I met Ringo in a Knightsbridge hotel room in June 1998, when he was promoting a new album called Vertical Man. The assignment, from MOJO, was to concentrate on his solo career after The Beatles. This I did, but we covered other subjects besides, notably his childhood and drumming. The piece was held over until 2001, when the magazine had finally assembled four alternative cover stories on each Beatle. What follows is a fuller transcript than appeared in print. And when we had finished I broke my usual rule – stay professional, don’t act like a fan -– by getting him to sign my ancient vinyl sleeve of With The Beatles. Well, why not?
Ringo Starr, or Richard Starkey, is the former drummer of Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. There was talk, at one time, that he might join Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes, but it came to nothing. Starr was even invited to play bass guitar with Gerry & The Pacemakers – but, again, it was not to be. Despite these setbacks he is, at 58, a cheerful man, with few complaints about the hand that fate has dealt him. “Life is really grand,” he says, contentedly. By his side throughout the interview is a little plastic bag of snacks from a health food shop, a sign of the new leaf he’s turned since leaving a rehab clinic in 1989. He speaks with a deep, deliberate voice; his hair is neatly cropped. Behind the dark glasses are a pair of sad, smiley eyes. “On the downhill slide there,” he recalls of his wilder years, “I forgot what I really liked to do, which is play, and I still do. It was my absolute dream at 13 to be a drummer. At 18, my absolute dream when I got the kit was to play with really good players. Those dreams came true, and I’ve really enjoyed my life playing. Now I feel I’m doing it again.”
After Rory Storm there followed a spell in another Liverpool band, The Beatles. They won the Mersey Beat Readers’ Poll in 1962. But the group had an uneven career. In 1966, their live work dried up; by 1969 they had fallen to arguing among themselves, and disbanded soon afterwards. The time had arrived for Starr to launch himself as a solo entertainer. We begin our look at Ringo Starr: The Glory Years, with his recollections of that first solo album, 1970’s Sentimental Journey. “If I start to blah too much,” he says, settling into his chair, “just tell me to shut up.”
Paul Du Noyer: You began making solo records before the end of The Beatles?
Ringo Starr: “No. It was always actually after the end.”
Right. But while the group was still officially in existence.
“Yeah. Well, Sentimental Journey was after the break-up, really, and I was lost for a while. That’s well-documented. Suddenly the gig’s finished that I’d been really involved in for eight years. ‘Uh-oh, what’ll I do now?’ And I just thought of all those songs that I was brought up with, all the parties we’d had in Liverpool at our house and all the neighbours’ houses. Songs my uncles and aunties sang, songs my stepfather sang. So I called George Martin and said, ‘Why don’t we take a sentimental journey?’ You see, it got me on my feet again, that was the good thing about that album. It started me to move. We had Quincy Jones and all these great arrangers, but if it did nothing else it got me off my bum, back into recording. Then I started to write a bit, and I did It Don’t Come Easy, Back Off Boogaloo, tracks that George Harrison co-wrote with me. Because I’m great at two verses and a chorus, but ending songs is difficult for me. I write a thousand verses and wrapping them up is not the best thing I know how to do.”
How about the next LP, Beaucoups Of Blues?
“Well George was making an album [All Things Must Pass] and I sent my car for this steel guitarist and producer Pete Drake, from Nashville. So Pete came and he noticed in my car I had all these country tapes. I don’t know why he was shocked at this but he goes, ‘Wow, you’ve got all these country tapes!’ ‘Yeah. I love country music.’ He said, ‘Well, why don’t you come to Nashville and we’ll make a record?’ Furthest thing from my mind. And I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to Nashville for months to make a record.’ With The Beatles I was so used to months and months making a record. He said, ‘What are you talking about? We did Nashville Skyline in a day,’ or whatever. Couple of hours! ‘Oh, OK.’ So I flew to Nashville because of him and we did Beaucoups Of Blues. And we actually did it in two days. Far out. We picked and learned five songs in the morning and we recorded five songs at night, and had a lot of fun in between.
