“We’re on the Road Again” isn’t just the lead track on Ringo Starr‘s new album, Give More Love—it’s a way of life. Among the most famous people on the planet for over half a century, the perpetually Fab rock icon shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In October he’ll embark on a new tour with his All-Starr Band, the pro-packed collective now into its third decade. Give More Love is similarly jammed with cameos, including appearances by Peter Frampton, the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, Toto’s Steve Luthaker, and his own brother-in-law, Joe Walsh. Plus, of course, a little help from his friend Paul McCartney. Play, record, play, tour, repeat. At 77, the drummer is in the groove.
In a year ripe with 50th anniversary tributes to the Summer of Love, the Beatles‘ mythical annus mirabilis, Starr is striving to keep the spirit alive. He’s transformed his birthday into a flourishing global celebration of peace, and is actively involved with the David Lynch Foundation, an organization that promotes the education of Transcendental Meditation. Starr first began studying the technique in August 1967, when he and his bandmates sat at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi during a lecture at the London Hilton.
I can’t help but be reminded of the event as I arrive at a luxurious hotel in sunny Los Angeles all these years later to meet with Starr. Though the ever-humble stickman would reject a guru tag of any sort, the mind reels when trying to comprehend his extraordinary life. In a prior interview, I once (naively) asked him if his fantastic achievements gave him any insight on happiness that most of us don’t possess. “I’ll tell you when you turn the tape off,” he deadpanned before breaking into a beatific grin.
Ultimately he did tell me. The answer was the simple phrase he repeats as a personal mantra: peace and love. This time around, he greets me with the words as he enters the hotel suite. His music—recorded in his home studio or performed before adoring fans around the world—provides the peace, while love comes in the form of his wife of 36 years, Barbara Bach. Midway through our photoshoot she calls him to discuss meal plans for later that afternoon, and they chat warmly. Considering all the love he’s put into the world, it’s touching to see him on the receiving end.
Peace, love and a little rock ‘n’ roll. Having sampled more experiences than most of us can ever hope to in one lifetime, Starr values those forces above all else. That’s good enough for me. They would prove to be the pillars of our conversation.
This is your 19th solo album. What keeps you hungry?
The playing is what it’s all about. That’s why I’m touring, that’s why I make records. That’s why I play with a lot of the people who ask me. I just love to play. I’m in a profession and a position where I can just play for as long as I can. As long as I can hold the sticks! That’s what it’s all about.
I make records in the guest house at home because I want to hang out with the dogs—and Barbara as well. So people just come by. It’s all very relaxed. There’s no glass wall. The bedroom has two kits of drums and an amp and the living room has the computer and Pro Tools. We do it all! I do the vocals on this one mic, but if Don Was comes over and plays upright bass, we use the same mic. So it’s not the most technical place, but we get a good sound.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do you get a bunch of musicians in a room and jam, or is it mainly overdubbing?
It’s mainly overdubbing. Dave Stewart and I wrote a song together [“So Wrong for So Long”], but one day we were just hanging out fiddling about on another track [“King of the Kingdom”] and I wanted a wah-wah pedal. So he went back to his house, because that’s where it was. He was so funny: “I don’t have my wah-wah pedal with me…” Like, “Oh, I take mine with me everywhere!” [laughs] So he did it at his place and he just emailed the files and we put it on. Peter Frampton was in Nashville and I asked him to do me a favor and [play] on the track I wrote with Richard Marx. We sent him the file, he did his stuff and sent it back. So it’s good! You’ve gotta move into 2017, really. The kids out there are probably way further on. Meanwhile I’m like, “Oh, Pro Tools!”
The title is Give More Love—what does that mean to you?
Peace and love, give more love. There are a lot of people hurting out there, and if we give nothing else we have to give love. I try and do that to the best of my ability. We have to remember we are not saints—sometimes there’s the other attitude, the reactive. I try not to get too much of that. But we’re doing the best we can.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Electricity.” That one’s written about a different former band mate called John—Johnny Guitar! Can you tell me about him?
