Public Media Arts Hub

Ringo Starr reflects on his legendary career with the Beatles and his new music


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He's been knighted. He's acted in many films and on TV, including as Mr. Conductor right here on PBS.

To the world, he is simply Ringo. Ringo Starr, former Beatles drummer, now 83 years old, has a new recording out this month and is on tour.

Jeffrey Brown joined him in Los Angeles for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: He's youthful and fit, as recognizable as when the Beatles first took the world by storm nearly 60 years ago, performing with his own All-Starr Band, which he's led in various forms since 1989 and now releasing a new E.P. titled "Rewind Forward."

For Ringo Starr the music has always been there.

Ringo Starr, musician: That's what I do? That's why I had a dream of 13 to be a drummer, and I hit that drum, and I knew immediately I wanted to be a drummer.

Jeffrey Brown: What did you hear? I mean, what happened?

Ringo Starr: I don't know. It's like magic. Oh, yes, I just love music. I love — and I wanted to play. And there's not a lot of point being the drummer if you have no one else. What would you do, just me and the drums?


Ringo Starr: Yes, it doesn't work. You need the others.

Jeffrey Brown: The others would become John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, together, The Beatles, the most, beloved important and influential band in rock 'n' roll history.

By his mid-20s, Ringo was world-famous, giving the Beatles a backbeat and a whole lot of personality. But he started life as Richard Starkey, a sickly child in and out of hospitals, a poor kid trying to make his way in working-class Liverpool, England.

We talked about it recently at the Sunset Marquis, a famed Hollywood hotel, complete with its own NightBird recording studio in the basement.

Ringo Starr: I was always working on the railways, on the boats, in the factory forever.

Jeffrey Brown: What was that young boy's, your hopes and dreams at that time? And what could you imagine?

Ringo Starr: Well, it all felt like it was something I was doing until I could do what I wanted to do, which was play.

And the first band I was in was a factory band. We used to play at the — in the lunch hour to the men. And they'd all be telling us to leave, in not quite a nice way.


Jeffrey Brown: He eventually joined Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, one of the top bands in Liverpool, then got to know another up-and-coming group with a different drummer at the time, The Beatles, up close when both bands were booked into the same Hamburg, Germany, club.

Ringo Starr: It was 12 hours at the weekend between two bands, so you get to know your own band. But we would try and top them. They would try and top us. And the top wasn't very high then, but we were still — we want the crowd, and they want the crowd.

So it was a great learning space.

Jeffrey Brown: The Beatles asked Ringo to join them, and the rest, of course, is history. And what history, especially if you were on the inside.

In the hotel's photo gallery, Ringo noticed a 1964 shot of the group with Muhammad Ali, then still Cassius Clay.

Ringo Starr: This was, like, early and first time in America. Like, when we flew over New York, I felt New York saying, come on down.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Ringo Starr: And we were finally in America, the land of all our music that we loved.

Jeffrey Brown: Because you had listened to American music, I know, as a kid.

Ringo Starr: Yes. Yes. And I come from a port where every other house had someone who was in the merchant navy. And they would bring records over.

And so we heard a lot of sort of country and blues and stuff that England wasn't getting first.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes. And are the personalities coming out?

Ringo Starr: Yes, I think so.


Ringo Starr: What?

Jeffrey Brown: Is that you?


Ringo Starr: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: They would have nearly eight years together, countless hit songs, epic changing albums.

Ringo Starr: Someone's got hold of me finger.

John Lennon, Musician: Are you trying to attract attention again?

Jeffrey Brown: Fun-filled films. Everyone knew The Beatles, the music and the individuals.

For Ringo, who grew up an only child, it was as personal as could be.

Ringo Starr: Got three brothers, and we were very close. And besides the touring, when — we always shared a room. We only ever got two rooms. It was important, and I think part of our makeup, that we stayed together and closeness, and we really got to know each other and knew where we're coming from.

And that certainly happened.

Jeffrey Brown: Ringo, behind his drum kit, sang several songs written by the others, including this one.


Jeffrey Brown: And though far overshadowed by his songwriting partners, he did write a few himself. That helped later in his post-Beatles career.

Ringo Starr: The interesting thing that not a lot of people know is that, when I'd first present my songs, the rest of the band would be rolling on the floor laughing, because I'd really just rewritten some other song.

It wasn't my song at all. I just, like, reworded it. And they would say, yes, sure.


Ringo Starr: But that's how I started. I got out of that and started making my own moves. But George was really helpful. He produced the first couple of singles that I put out. And God bless him.

Jeffrey Brown: The Beatles' end in 1970 is much discussed, much debated. Peter Jackson's 2021 documentary series "The Beatles Get Back" focused on a key final period.

Most important to Ringo, who says he loved the film, capturing their closeness, as well as the tensions.

Ringo Starr: Peter Jackson was going to do it. We would hook up in L.A. several times. And we'd find parts. And I kept telling him, we were laughing. We were brothers. We had arguments. We had fun.

And we're playing with each other. And I have — it's not all that dark.

Jeffrey Brown: And you wanted that to come through.

Ringo Starr: And I want it to come through, like it's a real band.

Jeffrey Brown: After the breakup, each Beatle went solo. Ringo, now his own front man, had a string of hits, including "It Don't Come Easy." In fact, he says it didn't.

You have also talked about some of the difficulties there, including struggles.

Ringo Starr: Well, the first — when it was first split up, I sat in the garden, wondering what to do. It was like, that's it now. What — you're so used to that job. And we worked a lot.

But then, suddenly, well, it's over. And it's really over. Yes, I had a moment of, like, reflection. And I started to play with other artists.

Jeffrey Brown: And that's what he's continued to do, along with a few other things, including acting. He met his wife, Barbara Bach, while working together on the 1981 movie "Caveman."

Ringo Starr: This new train schedule is tommyrot, balderdash, and cuckoo.

Jeffrey Brown: And he played Mr. Conductor on the children's series "Shining Time Station."

He marks his birthday every year with a peace and love celebration. That, he says, is his one birthday wish. And, most of all, the music endures.

Ringo Starr: Our audiences are bigger than they were and younger than they were. It's really weird, far out. And we will see.

There's no guarantee, but we're doing it with our heart a blazing.

Jeffrey Brown: And we started talking about that young boy back in Liverpool.

Ringo Starr: It's far out, isn't it?

Jeffrey Brown: And here — it is, but here you are.

Ringo Starr: I live in L.A. You know how far out that is, you know? It's weird.

Jeffrey Brown: It's weird, but you're still going.

Ringo Starr: I'm still going, yes.


Jeffrey Brown: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Los Angeles.

Amna Nawaz: Peace and love, and the music endures.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.