Michael Seth Starr’s recently published biography of Ringo Starr, “Ringo: With a Little Help,” was pretty much under the radar until Ringo himself gave it a little bit of surprise publicity in 2012, long before it was due to appear. “There is an unauthorized biography being written by Michael Starr and I want my friends & fans to know it has nothing to do with me. I’m not participating with it at all. Peace & Love, Ringo,” he said in a statement.
But even though he didn’t Ringo didn’t cooperate, the book by Starr (who’s no relation to the drummer) isn’t a kiss-and-tell biography, though it does recount a few of the stories about Ringo’s private life from previous books. But it concentrates more on the drummer’s life as a whole and how he has rightfully earned the success he has now. Interviews with friends and associates before and after the Beatles and some rare early pictures are also included.
What made Starr decide to write about Ringo? “I felt that Ringo was always overlooked, or ‘slagged off,’ as the British would say,” he said. “When it came to books about The Beatles — that he was “The Lucky One” who was just along for the ride and who wasn’t as talented as Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. I always disagreed with that notion, and I hope that people who read ‘Ringo: With a Little Help’ will see how much he contributed to The Beatles — and how much he was/is a rock icon in his own right vis a vis his musical abilities (particularly his singular style of drumming) and through his engaging personality.
“As John Lennon once said, when asked if Ringo was a good drummer: ‘Ringo is a good Beatle.’ That, I think, speaks volumes. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who criticizes Lennon’s prowess as a rhythm guitarist, or Harrison’s lead-guitarist chops. Why is that? It just seems too easy to pick on Ringo.”
The most surprising thing author Starr found out about Ringo? “There were several surprises for me once I began to research Ringo’s life. I didn’t realize that he didn’t show an interest in the drums or drumming until he was in his early teens, or that his childhood in Liverpool wasn’t as grim as is often depicted. In fact, he came from a loving, supportive home and was adored by his mother, Elsie, his stepfather, Harry, and his Starkey grandparents, who lived just doors away.
“The family didn’t have a lot of money,” he said, “and the Dingle was a tough place to live, but Ringo certainly wasn’t walking as a dirty street urchin, as his early life is often depicted. I loved hearing about Ringo/Richy’s childhood from his boyhood friend, Dave Patterson, who’d never spoken publicly about Ringo until I contacted him. He also gave me two exclusive photos, the first two photos in the book. And I enjoyed speaking to Ringo’s co-workers at Henry Hunt and Sons, who gave an unique insight into what he was like at the time in his life in Liverpool before joining Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and, eventually, The Beatles.”
Starr went through a period where he was a party guy and is now very health conscious person. Who or what caused the change? “Meeting and marrying Barbara Bach, who realized that, once she got sucked into Ringo’s orbit of alcoholism, they needed to get help or it would all end badly,” he said. “It was her decision for the both of them to enter a rehab facility in order to get clean and sober and, once they did that, Ringo revitalized his career with The All-Starr Band and rediscovered his joy of performing. I really believe that Barbara saved both their lives.”
Does Starr think Ringo is an underrated musician? “Yes. As I say in the book, the argument that another drummer would have been better for the Beatles is one of those arguments better left for a bar room or a chat board. We can’t change history. And John, Paul and George recruited Ringo into The Beatles after firing Pete Best because he was considered the best drummer in Liverpool. And they knew they needed a terrific timekeeper if they were to make it, as Lennon said, to ‘The toppermost of the poppermost.’ And that terrific timekeeper was Ringo Starr, who also shared a similar “scouse” sense of humor and musical sensibilities as the three guys he considered his ‘brothers.’
“It was a seamless fit. I dare anyone to listen to Ringo’s drumming on ‘I Feel Fine,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ or ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ — three examples in a long line of great drumming — and tell me he didn’t have a unique, distinct, style that was perfect for The Beatles — none of whom, save for Paul McCartney, were flashy musicians (and I say that about McCartney in the best sense of the word).”
Starr says Ringo’s Beatles personality will be his lasting legacy “There’s no doubt in my mind that Ringo Starr will always be known as a Beatle — both in terms of his drumming and his funny/droll/nurturing personality. And I think he’s finally come to terms with that as his legacy, and is finally comfortable with being one-fourth of the greatest pop band in history. That’s not too shabby.”