Johnny Guitar was in Rory Storm in the Hurricanes. I loved him. He was such a great asset to the band, and he had a great attitude. He played great, but mad. Over the last albums I’ve done something that relates to where I’m from, like “Liverpool 8” or “Rory and the Hurricanes.” So that one was a condensed story, and this one is just for him.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend your show, and one of my favorite parts of the night is hearing you play “Boys.” I just think about how long you’ve been doing it.
Yes, I did that with Rory. There’s that thing I say when I introduce it: “I’d like to do a number from that other band I used to be in!” And everyone’s all thinking “BEATLES BEATLES BEATLES.” Then I go, “Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!”
What else did you sing with Rory?
I did “Alley Oop.” And they loved that in Germany because it’s the same language wherever you go. So they’d yell, “Spielen, Alley Oop!” “What Your Step” by Bobby Parker, that was another one.
You’ve got your brother-and-law, Joe Walsh, playing the part of Johnny with his guitar solo.
Joe asked to play. He’s a member of our family now. So we have that between us—“Well Ringo, has to play if I play.”
Elsewhere on the album, you took a chance on a young upstart bass player named Paul McCartney.
I know…He’s looking for work. You’ve gotta help out when you can! [laughs]
What is it like still playing together after all these years? Is it telepathy of the highest order?
We play together occasionally—I’m on a couple of his albums, he’s on a couple of mine. We did the David Lynch Foundation in New York, we did the Grammys. So it’s not like, “Wow, I haven’t seen him in 50 years, how does it feel?” We have dinner together, we hang a little. Depends which city we’re in, or which country. He had a great line in his show in Miami on the day of my birthday. [McCartney’s wife] Nancy [Shevell] sent me a little clip of Paul going, “Hey, it’s Ringo’s birthday!”And the crowd goes, “Whooo!’ And he goes, “It’s the same day as my dad’s birthday!” And the crowd goes, “Whooo!” And he says, “Dad would have been 115!” So we’re still pals.
Speaking of birthdays, you celebrated with your International Peace and Love Day.
Now it’s getting so big. This year we started in New Zealand and went right ‘round the world. We had different countries that we hadn’t had before. It’s crazy, really, but it’s getting bigger so it can’t be bad.
You also do a lot of work with the David Lynch Foundation to help spread education for Transcendental Meditation. Do you have any advice for clearing your mind and getting to that transcendent state?
Just sit quietly and try it. Meditation is just incredible with the energy you get from it and the break from your own head that you get from it. It’s a spiritual thing. You just relax behind it, breathe in and out of your nose, and just stop your brain ticking away. Sometimes I’m there and I think, “Hmm, must get those shoes!” And then you have to say, “No, let’s get back to it!”
What were your first impressions of TM when you originally began practicing?
I got into it because Maureen, my first wife, just had a baby, our second son [Jason]. I got back from the hospital and there was a message from George [Harrison] and a message from John [Lennon]. They said, “We’ve gone to see this man, he’s great! We’re all going to Wales!” So I went to Wales with them, and that’s how I met Maharishi. And then we went to India where we had lectures and lessons and he told us about meditation. Maharishi was great because he said, “Even if you fall asleep meditating, that’s ok because you must have been tired!’ Because we all got a bit uptight at the beginning: “Oh, gotta do it properly, gotta breathe!” I’m still meditating; I did it this morning.
Have you been enjoying the new Sirius XM Beatles station?
Even more than me, Barbara! “I heard another track of yours! What record is that on?” Barbara, her sister Margorie, and Joe [Walsh] were all at [the Beatles’ 1965 show at] Shea Stadium. He tried to marry me but he had to settle for my wife’s sister. Marjorie even had a Beatle wig on.
I like the channel, and I like it playing our music. It’s not the first thing I put on when I’m in the car, but sometimes I put on the radio and there I am. It’s playing music we grew up with that we loved.
My last question: 50 years ago you sang “All You Need Is Love”—do you still believe that?
Oh yes. And we’re still doing it. How great! Who would have thought that? Well actually John and Paul thought of that. They wrote it! [laughs]