Ringo Starr on Working With Linda Perry for His Rocking New EP, Enlisting T Bone Burnett for a Country Follow-Up, and How He Feels About ‘Let It Be’

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Ringo’s rotogravure is back, as it were, with a new EP, “Crooked Boy,” that will delight fans who’ve wanted a real rock record that was as steady as his backbeat. Linda Perry wrote and produced all four songs for this, the latest in a series of EPs that Ringo Starr began recording during the pandemic and is keeping on with well into the 2020s.

He’s not married to the short-form format, though. As he tells Variety in this Q&A, a country project that he started working on with producer T Bone Burnett has blossomed into a full-blown LP, due to come out this fall, as Ringo’s (snare) hits just keep on coming.

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Starr got onto a Zoom with Variety to discuss letting Perry take over completely — but with some notes sent back — for “Crooked Boy”; his sentimental attachment to the medallion seen in the 1964 cover photo; how the next project, with Burnett, got expanded into a full-length album; and his thoughts about the original “Let It Be” documentary coming out.

I love the new EP, so I’m happy we get to talk to you about it.

I love it too. Linda did a great job. Since 2020, I’ve only done EPs. You know, it started real weird with masks and “make sure you have the shots,” and it eased off as the years went by — though I got it twice, so what can you say? I was going round, talking to people that I’d never worked with. I’d heard of her, of course, and somebody said, “Do you know Linda?” I said, well, let’s give her a call. I asked her, “Would you give me a track for the EP?” And so she gave me a track [for “Change the World” in 2021], and for the next one [“EP3” in 2022], she gave me another track. And then she said to me, “Why don’t you let me do an (entire) EP?” I said, OK, and I just left it in her hands. And every time she called me to check on something, I said, “You are the producer. You do it!” Anyway, she’s a beautiful human being. She wrote me four great songs, so I’m only playing drums and singing them, and the rest of the instrumentals, that’s the band she found. And a big find for me was Nick (Valensi of the Strokes), on guitar — he was so great. Anyway, what’s your next question?

You asked Linda specifically to write you more of a rocker, at some point in the process. Is that right?

No, no. I did. (At first) she wrote “Crooked Boy,” and it was all about the story of my life — you know, I was ill, I was better, I found my own way. [The lyrics include: “Fell into a coma and then got back up on my feet / A sickly boy that found his own way” — with “sickly boy” changed to “teddy boy” for the final chorus.]

She sent me a couple of them, and then I called her and I said, “Linda, write me a rock song!” And she says, “What’s that?” I said, “I’ll leave it there. Just write me a rock song.” And she did, of course, and it’s called “Gonna Need Need Someone.” And it did rock, and she put the band together, and then we did a video with the song playing and we are popping in and out. Nick was gracious enough to come to the garage — we do it all in the garage here — and be filmed doing his great guitar work, which just had a great vibe. I love Nick.

In another interview, you said that on the All Starr tour, you won’t be doing the new material because people go to the bathroom.

I promise you, any band out there, say “I’d like to do something from my new LP, EP, CD,” and you can feel the vibe of people going to the toilet, or going to find some T-shirts. This, with the All Starrs, is so great because (playing the hits) is why we’re there: We’re the best 1-800 band in the land right now, with Colin (Hay) and (Steve) Lukather and everybody. We’re on the road this next month, through a bit of June, and then we’re on the road again in September and October.

I do feel like if you snuck “Gonna Need Someone” in there and didn’t tell people in advance that it was a new song, it’s so good that they would stay in their seats. They wouldn’t go to the bathroom.

You think so? Well, let me think about that. And then if I can [and it doesn’t go well], if the phone rings and it’s my number, don’t answer!

To ask a little bit more about Linda Perry, you said somewhere that you sent one or two of the songs back to her, to kind of make them more upbeat, or more sort of aligned with your philosophy, since you always try to be very positive.

