This week I attended the Grammy Museum’s exciting debut of Ringo: Peace & Love, the first major exhibit to explore the life and extraordinary career of seven-time Grammy Award winner, Ringo Starr. The exhibit, which is the first ever dedicated to a drummer, runs through March 2014 and spans Ringo’s early life growing up in Liverpool, from Raving Texans turned Rory Storm, from The Beatles, to becoming a solo artist, and then to the All Starrs with whom he’s on tour now. It’s one of three projects planned that also includes Photograph, his new book and e-book featuring never-before-seen, previously unpublished images taken by Ringo and from his own personal archive.
Ringo appeared at the media preview held at the Grammy Museum last Tuesday where he was introduced by Executive Director Bob Santelli who explained the importance of the exhibit. Ringo thanked everyone who helped him assemble his extensive archive of personal artifacts, including his wife, Barbara, and he revealed what it meant to him personally to have an exhibit that offers an unprecedented in-depth look at all aspects of his musical and creative life. He discussed how he felt about The Beatles’ musical legacy he helped create, what happened when The Beatles met Elvis in Hollywood, what it was like making The Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and more. Hit the jump to read more.
I got a chance to check out some of the cool personal items on display including the famous drum kit Ringo played on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the drum kit he used while recording Let It Be and Abbey Road, his pink Sgt. Pepper uniform, the black sweater and pants outfit from The Beatles’ movie, ‘Help!’, the red jacket worn during the filming of The Beatles rooftop concert, the black suit he wore when The Beatles performed in Japan in 1966, and many other outfits worn throughout The Beatles’ career. There are also many rare and never-before-seen letters and photographs from Ringo’s early days with Rory Storm’s band and later with The Beatles, as well as fun interactive exhibits where visitors can take a drum lesson with Ringo or sing along with him in the Yellow Submarine booth.
What follows is Santelli’s introduction and Starr’s Q&A:
Bob Santelli: I just wanted to say hi and welcome you to the Grammy Museum. A couple years ago, actually right on this stage, we did an evening with Ringo Starr when his album, Why Not, came out. In the exhibit, you’ll see some of that footage where I interviewed him, got some great ideas, and some great stories and information about his drumming. And then, there was a great performance that included Ben Harper among others. I just wanted to let you know that this exhibit really speaks to what the Grammy Museum tries to do here. It’s really only one part of this particular celebration of Ringo Starr. And I say that because what you’re not going to see, and what you’re not going to experience unfortunately, are the education programs as well as the public programs that will follow this.
One of the big reasons why we did this exhibit – and you may say “C’mon, Bob. You’re a baby boomer. You did it because you fell in love with The Beatles just like everyone else did in 1964.” That is true. However, seriously, the most important reason why we do this is because we really feel here at the Grammy Museum that it is our job. It’s our mission actually to make sure the greatest music that has occurred in the past comes up to the present for younger people, for them to get to see what this music was all about, why it was important, and then to share those experiences with their grandparents and their parents, because that’s what will happen. If you come back here next weekend, you’re going to see 65-year-old grandparents bringing their kids, or maybe with their sons or daughters, and experiencing the exhibit in a family way that is really precious. That’s really our goal. Our goal is to make sure that these kids understand and feel it firsthand and can share that with their older brothers and sisters, parents and even grandparents.
You’ll see the exhibit is put together very strategically. There are a lot of interactives there. We’ve learned here in the museum that young people today like to see the pieces. They like to see the objects. They really like to do things and see things and play with things, so you’ll notice there’s a mixing station where kids can remix a particular song. There’s a Ringo Yellow Submarine booth where you can get to sing or you can pull up different videos. This is all designed to get young people involved and to have a shared experience with their parents or grandparents.
