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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Ringo Starr, why is the only ring you have on a wedding ring?

Mr. RINGO STARR (Musician): Because I didn't feel I needed a lot of rings on today. I don't wear a lot anymore anyway. You know, I mean, I'm not the fully decked Ringo.

HANSEN: But he did sport a lobe full of earrings, tinted glasses and a big white star on his T-shirt. We met the former Beatle - really, can you be a former Beatle - in a cramped but opulently furnished dressing room backstage at NBC's Rockefeller Center this past week. He was about to go on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" to promote his new album, "Y Not."

A lot of guest stars appear with Ringo Starr's band - Joss Stone, Joe Walsh, Dave Stewart and his Fab Four mate Sir Paul McCartney. On "Y Not," Ringo Starr has produced a recording full of tunes that look both forward and back.

(Soundbite of song, "The Other Side of Liverpool")

Mr. STARR: (Singing) The other side of Liverpool is cold and damp. Only way out of it, drunk guitar and amp. The other side of Liverpool, where I came from, my mother was a barmaid. At the age of three, my father was gone.

HANSEN: This is the first record you've produced in your solo career with your producer.

Mr. STARR: It is. It's the first time I actually took complete control of the reins. Now, with this one, I had so much fun with this.

HANSEN: Sir George Martin once told me that producing sometimes is as much the art of subtraction as it is the art of addition. You're nodding. You agree with him.

Mr. STARR: I agree completely with him because I've always felt a space is as good as a fill, you know what I mean? Gaps can be very emotional. I mean, that's in my drumming. When I drum, you know, I don't need to drum all over the track. I play with the singer and I can back off. And it's the same - this record, I think, you can definitely hear, not an emptiness, but the sparseness, you know?

HANSEN: You leave space.

Mr. STARR: I do, yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. STARR: For a note to breathe, for a crash to linger, you know?

HANSEN: So, it doesn't go without saying that because you're a producer and the drummer, the drummers end up higher in the mix.

Mr. STARR: Well, I do actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: No, it doesn't. You know, the drummer's always going to be there. They're the floor of the whole deal and everyone can stand up on you.

HANSEN: One of the things you have always said in documentaries I've seen is you love to be in a band. And this CD starts off no holds barred. This is a rock and roll band. "Fill in the Blanks," Joe Walsh - that's the statement you're making immediately.

Mr. STARR: Well, yes. You know, I mean, I'll say it again: I love being in a band. I've never had any big ideas about being the solo, you know, playing this, playing that. I love playing with other human beings. I've never practiced drums unless there was another human being in the room.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. STARR: I've never gone to the bedroom and, you know, when I was starting out and practiced away. You know, if you could play, I'll play with you all night. But if I'm just playing by myself it gets boring pretty quick.

HANSEN: Was the drum your first instrument of choice?

Mr. STARR: The drum was the first and only instrument.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. STARR: Yeah. I was 13 and I played drums. I was in hospital and they had a, you know, this lady would come around with percussive instruments to keep us busy. I also learned to knit in hospital. But anyway, that's another story. And I played the drums and then I wouldn't be in the band unless she gave me a drum. And I only wanted to be a drummer. That's where my soul is.

HANSEN: You have to tell us your side of the Pete Best story. How did you get the gig - your side of the story - as the drummer?

Mr. STARR: Well, my side of the story is still the same, is when it happened was that I was in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Liverpool. And Brian Epstein knocked on the door and he said: Pete can't make the gig, could you play with the Beatles? I said, sure.

HANSEN: Brian Epstein, have to ask, because you were one of the first groups -and I remember this 'cause I was your target audience, you know, a 'tween girl - dressed you in suits and ties.

Mr. STARR: No, Brian was great because he used to come up with these great ideas. And he says, you know, I think it'd be a great idea if you don't drink and smoke and swear at the audience while you're onstage.

HANSEN: The songs on your new CD, are these songs that you had written and were kind of hanging around?

Mr. STARR: No, nothing was written. The tracks were made first, that's why this is a crazy album. I started just playing synthesizer in the bedroom in L.A. -sound like one of those stories - and then I would put drums onto these synth tracks I'd found. Then the next level we put guitars on. We had no songs. We just had tracks. And so I had Joe Walsh on, I had Billy Squire. This record, if you passed through L.A. and I knew you, you're on the record, that's how it worked. I mean, let's get honest here, you know what I mean?

HANSEN: Nothing wrong with that.

Mr. STARR: No.

HANSEN: Nothing wrong with that.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: The one thing a lot of people are talking about this in terms of your calling up your mates is one of them was Paul McCartney.

Mr. STARR: Yeah.

HANSEN: And he performs with you on "Walk with You."

Mr. STARR: I see you said Sir George Martin, but you didn't say Sir Paul McCartney.

HANSEN: I didn't say Sir Paul 'cause I'm not used to it. Are you a sir yet?

Mr. STARR: No. And I never say Sir Paul or Sir George.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But you're an MBE, right?

Mr. STARR: I am, but let's not get into that. Let's get into...

HANSEN: Anyway, Sir Paul...

Mr. STARR: Yes, I called Paul because he was coming to L.A., and when he heard "Walk with You," he wanted to sign on it, so he sang that part of it on tape.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk with You")

Mr. STARR and Mr. PAUL MCCARTNEY (Musician): (Singing) When I walk with you, when I talk with you, everything will be fine. When I walk with you, when I talk with you, everything will be fine.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) We'll be fine...

HANSEN: What do you think you learned from George Martin as a producer, Sir George?

Mr. STARR: Sir George Martin learns a lot more from me.

HANSEN: He did. Tell us what he learned from you.