Yeah. Even on “February Sky,” it was all about the dark sky everywhere in February, so that’s an emotion in there. But I told her, “There’s gotta be a crack — a break in the sky — and the sun is coming out.” Because all my songs have that. They can be “I’m down, I’m this, I’m that… But things are getting better, things are going up.” They always have a positive upside. “Rewind Forward” [the title song of his previous EP, from 2023] was like that. “Rewind forward” meant, sometimes you’re in a mood, and if you just backtrack a little and then find that (previous) space, and then carry on from that moment, it helps sometimes.

And the new song “Adeline” is acknowledging that life is hard, but at the same time, having a very positive attitude about everybody being redeemable — there is a message there.

Yeah… If you want any deep meaning to any of these songs, call Linda!

The EP just came out in a special marble limited edition for Record Store Day, prior to the standard black vinyl. Does the vinyl component mean anything to you anymore?

I mean, I came in with vinyl. I love vinyl, and it did take me a while to get used to CDs, because they’re a bit sharper, if only for me or only for us of my age, where we feel the warmth of vinyl. I never knew vinyl had (its own) day, so we promoted it at Amoeba, the record store in L.A., and we also promoted record stores, which was great, because I used to spend a lot of time in record stores. We’re using, like, local presses [to press the EP], because usually you’ve got to send it to the eastern block somewhere to get your vinyl, because America doesn’t have a lot of vinyl makers anymore because they all went CD and sold the business. There’s a couple of people who are still with vinyl in Nashville that we know of. So anyway, I just thought it’s a good idea (to do the limited edition vinyl and streaming first), with the CD of the EP out a couple of weeks after that. [The CD and black vinyl editions come out May 31.]

Another reason that people might want the vinyl in this witness is that you get more cover space, and that’s such a great cover photo by Harry Benson from back in the day. Do you have any memories of when that was shot or did it just seem like a cool photo?

It was shot in 1964 in Florida, because we came to America for the first time and we did the Sullivan show, and then we played Washington and then we got to Florida — Miami, actually — and we did Ed Sullivan again from Florida. It was all new to us. We didn’t know him, he didn’t know us, but it worked. And yeah, as you can see, we’re all on the beach and he took these shots. I mean, I’m not even posing. He just took that moment, which is great.

You know, there’s a story with that necklace, when, in New York, they were jumping at us still, and they ripped that necklace off. And I went on the radio with Cousin Bruce, one of the big radio guys in those days, and I was saying, “Look, I love that necklace. My auntie got it for me. It’s meaningful. If you bring it back, I’ll give you a hug.” And the radio station got a call answering that, that this girl had it and she’d bring it in. And I gave her a hug, and she gave me the little necklace back with the St. Christopher’s medal on it.

That was a good trade for her.

I think so. It was just like a really nice moment.

I interviewed T Bone Burnett, and he’s very enthusiastic about what you guys are up to with your next record. Can you tell me where you’re at with that?

This is what I love (about the current EP release plan), because there’s no boundaries; we’re doing what we’re doing and it can change. I was doing an EP, and I was at the Sunset Marquis because Olivia Harrison was reading poems for George, and there were about a hundred people there for the reading. And T Bone’s there, and I’ve bumped into him since the ‘70s. [Starr once played on a late ‘70s album by Burnett’s then-group, the Alpha Band.] I’d never had dinner with him or anything, but we bumped into each other. “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m doing these EPs and having people now put some instruments on the song they’d written, and it’s made my life so much easier.” And so I said, “If you think you want to get involved, just send me a song.”

So I’m doing this pop EP, and T Bone sent me one of the most beautiful country songs I’ve ever heard. We were met up a couple of times and were talking… I love old country, and I said, “Would you like to do an EP on me?” And he said, yeah, and then he came and he said, “I’ve got some songs to play.” He came and he had nine songs. So I said, “Well, let’s just make a (full) CD.”

