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Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr anchored the Beatles with a smile and a thundering backbeat, qualities he'd never lose during the group's heyday or throughout his long solo career. As a drummer, his unconventional parts were a defining compositional feature of the band's sound and his laid-back charisma endeared him to fans, especially during their early days. While John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and to a lesser extent, George Harrison, served as the band's frontmen, Starr enjoyed his share of the spotlight. A natural acting ability helped him steal scenes in their feature films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!, and he sang lead on mid-'60s Beatles classics like "Yellow Submarine" and "With a Little Help from My Friends." It wasn't until their final years that he began writing his own material, penning "Don't Pass Me By" for The Beatles and "Octopus's Garden" for Abbey Road. Following the band's breakup in 1970, he notched a bevy of solo hits like "It Don't Come Easy," "Back Off Boogaloo," and "Photograph," the latter of which, co-written by Harrison, became one of his signature solo songs. His albums were often characterized by a collaborative approach made up of covers, originals, and songs given to him by a wide circle of friends, colleagues, and admirers. He would come to rely on this group in the third act of his career, when he formed Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band in 1989. Over the years, the All-Starr Band would include a who's-who of well-known members (Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Colin Hay, and Levon Helm among many others), but the group remained a constant for Starr, allowing him to tour the world on a regular basis with a coterie of talented and trusted friends. Ringo revived his solo career with 1992's Time Takes Time, an album that performed a similar function in the studio as the All-Starr Band did on-stage: it opened the door to steady work as a performer. Amid occasional fan-serving collaborations with McCartney, Starr moved into the 21st century touring with different iterations of his band while releasing a steady flow of live releases and solo albums like 2010's Y Not and 2015's Postcards from Paradise. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a Beatle and later as a solo artist. In the early 2020s, he issued a prolific run of EPs including 2023's Rewind Forward.

Born Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940 in the Liverpool neighborhood of Dingle, Ringo suffered from various ailments during his youth. At age six he underwent an appendectomy and contracted peritonitis, causing him to briefly fall into a coma. Beginning in 1953, he spent two years in a sanatorium convalescing from tuberculosis. His participation in the hospital band sparked his first interest in drumming, a passion he would later develop during Britain's late-'50s skiffle craze as a member of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In the summer of 1960, the Hurricanes were the senior, more established Liverpool band. They were so busy that when they declined an offer from German promoter Bruno Koschmider to play a residency at his Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg, the upstart Beatles were sent instead. The Hurricanes eventually made it to Hamburg a few months later and took over the headliner spot, but the connection made between Ringo and the younger band would have lasting repercussions. In August 1962, he was asked to join the Beatles, replacing their first drummer, Pete Best, and forever cementing his legacy in popular music.

From the onset of Beatlemania in early 1963 until their dissolution in 1970, Ringo occupied a unique, though sometimes difficult role within the Beatles. His drumming style favored feel over technicality and his energetic backbeat and unconventional fills became a signature element of their sound. Despite initial resistance from hardcore fans who briefly insisted "Pete forever, Ringo never!," he quickly became a fan favorite, singing lead on at least one song per album and playing standout roles in the band's first two movies, A Hard Day's Night and Help!. "Yellow Submarine," from 1966's Revolver, reached number one and was the only Ringo-sung Beatles song to do so, though others like "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "What Goes On" became well-known catalog staples. In the latter half of the '60s, as the band shifted into their studio phase, Starr found himself feeling increasingly isolated as his bandmates moved beyond their rock & roll beginnings into more experimental territory that didn't always require his accompaniment. As the odd man out, he often found himself killing endless hours in the studio, playing cards with road managers Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall. During their final years, he began writing songs of his own like "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden."