The idea here is great music. We’re about ready to celebrate next year the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America on February 9th. If you’re a baby boomer, you remember that date because you were probably watching The Ed Sullivan Show. Over 70 million of us did and it changed our lives. It changed my generation’s life for sure and many others as well. So, by coming here, by celebrating Ringo, before that George (Harrison), and before that John (Lennon), what we’re trying to do is allow this great music to not only survive and thrive and bring back great memories, but to make sure the music continues on for younger people as well. But the person that you really need to hear from is the person that we’re celebrating who is the most significant drummer in the history of rock and roll. Without him, lots and lots of drummers wouldn’t be playing the drums today. Mr. Ringo Starr. (loud applause as Ringo walks onto the Clive Davis Theater stage)
Ringo Starr: Yes, my name is Ringo. I have to start by thanking Bob, because last year, out of the blue, we decided we would archive my stuff. We did it in a very charming way, not too heavy. And then, out of the blue, lightning lights in my life it seems, Bob asked if we could have a meeting and then mentioned, “Let’s have a Grammy Museum exhibit on Ringo.” So it just fitted in. We did have to work a lot harder after he said that and a lot faster, because he had a date in mind, and we were like, “Oh yeah, here’s a shirt.” (laughter)
The most incredible thing about putting it together was I found so much stuff I didn’t know I had. I’d like to thank two assistants I’ve had over the years who put it in hanging bags and in boxes and in trunks, and it was in several places on the planet, and they pulled it all together. But I did not personally go, “Oh I’ve got to save that. Let’s try to do this. I don’t want that.” It was tossed aside in many ways a lot of it, but when we started looking, what we found was incredible. I’d like to mention we were looking through stuff and putting it away, and lots of other people were helping us out.
I had these two boxes from my mother. My mother died in 1986. I took these two boxes away and I did not open them until last year. I thought, “We’ve got to look in there,” and it was like Aladdin’s cave. I mean, first of all, there was a great letter I got from Rory Storm which shows you what it was like in those days. He’s written to me to tell me we’re playing on Thursday night, because he didn’t have these (holding up his cell phone) and we didn’t have a phone. And so, he says, “We’re playing Thursday night at the Jive Hive. I’ll bring your cymbals and your money.” And so, of course I went.
I didn’t have a car. It was very difficult for a drummer in those days. I’d take the snare drums to the gigs, and I begged a drummer who drove his whole kit there, “Let’s use your kit, man.” I’d use my snare and his kit. Sometimes he said, “Yes,” and sometimes he said, “No.” And then, when I did get a car and would be able to take my kit to the venues, other drummers would ask me, “Can I use your kit, man?” and I said, “Sure.” And just for the musicians in the audience, I said to some guy, “Yeah, you can use the kit.” And he sat on the drum stool and he put his foot on the leader (pedal) of the bass drum, and it was like he thought he was on a motorbike. So I just said, “No. Excuse me. Get off.” But anyway, that’s how it was.
I don’t know what else to say. I think I’ll just wait for the questions. I’m real happy that we have this exhibit. I thank Barbara (wife Barbara Bach); Bruce Sugar, sound; Brent Carpenter; Scotty photographed everything for us. A lot of people were involved. I’d like to say I did it all, but I got a lot of help.
Question: I’m wondering if you can talk about what it means to you to have an exhibit of your musical and creative life here at the Grammy Museum?
Starr: It’s the only place. I’m a musician. It should be here. We had a drum in the Metropolitan a couple of years ago in New York. That’s about it as far as I think. Oh no, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had a couple of my pieces. But the Grammy Museum was an exact place for me, I thought. I can do it in honesty here because it is the Grammy Museum and it’s music. And so, that’s what I do. I play music.
Can you describe some of your feelings about The Beatles’ musical legacy you helped create?