“But these were all starters, I felt, for getting me back on my feet, and through that I got to Richard Perry, who’d worked with Harry Nilsson. And it was, ‘Why don’t we do an album?’ Richard said, ‘Why don’t you come to LA and we’ll see what happens.’ And we did. We started the Ringo album, we had The Band on it, and Dr John, all people who were in town. And just by chance, so were John Lennon and George Harrison, not that we’d planned anything, it was just one of those days. And that has sort of been the way I’ve kept my career going. On albums I’ve always had lots of friends come and play, and on the All-Starrs, the live gigs, I have lots of really interesting musicians to play with. That’s the way I do it.”
So at first you weren’t looking for a solo career, you just had time on your hands?
“Well, it’s difficult. Looking for a solo career? What do I do? I’m a musician and I made records, so now I’m gonna make them on my own. And in my case I’m making them on my own with a lot of help from other people. ‘A little help from my friends.’ And that’s been the policy ever since.”
What do you remember of working on John’s records, like theJohn Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP?
“It was great, just the three of us in the studio, Klaus [Voormann], him and I, and he had the songs so we just did them. It was a lot of fun in many ways to be in a trio, a trio is a much harder job to play in. It wasn’t like great memories, it was just ‘John’s making a record and I’m on it,’ it was like nothing’s changed. It’s just, ‘Where are the other two?’ So we’re all into this solo careeer thing. It just seemed the natural thing to do. If we weren’t all together then we’ll all be together separately. That’s how it happened. And in my case the other three were joining in. I’m not sure if Paul played on John’s records.”
I don’t think so.
“No. So, whoever was coming out to play that day, we’d play together.”
Strange to relate, there really was a touch of glory to Ringo’s early career after The Beatles.
While the world was not turned upside down by Sentimental Journey, the record did make the Top 10. Beaucoups Of Blues was less successful, but it remains a respected work of plaintive, old-fashioned country music. More amazing than either of those albums was the winning streak of hit singles from ’71 to ’74: It Don’t Come Easy, Back Off Boogaloo, Photograph and You’re Sixteen. Lest we forget, there was a brief period when Ringo Starr was at least as hot, chart-wise, as any of his former colleagues in The Beatles. You’ll find a few of those hits on his 1973 LP, Ringo – another Top 10 record and probably the highlight of his post-Fab output. There were guest appearances by the other three, though not by all four together; John Lennon wrote the opening track I’m The Greatest, Paul and Linda McCartney penned Six O’Clock, while George Harrison had a hand in Photograph, Sunshine Life For Me and You And Me (Babe). It was the nearest thing to a Beatle reunion that the world would see until Free As A Bird. And there was a further guest turn by the biggest pop star of the day, Marc Bolan.
A minor hit single, Only You, was culled from Ringo’s 1974 set, Goodnight Vienna. But here our tale begins to take a more melancholy course. “From Goodnight Vienna,”confesses Starr, candidly, “it started going downhill.” It’s a sorry coincidence that “goodnight Vienna” should be boozer’s slang for “hello oblivion.” On the album cover, Ringo’s arm is lifted in salutation. But in reality, he could just as easily have been waving farewell.
The drummer’s taste for transglobal high life was starting to wreck his career. He’d flit between the jet-set destinations of London, Monte Carlo and Los Angeles, his watch set permanently to the cocktail hour. Drink and drugs became his breakfast, lunch and dinner. With his thirsty pals Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, he was a regular playmate of John Lennon’s during the notorious 15-month “lost weekend”. Though he’d bought John and Yoko’s white mansion at Tittenhurst, where the Imagine film was made, he took up residence in Monaco for tax purposes. Meanwhile an acting career which had once looked promising (roles in movies including Candy, The Magic Christian and That’ll Be The Day) was fizzling out. His marriage to Maureen Starkey, the mother of Starr’s three children, ended in divorce in 1975. And as for the records… For some reason, people stopped talking about Ringo’s records. In some instances, record companies stopped releasing them altogether. After Ringo’s Rotogravure there was Ringo The Fourth and Bad Boy: these slipped out quietly, like absconding felons. A 1983 LP, Old Wave, was issued only outside of Britain and America.