Upon the Beatles' split in early 1970, Starr forged his own career with a pair of solo projects. The first, an album called Sentimental Journey, found him covering pre-rock standards, and the second, Beaucoups of Blues, was a country music collection. Starr then scored Top Ten hits with two non-album singles, "It Don't Come Easy" in 1971 and "Back Off Boogaloo" in 1972. During this time he remained involved with both Lennon and Harrison, playing on the former's debut, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and the latter's three-disc set All Things Must Pass as well as the Harrison-curated Concert for Bangladesh. In 1973 he paired with producer Richard Perry and, with assistance from the three other ex-Beatles, made his rock album debut with Ringo, which featured two number one hits, "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen." "Oh My My," a Top Ten hit, was also included, and those three singles helped push the album to platinum certification. Almost as successful was his 1974 follow-up Goodnight Vienna, which featured the hits "Only You" and "No No Song," and guest spots from Elton John and Harry Nilsson. That same year he starred alongside Nilsson in Son of Dracula, nurturing an acting career that began with the Beatles' films, then blossomed with roles in The Magic Christian (1968), Blindman (1971), That'll Be the Day (1973), and Caveman (1981).

Musically, Starr continued to issue widely released albums like Bad Boy (1978) and Stop and Smell the Roses (1981), though with diminishing success. His 1983 effort Old Wave did not find a U.S. distributor and made little impact on charts in the U.K. or otherwise. He appeared with his son Zak Starkey on the 1985 anti-apartheid song "Sun City," and guested on Harrison's nostalgic 1987 Beatlemania ode, "When We Was Fab." In early 1988, the excesses of his lifestyle caught up with him and he entered an alcohol detox program in Arizona, emerging successfully into newfound sobriety and a revived creative focus. Following the Beatles' induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame later that year, he put together the first iteration of his ongoing supergroup, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Debuting in 1989, the inaugural lineup included Joe Walsh, Dr. John, former Beatles collaborator Billy Preston, and members of the Band. The success of their first tour yielded an eponymous 1990 All-Starr live album and in part spurred Ringo to revive his studio career.

Though not a huge commercial success, 1992's Time Takes Time was a critically admired set that felt like something of a creative rejuvenation. Its production team included Don Was, Phil Ramone, and Jeff Lynne and its standout track "Weight of the World" returned Ringo to the U.K. singles chart for the first time since 1974. Meanwhile, a renewed interest in the Beatles swelled with the 1996 Anthology project which saw Starr, McCartney, and Harrison collaborating on Beatles material for the first time since their 1970 breakup. After joining McCartney on his 1997 set Flaming Pie, Ringo enjoyed his own comeback with 1998's Vertical Man which cracked the charts in Europe and America, making it his most commercially successful record since the '70s. It was quickly followed by a live album culled from his performance on VH1 Storytellers and a 1999 holiday-themed album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus.

During the front half of the 2000s, Starr continued to tour successfully with the All-Starr Band, whose revolving lineup included artists like Ian Hunter, Greg Lake, Colin Hay, Howard Jones, and Sheila E. While the different versions of the touring band issued a string of live albums throughout the decade, Ringo returned to the studio for solo releases like 2003's Ringorama and 2005's Choose Love. Following Harrison's death in 2001, he paid tribute to his former bandmate at the 2002 Concert for George, playing "Photograph," their co-written 1973 hit. The song later anchored 2007's greatest-hits compilation, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, which hit number 26 on the U.K. albums chart. A year later, he returned to the Beatles' longtime label EMI for his 14th studio album, Liverpool 8. It marked his last collaboration with longtime producer and co-writer Mark Hudson.

Starr self-produced his next album, 2010's Y Not, which featured guest vocals from McCartney on the track "Walk with You." That same year he celebrated his 70th birthday with an elaborate concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Among the many guests were McCartney, Yoko Ono, and his son Zak. Over the next few years, Ringo continued to produce his own studio albums which included 2012's Ringo 2012 and 2015's Postcards from Paradise. The latter marked the first album to feature studio collaborations with his touring All-Starr Band, which now included members like Todd Rundgren and Steve Lukather. Just prior to the album's release, it was announced that Starr would be inducted as a solo artist into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After 2017's Give More Love, he returned two years later with What's My Name, an album that featured a cover of John Lennon's "Grow Old with Me."

During the global pandemic that began the next decade, he made a shift into short-form releases with a series of EPs. Zoom In was released in March 2021, followed six months later by Change the World. A third EP, EP3, arrived the following year. Starr's 2023 EP, Rewind Forward, featured contributions from various collaborators like Steve Lukather and Benmont Tench as well as a song penned by McCartney. ~ Timothy Monger

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