I don't want people to not know who I am. I don't want to be pigeonholed as the new George Michael, or the guy that won the reality TV show, or Mick Hucknall for the Noughties, or whatever nonsense gets said. It's just me and it's about having a bit of self-belief and turning up the volume a bit" – Will Young, in a café by the Thames, November 2005 Hold onto your trilby... In fact, take off ...
Richard Starkey was born on July 7, 1940 in the front room of his house at 9 Madryn Street in Liverpool’s Dingle Area, possibly the roughest area of the city. His parents were Elsie and Richard Starkey Sr. He was an only child. He was called Ritchie.
When Ritchie was only three years old, his parents parted, and except for about three occasions, Ringo has not seen his father since. However, there was nothing like the drama of the Lennon breakup. The couple seemed to have separated peacefully, and they were eventually divorced. Ritchie stayed with his mother at Madryn Street, but they eventually moved to 10 Admiral Grove, virtually just around the corner.
Ritchie went to St. Silas’s Junior School at five years of age, but after just one year, he developed appendicitis. The appendix burst and peritonitis set in. He was taken to Myrtle Street Children’s Hospital and had two operations. He went into a coma for ten weeks, and was in the hospital for just over twelve months. He came out of the hospital at the age of seven and went back to St. Silas’s. At this point, he was unable to even read or write, but with the help of a childhood friend, Marie Maguire, he learned basic literacy skills. Then at eleven years of age, he attended Dingle Vale Secondary Modern School. He did not graduate.
Elsie met a man by the name of Harry Graves when Ritchie was just over eleven years old, and they were married two years later in 1953. Ritchie welcomed the addition to the family. However, that same year, Ritchie developed his second major illness. He got a cold, which turned to pleurisy, which turned to an effusion of one lung. He went back to the Myrtle Street hospital and then to Hezzle Children’s Hospital where he remained for two years. When he came out of the hospital at fifteen, he was did not return to school, and he secured a job as a messenger boy for British Railways. Ritchie worked at the Railways for only six weeks. He left because all he wanted a railway uniform to wear, but they only gave him a simple railway cap. Later, he worked as a barman, and applied to be a joiner apprentice.
Ritchie showed no musical interest and did not play an instrument as a boy. When the skiffle craze came to Britain, he helped form a group called Eddie Clayton Skiffle, playing on his first set of drums bought by his father. He later joined Rory Storm’s group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He quit his job to work as a full-time drummer. Rory Storm was a showman who convinced Ritchie that he needed to change his name. Because of Ritchie’s fondness for rings, Rory suggested he change his name to Rings which Ritchie later changed to Ringo while condensing his last name to Starr.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were Liverpool’s top band at the time. They were doing so well, in fact, that when they were offered a chance to go to Hamburg, they could not arrange it. But they did go later, joining The Beatles at the Kaiserkeller, which was where Ringo met The Beatles for the first time. Ringo did a few stand-in engagements with The Beatles, and he generally sat around with them between sets. He returned to Liverpool with Rory, but later came back to Hamburg with Tony Sheridan. During this visit, he considered remaining in Hamburg for good, but he decided to return to Liverpool to work with Rory Storm again. It was then that he received a call from John asking him to join The Beatles. Ringo’s decision to accept was based solely on finances. He had received an offer from a band called King Size Taylor and the Dominoes to play for 20 pounds a week. The Beatles offered him 25. He decided on The Beatles.
The Beatles were offered a recording contract with EMI in 1962. For a variety or reasons, they had become dissatisfied with drummer Pete Best. However, it was George Martin who put the final nail in the coffin. He expressed doubts about Pete’s drumming ability and suggested the boys find a replacement. John then decided the time had come to let Pete go, and since the group had worked with Ringo before and had liked his drumming style and personality, he was the natural choice for Pete’s replacement. However, even though Ringo showed up for the first official gig with his hair combed into the appropriate Beatle style, it took a while for him to feel comfortable in the closely knit Beatle fraternity. Ringo felt himself something of the newcomer and outsider, apparently not without reason. He was not even told of John Lennon’s wedding to Cynthia Powell on August 23. Even more disheartening was the appearance of a session drummer, hired by Martin, to play at the September 11th recording session.
On the day, the Beatles made a second attempt to record “Love Me Do.” Session drummer, Andy White, was given the job of playing drums on the track, and Ringo was asked to play a tambourine. On the same day, White also drummed on “P.S. I Love You” while Ringo shook maracas. It was, however, the September 4th Ringo version of “Love Me Do” that was finally released as the single and, according to George Martin, after the September 11th date there was never any thought of replacing Ringo again. Ringo had established himself as a Beatle at last, and at one time was the most popular Beatle among American fans.
Ringo was perfect for The Beatles. His drumming was always consistent, a steady back beat that did not overpower the song or the singer. However, his health would cause him problems again as a Beatle. He missed three quarters of the 1964 tour of Scandanavia, Holland, the Far East and Australia to have his tonsils removed.
Ringo married his childhood sweetheart, Maureen Cox on February 11, 1965. They had met back in Liverpool during the Cavern Club days when she had been a student hairdresser. Their love endured the manifestations of Beatlemania, his move to London, the seemingly endless rounds of tours, and the fact that their romance had to be kept secret from the fans. When Ringo had to have his tonsils removed in early December of 1964, Maureen came to London to nurse him. When she discovered that she was pregnant, the marriage was quickly arranged. Zak Starkey was born to his happy and proud parents on September 13, 1965. Ringo, having always longed for siblings himself, wanted to make sure that his baby boy experienced such joys. Zak was followed by Jason Starkey on August 19, 1967 and sister Lee Parkin Starkey on November 11, 1970. To all who knew them, the couple seemed a perfect match. Their divorce in July of 1975 came as a shock to many. In April, 1981, Ringo married Barbara Bach whom he had met during the filming of the movie Caveman. The service was held in London in a register’s office with George and Paul as witnesses. Ringo’s mother, Elsie, was also present.
Ringo’s role in The Beatles was undoubtedly an important one, but he remained in the background to John and Paul. On several albums, he would be given a token song to sing, but Ringo never really had pretensions about being a song writer. Only two original Starr compositions appear in the Beatles’ discography. These are “Don’t Pass Me By” on The Beatles (White album) and possibly his most famous song “Octopus’s Garden” on Abbey Road. Following the Beatles’ break up, he began a fairly successful solo career which produced eight albums and thirteen singles. He also toured twice with his All-Star band, first in America and Japan in 1989 and later in America and Europe in 1992. Members of the 1992 band included his son, Zak, Dave Edmunds, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, Tim Cappello, Timothy Schmit, and Burton Cummings.
Apart from his music, Ringo has also done voice-overs for television, movies, and was probably the most famous conductor in the children’s television series, Thomas The Tank Engine. It appears as if after a long and rewarding career, Ritchie finally got to wear his railway uniform.