His health was never good, even at the best of times, and in 1979 he nearly died of intestinal problems in a Monte Carlo hospital. Soon after that, his LA house burned down, destroying much Beatle memorabilia. In 1980 John Lennon was killed, but Ringo has said he was almost too stoned to notice. On a happier note, in 1981 he married the actress Barbara Bach, who’d been a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me; she’d met Ringo when they appeared together in the movie Caveman, and the couple have been together ever since. In 1984 he took a new role, as the lugubrious narrator of Thomas The Tank Engine. Today there is a generation of children who know him for this alone. In ’85 he became the world’s first Beatle grandad, when eldest son Zak had daughter. At the end of the ’80s, his decade horribilis, Ringo began to climb out of the morass. He entered a rehab clinic, and re-emerged as the leader of his All-Starr Band. Touring regularly, the band’s line-up has included Zak Starkey, Joe Walsh and Billy Preston.
You were a big mate of Marc Bolan’s, weren’t you? Around the time of Back Off Boogaloo.
“Marc was a dear friend who used to come into the office when I was running Apple Movies, a big office in town, and the hang-out for myself, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon. We’d go on to various venues, but we’d always start down in the office and Marc was so much fun, he’d tell us how many he was gonna sell, and what chart position he’d have. We were only 30, then, but we were looking at him like he was some crazy kid. We became friends, we had a holiday together. I took one of his album covers for him, that was just on the roof of Apple, actually. He came over to dinner one night and he had this infectious laugh, and ‘Back off’, in a friendly way, was one of his lines. ‘Back off, Boogaloo!’ I was in bed later and in that twilight zone the whole song just came: [sings] ‘Back off boogaloo, ah said, Back off boogaloo’ – this won’t look great in black and white, folks – ‘Back off boogaloo-hoo’. I just jumped out of bed, I got a song going. And I couldn’t find a tape that wasn’t broken, then I found batteries in the kids’ toys, and got it down. So I went over to George’s, because I’m a limited guitar player, I can only play three chords. I’d got the melody down with my three chords and took it over to George’s: ‘Would you put in a few more chords? It makes me sound like a genius.’
“But Marc was such a cool guy, it’s such a shame. We’re all talking about him now he’s horizontal, and I’d prefer to be talking about him vertical.”
After Goodnight Vienna , you’ve admitted that you lost your grip.
“I remember I did a movie on Harry Nilsson. He had all these players in the band, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Jim Price, and it was costing me just union rate, only about 30 quid a day. But it was costing £1000 for booze! They were all gone by noon. [Laughs] It was funny. It was fun times, we were just out there playing and making stuff.
“Someone said, ‘We weren’t musicians dabbling in drugs and alcohol; now we were junkies dabbling in music.’ I was sliding down, I wasn’t taking enough interest. I was more interested in boogieing, just going out to parties and not doing what I did. And I slid so far I ended up in a rehab. It wasn’t that every day was a bad day, but I just wasn’t doing anything. And as the years went on I did less and less, and if I did do anything it was with very little thought. I think since ’89 when I put the first All-Starrs together, I’ve been coming back. I’m playing more than ever, and that’s what I really do.”
Is it true that in ’87 you made a whole album in Memphis, and then had to scrap it?
“Yeah! [Laughs] With Chips Moman. We should have noticed something from the first day. I went down to the studio, hanging out and just doing that hello-ing day before we started. And I came back that night and said to Barbara, ‘We gotta get out of here. I don’t understand a word he’s saying!’ And that was like the hidden clue. I found out later that he’d gone back to his wife and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t understand a word he’s saying!’ But anyway we went on not understanding one another for several weeks and it ended up in court. We’d done it with a lot of Tequila and several unrecognisable substances. We put an injunction on it. It just never came out.”
