Were Ringo Starr the kind of guy to delve deep into the blues, he might well have taken a stab at Willie Dixon’s classic “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” on his forthcoming album, “Give More Love.”
Perhaps not in the original context of being unable to escape a toxic relationship with a romantic partner, but more a heartfelt expression of his attitude about continuing to play music at age 77.
“I decided at the end of November last year that I’m taking 2017 off,” Starr said from his perch in a regal-looking upholstered chair in the luxury suite of a Beverly Hills hotel where he’d just arrived to handle a few interviews about his new album, which arrives Sept. 15, and the fall tour that will follow close on its heels.
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“On the 12th of January, I said ‘Yes’ to the October tour — so that didn’t last long,” he said with a hearty laugh. That new run of shows for Starr and his All-Starr Band opens with an eight-night residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas and continues with nearly a dozen more dates into mid-November.
He won’t be stopping in Southern California this time out because, as he pointed out, “Last year we did a tour in May and June and finished at the Greek on the 2nd of July. After that I did an awesome tour in Japan and Korea — and Thousand Oaks,” he quipped, laughing.
That is yet another manifestation of the undiminished passion he has for writing, recording and performing.
“I only ever wanted to play — that was my aim from 13,” he said. “I worked in factories and on the railway, but I played at night and made decisions that got me where I was. I didn’t know I was going to get there [into the Beatles]. But I knew I wanted to play. So I got into a Liverpool band, then I got into Rory [Storm & the Hurricanes], then I got into the biggest band in the land.
“I just always wanted to play, and to play with good people,” he said. “I’m sitting here, at 77, still talking about it. And I’m still playing.”
His passion is immediately evident on “Give More Love,” which opens with high-energy rocker “We’re On the Road Again,” a song he wrote with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. It expresses a sentiment similar to Willie Nelson’s longtime concert favorite with the similar title, but it’s sonically miles apart.
It allows the band to flex its muscles, and an audience to sing along. “Yes, that is Paul McCartney on bass, and on screams too,” Starr writes in notes accompanying the album. His former band mate also shows up on “Show Me the Way,” his ode to his wife of 37 years, Barbara Bach.
Among numerous other guests on the album are Starr’s brother-in law, guitarist Joe Walsh, and fellow Eagles singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, saxophonist Edgar Winter, guitarist-producer Jeff Lynne, guitarist Dave Stewart, bassists Nathan East and Don Was, and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz.
Although Starr insisted that “I’m not that political,” social and political issues do come to the fore in “Laughable” and “Standing Still.”
The former he wrote with another long-standing English rocker, Peter Frampton, about taking in turbulent events of the world on a daily basis and feeling that “It would be laughable if it wasn’t sad.”
He consciously avoided naming names.
“We all know what’s happening in the world, and we all know what’s happening in this country, because we are English boys who are living here,” Starr said. “Peter wanted to make it more direct, and I said no, because I think everyone understands the sentiment.
“I don’t need to mention [names of] people that may not even be there by the time the song comes out,” he said. “I’m not that political. I can always do it another way and everyone understands.”
“Standing Still,” which he wrote with Gary Burr, addresses the challenge of maintaining any sense of optimism in the face of what can seem like increasingly dour conditions in the world.
“Whoever I’m writing with, it’s directed by me,” he said. “I don’t have to write all the words, but usually the direction is peace and love. For ‘Standing Still,’ it was even when you’re at the bottom of the hill, you’ve got to get up and take that first step.”
The man born Richard Starkey radiates the same sparkle and boyish Liverpudlian charm that helped propel him, McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison to unprecedented heights shortly after he signed on 55 years ago last month as the fourth pillar of the world’s most popular and influential rock band.
He attributes part of that glow to his vegetarian diet and part to getting sober more than three decades ago after years of alcohol and substance abuse that took the lives of many friends, including fellow drummer Keith Moon and singer Harry Nilsson.
“I have a meditation practice,” he says of his spiritual routine. “I pray to the god of my understanding, and I read spiritual books — day-at-a-time books, things like that that help you get through the day.”
Another major factor in his unflaggingly upbeat outlook is his marriage to Bach, the subject of the glistening rock ballad he also wrote with Lukather, “Show Me the Way.” “After all this time we’ve had to share/The better life I’ve had ’cause your still there/I need to show you just how much I care/There were times It wasn’t always easy, but we got through,” he sings.
One of the things that keeps him coming back to recording, even at a time when fewer and fewer people are buying recorded music, is the surprise factor. These days he serves as his own producer, doing most of the recording at his home studio in Los Angeles, assisted by engineer Bruce Sugar.
By way of illustration, he pointed to the track “King of the Kingdom,” which he wrote with another longtime friend, songwriter, singer, producer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Van Dyke Parks.
“I had the [basic instrumental] track, and the first verse,” he said. “While we’re writing this song, we got into Haile Selassie, so we go to the Internet to read about Haile Selassie. All the rastas put him on a high pedestal, they consider him the King of the Rastas or the God of the Rastas, and he’s always said ‘No, I’m not.’
“Anyway, suddenly we’re writing the song, and we get the phrase ‘One love, Haile Selassie, ‘ and we put him in the song. So I said, ‘Let’s go all the way, and I sang ‘One love, one heart, Bob Marley always did it for me.’ That’s what’s great about writing. If it’s my record, it can go anywhere I’m open to.”
It also plays out in one of the bonus tracks on the CD edition of the album that doesn’t appear on the vinyl LP version — a reworked recording of his 1972 hit “Back Off Boogaloo,” one of three older songs he revisits. (The others being “Photograph,” his first solo No. 1 hit from 1973, and “Don’t Pass Me By,” the first song he’d written on his own that the Beatles chose to record — for “The Beatles,” a.k.a. “The White Album.”)
It grew out of the housecleaning and archiving process he and Bach have been engaged in for several years.
“We’ve taken a lot of things out of storage and we’re going through it a box at a time, and we found all these reel-to-reel tapes,” he said. “And on a quarter-[track] two-inch tape, we found this version of me singing ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ and it had a great echo on the [rhythm] guitar. I knew it’s me singing, but I couldn’t figure out who the hell is playing guitar? And it was me! So that’s on this record.
“We lifted the voice from the track that George (Harrison) produced, so it combines me then, and me now. I did it straight, not with the marching rhythm. Just a sideline for you: That rhythm pattern [on the original recording], George said ‘You should do this,’ ” at which point Starr vocalizes a complex syncopated rhythm. “I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ So I just did it with the snare, and it was great. But it was by accident. So that’s the magic of being in the studio: You don’t know what you’re going to get.”
As to any thoughts of retirement? Starr addressed that unequivocally 10 years ago at the one-year anniversary of Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love” show in Las Vegas, during an interview with veteran broadcaster Larry King for which he sat side by side with the other surviving Beatle, McCartney.
At one point, King suggested to them, “Neither of you has to keep on going — you don’t need it financially.” The man once known as “the funny Beatle” shot back, “Reverse that: You don’t need to do it either. This is what we do. I get asked all the time, ‘You’re still playing?’ Yeah, that’s what I do.”
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