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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, July 09, 2010


Grumpy old Ringo Starr was 70 the day before yesterday. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Since it was written mega-millionaire Ringo has announced rather tetchily that he's not prepared to sign any more autographs ever again. The burden of fame, eh...

Starr, Ringo [1940 - ]
Richard Starkey was born in the Toxteth district of Liverpool on July 7, 1940, in a terraced house the city council is now determined to demolish. Ringo moved out of it at age 4 and grew up across the city in Dingle. Ill-health scarred his childhood, consigning him to much time in hospital and leaving him semi-literate (though not unable, in later life, to narrate many UK children’s TV series of ‘Thomas the Tank-Engine’). He learnt drums and played in his first group, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, in 1957. Following a stint in the Raving Texans, he joined Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and while playing with this well-known Liverpool beat group in Hamburg, West Germany, in 1960, first met the rest of the Beatles. When they sacked Pete Best in August 1962, Ringo replaced him. When the Beatles met Dylan in 1964 and Dylan handed JOHN LENNON the first joint any of them had encountered, John immediately passed it to Ringo (as a king to his taster); Ringo, not knowing the etiquette, smoked the whole thing himself.

Never the brightest starr in the firmament, and one of its dullest vocalists, the point about Ringo has always been that he is one of rock’s greatest drummers. After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, he was surprisingly quick off the blocks with his solo albums: Sentimental Journey and the better-received Beaucoups of Blues both came out that year, followed by hit singles like ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ (1971) ‘Back off Boogaloo’ (1972) and later the US no.1 hits ‘Photograph’ and a remake of Johnny Burnette’s ‘You’re Sixteen’, both from ‘his first rock album’, Ringo, in 1973.

By this time he had already also starred in the movie version of Terry Southern’s Candy (1968), in The Magic Christian (1969) and That’ll Be The Day (1973) and played both FRANK ZAPPA and Larry the Dwarf in Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971). He had also been a participant in the August 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, at which he played tambourine behind Dylan. Later film rôles included being the Pope in the Ken Russell film Lizstomania (1975) and the Mock Turtle in a US TV film of Alice In Wonderland ten years later. He has been married twice, detoxed after becoming an alcoholic in the 1980s, has suffered the further ignominy of TV-advertising Pizza Hut, has inevitably voiced himself in ‘The Simpsons’ (1991) and in 2005 agreed to work with comic-books legend Stan Lee on the creation of an animated musical featuring an unlikely, Starr-based new superhero.

His work with Dylan did not stop at the Concert for Bangla Desh, however. At THE BAND’s Farewell Concert in San Francisco on November 25, 1976, Ringo made a surprise appearance to sharing drumming duties on the Dylan-plus-ensemble version of ‘I Shall Be Released’. Five years later, on May 15, 1981, Ringo was in the studios in LA with Bob recording a session for the Shot Of Love album, from which one track, ‘Heart Of Mine’, made it onto the album and became a single. Though the liner notes for the album credit Ringo with playing drums on an unspecified track, in fact he plays tom tom on this track, and on this track only.

On April 14, 1987 (Beatle people say April 29, but they’re less reliable), Dylan repaid the favor, dropping in on a Starr session at Chips Moman’s studio in Memphis to share vocals on ‘I Wish I Knew Now (What I Knew Then)’ - a session it’s reported that Starr had videotaped. This entire album, blighted by Starr’s alcoholism at the time of the prolonged sessions (they’d begun that February), never came out except on bootlegs; Moman tried to issue it but Starr blocked its release, which was to have been in 1989.

That was also the year Ringo turned up again with Dylan, this time at a Never-Ending Tour concert in Frejus, France during the summer festivals season, when Starr was back in action and touring the first of his Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band line-ups (in which at different times various members of The Band, among others, took part). Coinciding geographically, Starr came on stage during Dylan’s June 13 concert to play drums on the last two pre-encore numbers, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.

In LA on December 17, 1997, Ringo was in the audience for another Dylan concert. At one point Dylan said from the stage: ‘One of the great drummers on this kind of music is in the audience tonight - Ringo Starr! Where are you, Ringo?’ Pause. ‘I guess we don’t want to put the spotlight on him.’ Ringo was up in the balcony’s VIP section. He gave a cheery wave, as in the long-gone moptop days.

[Joint-smoking, see Aronowitz, Al. Ringo Starr: Sentimental Journey, ; Beaucoups of Blues, ; Ringo, . Candy, dir. Christian Marquand, ABC / Corona, France-Italy-US, 1968. The Magic Christian, dir. Joseph McGrath, Commonwealth United / Grand Films, UK, 1969. 200 Motels, dir. Tony Palmer & Charles Swenson, Bizarre / Murakami-Wolf, US, 1971. That’ll Be the Day, dir. Claude Whatham, EMI Films, UK, 1973. Lisztomania, dir. Ken Russell, Goodtimes / VPS / Warner, UK, 1975. Alice In Wonderland, dir. Harry Harris, CBS-TV, US, 1985. ‘The Simpsons’ series 2, no.18, ‘Brush With Greatness’, 11 Apr 1991.]


Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

Nice entry michael, but terribly mention of Thomas the Tank Engine?? possibly his greatest contribution to the entertainment industry

8:27 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Wake up at the back there young Finlay... Ringo's TV readings of Thomas the Tank Engine is acknowledged on lines 6-7 of the entry.

11:26 pm  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

oops soory about that. dont know how i missed that.ill get straight down to specsavers :)

10:24 pm  

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