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April 25, 2014

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Ringo Starr, at the Palms for two nights: ‘The dream is still golden for me’

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Rob Shanahan

Ringo Starr and cast members of Love at The Mirage in Niagra Falls.

Ringo Starr Book

The famous Launch slideshow »

LOS ANGELES — Capturing the words of a former Beatle is a lot like rebounding in basketball.

It isn’t always about how high you can jump or your capacity to shove people out of the way. Sometimes it’s about anticipation, footwork and positioning. It’s about patience and dexterity, too, and knowing what to do with the ball once it’s in your clutches.

In the pursuit of Ringo Starr, working the court to snare the rock legend’s thoughts and comments required hustling. It was a labor of love for any Beatles fan who grew up dropping needles on crackling, classic Beatles albums.

To reach the onetime beat of The Beatles meant flying to Los Angeles from Las Vegas and taking a herky-jerky cab ride through L.A. to ArcLight Studios on Sunset Boulevard. This was the first of two events starring Starr, the formal release news conference for his new book, “Photograph,” full of 240 photos and 15,000 words centering on his youth, including his years with The Beatles.

The second presentation was later at SIR Studios just up the street with a short performance and Q+A by Ringo and his All-Starr Band, followed by a series of one-on-one interviews. Ringo is excited about this version of the band, which is the 12th lineup for the 13th tour of The All-Stars, which plays Friday and Saturday nights at Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms and is Steve Lukather (Toto), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Gregg Rolie (Santana), Todd Rundgren, Mark Rivera and Gregg Bissonette.

The tour is almost exclusively limited to South America and Mexico. Almost. Las Vegas is the lone U.S. city on the tour. The book is out Wednesday, and tied to its release is a news conference Thursday introducing the group of teenagers (now adults) from New Jersey photographed by Ringo from The Beatles’ car as they raced away from Kennedy International Airport on their first trip to the U.S. in February 1964.

The late-October event drew media from cities in South America and Mexico on the tour stops. There were U.S. mass-media reps, too, from network affiliates and major print/online pubs. As the 73-year-old rock star fulfilled every request for a few minutes of his life, I quick-stepped into his view and pushed a digital recorder into the conversation. Every word, and the pauses and chuckles between, was going to be grabbed. There’s nothing left on the court, as it were.

Finally, at the end of the two sessions, Ringo was momentarily lost between conversations when his publicist introduced him: “Ringo! Here’s John, and he’s here from Las Vegas.”

“Where’s my guy? Where do I go?” he asked, then noticing the guy in the blue George Strait-Wrangler pearl snap shirt (something Buck Owens might wear to catch Ringo’s attention), he laughed and said, “What? He’s got enough! He’s been hanging around all day!”

“Yeah, but you’re pretty interesting,” I say.

“Thank you, John!” he says.

“You’re big in Vegas,” I start.

“Am I?” he asks.

“There are a lot of photos of you guys when you made your first trip to Las Vegas, when you played the Las Vegas Convention Center and stayed at the Sahara in 1964,” I say. “Pictures of you on the roof of the hotel and playing slot machines in your room.”

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “That was our second trip to the States. Huge, huge time.”

“Do you have any vivid memories of that period, when you visited the city at that time?” I ask.

“Well, it was all huge then. You know what I mean?” he says. “We were in Vegas. Wow! I can’t say I remember every moment, but we felt the atmosphere because it was casino land. It was something else for us to be there. That’s what it was like.”

“That visit was a really big moment in our city’s history,” I say. “To catch The Beatles at that time was a significant event for us.”

“Yeah, yeah. It was very early in our first real tour of the States,” he says. “Rock and roll was not really in Vegas at the time, not until Elvis came in. In fact, I was taken back to Vegas when Elvis was playing (the Las Vegas Hilton).”

“What for?” I ask.

“I did (the video for) ‘Sentimental Journey,’ in a big room and wearing a big bow tie. I was flown back to Vegas to see that room Elvis was playing, to feel like I was a big showman,” he says. “I thought, ‘That’s not really me!’ I just did that album, and that song, because it was the music my family introduced me to. I later did a country album, but nobody ever flew me to Nashville (laughs).”

“Did you ever see Elvis perform in Vegas?” I ask.

“I never did, no,” he says. “We met him at the house, here (in Los Angeles in 1965), but that was it for me.”

I revise a question I’d asked earlier, during the open news conference: “What about a residency in Las Vegas? We have Elton John and Rod Stewart in successful runs at the Colosseum at Caesars. You joked about calling the show ‘The Golden Drums,’ after Elton’s ‘Red Piano’ shows from a few years ago.”

“Well, I’m open. We’re traveling around, and the idea of being stationary sounds good,” he says. “As long as each night I get to play. Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not going to be for a while, but I’m interested, sure. Make me an offer, brother!”

Love Fifth-Anniversary Red Carpet

Yoko Ono Lennon and Sean Lennon at the fifth-anniversary celebration of The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage on June 8, 2011.

Launch slideshow »

“I can’t afford you,” I say. “I have to ask you about the ‘Love’ show at the Mirage.”

“The ‘Love’ show is great,” he says.

“Do you have any involvement in the ongoing development of that show?” I ask.

“No, no,” he says. “The ‘Love’ show, I’ve seen twice.”

“I think I was in the audience both of those times,” I say.

