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Ringo Starr on New EP ‘Rewind Forward,’ Asking Paul McCartney for a Song and Recording with Dolly Parton: ‘She’s Always Great to Work With’

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Ringo Starr had a fair amount of faith that when he asked his former bandmate Paul McCartney to write him a song, the ex-Beatle would come through with a winner. “Well, he’d written me a couple of good songs, you know, like ‘Yellow Submarine.’ I thought, ‘He can do this,’” Starr recalls, before breaking into a laugh. 

The result is “Feeling the Sunshine,” a relentlessly jaunty track on Starr’s new four-track EP, Rewind Forward, out today (Oct. 13). 

The request came about during one of the pair’s frequent conversations. “We were Facetiming each other — we do that quite a bit — and I say, ‘I’m doing an EP. Write me a song.’ And he said, ‘OK,’” Starr says. “And he not only wrote it, he’s on bass, he’s singing on it. He’s all over it. He actually put his drums on it.”

But fans won’t hear Sir Paul’s drumming on the song: Starr may be the only musician in the world who could tell McCartney his drumming wasn’t up to par. 

When asked how he rates McCartney as a drummer, the playful Starr laughs and, without missing a beat, says, “I wiped him off completely and did it myself. It would be like me sending him a track and I’m on bass.”  

Sitting outside at West Hollywood’s famed Sunset Marquis hotel and nattily attired in a vibrant black and green suit, the world’s most famous drummer looks decades younger than his 83 years. He is relaxed and still beaming about a recent holiday in Malibu spent with eight of his nine grandchildren, who range in age from 24 years old to 20 months. “I’m an only child. We do a family photo and there’s 19 of us and I’m related to all of them,” he exclaims, shaking his head. 

Those good vibes permeate Rewind Forward. The uplifting title track, written by Starr and engineer Bruce Sugar, sums up Starr’s message of believing love and peace can change the world and persevering during challenging times. The somewhat nonsensical title just came to Starr. “It was just something I shouted to Bruce. We needed a line. Out of the blue, no big plan,” he says. But he realized the title would come with a price. “I knew that every time I did press, I’d have to explain it like ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ I just have one of those mouths that are faster than the brain.”

The theme of moving ahead resonated with Starr. “It’s all about going forward. It’s just the fact that sometimes we all get stuck and have to fight your way out,” he says. “Oh, I’ve been stuck many times!”

The EP opens with the rollicking “Shadows on the Wall,” co-written by Joseph Williams, Ray Williams and Toto’s Steve Lukather, who has played live with Starr for years. It closes with “Miss Jean,” written by Mike Campbell, best known as a member of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Campbell also plays guitar and sings backing vocals on the track, which features fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on piano. Similar to his outreach to McCartney, Starr called Campbell — whom he’d met years before, when Starr had recorded with Petty — and asked if he had a song for him. “That’s how my life is,” he says. “The spaces open up and I just jump in. That’s why that track is on there.” 

During the pandemic, Starr switched from releasing LPs to EPs. Rewind Forward is his fourth EP since 2021. He likes releasing music in shorter, more digestible bites. “It looks like there’s a beginning and an end,” he says. “When you’re doing an [LP], it’s a lot of tracks, and I just felt like four would be good.”

While he’s concentrating on promoting Rewind Forward, Starr already has a backlog of new material to record for future projects including a potential country EP, crafted around a song that producer T Bone Burnett sent him. His affection for country music runs deep and he famously sang lead on the Beatles’ 1965 cover of “Act Naturally,” originally recorded by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in 1963.

He and McCartney join country icon Dolly Parton on her upcoming Rockstar album, performing “Let It Be” with the superstar. Her version of the Beatles classic debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart in August, making it the first time Starr and McCartney– or any of the four Beatles, including the late George Harrison and John Lennon – have shared credited billing with one another on an entry on a Billboard songs chart outside the group.

“Far out!,” Starr, an avid chart-watcher, says of the new chart stat. “Well done, Dolly!” Starr has known Parton since the mid-‘70s. “We’d bump into her, and she was always great to work with, and it was my pleasure to play on it,” he says.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of “Photograph,” the sweeping, nostalgic tune co-written by Starr and George Harrison that became Starr’s first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 as a solo artist in 1973. “We were on a yacht. We were at the Cannes Film Festival,” Starr says of writing the song, but the details pretty much end there. “I’ve very little memory of whatever went on on that holiday,” he says with a chuckle, before going into a sweet remembrance of working with Harrison over the years.  

“George was like my producer for awhile. He took care of me. He put the right chords in because I could only play three,” he says. “There’s a great piece of footage where I’m playing ‘Octopus’s Garden’ and he’s going [shouts] ‘F!’ I don’t know where F is. ‘G flat!’ He’s just shouting out these chords, laying on the settee. Look, I can play any song in the world as long as it’s in C,” Starr says, laughing loudly at himself. 

While many artists have talked about how when the pandemic forced them to quit touring it made them realize how much they love playing live, Starr needed no such reminder. “No, no. I’ve always loved it,” he says, after more than 60 years on the road. “And as the drummer, I need all the players.” 

For the last 34 years, has recruited players for his All-Starr Band. Started in 1989, Starr has surrounded himself with a rotating cast of renowned musicians. Each performance the group runs through Starr’s solo and Beatles’ hits, as well as the other members’ beloved chart-toppers, for a non-stop, hit-filled show. Over the decades, All-Starrs have included Joe Walsh, Nils Logfren, Todd Rundgren, Felix Cavaliere, Peter Frampton, Eric Carmen, Richard Marx and Sheila E. 

Starr fondly remembers “Dream Weaver” singer Gary Wright, a member of the All-Starr Band from 2008-2011, who died last month. “He was a really fine musician, and he had a great smile and he had great songs,” he says. “You’re not in the All-Starrs unless you have great songs.”

Each year’s All-Starr Band plays 20 dates in the spring and 20 dates in the fall, with the 2023 fall tour ending tonight in Thackerville, Oklahoma at the WinStar World Casino and Resort. This year’s lineup includes Men at Work’s Colin Hay, Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, Toto’s Lukather, Edgar Winter and Kansas’ Warren Ham. 

“We love it. I know the audience loves me. And I love them,” Starr says. “And the band has only one rule: We’re not there to be miserable. And I’ll support you to the best of my ability and I expect the same from you. We do it for each other. I’ve had some people that thought they didn’t have to do that and they played s–t.” Those people, he duly notes, were not invited back. 

While it seems like there a few firsts left for Starr, he experienced one in September when the All-Starr Band played Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry. “I’m from Liverpool and I love country music and now I’m at the Ryman. That’s bigger than Shea!,” he says, referencing the Beatles legendary appearance at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965. But then true to form, Starr bursts into laughter and adds, “I only made that up.” 

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