Did playing live help to straighten you out?
“Yeah. That’s when I’m happy, when I’m playing.”
Ringo was born and brought up in the Dingle, a prettily-named slum district by Liverpool’s South Docks. He was an only child, and frequently ill. His father, Richard Starkey, left Ringo’s mother when the boy was three. About ten years later she married Ringo’s stepfather, Harry Graves. Still called Ritchie, the lad’s early jobs included a stint as barman on the ferryboat to North Wales. But it was drumming that he loved, and he joined Merseybeat group The Hurricanes, led by Rory Storm, who re-named his new recruit Ringo Starr. Storm was the dashing possessor of a vast blond quiff, and had a showman’s love of attention: he was once apprehended on Bootle station, for scrawling I Love Rory on the walls. (Sadly, Storm never made the big-time, and died of an overdose in 1972; his body was discovered by his mother, who then committed suicide on the spot.) The group played dates in Hamburg, where their Liverpool peers included The Beatles and Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes. Taylor was a huge and physically intimidating man, but Starr turned down a chance to join him; the singer retired to become a butcher in Southport.
“I haven’t been back to Liverpool since my stepfather died a couple of years ago,” Ringo says. “I used to go more often when my Mum was alive, less after that. I still have a lot of family there, but it’s just that life changes. It’s not like I’ve moved to London – I’ve moved to the world, really. I took Zak there when we toured in ’92, and mainly all I could say was ‘Well, what used to be there was…’ The Cavern’s moved next door, which we went down to and saw it all. But when we went to Madryn Street, the house I was born in, some woman just got hold of me arm saying, ‘Ooh, it hasn’t changed has it?’ Well, what happened to all the shops? ‘Oh they’ve gone.’ And what happened to that? ‘Oh that’s gone.’ I suppose if you live there you don’t notice the change so much, cos you’re there while it’s happened.”
Mathew Street has really changed. It’s a Beatle-themed tourist centre, with pubs called Rubber Soul and Abbey Road.
“Yeah, I did an All-Starr thing for Disney, and I did the Liverpool Empire. Cos I was playing for the first time in Britain, and I said I wanna play Liverpool Empire and the Hammersmith Odeon. So while we did that I went on a tour of Liverpool with my son…What part are you from?”
“Oh, you were in the posh bit.”
Relative to the Dingle. All things are relative.
“Yeah! Ha ha!”
Could I ask you some questions about drumming?
“See, you’ll never get away with that ‘drooming’. We’re very big with our ‘u’s. ‘Where’s the bus?’
Which drummers turned you on as a kid?
“You know, no drummer really turned me on at the beginning. I was in hospital with TB, and they sent me out of Liverpool to a place called Heswall, where they used to have this big greenhouse for children, so we could breathe and get well, cos there’s not a lot of oxygen in Liverpool. Oh! [Groans and mimes a headline] ‘Ringo says there’s no oxygen in Liverpool.’ Anyway a woman came once a week with instruments for us to play, tambourines, maracas, little snare drums with one stick. She’d put this huge music sheet up, she’d point to the yellow and you’d hit the drum, she’d point to the red and you shook the maraca. It was all pretty primitive but it kept us entertained. I was in there for a year, so they used to make you do things just to keep your spirits up, I suppose. And that’s where I started, in the hospital with this one drum.
“And I decided that next time she came, if I didn’t get a drum I wouldn’t play. That’s where the dream started. Then I would walk around Liverpool, to the music stores, and I would just look at the drums, I was never interested in the other instruments at all. My grandparents who played mandolin and banjo gave me them, and I’d no interest; my grandad bought me a harmonica, I had no interest. We had a piano at home that I used to walk on. But a lot of people sang around that piano, and people would bring instruments to the parties when I was growing up. There’d always be a harmonica player, banjo player, guitar. It was a party town.