Starr: Yeah, I love it. I do love it because I’m really proud of the music we made. It took a while, but we were very serious players, and the results are still being played until today. That’s what’s great. Bob talked about those very young grandfathers of 65 and their kids. (laughs) It’s still going on. How great is that? The memories I have of those days, I’d like to say every minute was great, but it wasn’t. But overall, the emotion was great. We worked hard. We only wanted to be musicians. We didn’t sit around and say, “Let’s be famous.” We said, “Let’s be musicians.” As you all know, unless you’re from another planet, The Beatles became very famous. (laughter) That was part of it, but the music is the most important thing you do.
Starr: I did it all for you. (laughter and applause)
You were my idol in the 7th grade. Who was your idol?
Starr: Musically, the major hero of mine was Lightnin’ Hopkins. I loved the Blues. Life is weird, if you haven’t heard this story. When I was 18, I went to the American Consulate in Liverpool because I wanted to move to Houston, Texas because Lightnin’ was from there. I worked in a factory at the time and we were looking at factory jobs in Houston. We went to the Embassy and they gave us all these forms to fill out, and we filled them out, this friend of mine and I. We were 18. We filled them out. We went back. We gave them these forms we’d filled out, and then they gave us more forms. We were 18. We didn’t ever go. Life has a strange path and you’re just on it.
Almost 50 years ago, there was a big summit meeting with The Beatles and Elvis in Hollywood when you first met. What are your memories of that? Did The Beatles play or jam with Elvis?
Starr: We didn’t jam with Elvis. I don’t care who says it. The big memory was we walked in, and he was on the settee watching TV, and he had a TV commander. We were like, “Wow!” We were fans of Elvis. When he came in, he was just incredible. And to me, I came in with Bill Haley and a lot of other guys, but they all seemed like your dad. And Elvis, for me, was the first one who wasn’t like your dad. He was a couple of years older, that’s all. So anyway, those were the big memories, and we didn’t jam. We didn’t really play American football, although him and his guys did. We didn’t know how to play that.
When is Let It Be coming out on DVD or Blu-ray?
Starr: Let It Be on Blu-ray?
The fans want it!
Starr: What day is it? Any minute now! (laughter)
I love you, man.
Starr: I love you, too.
After you made A Hard Day’s Night, the film, there was a lot of pressure on you to do a follow-up. Can you tell us how Help! came about and your recording of the soundtrack album?
Starr: After A Hard Day’s Night, for us, we were making a movie, that was great. We made the songs anyway. And then they thought maybe we’ll make another one in color and that was a bit deal. And what’s the story going to be? I enjoyed A Hard Day’s Night so much that they decided to write it around me and the big ring. How far out is that? Anyway, it’s music and we’ve got a job. We didn’t really specifically make it, “Oh this will move that plot on” like they do now. We just made records. We made single records and then put it on. It was called an album. So it wasn’t like a real thing. John was in that state of mind when he wrote Help!, and I think he spoke it many times. And I said, “Well, how were you feeling emotionally?” and he said, “Well I did write Help!” (laughter)
On behalf of readers of Classic Rock Magazine, congratulations on your induction into the Classic Rock Hall of Fame. Our readers would like to say thank you and congratulations.
Starr: Thank you.
When you were collecting all these artifacts and going down memory lane, what did Richard Starkey learn about Ringo Starr?
Starr: He really learned he loves the drums. That’s all I ever wanted to play. You know what I mean? I didn’t want to play anything else. It was always that. From when I was 13, I wanted to play drums. Several years later, I got some real drums. I made my own at the beginning. Bring in the violins. I was asked that the other day: what is your main thing? Is it drumming, singing, writing? And it’s always playing the drums. That’s what I do.
Thank you and here’s your award.
Starr: Oh, here’s my award. Why don’t you just throw it at me? (the journalist tosses it to him from his seat in the audience and Ringo catches it; laughter) Thank you.
(If you live in L.A., the Grammy Museum is located at 800 West Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles and is part of the LA LIVE campus at the intersection of Olympic Blvd. and Figueroa St. in downtown L.A. For more information, call 213-765-6800 or visit www.grammymuseum.org)