Monday, February 14, 2011

Ringo Starr and legendary friends salute Klaus Voormann

Please note this post was first published on the Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 13, 2011.

On the eve of the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, a cast of rock ‘n’ roll legends gathered at a special event at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on Saturday morning, Feb. 12, 2011 to honor the music and artwork of a friend who has quietly worked in the shadow of musical giants for a half-century.

So while Klaus Voormann was unable to make the trip from Munich to Southern California (the 72-year-old was recently hospitalized but is recovering), colleagues such as Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, Eagles singer-guitarist Joe Walsh, singer-composer Van Dyke Parks, drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Albert Lee and others came in a show of support. Art director Daniel Reiss, who worked with Voormann and shares the Grammy nomination for best boxed or special limited edition package (for Voormann & Friends: A Sideman’s Journey), came from Berlin to attend the event on Saturday as well as Sunday’s Grammy Awards.

“Klaus is one of the greatest bass players of all time,” Keltner insisted during a panel moderated by Chris Carter (pictured with Ringo in one of my photos seen at the top of this post), who hosts the weekly Breakfast with the Beatles show on KLOS/95.5 FM. (Keltner’s own distinctive work behind the kit can be heard on classic recordings from Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton and countless others.)

“Klaus is very steady,” Starr added, adding with characteristic deadpan wit that “he didn’t take a lot of medication like the rest of us.”

Voormann, who befriended the Beatles in 1960 after hearing them perform at a small club in Hamburg, won his first Grammy award in 1966 for designing the Fab Four’s Revolver album cover. He earned his second Grammy as a bass player for his work on the 1971 album The Concert for Bangladesh. On Saturday, the original cover of Revolver (now owned by Walsh, seen in another picture on this post, who purchased it for $1,800 in a Hollywood memorabilia shop in 1979) was displayed at the event.

“He stole it,” quipped Starr, who kept a crowd of musicians and media laughing throughout the morning event.

Voormann has been the subject of renewed interest since the release of A Sideman’s Journey in late 2009. The collection finds the celebrated bassist back in the sonic saddle, performing with Paul McCartney, Dr. John, members of the Manfred Mann Group (he was that band’s bassist during the late ’60s) and all the acclaimed players who were there on Saturday, who recorded a new version of the Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen” (a hit for Starr in the ’70s) for the project.

Reiss noted that he worked closely with Voormann for about three weeks on completing the elaborate package and design for A Sideman’s Journey, which includes a 14-track album, a bonus DVD, a 68-page hardcover book, a fine-art print signed by Voormann, even a guitar strap.

“It was a wonderful time for us,” Reiss said of the project. “It was such an intense experience working with Klaus. He is always relaxed … it was nice to work with him.” Added Starr of his involvement on the new disc: “It was easy; it wasn’t like he was bossy.”

Walsh was also thrilled to get to record with one of rock’s most celebrated sideman. “I played on ‘Short People.’ It was a happening more than a session. I had never played with any of the people there (at the session). Klaus was on top of the project. It was a great experience for me.”

In August 2010, the Smithsonian Channel aired All You Need Is Klaus, a documentary about Voormann’s contributions to music and art. In addition to his bass work with George Harrison, his playing also can be heard on recordings ranging from John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band to Carly Simon‘s “You’re So Vain.”

“Klaus, to me, was always putting his (bass) playing down,” Keltner explained. “He was ridiculous for putting himself down.”

All money raised from Voormann & Friends: A Sideman’s Journey goes toward the nonprofit Lakota Village Fund, a project to provide safe drinking water on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Regardless of whether Voormann wins the Grammy or not (he actually just lost during the pre-telecast ceremony, to Jack White & Rob Jones for the White Stripes‘ Under Great Northern Lights), the best news about him this weekend came via a webcast audio message from his wife Christina, alerting friends and fans that Voormann is on the mend: “He is overjoyed that all of you have come.”

For more information on the Lakota Village Fund, visit

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