“And I just always wanted to drum. I used to make little kits, mainly a snare drum and a tom-tom out of biscuit tins, and then I bought a huge bass drum for 30 bob, I used to whack that. Then I was 18 and my stepfather, he was from Romford, Essex, he went down there for a funeral or something and found this drumkit for me for 12 quid, and brought it back. That’s how it started. A month later I was in a band, cos I had the instrument.”
You were in Rory Storm & The Hurricanes weren’t you?
“I had a couple of bands before Rory. I started with the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. I started on brushes and one snare. Then I went to the Dark Town Skiffle Group, which was like this big skiffle group in Liverpool. I auditioned for Rory, the only time I ever auditioned. Got the gig, played with him for a year. Then we got a gig in Butlin’s, went professional and then we went to Germany. We were at one club, The Beatles were at another, we used to go and watch them. I loved the front line. We got to know each other, got back to Liverpool. Their drummer couldn’t make it one day, Brian Epstein said, ‘Could you play?’ Couple of months later they asked me to join, that’s the whole story.”
There’s a story that you were going to join Kingsize Taylor.
“Yeah, Kingsize Taylor had talked to me about joining him. And so had Gerry, of Gerry & The Pacemakers. But I was going to play bass for him.”
“We were young [laughs]: ‘Sure!’ You know Paul only played bass because the other two wouldn’t play it, after Stu went. John went ‘Oh no, not me’ and George was definitely not going to play it. So Paul just said, ‘Shit, I’ll play it.’ Wasn’t like his instrument of choice. Things happen in strange ways.”
It’s said you helped to popularise a way of holding the drumsticks.
“The straightahead sticks. That’s because the drum comes from the marching bands, so they could march with them. When it’s on your hip you couldn’t have both sticks out. That’s why they have a Charlie Watts pose, so they could actually play. I don’t know what happened with me. When I started in the skiffle group I just held the brushes frontline, and when it came to the kit with sticks I just did that too. People have said I popularised it, but that’s the only way I know how to play. I didn’t invent it.”
Is it true the drum riser wasn’t common before you had one in The Beatles?
“No, it wasn’t common before. The reason I had a drum riser, and also the smallest kit of drums, was I was going to make damn sure you could see me. You know what I mean? Cos the drummer was always playing at the back, cymbals hiding him: ‘Who the hell’s on drums?’ It was not gonna happen to me. I just thought, ‘Shit, I’m gonna be out there too.’ So i t was John, Paul, George… AND RINGO! They could all see me.”
Yet you were never a fan of the drum solo?
“I wasn’t into drummers in that way. I was into drummers being part of a band. I’ve seen the most miserable drum solos get a huge round of applause. And I always felt it was a cheap shot, because you could do anything and they’d all applaud. When we were with Rory, playing Butlin’s, we used to do a double bill with this street band The Happy Wanderers, who used to march around London. And I’d always give their drummer my solo! ‘OK mate!’ Bop bop bob-ba-dop bop! Just on his bass drum! I just never liked solos. It’s not what drumming’s about for me. George Martin practically forced me to do that one on the end of Abbey Road, I do that 13-bar thing – bom bom bom bom bobbadobba bom – and that’s as far as I’ll go. The interesting thing is that because it’s the only solo I’ve done, it’s a classic now. Talked about in drum magazines!”
A drum part that’s often admired is A Day In The Life.
“Yeah. It was good, but bigger than that was Rain, earlier on, and later was Bathroom Window and Polythene Pam. I’d got this new kit and I’d actually got calf heads, and the depth was incredible after all that plastic, so there’s a lot of tom-tom stuff going on there.”
Was The Beatles’ Anthology a good process to go through?
