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Ringo Starr's 5 greatest session performances, from Howlin' Wolf to Jerry Lee Lewis

Beyond his great work as a Beatle, Starr excelled as a session man in these five songs.

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Ringo Starr at his 82nd birthday celebration. Photo by Ivor Levene 

Ringo Starr at his 82nd birthday celebration. Photo by Ivor Levene 

By Bill Kopp

Ringo Starr celebrated his 82nd birthday on July 7 in his customary “peace and love” style. The former Rory Storm and the Hurricanes drummer joined the Beatles in 1962, taking over from Pete Best; the rest, as they say, is history. But even beyond his work with The Beatles and his subsequent solo career, the man born Richard Starkey has provided his talents and good humor to many other artists’ recordings, including several of his own heroes. Here’s a look at five of his most notable sessions outside The Beatles’ orbit.

  

Howlin’ Wolf – “I Ain’t Superstitious” 

Ringo Starr was part of an all-star ensemble backing revered blues singer and guitarist Howlin’ Wolf (born Chester Burnett). Wolf first cut the song in 1961, he’s supported by a bunch of players who grew up listening to the original recording. In addition to his longtime rhythm guitarist Hubert Sumlin and a three-man horn section, here Wolf is backed by Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Ringo and (on cowbell) Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman.

   

B.B. King – “Wet Hayshark” 

For 1971’s B.B. King in London, Spooky Tooth’s Gary Wright penned this song and assembled to back legendary bluesman B.B. King on this brief and understated but tasty cut. While B.B. lays down a sinewy solo, he’s supported by Ringo plus Wright (on piano), bassist Klaus Voormann and fellow drummer Jim Gordon (then of Derek and the Dominos). John Lennon was supposed to join in as well but didn’t make the date.

  

Vera Lynn – “Don’t You Remember When” 

Vera Lynn was a hero to the British armed forces during the darkest days of the Second World War. Her sentimental “We’ll Meet Again” is a classic of the era. This late-period single showed Vera could still bring it. (She passed away in 2020 at age 103.) Ringo plays tambourine.

  

Lonnie Donegan – “Have a Drink on Me” 

The Beatles got their start as a skiffle group; the hero of that musical movement was Lonnie Donegan. By 1978 he was long past his salad days, but Ringo jumped at the chance to play alongside his hero on a remake of 1961 hit, a highlight of Puttin’ on the Style. That’s Albert Lee on guitar.

  

Jerry Lee Lewis – “Sweet Little Sixteen” 

One of rock and roll’s architects, Jerry Lee Lewis (aka The Killer) has surprised many by outliving most of his contemporaries (Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins etc.). He was still busy in the studio in 2006 when he made the aptly-titled Last Man Standing. For a reading of Chuck Berry’s 1968 classic, he duets with Ringo while Jim Keltner plays drums. Producer Jimmy Rip (later of Television) is on guitar; “Hutch” Hutchinson plays bass.