am now!” Even so, he relates one of his fondest memories: “I’m still blown away that I was 13 in hospital and the music teacher came round to keep us busy, we were all in bed with tuberculosis, and he gave me a little drum. And from that minute on, I only wanted to be a drummer. And I’m still doing it. That’s far out.”
What keeps him running? “I just love to play,” he says, “I’m still playing, I should have been playing right now and in the first tour this year, then having a break for my birthday, then September and October tour. I really miss that. I’ve been playing actually more now than I ever did. With the All Stars we do one tour a year, now I’m doing two tours a year.” The great thing about music is that it’s lifelong: “We’re in a great business and 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.”
Other than playing, his great joy derives from being the head of a big and growing family: “My wife Barbara’s blessing, my children are blessings, I’ve got eight grandkids now and a great grandson.”  As the only child, he particularly appreciates family: “The only thing I ever wanted was an older brother. But I look around the table now and I go, ‘what? All these people are related to me?’ it’s far out.'”
“I learned being a father, and I love being a grandfather because you can have all that fun and just give them back. I was a father to the best of my ability at the time, and I have still this incredible image in my soul when Zak, my eldest, was born and they gave me the baby. And I couldn’t move, he was like made of glass. And it was like a miracle, just crazy. And what was incredible is that we were there when Zak had his baby and they gave him the baby and he held it and it was like looking at myself.”
His annual celebrations began when he was being interviewed before one of his birthdays and someone said, “Well your birthday’s coming up, what would you like from people? And I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘I’d like them all at noon to go peace and love. So a week later was my birthday and we organized it, and they made little cakes, and 100 people and we had the peace and love moment at noon. I counted down….3, 2, 1…peace and love.”
Since then, the feast has grown to 27 countries, which all have peace and love moments. “When we’re in L.A., which I am now,” Ringo says, “we have a big stage put up by the Capitol building in Hollywood and we have bands playing, friends come and play to the audience who gather and we have a big brunch.”
“We were planning it for this year but things have changed. Now it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, there’s a virus everywhere. And since we can’t do that now, to celebrate I’ve asked my friends who either send me footage from a show they’ve done and I’m using some of mine from the “All Starr” last year, and I’ll be there introducing. And they’ve done some things differently, they’ve done it themselves, so I’ll be surprised too.”
As for the current unrest movements (Black Lives Matter, anti-police brutality), Ringo takes pride of the Beatles record decades ago: We did refuse to play in Mississippi, we didn’t dig segregation, cause all of our heroes are from Ray Charles to Lightnin’ Hopkins, any way you want to go, Stevie Wonder was one of them. The acts we loved were African American. So everywhere we went we said, ‘we play to all people, and people are people. And they said ‘ok.’  In the south, that was a first for us, and a first for them.”
This year has been an eye opener “because of this guy (George) Floyd, who got killed, and weeks after, all the parades in L.A. and all over America and it went to England, to France, it’s  huge now. I am so thrilled, I’m guessing that 75% of the kids on the streets are between 18 and 25. They are the next generation; it’s their time to change everything for the good. And they have to change old people’s minds, governments’ minds. And I hope there’s a big change.  We can only do that–hope.”
Though not nostalgic, there ae some facts Ringo likes to share: “The people that impressed me when I started to listen to music, in my early teens, were country music folks, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells. I actually saw Willie Nelson in a suit in those days, and he wrote many great songs. And blues, I love the blues.”
“Everybody must know by now that when I was 19 I tried to emigrate to Houston, Texas. I wanted to be where Lightnin’ Hopkins was, my all-time favorite blues player.  We went to the embassy and we filled in all these forms. We even had a list of factories where we could apply for jobs because I was in the factory then. We took them back down to the embassy and they gave us more paperwork, more sheets, so we turned back into teenagers and just ripped them up.”
“I just started playing in bands in the factory I worked in, I started playing with Rory Storm and then I went to the best band in the land, the Beatles, who are still relevant today to the next generation. People interested in music they listen to our stuff, they’re holding up their babies to us. And to this day, thanks to Giles Martin who is remastering everything, I’m still playing it. I just did a show for Sirius Music, the Beatles channel. And it’s always the same question, ‘what drummers did you like?’ and I would say, I was listening to records for records, I wasn’t listening for the drummers. And my hero is Cozy Cole; I just love what he did because he did tom-tom stuff.”
Inevitably the issue of fame and the burden of it comes up in the interview: “At the beginning as Beatles we wanted to make good music, which we did, and we wanted to play to live audiences, which we did. But we got so big that the price to pay was that you couldn’t go into a restaurant. I was eating a meal once, I’ve got the fork into my mouth and a woman pushed out and said, ‘sign this.’ And I said ‘No, I’m having dinner.’ And she told me, and this is 1967, ‘You ruined your whole career.’ I never took it personally after that anymore.” Ringo recalls living in Monaco, where he could wander around, “everybody knew me there, but I didn’t go where the tourists were. In England, it’s all eased off now; we can go where we like. Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all got masks on so they don’t know me!”
Ringo is aware of the importance of talent, luck, and timing in a musician’s success: “It’s hard to say who’s gonna last. Nobody knew we were going to last, we were rejected by record labels. But now, where do you start?  There’s few clubs you can go and play. Now they’re all big venues to make the money so it’s the big acts. It’s much harder now, everyone’s streaming, including the Beatles, that’s the new way. It’s certainly changed from the 78’s when I came in, then we went to 45’s, then cassettes. It’s so far out now. Remember, I was there for the vinyl, but kids growing up now are for the streaming; it’s a different way of doing it now.”
Ringo is proud of his upcoming (untitled yet) documentary: “We began long time ago, it was a live show on the roof of the Apple building.  Then we found 56 hours of unused footage. And we asked Peter Jackson (Oscar winning director, The Lord of the Rings) to help us, and he put the concert together. It was initially 12 minutes, and it’s now 46 minutes and it’s incredible.  In the first version, there wasn’t a lot of joy, too many down moments, and in this one, we’re all laughing and having fun.  It’s got a completely different outlook–a joyous outlook.”  He thinks “it’s a shame because the feature should have been out, but nothing’s coming out this year. I’m not touring this year, we’re all sort of in limbo. I even heard that James Bond’s not coming out (laughs), so it really must be hell out there.”
But always the upbeat person, he says: “Look, I was in the best band in the world, and I loved those guys, they were brothers to me, being in on each other, I had three brothers. Life has been very kind to me.” And lest we forget, he emphasizes again the big event: “Hey, we’re all here because July 7th is my birthday, and at noon I hope you’ll spread peace and love wherever you are. That’s the deal, OK? We’re still on the road!”
Proceeds from “Ringo’s Big Birthday Show” will benefit Black Lives Matter, Global Network, the David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares, WaterAid and other organizations.
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