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Ringo Starr's Q&A at the Grammy Museum

January 20, 2010 | 10:51 am

RINGO_LAT The Grammy Museum has landed an impressive roster of artists for its series of question-and-answer and performance sessions in the year since it opened at the L.A. Live complex downtown. Among the participants: Brian Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Annie Lennox, Dwight Yoakam, Herb Alpert, Harry Connick Jr. and Clive Davis, Rage Against the Machine / The Nightwatchman’s Tom Morello and Dave Matthews.

But even in such rarefied company, a former Beatle commands special attention, which helped explain the star-dotted turnout for Tuesday night’s drop-in by Ringo Starr. In the house: guitarist Joe Walsh (an official member of the family since his 2008 marriage to Marjorie Bach, the sister of Starr’s wife, Barbara Bach), George Harrison’s singer-songwriter-guitarist son, Dhani Harrison, E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, rocker Edgar Winter and Roy Orbison’s widow, Barbara.

“The tickets sold out in eight minutes -- that’s a new record for the museum,” executive director Robert Santelli said during his introduction for Starr, who came as part of promotional efforts for his just-released album, “Y Not.”

Santelli quizzed Starr about serving on the new album as producer for the first time. Looking snappy and trim in a black suit jacket over an Elvis Presley T-shirt he’d just picked up in the museum’s store, dark glasses, black jeans and running shoes, Starr said he had to overcome some trepidation about taking over the production role, but relished realizing that the time had come when “I’ll tell the guitarist what to do.”

He addressed the presence of Paul McCartney on two of the new tracks: singing harmony on the single “Walk With You” and playing bass on “Peace Dream,” a song that invokes the name and longtime peace message of John Lennon. “He understands my drumming,” Starr deadpanned, “because we used to play together.”

Starr then was backed by Ben Harper and his band, Relentless 7, for a handful of songs new (“Walk With You,” which Starr wrote with Van Dyke Parks, the autobiographical “The Other Side of Liverpool”), old (“Photograph,” his early solo collaboration with Harrison), Beatles (“With a Little Help From My Friends”) and pre-Beatles (“Boys,” which he noted that he also played regularly with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes before defecting to the Fab Four).

Harper had one of the most touching moments of the night. Upon being invited to the stage by Santelli during the Q&A, he prefaced his input by announcing that “I’d like to get up here and pretend that I’m worthy, but I just can’t do that.”

Of the myriad musicians Starr has worked with on record and on his biannual All-Starr Band tours, the world’s most famous drummer said with characteristic lack of self-effacement: “I always say that they’re great,” adding with a mischievous smile, “but I’m the greatest.”

In the days ahead, watch for a full profile in Calendar of Starr, discussing life, music and spirituality as he approaches his 70th birthday on July 7. Stay tuned.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times