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Ringo Starr: “I’m the greatest”

By Dean Goodman
January 20, 2010

After more than 50 years in the music business — eight of them in the most scrutinized band on the planet — Ringo Starr would rather do anything than submit to even more questions. But the former Beatles drummer has a new solo album to promote, and that means more interviews — most recently at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Tuesday, when he took part in a Q&A and mini concert for about 230 fans.

ringo1Dressed in black, including an Elvis Presley t-shirt and Nike tennis shoes, the 69-year-old Starr lived up to his reputation as the “funny Beatle.” The fans were eager to project a Beatles connection onto his every word, and Starr knew it.

It also helped that Paul McCartney played on the new album “Y Not,” the first time the pair have been in the studio together in 12 years. Starr told the audience — including E Street band drummer Max Weinberg, Edgar Winter and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh — that he invited McCartney over to his house in Los Angeles for a cup of tea, his guest pulled out his bass and played along on two tunes. ”He understands my drumming because we used to play together,” Starr deadpanned.

It was hard to tell if Starr was being serious when he discussed playing with the revolving cast of A-list musicians who tour with him in his All-Starr Band. “I always say that they’re great, but I’m the greatest. The drums are holding it down, holding it together,” he said.

But at least it gave him the opportunity to segue into another Beatles anecdote. ”I learned a great thing in the ’60s in that band I was in that it doesn’t matter who has the good idea, let’s use it. It’s no use standing on that principle when it’s a sh—y chord.”

ringo2After asking his inquisitor, museum executive director Robert Santelli, to fire off one last question, Starr eagerly teamed up with Ben Harper to perform some new songs and old favorites. The “Y Not” tunes might best be considered an acquired taste, especially given Starr’s rough-hewn vocal stylings, but the fans lapped up “Photograph,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Boys.”  Starr took to his Ludwig drum kit for the latter tune, a Beatles B-side he was singing long before he joined the Fab Four.

In fact, it ties in with perhaps the evening’s funniest — if not most politically correct — recollection. An audience member asked about Starr’s time with Merseyside skiffle stars Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, whose exuberant frontman was born with a stammer. ”He stuttered so bad, and we were teenagers so the game was get him angry then he wouldn’t say a word,” Starr recalled.

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