We’ve done 90% of my work. He may want to put other stuff on it. And tomorrow I’m gonna finish off the odd lines I have to re-sing or think about, and then it should be done. As far as I’m concerned, the drums are good and the songs are good and, you know, I sing to the best of my ability, but sometimes I change the melody. That’s the way I am, and I had to back off a bit and do his melody, because he wrote it. So that’s what happened. It just came about and we’re just going with the flow. And now we’ve got a country record. The last country LP was… was it 1970? [“Beacoups of Blues.”] And now we’ve got one coming out probably in October. Because it’ll be coming out on vinyl and on cd, you’ve gotta get it in, and now it’s like five or six months before you put anything out. I mean, I’d like to finish it here and put it on the radio right now, but you can’t do that anymore.

(Burnett talked with Variety about his work with Ringo in a separate interview: “He cut ‘Come Back (When You Go Away),’ the second song on ‘The Other Side,’ my record. It’s beautiful. He’s such a beautiful singer. Ringo was in a band with two of the best singers in rock ‘n’ roll history, so people never took him as seriously as a singer as they should. If you listen to all the country stuff he did, ‘What Goes On’ and ‘Act Naturally’ and ‘Honey Don’t,’ he did so much great country music, even in the Beatles. And, you know, he’s called Ringo Starr because that’s a cowboy name, and he wanted to be a cowboy when he was a kid. As we all did back in those days; we always all wanted to be Gene Autry. He asked me to write a song for him, and I wrote that song ‘Come Back’ in a Gene Autry style for him, and it kind of kicked off this whole songwriting binge I’ve been on…. I mean, Ringo in his third act is deserving of a serious album… I want to make a classic Ringo Starr country record. I think we can.” Read the entire Burnett interview here.)

Finally, “Let It Be” is about to be screened and re-premiere on Disney+. Have you had a chance to see this version that Peter Jackson sort of cleaned up? Because Jackson has always said that the original “Let It Be” film wasn’t as dreary as people thought, and that part of it was that the colors were so muted, but now that he has brightened it up, it doesn’t seem as depressing as people thought it was 50 years ago.

Well, I thought it was a downer. There was an argument that turned into a whole show, and I kept moaning. I was there; we had some fun. When Peter Jackson took over to do the eight-hour version (2021’s “Get Back”), I was telling him — because we had several meetings about it — there was joy, and there was work. And we were four lads in that room, and the boys would be writing the songs and we’d be playing them, and then… it was, OK, let’s play on the roof instead of going to the pyramids, or somewhere like that. So that’s how I… I just didn’t enjoy it. And, you know, I often think, well, no wonder it was a downer; we found 56 hours of unused footage, and that was (where) all the joy (was) in my book. So it’s still a documentary and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, but I just felt the atmosphere wasn’t right. Anyway, it’s been way looked after again.

Are you okay with it coming out, though, being re-released and seen again?

Oh, yeah. It’s coming out. We’ve all said yes. And also, the first (documentary) they did, the Maysles brothers, in New York [“The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit,” which was released in its original form in 1964 and last had an official release in 2004].

Ringo Starr’s 2024 itinerary:

Spring Dates (May/June):

May 22 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

May 24 Saratoga, CA – The Mountain Winery

May 25 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

May 26 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

May 28 San Bernadino, CA – Yaamava Theatre

May 29 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

May 31 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

Jun 1 Las Vegas, NV – The Venetian

Jun 5 Mexico City, MX – Auditorio Nacional

Jun 6 Mexico City, MX – Auditorio Nacional

Jun 8 Hidalgo, TX – Payne Arena

Jun 9 Austin, TX – The Moody Theater

Fall Dates (September): 

Sept 12 Omaha, NE – The Astro Amphitheater

Sept 14 New Lenox, IL – Performing Arts Pavilion @ The Commons

Sept 15 Kettering, OH – Fraze Pavilion

Sept 17 Washington DC – The Anthem

Sept 18 Medford, MA – Chevalier Theatre

Sept 20 Uncasville, CT – Mohegan Sun Arena

Sept 22 Niagara Falls, ON – Fallsview Casino Resort

Sept 24 Philadelphia, PA – TD Pavilion at The Mann

Sept 25 New York City, NY – Radio City Music Hall

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