Unlike most musicians, Ringo Starr looks forward to that feeling he sometimes gets of being on a treadmill. In fact, that's where he often feels most creative.
"My studio in England is next to the gym," Starr said from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where his latest tour just got underway. "When it's time to record, I find that getting on the treadmill brings on the endorphins, and the songs just start coming. I wrote a lot of songs on the treadmill. It's certainly a better way than sitting up late at night smoking."
FOR THE RECORD: Ringo Starr's band: A story in Monday's Calendar about Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band stated that Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner is part of the group, along with Billy Squier, Colin Hay, Hamish Stuart and Gary Wright. Bremner is not on this tour of Starr's band. —
Such treadmill tunes populate his latest solo album, "Liverpool 8," which has generated some of the strongest reviews of his studio work since the early '70s. The new album's title song is a sweetly melancholy reflection on his early life in Liverpool, alluding to his pre-Fab Four role as drummer for Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and the years that followed in the musical cyclone that was the Beatles.
It's the only song from the new album he's doing on his 30-city summer tour, which hits the Greek Theatre on Aug. 2, with the group of musician friends he dubs the All-Starr Band. This year it includes Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, Men at Work's Colin Hay and Average White Band guitarist and singer Hamish Stuart, all of whom have toured with him previously. New to his circle of amplified friends are keyboardist Gary Wright and jazz and rock drummer Greg Bissonette.
FOR THE RECORD: Ringo Starr's band: An earlier version of this story stated that Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner is part of Starr's group along with Billy Squier, Colin Hay, Hamish Stuart and Gary Wright. Bremner is not in this edition of Starr's touring band.
"Usually it's a completely new band," he said. "This is the first time I've done it this way."
Although as a group the Beatles were renowned for their firsts, Starr hasn't always received his due as a trailblazer. But he was the first Beatle to announce his intention to quit the band (his decision was kept quiet for PR reasons), and the first rock star to pay serious attention to music that predated rock, with his 1970 solo album of pop standards, "Sentimental Journey."
Along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Starr took part in the first worldwide satellite television broadcast in 1967, playing “All You Need Is Love,” a message that still resonates powerfully with him.
Not coincidentally, one of the most moving songs on "Liverpool 8" is the ballad "Love Is," which he wrote, like most of the album's material, with collaborators Mark Hudson, Gary Burr and Steve Dudas.
It's deeply personal, decidedly spiritual and unapologetically political without being strident -- in stark contrast to his long-standing public persona as the Beatles' comic relief:
Time will always heal
What the broken-hearted feel
The poets say it's so
But I'm not sure it's real
I only know the answer is inside me
And everyone. . . . Love is here.
"The inspiration is love," he says, pronouncing it "luv" as only a Liverpudlian can. "If you look at the titles of my songs, 80% have 'love' in them. . . . It's where I'm at, promoting peace and love. . . . I hope the message is getting across. I always say it feels like my shows are a peace-and-love fest."
To that end, he's mounting his answer to Lennon's “Give Peace a Chance” efforts by inviting fans to flash the two-fingered peace sign and say the words "peace and love" at noon today -- his 68th birthday.
"Wherever you are in the world -- if you're in the office, on the bus, shopping -- put your peace and love hands up," he said. "I'll be doing it."