"If you look at photographs of the Beatles, in 90 percent of them the three things we were always carrying were cigarettes, a drink and a camera," Ringo Starr said at a press conference Wednesday to introduce Photograph, a limited edition book of photos taken by the Beatles' drummer throughout his life and career, many of them never previously published.
Speaking at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, Starr said that the intimate portraits he shot of this bandmates during the Beatles' recording sessions and first tours of America were informed by the fact that "all through out touring career, we shared two rooms and one car. That's how you get to know each other: in the van, hour after hour. I was kind of stuck with them as models."Starr said he started taking photographs when he was a teenager in Liverpool. Asked repeatedly to write an autobiography, he always declined because "they only want eight years, really and I did have a life before that and after that. So I thought that this was a better way to do it."
Starr's photographs include several taken during the band's first visit to America, in 1964, when they played a single concert in Washington D.C. and made two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of them televised in Miami Beach at the Hotel Deauville.
"Coming to America was so great," Starr said. "I'm from Liverpool and all of the musicians we loved came from America, and now I'm in New York!"
While in Miami, Starr chronicled one of the group's few days of relaxation during Beatlemania as they lounged in bathing suits on a yacht and splashed in the surf. Starr also shot the faces of astonished teenagers peering into the Beatles' limousine from a passing car.
Starr was joined at the event by fellow drummers Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Steve Gorman (Black Crowes). Acknowledging Starr in the theater's front row, Grohl noted that "without him, we wouldn't be here. And it's nice to be here."
Grohl said that the Beatles' recordings, and Starr's drumming, "are almost like sonic photographs. With the camera you're trying to capture that moment in time. It's the same with music -- you're trying to capture that moment on tape so it lives forever."
Starr's steady, minimalist drumming had a profound influence on his playing, Grohl said. "When I was in Nirvana, the last thing I wanted to do was complicate the songwriting process, because Kurt [Cobain] was a genius. I decided what I needed to do is what Ringo did in so many songs, which was just to lay it down. Drummers are like mothers -- you don't want them to come to the nightclub, but when you get home the bed is made."
Gorman said that one of the first songs he tried to play when he took up the drums at 17 was "Ticket to Ride," the 1965 Beatles hit from Help! that featured several of Starr's trademarks, including the "Ringo roll" in the fills on the chorus. ("Whenever I tried to do it, it would look like was putting out a fire with a jacket," quipped Grohl). Starr's heavy, time-shifting "Ticket to Ride" beat "is still what I play at the start of sound check every day," Gorman said.
Grohl said that the legendary session drummer Jim Keltner -- who played on solo albums by Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison and later was a member of Starr's touring band -- once told him that, "man, I've tried so hard to do what he does and I can't do it. Nobody can play drums like Ringo because he's Ringo."
Once, Starr recalled, Keltner told an interviewer that the Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones was the best rock drummer in the world. "So I called him up and he said, 'But Ring -- you swing."
Starr indicated his hands: "I've got it here" -- then touched his heart -- "but it comes from here."
THR will publish an exclusive selection of photos from Photograph in an upcoming issue.
This article first appeared on THR.com.