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Ringo Starr’s 11th ‘Peace and Love’ birthday gathering draws rock-star pals, fans

HOLLYWOOD-CA-JULY 7, 2019: Ringo Starr celebrates his 79th birthday at Capitol Records in Hollywood
Ringo Starr celebrates his 79th birthday at Capitol Records in Hollywood.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The public celebration that has turned into an annual tradition marking Ringo Starr’s birthday stands for the former Beatle as a testament to the truth behind the words another rock star once sang, “From small things, mama, big things one day come.”

The epicenter of the 11th edition of Starr’s “Peace and Love” gathering on Sunday, the drummer’s 79th birthday, was Hollywood, where Starr held court on the sidewalk outside the Capitol Records Tower in front of several hundred fans who filled a section of Vine Street that was closed for the event.

He was surrounded onstage by a raft of family members and rock-star friends including his wife, actress Barbara Bach, filmmakers David Lynch and Peter Jackson, superstar producer-musicians T Bone Burnett and Don Was, keyboardists Edgar Winter, Gary Wright and Heartbreakers member Benmont Tench, guitarist Nils Lofgren, percussionist Sheila E., comedian Richard Lewis, actor Ed Begley Jr., ace studio drummer Jim Keltner, musician, producer, record executive and radio show host Peter Asher, “Breakfast With the Beatles” radio show host Chris Carter and other current and former members of Starr’s All-Starr Band.

But that was just the L.A. version. Other formal celebrations were held this year in 29 cities in at least two-dozen countries, with other fans joining informally across the globe as word spread through social media.

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All of it, Starr noted with amazement shortly before the noon countdown and communal recitation of the “peace and love” phrase, from an offhand comment he offered about a dozen years or so ago when he was asked what he wanted for his birthday.

“I don’t know where it came from,” he said, sitting in front of the mixing board of Capitol Studio A a few minutes before his public appearance. “I just said I’d like everyone in the world to say ‘Peace and love’ on my birthday.”

The growth of the tradition from a single event in Chicago initially to the multiple festivities in various countries is evidence, he said, of how simple ideas can take hold in unexpected ways.

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“There were things in the ’40s and people said, ‘Oh that’ll never happen,’ and things in the ’60s, and now they’re common,” he said. “So maybe one day it will be the ‘peace and love’ world.”

The noon countdown was preceded by several musical performances. A group of seven students sponsored by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus wrote an original song, titled “Peace and Love,” which they premiered for the crowd. They were followed by the Jacks, an aspiring rock quartet that served up two of Starr’s post-Beatles solo tracks, “Speed of Sound” from his most recent album, “Give More Love” (from 2017), and his 1973 remake of the 1960 Johnny Burnette hit “You’re Sixteen.”

Romantic singer-guitarist Ben Kyle invited L.A.-based fiddler-singer-songwriter Sara Watkins to join him for two more of Starr’s hits, presenting a slower, melancholy version of “It Don’t Come Easy,” and a nod to Starr’s country roots with “Act Naturally,” the song he sang with the Beatles in homage to Bakersfield country kingpin Buck Owens (who coincidentally, did much of his recording on that spot at Capitol in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s).

On Aug. 1, he’ll start the latest tour leg with the All-Starr Band, marking its 30th anniversary this year. That project also began in a modest way.

His agent, he said, called in 1989 and asked if he’d like to go on tour. “I said yes, and then I got terrified,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do” as a solo act. “Then I opened my phone book, back when it really was a book.”

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Greeting on what's left of a cake presented to Ringo Starr on Sunday at Capitol Records in Hollywood on his 79th birthday.
(Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

He put in calls to musician friends including Billy Preston, the Band members Levon Helm and Rick Danko, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who suddenly was available when Bruce Springsteen decided to mothball the E Street Band while he pursued new musical pathways, and New Orleans pianist-singer Dr. John, all of whom joined him in the original incarnation of the All-Starr Band.

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The 30th anniversary tour will last a month and conclude, as it often has, at the Greek Theatre in L.A., where Starr and Bach live most of the year.

“It’s still the same principle: you’ve gotta have hits,” he said. “I tell people, ‘I just want us to go out and have fun.’ A couple of people didn’t get that, and still wanted to go out and be the big star onstage. I had to tell them, ‘You’re the biggest,’” he said, adding with a hearty laugh, “‘but I’m the greatest.’”

randy.lewis@latimes.com

Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter.com

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