The Time Ringo Starr Went Country With ‘Beaucoup of Blues’
Unlike his standards-focused solo debut, Ringo Starr's sophomore genre record didn't come as such a surprise. After all, 1970's countrified Beaucoup of Blues harkened back to Beatles-era covers like Buck Owens' "Act Naturally" and Starr's own rootsy original "Don't Pass Me By."
There's an innate sadness in Starr's voice which seems perfectly suited to this kind of music, and he completely inhabits the songs on Beaucoup of Blues. Just as important was the setting, and the people with whom Ringo surrounded himself. Taking the concept seriously, he recorded in Nashville alongside a group of ace country pickers and producer Pete Drake, a local steel guitar-playing legend.
Starr had met Drake during the sessions for former bandmate George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and they both appeared on the title track. So, he trusted Drake in selecting the sidemen – they included Charlie Daniels, Ben Keith and D.J. Fontana – as well as much of the material for sessions that got underway in June 1970. “We went into the studio on Thursday and I had 10 tracks done by the Friday – the next night," Starr later remembered. "We did 10 tracks in the morning and 10 tracks at night.”
That trove was eventually winnowed down to 12 cuts for the finished album, which arrived on Sept. 25, 1970. But the early sessions weren't without their tentative moments, likely because Starr had spent so long working in a small, tight-knit setting with the Beatles. A timely quip from Pete Drake served to break the ice. “At first, I was nervous," Ringo admitted, "and Pete would say through the glass, 'Hoss, if you don’t get loose, I’m gonna come in there and stomp on your toes.'"
Starr eventually loosened up enough to even join in some informal jam sessions, one of which was subsequently included on a reissue of Beaucoup of Blues. “Ringo was the nicest man in the world," said Fontana, Elvis Presley's former drummer. "We had some pretty well known players on that date, so we made him a little nervous, I’m sure. He made us nervous too.”
Between his comfort level with the material, which fit right into Starr's vocal wheelhouse, and a growing camaraderie with the band around him, Beaucoup of Blues became one of the ex-Beatle's favorite solo efforts. "I think some of my finest vocals are on that album," Starr has said, "because I was relaxed."
But his oldest fans were still determinedly waiting for new pop music, and Beaucoup of Blues would rise to only No. 65 in the U.S. It didn't dent the U.K. chart. Starr later returned to mainstream sounds, even bringing his friends in the Beatles along – and 1973's Ringo promptly went platinum.
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