Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Date with Ringo Starr

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, April 13, 2008)

Last year, my pal Joe Sacco ( and issued a hardcover book, titled "But I Like It", compiling most of his early art and comics before he became a well known journalist with his graphic novel, "Palestine". Within this book, is all the art he did for the band I managed, Thin White Rope. In a caption under one of his drawings for the band, he stated "Thin White Rope was managed by the incomparable Mel Compton, who once told me how he skipped out on a chance to meet ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. 'I've got no time for Ringo', he said."

Now, I love Joe, but not only does he spell my name wrong (Mel instead of the correct ML), but he kind of shortchanged the story, making me look like I have no respect for Ringo. I have the outmost respect for the man; he's my second favorite Beatle after John Lennon. And the short story that Joe told in that caption in his book is a very simply presentation of the complete story.

(By the way, I've met one other ex-Beatle, George Harrison, and he was a complete asswipe. I've heard from other people that my assessment of him was spot on.)

I haven't said a word to Joe about it, but since the book has come out, several people have asked me about that Ringo story, so I think I'll take the time to set the record straight.


Way back in the 70s I was working at a record store in Santa Ana called Licorice Pizza. It was a chain that is now defunct, but working there at the time was a music geek's dream. One day, a woman came in from A & M Records to see the store and do some promotion for some of their upcoming releases. I didn't like this woman at all. She demanded too much attention at a very busy time and although we tried to give her what she needed, she left in a huff. The next day I got a call from my boss and he was pretty upset. It seems that this woman, Jan Basham, a vice president of promotion at the label, had called him and complained about her treatment at the store. He was pretty mad that we would treat a woman of this much importance the way she claimed we had. I explained to the boss, Jim Greenwood, what had happened and he calmed down, but he asked me to try to do a bit better in the future if important people came into the store.

I was fuming about this and so, in my usual loud-mouthed way, I immediately wrote a letter to the woman telling her how rude and unreasonable I thought she had acted. I mailed it off and that was the last I heard of her for months.

Sometime later, a band called Hudson Ford, an offshoot of the prog/folk rock band, Strawbs, was playing a private show at the Troubadour in Hollywood. I loved the band and really want to see this show. I called up their label, which happened to be A & M Records, and they told me I was on the list and could come see the band.

When I arrived at the club the night of the show, I went to check in at the will call booth and who should be standing there, but Jan Basham. She calmly gave me the evil eye and asked me why she should let me into the show. I refused to apologize, but explained to her that perhaps we had both acted badly that day. Plus I loved the band and really wanted to see them. She told me that she wasn't really very happy with me and that she should turn me away, but in the end she let me in and I saw a great show.

The next day I wrote another letter to Jan. This time I told her how much I appreciated that she let me into the show in spite of the fact that we both seemed to dislike each other. I told her that I owed her and if there was a favor she had, I would try to fulfill it. A week later I heard back from her and we talked for a long time on the phone. Thus began a long and pleasant friendship that lasted from those early prog-rock days well into my punk rock years. (A good many of my best friends are people I couldn't stand when I first met them.)

During the time of this friendship, Jan arranged for me to bring the band I managed at the time, The Furys, into A & M to try to sell them (unsuccessfully), she gave me a prototype poster for the Sex Pistols album that never came out on the label (that I sold for close to $1300 a year ago), She arranged for me to interview Hugh Cornwall of the punk band The Stranglers for my short-lived fanzine, and she got me into a whole lot of concerts.

One of those concerts was Peter Frampton at the Inglewood Forum, which at the time was the biggest concert venue in the city. I had seen Frampton live several times before. He wasn't very popular then and was playing smaller halls. This was his first show since he broke the big-time and Jan provided me with backstage passes as well as great seats.

After what I thought at the time was an amazing show, my friend and I made our way to the after concert area, which in this case was a place called the Forum Club, a bar about halfway up the rather large building. We found seats and ordered some free drinks and gawked at all the music and movie celebrities that were wandering around. The table that was directly across from us held the most interest for us. Ringo Starr was sitting there with several other people, including a very drunk Harry Nilsson.

Now I should interrupt here to let you know that celebrity has always meant very little to me. I seldom care if there's a famous person next to me and I rarely ask for an autograph. People are people to me, and the fact that some are more famous and recognizable than others is something I just don't care that much about. But there are exceptions and at the time, an ex-Beatle was one of those exceptions. I was very excited and decided that I was going to walk over there and ask Ringo for his autograph. I grab a nearby napkin and both my friend and I walked over to his table.

