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Ringo Starr

Richard Starkey was born in the Dingle area of Liverpool on 7 July 1940.

While John LennonPaul McCartneyGeorge Harrison and Pete Best sweated through their musical apprenticeship in Hamburg and Liverpool, Ringo learned his trade around the coast of Britain working in summer holiday camps.

He didn’t play on The Beatles‘ first single, Love Me Do, or on any of the early demo tapes. And when the cover photograph for Please Please Me was taken he still hadn’t got his hair straightened-out, Beatles-style.

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Yet, after a childhood of persistent illnesses, the tide turned for him and he signed on the dotted line at the exact moment of Beatle take-off.

 

Fast forward seven years, and when The Beatles’ break-up became inevitable, Ringo was quickly out of the starting-gates with two solo albums by September 1970.

Both of these albums fell into the ‘things-to-get-off-your-chest’ category: The first, Sentimental Journey (1970), was something of a joke and failed on every conceivable level except the all-important one of providing Ringo himself with some satisfaction.

It was an album of standards that Ringo remembered being heartily sung in his local pubs back home in Liverpool when he was a kid. A sentimental journey indeed.

Ringo had no trouble in persuading various A-list guests to come along and produce one track each – including Elmer Bernstein, Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney.

The second album, later that same year, was a different matter entirely.

Ringo had always liked Country & Western music, as his choice of songs from early Beatles days had indicated. this time, however, he was invited by steel-guitarist Pete Drake to record a complete album in Nashville, and was granted the services of the cream of local studio musicians – from Jerry Reed right through to The Jordanaires.

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Since Pete Drake had also obligingly commissioned all the songs from top Country writers, this was one time it did come easy for Ringo.

The album was engineered by Elvis Presley‘s old guitarist, Scotty Moore, and the company was in fact so distinguished and talented that Ringo didn’t even have to play drums.

The album was titled Beaucoups Of Blues and contained many maudlin songs of love and death which Ringo delivered in his usual carefree manner.

It Don’t Come Easy was an archetypal Ringo record, and his first single. It was written by himself and George Harrison, who produced it in a sub-Spector fashion; but it was a belting, driving song that was perfect for Ringo’s voice.

With these projects out of the way, and with the exception of his appearance at The Concert For Bangla Desh at Madison Square Garden, Ringo otherwise diverted his attention from making what he off-handedly described as “pieces of plastic”. Each of The Beatles had individual film work before Ringo, but ultimately it was he who was most attracted to the cinema.

ringo_09In Candy (1968) he portrayed a lecherous Mexican gardener, and in The Magic Christian (1969) he played the unruly nephew of Peter Sellers. He wasn’t then a great actor, but he did provide occasional moments of humour, and was emphatically not the embarrassment that many unkind people had suggested he would be.

Blindman (1971) was a bloody Western made on location in Spain, in which Ringo played a passable Mexican bandit. Even so, it appeared an ill-judged attempt by Ringo to broaden his acting experience by playing a dramatic role in a film that took over two years to open in Britain and was instantly forgettable at a time when violent, neo-Peckinpah Westerns were two-a-penny.

His next film was 200 Motels (1971), conceived and written by Frank Zappa, in which Ringo played the role of Frank Zappa(!). Made in an era when rock stars liked to think themselves masters of several art forms, 200 Motels was one of the events that proved conclusively that few of them actually were.

During 1972 Ringo himself took up directing. He had several projects in mind but only two came to fruition. The first was a documentary about Marc Bolan who was then at the zenith of his career, called Born To Boogie. Much of the film surrounded a T. Rex concert at London’s Empire Pool in April, 1972.

If it proved anything it was perhaps that Ringo could occasionally point a camera in the right direction, and that Marc Bolan was considerably out of his depth as ‘superstar’ material, as he didn’t have the character to carry a whole film.

The other film, Son Of Dracula, starring Harry Nilsson – another of Ringo’s show-biz buddies – had a soundtrack by an ad-hoc grouping of Ringo, Nilsson, Klaus Voorman, Peter Frampton and John Bonham but, for some reason, its release just didn’t follow.

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Then Ringo eagerly accepted the opportunity to play the part of a philosophising Teddy Boy in a film designed to catch the vogue for 1950s nostalgia, That’ll Be The Day (1973). Starring opposite David Essex, Ringo played his part perfectly.

Whether working on a fairground at a holiday camp or wising-up the inexperienced Essex on how to bed girls, he was entirely at home in the part and easily the most authentic thing in the film.

Ringo celebrated further success in 1973 when he released his first solo rock album, simply titled Ringo. His singles, Photograph and You’re Sixteen, both did well in the UK, but especially so in the US, where they both went to number one.

Through his movies – Caveman (1981) specifically – Ringo met his second wife, Barbara Bach.

During the 1990s Ringo began organising a series of concert tours under the name Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, teaming up with well-known musicians to play a selection of his Beatles and solo songs, along with songs made famous by the other musicians in the line-up. The ninth such All-Starr Band tour took place in 2006.

But to a whole generation of kids born long after the 60s, Ringo is probably more famous as the voice of Thomas The Tank Engine which he narrated in 1984, and which has been screened on TV virtually non-stop ever since.

Ringo’s first wife, Maureen (nee Cox), died on 30 December 1994 from complications following a bone-marrow transplant as treatment for leukaemia. The couple were married between 1965 and 1975.

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