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Ringo Starr's five favourite musicians

Both as a Beatle and a solo artist, Ringo Starr has made an impression on the world at large. But every musician, even one with the innate talent of a Beatle, has its formative influences. And for Starr, they stemmed from the world of country and rockabilly.

During The Beatles tenure, he tended to sing a song with country flavours, and Paul McCartney was conscious enough to write in that vein whenever he pitched a song to the drummer.

The drummer’s interests in country stemmed from listening to Hank Williams, an artist-author Steve Turner claimed was in Starr’s personal jukebox. Turner highlighted ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ as the song he listened to the most. Clearly, it was something about Williams’ gravelly tone that drew him to the songs, as he let the elegies and portraits of cowboys dying on the streets wash over him.

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Next on his personal favourites is Willie Nelson, the haggard country singer who might be best known for ‘Always On My Mind’, a yearning love song that enveloped into a stadium mainstay for the Pet Shop Boys. Starr performed a rousing rendition of ‘Write One For Me’, which was heard on the drummer’s excellent Ringo Rama.

Nelson made an impression on the drummer, as is evident from this excerpt: “Steve Lukather is Mr. Vitality when he’s rocking, and that’s how we got this rocker going. Luke and I were hanging out, and we had a bit of a rhythm pattern going and started to put a track down. We got a bit crazed in the beginning thinking that there’s already Willie Nelson – who we love – singing his ‘On the Road Again.’ But we realised Willie doesn’t own that line, and our road trip is a lot more rocking. Yes, that is Paul McCartney on bass and on screams, too.”

Starr also recorded a rendition of ‘Act Naturally’ with Buck Owen, as the two men re-claimed a tune that had defined both of them in two disparate eras. Starr enjoyed Owen’s repertoire, and listening to The Beatles’ rendition of ‘Act Naturally’, it’s clear that the drummer is affecting an American, Westernesque accent (the name Ringo is decidedly American.)

And that brings us to Lightning Hopkins, a guitar player known for lightning speed and ferocity, who cast a shadow over the drummer, as well as other members of The Beatles. “I also love the blues,” Starr remarked. “Everybody should know by now. When I was 19, I tried to emigrate to Houston, Texas. I wanted to be where Lightnin’ Hopkins was, my all-time favourite blues player. John and I went down to the embassy and filled in all these forms. You know, we were just teenagers then.”

“We even had a list of factories where we wanted to apply for jobs because I was working in a factory at the time,” Starr continued. “But then, when we went back to the embassy, we were given more paperwork with more questions. We then turned back into teenagers, and just ripped them up. Sod it! That would have been an interesting move if I’d have done that.”

Then there’s Kitty Wells, who Starr listens to on a regular basis, and has been photographed purchasing some of her work from local shops. Such is the power of her voice, it creates a sense of fulfilment in the work as an export, bringing his sense of truth to the world. Out of the five artists on this list, she’s likely the least established, but the drummer‘s antenna is wide, and it creates a wide span of music.

Starr embraced country music on his second album Beaucoup of Blues. Starr’s fiery vocal style merged with the haunting pathos folk ballads ‘Woman of the Night’ and ‘I’d Be Talking All the Time’ etched into their soulful, searching backdrop. Elsewhere, ‘Fastest Growing Heartache In The West’ details an outlaw, admonishing the world he created to mirror his own image; ‘Loser Lounge’ created a louche, lifeless abyss, where
broken dreams and bitterness laced the listener’s attention so whole-heartedly; while ‘Wine, Women and Loud Happy Songs’ opened the singing drummer to a lifestyle that would become his conventional form of life by the 1970s. It’s his best solo album.

The five musicians who made an impression on Ringo Starr:

  • Hank Williams
  • Willie Nelson
  • Buck Owens
  • Lighting Hopkins
  • Kitty Wells