The first thing we noticed is that Nilsson wasn't the only one who was horribly inebriated. Everyone at the table was, including Ringo. They were all being rather loud and obnoxious, but I was at the table and I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I asked, "Ringo, can you please sign this?" All conversation at the table stopped and Ringo turned to look at us.

He sat there for quite a long time just eyeing us without saying a word and then he finally said, "I'll sign it if I can have your pin."

At that time, just like these days, I almost always wore a pin on whatever jacket I was wearing. In this case, I had one that I was really rather proud of. It was a Sun Records label for the Elvis Presley song, "Mystery Train". I wore it everywhere I went. It was something I really didn't want to part with.

I looked at the pin. Then I looked at Ringo. I looked at the pin again. I looked at Ringo again. This went one for a few minutes and then I sighed loudly and unclipped the pin. "Okay. You can have it", I said as I handed it to him.

He took the pin and signed my napkin. (I still have that napkin to this day.) I thanked him as I turned to go back to my table and he said, "Hey Kid". I looked back at him and he handed back the pin to me. "I was just kidding", he claimed. I didn't take the pin back though. "That's okay, Ringo. A deal's a deal. Besides, I think you need that pin worse than I do."

A look of surprise broke on his face. Then he did the last thing I expected. He stood up and grabbed me in a bear hug, thanking me the whole time. He then invited us to sit at the table with him. We proudly took him up on that offer and sat there for over an hour, listening to stories and bullshit while Harry Nilsson's head bobbed up and down trying to keep conscious.

That single moment was one of the best memories of my life!

Cut to almost thirty years later. Joe Sacco and Chris Slusarenko (Sprinkler, Svelt, Guided By Voices) were in town for some reason or other and along with Skip; we decided to go to the Whiskey to see a band I've long forgotten. Before the show, we decided to duck into the great L.A. independent book store, Book Soup, to see what was new. We spent some time in there and then realized that the show was going to be starting any moment. I wanted to buy something, so the other guys went outside to wait for me while I made my transaction.

As they were leaving, Ringo Starr walked in, causing a bit of a stir amongst them. Ringo looked over and saw me at the register. He just stood there by the door. As I finished paying for the book and started to head out the door he said, "Excuse Me".

I turned towards him and he said, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

I said, "No. I don't think so" and headed out the door, leaving him standing there staring after me.

When I got outside, the other guys asked me what that was all about.

I told them the whole Ringo story (Skip had already heard it) and they were in amazement. They asked me why I didn't tell him that I was the kid at that show. I just said that we had a show to go to and we were going to be late. "Right now, I just don't have time for Ringo", I said.

That caused both Joe and Chris to go into hysterics and Joe claimed he would use that quote in one of his books someday. And this year he finally did. I just wish he would have gotten it right.

Thinking back on it, I'd probably act the same way today if I ran into someone like Ringo again. Like I said, celebrity means little to me and it certainly isn't worth missing a band I want to see. But I have to admit that I was really impressed that Ringo would remember my face after so much time, even if he didn't remember the circumstances directly. I've recently talked to a friend who still works at Capitol Records and has been working with Ringo on his new album. He said that Ringo is that way. He always remembers everyone, so it didn't surprise him that he would approach me in the book store decades later.

Some people are just that way and I'm rather jealous of them for it. I met Peter Buck of REM for a few short moments in a dumpy club in Athens, Georgia once while on tour with Thin White Rope. Years later, at a small club in L.A., he walked right up to me and said, "Hey ML, how's it going?" I was shocked that he could remember me. I wish I was that way. It would have helped a lot with business as a band manager.

But anyway, I've now set the Ringo story straight. I love the man, although I'm not so sure I love his new album. But someday, when I have the time, I wouldn't mind sitting down with Ringo once again and chewing the fat. I'm sure it would ne a very pleasant and fun conversation after all these years.


I was originally planning on telling tales about John Belushi and Kim Deal here as well. But I think the Ringo story has gone on longer than I expected it to. So I'm going to wait on the other stories for a month or two. I think you'll enjoy them when I get to them.

1 comment:

  1. So, that's how you met my mother. Thanks, Jett.