Mr. STARR: He learned to keep the damn tape rolling 'cause we'd do, like, we'd do a great take and he didn't have the tape on, you know. And we'd say, George, turn the - and he'd - oh, did you want to record that, boys?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: But he was great. No, George was incredibly helpful to us. And, you know, we're buskers. The four of us are buskers - none of us can read music, we don't know anything about music. We only know how to play it. And George could write it down and he would say, you know, maybe if we just do this, lads, or that. But, you know, he was - George was the only person who took a chance on us to make a record 'cause every other label turned us down.

HANSEN: But he heard something. He heard something there.

Mr. STARR: He did hear something. And he wanted us to record other people's songs. And we said no. And every song he picked for us to record - that we didn't record - he gave to Jerry and the Pacemakers, or they're Brian Epstein acts usually. And they all had hits with it. You know, so it wasn't like he was picking bad stuff, but we were determined only to do our music. You know, Lennon and McCartney.

So, everyone was inventing because we were new at this and suddenly, can we do this, can we do that? And with George's help - well, I don't know why not, boys, and you know. We went and we did the first album in 12 hours and then we started to bring in more music. It changed on "Rubber Soul." It went, you know, and then it ended up for me "The White Album." We can't dismiss "Sgt. Pepper," but I loved "The White Album" and "Abbey Road," you know what I mean? You can feel we know what we're doing more.

HANSEN: Right. You can tell you're evolving.

Mr. STARR: Yeah. And so was George, and so were we all together because we'd spend time.

HANSEN: There are touches on this CD, I feel like you're making - you're honoring, particularly your band mates who have passed. The song, "Y Not," if I'm not mistaken, ends in this luscious Bollywood kind of Indian ending that I thought perhaps might be some kind of nod towards George and his sitar days?

Mr. STARR: Well, that's a better story than I've got.

HANSEN: Oh. What's your story then?

Mr. STARR: She was at LAX, Tina the tabla player, and Dave Stewart called me. I said, tell her to come on over, and she's on the record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Y Not")

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Y not.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing foreign language)

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Y not.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing foreign language)

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Y not, y not, y not.

HANSEN: There I go looking for deep meaning, right?

Mr. STARR: Yeah. But I have written a song for George and we do focus on John for "Peace Dream" because he did die. I have no problem mentioning my band mates, you know, and writing lines and using lines. And usually on every record I've used the line from "Photograph" or "Don't Come Easy."

HANSEN: Right.

Mr. STARR: You know what I mean?

HANSEN: Act naturally (unintelligible).

Mr. STARR: I can use lines over and over again if it works for that song. I have no problem with that.

HANSEN: Right. But you don't consider yourself a songwriter, do you?

Mr. STARR: I do now.

HANSEN: You do.

Mr. STARR: I do. I'm a musician. I'm a drummer. I write songs.

HANSEN: Was hard days not your phrase?

Mr. STARR: It was. It's been a hard day's night.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. STARR: It's called a malapropism, John used to say. And my head worked faster than my mouth, so two lines would come out together.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. STARR: Not like I planned it. It's just how it was.

HANSEN: Have you ever played Beatles Guitar Hero?

Mr. STARR: Yes. I tried it when they were showing it to us, and I'm useless at it. So, next question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Your son Zac is a drummer.

Mr. STARR: He is.

HANSEN: And your other son is a drummer as well, right?

Mr. STARR: He is.

HANSEN: And he thinks that this...

Mr. STARR: And my grandson is a drummer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You have a grandson.

Mr. STARR: I have many of them. I have seven grandchildren.

HANSEN: No.

Mr. STARR: All the family are doing great. And we had Christmas dinner - it was 28 of us and 12 of them were staying with us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Favorite song on the CD?

Mr. STARR: It's hard. They're all, like, your babies. So...

HANSEN: Sure, I know. The tune you do with Joss Stone, "Who's Your Daddy."

Mr. STARR: Well, that's a rocker too.

HANSEN: Oh yeah.

Mr. STARR: And she just wails.

HANSEN: What a voice.

Mr. STARR: What a voice. And, you know, what a lot of fun. And how loose, you know, she's a young woman and she came over and we wrote it in no time and she did the vocal. You know, it's - okay, that's that.

(Soundbite of song, "Who's Your Daddy")

Ms. JOSS STONE (Musician): (Singing) I didn't contemplate, I know you're probably hard (unintelligible). We need to set a couple things straight. I won't take you lying down. I know you like to get around. You know I hate it when you're late. I know how you look when you're telling lies. Your (unintelligible) no surprise.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Who's your daddy?

Ms. STONE: (Singing) Not you no more.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Who's your daddy?

HANSEN: Ringo Starr signaled our interview time was up when he said, okay, what's the big question? So, we floated this idea: 400 years from now, do you think people will still be listening Mozart, Beethoven and the Beatles?

Mr. STARR: Well, yeah, I have to agree with that. You know, I do honestly believe the Beatles will be going down still. And, you know, we made those records quite a while ago and we keep putting the same records out 'cause we're not making any new ones. And the kids are interested in the music of them. They're not interested in us being moptops and Beatle boots and crazy suits. You know, it's all down to the music now. That's what they hear and that's what they love. So, there's a possibility that Beethoven and the Beatles, hey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I just wanted - Ringo Starr, thank you so much for giving us the time to talk to you.

Mr. STARR: Well, thank you. And this is very pleasant and relaxed.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. STARR: So, can I just say peace and love?

(Soundbite of song, "All You Need is Love")

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Love is all you need. Love is all you need.

HANSEN: Ringo Starr's new album is called "Y Not." You can hear additional cuts from this CD at NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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