“Yeah. What was great was the three of us say hello, we phone each other up, we have an odd lunch or dinner, end up at each other’s house. With the Anthology we started meeting up, talking about it – shall we do it? – getting over the major problem that John wasn’t here. We got over that and started hanging out together. Then we’d go into the editing room, because it was our anthology and we wanted, to the best of our abilities, to get rid of the myths and lies and stupidity. So then we were recording together and I loved hanging out with those boys. We were laughing with each other a lot, we were shouting at each other a lot, because there was stuff that we all had absolutely different memories of. It was also good fun because with Paul and George, I don’t look at them as Beatles, I look at them as Paul and George. And they look at me as Ringo. Very few people do that. They all have this, ‘You’re one of them.’ So anyway, it got wrapped up and we went our separate ways again. It got back to, ‘Well I’m in town, let’s have dinner.’ Because, as Beatles we were tied up, we’d spent absolute lifetimes together.”
Are you happier with the legacy now? In your early solo years the ex-Beatle tag seemed to bug all of you.
“Well, it’s something we’ll never get away from. When I was 30 I thought [crossly], ‘Well, what about me? Just me, you know? It’s always related to The Beatles.’ Now you realise it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s gonna be related, so you just live with it. But to live with it isn’t bad now, cos for me the legacy of the music is well worth it. The Beatles left a lot of great music around. You can forgetthe personalities and just listen to the record, and that’s what it was all about.”
The Beatley references in your new record suggest you’re comfortable with it.
“Well, to do Love Me Do I had to get comfortable. And there’s a track on there called Puppet, about ‘putting the puppets to bed,’ and they’re all those crazy things you have in your mind. And one of mine was, ‘Oh, I can’t do a Beatles track.’ Well shit, why not? People have said that some stuff sounds Beatley. Well, it’s a compliment, really.”
Half the world sounds Beatley nowadays.
“Yeah! And I’m not allowed. [Laughs] All those other buggers can, but I’m not allowed. [Sighs] Anyway, as the great English expression goes…”
“And now we’re on the way back,” says Ringo. He was disappointed by the cool reception given to 1992’s Time Takes Time CD: “I thought it was brilliant. But people didn’t seem to want to go for it.” Now, though, he’s signed to a major label (Mercury) and the new album, Vertical Man, has more zest and big, thumping tunes than anything since Ringo, 25 years ago. There is, as mentioned, a new version of the Beatles’ first single Love Me Do, which Ringo was removed from by George Martin, his place taken by session drummer Andy White. Elsewhere there are plenty of musical references to the old group, on a record that swims with the Walrus and the Octopus. Ringo wrote, or co-wrote, 13 of the 15 tracks on Vertical Man, working with LA players Mark Hudson, Dean Grakal and Steve Dudas. As always there are celebrity guests, since Ringo has the most envied little black book in the business: among others, you hear Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Alanis Morissette, Steve Tyler, Brian Wilson and Tom Petty. Meanwhile he’s formed another touring band, whose line-up shows a British bias, featuring Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Simon Kirke and Gary Brooker.
There was another, unhappier, Beatle reunion recently, when Ringo joined Paul and George at the London memorial service for Linda McCartney. (Ringo’s first wife, Maureen, died of leukaemia in 1994; he and the children joined her at the bedside.) But if the least pretentious Fab has a guiding philosophy these days, he claims that it’s summed up by the title of his single: La De Da…
You’ve also said the album’s key line is “Let’s all get well together”?
“Yeah, I think it’s great. Let’s all get well together. It’s how I feel now. Peace, love and understanding. Let’s all get well together. If only we could. We’re all doing our best. I also sing ‘Be your own guru.’ Well, there are many gurus out there who can help you. But it’s true, you’ve got to help yourself as well. Then you can pass that on. But I don’t mean, ‘Help yourself, let’s go down the market and grab a few T-shirts!’”
It’s been called your best album since 1973.
“Well, I keep saying that. I think it’s the best since the Ringo/Goodnight Vienna period, really. You look at my musical career and from Goodnight Vienna it started going downhill. And now we’re on the way back. I had the Time Takes Time album (1992) which I thought was brilliant. But people didn’t seem to want to go for it.”
It wasn’t widely heard over here.
