By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: Every time on Ringo Starr’s birthday on July 7, my mind races back to the time I first saw him live!
It was on Aug 1 in 1971, the year after the Beatles broke up and it was at the Madison Square Garden in New York City.
There were lots of other great names of rock music at the performance, including George Harrison (ex-Beatle), Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan, Klaus Voorman and the inimitable god of sitar- Pandit Ravi Shankar!
As Pandit Shankar exclaimed: ‘In one day, the whole world knew the name Bangladesh. It was a fantastic occasion!’
The concert, along with the subsequent record album and movie, went on to generate $ 2 million which went for relief in Bangladesh.
Ringo was very stately and cool in his drumming at this iconic concert, unlike other aggressive rock drummers like Keith Moon of The Who and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. After all, he had been part of the ‘good boys’- The Beatles, more known for their extraordinary compositions than being musical gymnasts. He sang his hit single “It don’t come easy’ (No 1 in Canada, and no 4 in UK and US) at this concert and famously actually forgot the lyrics to his own song- mumbling through a few lines!
There were hoots of approval from the crowd as they attributed that to him being high, and everybody got on the bandwagon, pervading the auditorium with the sweet smell of Kashmiri vegetation (you know the kind I am ‘reefering’ to)!
Ringo was the last to join the Beatles in 1962 as drummer, after the others fired the original drummer, Pete Best. He is, however, credited with being the first of the Beatles to accept the invitation from Bob Dylan to use cannabis while the other three, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison looked on to see how he reacted before joining in.
This occurred in 1964 and the history of rock took a different course as the Beatles turned the rock industry upside down as they progressed onto other heavier mind-altering hallucinogens and came up with the most stupefying bohemian compositions ever!
Just imagine, what if Ringo had not set the pace, what would have happened?
A few years later, the Beatles decided to straighten out and get off the heavier drugs and flew to Rishikesh in India where they stayed with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This ‘coming down’ from heavy drugs and into spirituality, spawned yet another amazing journey in their lives and they became more prolific, churning out an incredible number of cutting edge compositions at the ashram.
Even Ringo, known as the quiet one, blossomed as a lyricist and composer. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, he was the first to leave in less than two weeks, but the stay left an indelible mark on him.
After the Beatles, Ringo embarked on his solo career and released several successful albums. He also teamed up with ex Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon to play drums on their solo albums and lend his vocals.
In 1989, under the guidance of producer David Fishof, he formed ‘Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band’, where several members of other bands joined in and played songs from The Beatles, from Ringo’s solo career and songs from every other member.
He has teamed up with members of Cream, Humble Pie, King Crimson, Eagles, E-street band, the Band, The Guess Who and several others and still holds regular concerts at his age!
Even the Boss, Bruce Springsteen (or Bruce Almighty as he is referred to sometimes) has played with him.
In Ontario, they typically play at Casino Rama in Orillia or Fallsview Casino at Niagara Falls, which is where I saw him and others perform last year. He also held an exhibition of his artwork last year in Toronto at the Liss Gallery.
He is currently in the spotlight again as he has launched a new exhibition at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles called ‘Ringo: Peace and Love’ last month, showcasing the different stages of his life.
He is also penning a children’s book based on his famous song ‘Octopus Garden’ that appeared on the Abbey Road album in 1969. The book should be out in fall.
John Lennon once wrote a song for him called ‘I am the Greatest’ which was released in 1973.
Having been part of the Beatles and carved out a great solo musical career, he is now performing with the crème de la crème of classic rock stars.And add to that he is also an artist and author and has lent his talent to raise funds for various causes.
If he isn’t the greatest, he is definitely one of the greats!
Long live Ringo Starr! May your stars shine forever!
ALSO SEE: RINGO STARR TURNS 73
(Lachman Balani is a financial consultant based in Mississauga on the outskirts of Toronto)