Stop Struggling for Perfection: Bruce Sugar on Working with Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Ozzy & More

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Yeah, those were great. Steve came by with many ideas. He wrote “We’re on the Road Again” and the ballad “Show Me the Way.” For “We’re on the Road Again,” it started with a guitar lick and then a sort of structure came about with him and Ringo putting down guitar and drums together.

Lukather is a complete genius in the realm of studio recording. I think the guy has played on more records than anyone in history. If not, he’s near the top of the list. He’s always been a hero of mine. To work with him was a dream too.

When it comes to working with someone like Joe Walsh or Paul McCartney—artists that we’ve heard on so many records—what goes into achieving and maintaining their “signature sound”?

For the sessions with Paul, his assistant called and said, “You’ve got to just have a bass amp there.” So I rented out a B15 and he came with his Höfner. He actually came over on his day off. He was working on his own album in L.A. and was nice enough to come by on a Sunday to help Ringo out. He worked hard too. Those songs were not the easiest in Ringo’s playbook. He took his time to do it right—it was great.

I read that Paul and Ringo hadn’t been in the studio together for seven years.

Yeah, in the studio, they hadn’t really done anything since Y Not. They’ve been together at some events and playing a few tribute things but not in the studio.

It seems like you’ve worked with so many heroes. Is there anyone that you’d still like to work with?

I’ve done one or two sessions with Elton John but I’d like to do more with him. He’s one of my idols as well.

I’m so curious to hear the story behind the re-recording of Ringo’s old song “Back Off Boogaloo.”

That’s an interesting story. He had most of his stuff shipped here because he’s living in Los Angeles full-time now. One of his assistants was going through a box he had in storage and they found a 1/4” reel of tape. When they put it on, and it was Ringo singing “Back Off Boogaloo.” At the beginning of the track, you’ll hear it, him from 1971.

So, Ringo was like, “Man, this is cool. It’s got a cool echo on it. It’s real vibey. I want to have Jeff Lynne do a track to this.” He sent Jeff that snippet—it was only a minute long, it wasn’t the full song. So, Jeff went to work, he sent us a track a couple of weeks later, and he didn’t really incorporate that piece. It was basically a new track with him programming the drums and playing guitar and bass. It was a cool track but it really had nothing to do with what Ringo’s original idea was. I told Ringo, “Let me work with it a bit.” I was able to marry that little piece to Jeff’s track and then it evolved a bit.

It was kind of like “Strawberry Fields Forever” in that I had to speed one up and slow one down and match the pitches. Then, we took Jeff’s programmed drums off and Ringo played drums on it, which really brought it alive. And then we got Joe Walsh to play on it, which was nice; he played some really great slide.

Ringo re-sang the whole track with this new [instrumentation] and pieces of the original tape. Then, I took this weird, extracted vocal from the [original] single, which was all phase-y and weird sounding, but I was able to time-align it to his new vocal and it became like a background part. So, it’s basically three generations of Ringo on one track. I dig it. I think it’s an interesting bonus track.

Definitely. Any other interesting projects coming up?

I have a few in the works, but nothing I can talk about right now. We’ll see what develops. Being independent, you’re always waiting for your next phone call. It’s a part of this life. I’ve been fortunate. Nowadays, I don’t sweat the time off too much, I just try to enjoy it.

Michael Duncan is a music producer, recording/mixing engineer, and writer who lives in New York City.

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