“No. Well it was on Private Music. Which was so private… you had to be a member to hear it. Ha ha! No, I could make excuses, but you put your record out and you hope for the best.”
But you’re with a famous label this time. “Well this is like Mercury’s second coming because they were amazingly great in the ’60s and ’70s, then they had a quiet time and now in the last 10 years they’ve been coming back.”
You’re putting yourself about a bit, promotionally speaking.
“Sure. Being with the new label I thought, I’ll do my bit, and this is what you have to do. It’s not like the old days where you put a record out and said ‘Hey! My name’s Ringo’ and that was all. Now you’ve gotta go and promote the hell out of it.”
You’ve covered Love Me Do, though George Martin didn’t let you play on The Beatles’ version. Do you think you’ve got the hang of it now?
“Yeah, I’ve got the hang of it now. Love Me Do was a party. We worked out the key and did it quickly. Originally we backed off the John Lennon harmonica line, because I thought that might be pushing it. So Steven [Tyler] did some sort of scat version, then the next day I said ‘No, c’mon, it’s so silly we’re hiding from this.’ So he did the harmonica again.”
Is that George playing guitar on King Of Broken Hearts?
“Yeah. I went over to visit him one evening and I played him some of the tracks and said, Here’s King Of Broken Hearts, I’d like you to be on the album. Anyway he wasn’t in the mood. Two weeks later I phoned him up from LA just to say Hi and what are you doing? ‘Oh I’m in the studio playing with the Dobro.’ I go: Ooh, a Dobro would sound good on my album! So he goes, ‘Oh all right, send it over then.’ I wanted that slide guitar. I love that track, it has a lot of emotion and when you put him on it, it just doubles that emotion. His soul comes out of that guitar, it just blows me away.”
Where do you spend most of your time now?
“Monaco. The last nine years I’ve lived in Monaco, and I lived there six years in the ’70s. And whatever you say about The Beatles, it’s afforded me the luxury of living wherever I wanted.”
Do you spend much time in Britain?
“I haven’t been spending more than my three months, that I’m allowed. But it’s more comfortable now since they changed the law and you can have a place to live here. At one time you had to live in hotels or rent a place, you couldn’t have your own. So we have an apartment here now and it’s very nice. And we have a home in LA, y’know. Life is really grand.”
But what winds you up? Some things must.
“Yeah, it depends. Some days I can just say, La-de-da, things are happening that you can’t alter, you’re not in charge, just let it go. But some days you get up and you’re just pissed off, with no idea why. Blame it on the bossa nova, or whatever. Shit happens and you have to deal with it. And I’m learning to deal with stuff. Before, I never really wanted to deal with anything. Now I look at it and say, ‘OK, how can I be of help?’ What can I do that’s constructive and not run around like some crazed chicken with its head cut off.”
What’s behind your album title, Vertical Man?
“I found it just flicking through a book of thousands of quotes. And it says, ‘Let’s hear it for the vertical man, so much praise is given to the horizontal one.’ And you think, ‘ Sure, let’s hear it for what’s happening now, I don’t wanna hear it when I’m horizontal.’ For a while there I was heading for horizontal-dom. Substance abuse and alcohol was getting in my way. And the end result for many people is you’re horizontal and they’re all saying ‘What a guy.’ You think of all the musicians we’ve lost, the horizontal ones. Well, let’s hear it for the vertical ones, who did have a problem but have come through.. So now it’s either: Are you vertical? Or are you horizontal? Doesn’t matter what the day is. It’s like I’m living in this vertical/horizontal world. It’s a vertical breakfast or it’s a horizontal breakfast.”
Sorry, you’ve lost me there.
“Well, you know, I would think of muesli and berries as a vertical meal, and the old egg and bacon as a horizontal meal. I’m living in this weird world I’ve invented for myself.”
But egg and bacon is nice sometimes.
“Oh, tell me! I’ve been trying to be vegetarian for many years. But sometimes you can’t help yourself. Bacon is the vegetarian’s downfall, actually.”