Over the weekend, a historical imbalance was righted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Ringo Starr, the last Beatle to remain un-inducted for his solo work, was finally allowed entry on his own merits, having already been inducted in 1988.
He was introduced on stage by his former Beatle colleague Sir Paul McCartney, who had been instrumental in lobbying the Hall of Fame to get him in.
“Ringo Starr, born in Liverpool at a very early age. And he had a hard childhood, a real hard childhood. But he had a beautiful mum Elsie and a lovely step-dad Harry. Both of them had real big hearts, beautiful people, and they both loved music. So at some point during this difficult childhood, Ringo got a drum, and that was it.”
He continued: “Ringo was like a professional musician. We were all just shambling around but he had a beard? Very professional. He had a suit? Very professional. And he would sit at the bar drinking bourbon and Seven (Up). We’d never seen anyone like this.”
He went on to describe the first moment when all four Beatles played together, jamming on a version of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say” in which Ringo “nailed” the tricky Latin dance rhythm—the tumbao—on which the song is based:
“And that was the moment. That was the beginning—really—of the Beatles.”
And he had this to say on Ringo’s skill as a musician: “He just is something so special. I mean when he’s playing behind you… you see a lot of these bands, they’re looking round at the drummer, like, ‘Is he gonna speed up? Is he gonna slow down?’ You don’t have to worry with Ringo.”
Ringo’s acceptance speech was just as delightful, starting with a deadpan “Thank you. My name is Ringo and I play drums.”
Oh his humble beginnings: “When I started playing, I was playing in skiffle bands, sort of house party bands, and we had a guitarist and the first band I was in was really great. I had a snare drum and Roy, the bass player, had a tea-chest bass with a hole in it and strings.”
Early equipment: “I did end up with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and when I joined them, we were still a bit of a country-folk band, and the guitarists in those days — this is a nice one for all you big-shot guitarists with the big amps — we played the Cavern Club, which was a jazz club in Liverpool. And he brought a radio to plug into so we’d be electric. And we got thrown off. “Get out of here! That’s not quite jazz.” Anyway, we started off with a radio; the first amp we had.”
The Beatles at work: “It’s been an incredible journey for me with these three guys who wrote these songs. I was talking just the other night. Paul had come in, strummed some song to us, and we played it! We would get it done in an hour and a half. We didn’t spend a lot of time.”
The Beatles on tour: “The Beatles, you know, they were so big and so famous, but they shared rooms, you know… every hotel, when we’d gotten one, or guest houses. But when we’d got to a hotel, we always had two rooms. And it didn’t matter who was with who, what would happen is we hung out.”
And he left with a sage piece of advice for all would be rock and pop stars starting out in a band: “When you’re in a van, and you fart, own up. It’ll cause hell if you don’t own up because everyone will blame everyone else. Make a pact that you’ll own up to it. We did and that’s how we get on so well.”
Here’s Ringo talking to the Hall of Fame about his iconic drum kit, the classic black pearl finish Ludwig set:
And there’s a great (if slightly one-sided, audio-wise) press conference here, in which Ringo jokes “I’m only actually doing it so Paul can have a day out.”