Ringo Starr Made a Pandemic Record—with a Little Help from His Friends

The Beatles legend talks Zoom, recording at home, and how Transcendental Meditation helps him get by

Ringo Starr may have played drums for the most iconic rock band in history, but like so many of us, he couldn’t escape having his pandemic experience dominated by a video conferencing platform.

“Zooming is a big part of my life now. I’m doing a lot of Zooming every day,” the 80-year-old legend says. “In the beginning, I didn’t want it, I didn’t like it. I want to go. I want to hug, I want to see.”

Many of the things a musician usually does—collaborate with other players, tour and perform for audiences—are on hold, and have been for the past year. At the start of 2020, Ringo was all set to get out on the road with his hugely popular All-Starr Band—whose 30th anniversary is celebrated in a new book, Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All-Starrs—but COVID-19 intervened. Reopenings are in the works in California and across the country, but it’s still unclear when the All-Starrs will be packing venues like the Greek once again.

So what’s a Beatle to do with all that free time? Inspired by his new Zoom-dependent existence, Ringo worked on Zoom In, a five-song EP released in March on Capitol Records (and available on vinyl and cassette for nostalgia addicts). The record is filled with the kinds of hopeful messages, skillfully embedded in both the music and the lyrics, to get anyone through these tough times. And, as with any Ringo output, there are plenty of friends, pandemic notwithstanding.

“I was sitting around, like everybody, going, ‘What am I gonna do?’ Can’t go on tour,” he recalls. Fortunately, he’s got a studio, Roccabella, built into the guest house of his home in Beverly Hills, where, on a moment’s notice, his engineer and co-producer, Bruce Sugar, appears to help him make magic. “I wanted to do something, musically, so I called up Bruce, and he had a friend”—songwriter Jeff Silbar, who co-penned Bette Midler’s megahit “Wind Beneath My Wings”—“who had this track, called ‘Zoom In Zoom Out.’” The bluesy rock track, about giving yourself a change in perspective—something pretty useful these days—also features lead guitar by the Doors’ Robby Krieger, whose playing is simply impossible to miss.

Well, if you can get a Door, you can also get a songwriter like multiple-Grammy-winner Diane Warren to write a song that fits the bill. “I called Diane, who wrote ‘Here’s to the Nights.’” The infectious track features Toto guitarist and frequent All-Starr Band member Steve Lukather, bassist Nathan East, and keyboardist Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)—as well as a few other folks Starr can pick up the phone and ask for a little help. You know, just people like Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, FINNEAS, Sheryl Crow, Ben Harper, Jenny Lewis, and, of course, Paul McCartney.

The song is about all the friends we miss and all the fun things we’ll once again be doing—hopefully soon—so why not include those friends? Starr says, “I called Dave Grohl, and I called Ben Harper, people I know. And I did call Paul to sing on the chorus. And they all said ‘Yes.’” Well…yeah!

The experience of recording during a pandemic is nothing like it is normal times. “I’m a band guy,” Starr states simply. But having a good home studio with a skilled engineer and a hopeful artist means things can just flow together in an easy way. “I’m not the kind of person who plans everything out,” Starr says.” I’m more like, ‘Oh—there’s a move you didn’t expect,’ or someone came over.”

“There are a lot of musicians and singers looking for stuff to do these days,” he continues. “And what I have is friends who are as serious about staying safe as I am. I had a few players come over, separately and masked. And they’ve been checked to make sure they don’t have the virus. There’s no one just coming over out of the blue. We look out for each other.”

Of the many stars inhabiting “Here’s to the Nights,” only Grohl and Harper recorded their contributions in person. “We had separation,” Starr stresses by way of demonstration. “The mic’s over there, and we sat over here.” The rest, including Paul, added their parts remotely.

And recording in a home studio ended up being an upside. “We’re in this little guest house, which we call the studio. It’s calm, there’s no red light, no big glass window separating us. We just play, and we have fun.”

When Starr wasn’t hard at work creating, he was taking care of his body and mind, getting exercise so he doesn’t stagnate “like milk” and meditating daily. Starr was introduced to Transcendental Meditation 53 years ago alongside his bandmates, and still practices it every morning. “Whatever the craziness is, it mellows if you meditate. I do it for that. Me and [wife Barbara Bach] do it every morning. And we read some books that will help us on this rocky road of life. I’m in a good space, because of what’s around me and the people I know. That all helps—but I recommend TM to everybody.”

“Just never forget—it’s all about peace and love.”

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