“I have proof then,” he says. “When it opened, I said, ‘Yes, I’ll come!’ And five years later, I saw it again.”

“Anniversary show,” I say.

“That was it,” he says, “and I still loved it. The music was great, and God bless all those Cirque entertainers.”

* * *

Then Starr was yanked free, spinning away for another photo op. But the collection of quotes from earlier are similar to the pictures in “Photograph” in that they can stand timelessly.

To the unidentified questioner who stood first after The All-Starr Band’s 10-minute performance, during which the band played “Boys” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”: “Why are we doing this? I had nothing better to do. … It’s a dream for me. I want to play drums in bands and for other people. I still love it.”

From Rundgren, a holdover from previous All-Starr Bands: “This is the best band Ringo has ever had in terms of playing together but also in terms of getting along together. We all go out and eat together, spend our time on the road together, we are friends all the time. That’s what makes it special, playing with your best friends.”

Starr adds: “We jam together a lot. Let me put it in a nutshell: Musically they are all great players, great musicians. The spirit of this band is very close.”

More from Rundgren: “We all have strengths that the others are more or less in awe of, in a way. Each one of the guys in the band can do something I can’t possibly freaking do, and that keeps you respecting everyone in the band. You don’t have people showing up just shucking their way through the show. Everyone is on top of it.”

Starr is asked about how he chooses songs for the tour’s setlist: “You have to have hits to be in this band. That’s what it’s all about. … We start with that, and we have great musicians, as well. I get lucky when we have great musicians who have great songs. That’s how I do it.”

Explaining the decision to focus on South America on this latest tour swing, Starr says: “I haven’t been to or played South America in a long time. The energy was so great and loving, that’s what I felt last time. We’re taking Gregg Rolie and his Spanish number (laughs). Tell ’em about it, Gregg!

From Rolie: “The one thing I remember about ‘Oye Como Va’ is that Carlos (Santana) brought this to the band in 1970, and I my first inclination was, “What do I do with this? It’s a Tito Puente song.” I was writing real rock, and he brought this in, and it turned out to be one of my favorites. Then I said, ‘Ringo, you’re boss, but if we go to South America and play ‘Oye Como Va,’ they might go nuts.’ And he goes, ‘Done!’ ” (Laughter.)

Though his shots in the new book are remarkably candid, Starr says he could have added a dimension to the photos in “Photograph” if he’d taken his camera onstage during concerts: “Looking at some of the footage of documentaries I’ve seen, especially The Police — Stewart Copeland must have been filming as they were playing. I wish we had done some of that.”

The journalist from Brazil asks if Starr is planning to perform in concert with Paul McCartney.

“Not a concert. But we may do something next year because it’s the 50th anniversary of (The Beatles) arriving in America. There might be a hookup,” he says. “We have played many times before. He played at my (70th) birthday. But there’s nothing definite yet. … The great thing is, it’s a celebration of music.”

The journalist from Mexico City asks if he ever gets tired of being a Beatle, even for one minute in a day, or a day in a year.

“No, I’m never tired of being a Beatle, but it’s not always to the fore. It is more to the fore when I am talking to you, or to the press, because The Beatles have to be involved in that conversation,” he says. “But, no, I get through some days without even thinking about it, you know? It’s just that I’m going through my life doing natural, everyday things. I’m not sitting there, as soon as I get out of bed in the morning, “Oooh! I’m a Beatle!” That doesn’t happen.”

Why does he play “Give Peace a Chance” at the end of his shows?

“Because we’re promoting that, and John wrote the great song. That’s why,” he says. “All we are saying is give peace a chance because I still believe in it.”

He’s abruptly asked if he still misses John and George.

“Yeah, of course. They were my great friends,” he says. “I don’t sit here dwelling on it all the time, but they come into my consciousness and especially with the book, because there are lots of pictures of them from those times.”

Has he any superstitions?

“Not really, but before I go onstage, every night, for like 5 seconds before I go on, I want to go home to bed,” he says. “It’s just a nervous thing, “Oh, why am I doing this? I don’t know what I’m doing!’ Then I run on, and I’m fine. But I still have to run on after all this time. I keep thinking I want to be Frank Sinatra and just walk on really confidently, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

The journalist from Brazil questions him about his playing style, especially since Name Magazine once referred to Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones as the greatest rock drummer ever.

“That is not a big deal to me, really, because there was no battle between us or between The Stones and The Beatles,” he says. “Charlie is a dear friend of mine. It was just interesting what NAME said because he is a hero of ours. … I’m known for swinging. It may be rock, but I can’t help it. It’s in my body. There’s a shuffle, you know, a swing that goes on, no matter what the track is. I am a swinging musician.”

From the reporter from Argentina: Is there anything he hasn’t accomplished in his career that he wants to accomplish?

“What would that mean? I want to climb Mount Everest,” he says. “But if you’re not going to train and go do it, it doesn’t mean anything. I’ve always wanted to play with great players, and I’m still doing that. I’ve played big venues, I’ve played clubs. I just want to play. I still do not like to play drums by myself. But if you play piano, guitar, bass, whatever, I’ll play with you all night. I like to hang out with musicians, yeah.

“The dream is still golden for me.”

There’s that word again: Golden. Ringo Starr is of a golden era, playing his golden drums and giving people who have loved all that music a golden opportunity.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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