April 24, 2023

FTV: Ringo’s All-Starr Band


     Ever since I heard Rare Earth’s extended version of Get Ready, I have been a big fan of drummer/vocalist Peter Rivera (nee:  Peter Hoorelbeke).  Performing the drumming and lead singer duties in my band, The Twig, it was always my quest to find material performed by other singing drummers.  Dave Clark (of the Dave Clark Five), Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys), Micky Dolenz (from The Monkees), Don Brewer (Grand Funk Railroad), and Rivera were all high on my list of artists to emulate.  Twenty years ago, we were fortunate to see Rivera perform at the Calumet Theater with a super group of former chart topping musicians.  The Classic Rock Allstars included Mike Pinera on guitar (Iron Butterfly, Blues Image), Dennis Noda (Cannibal and the Headhunters), and Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf).  All contributed lead and harmony vocals as they ran through the hits from their former bands, but it was Rivera who stole the show for me.  Even as he neared 70 years of age, his voice and drumming were as good as ever.

     How much did I admire Rivera’s work with Rare Earth?  When my first college band, Knockdown, began playing Get Ready, I insisted it was the drummer’s song to sing.  Did Pete do a drum solo in their version (it was the only track on side two of their eponymous album)?  Sure he did, so we had to include a drum solo and extended solo sections by each band member, just like Rare Earth did.  I found out much later that the crowd noises were added to their album version later to make it sound like it had been recorded live.  In truth, the band had returned to Detroit from a show in East Lansing, set up in the early morning hours at the Motown Studio and recorded Get Ready in one take.  The one thing I always took pride in was being able to sing pretty spot on versions that mimicked my idols.  I am not bragging here (maybe just a little), but more than one band member I played with made note that my phrasing and tone sounded a lot like the originals.

     Okay, but doesn’t the title of this FTV include the name Ringo?  How did this whole deal get hijacked by other drummers?  It is pretty simple – while I loved The Beatles (and still do), we never did any of the songs he sang.  The take on Ringo back in the day was, “Great drummer, funny guy, but not lead vocalist material.”  After The Beatles fell apart, each of the ‘musical’ members achieved more than a little success with their solo efforts.  John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were diverted into more political landscapes.  John was just getting back into making some serious music (commercial, that is) at the time he was brutally murdered.  George Harrison had a hard time getting his tunes recorded by the Fab Four so when he was set free, his massive three disk set All Things Must Pass was populated with years and years worth of tunes he had stockpiled.  Paul McCartney made some good solo albums but when he and his wife Linda formed the band Wings, he experienced another massive wave of success.  Some of Paul’s more recent albums have been so-so, but his rather large catalog of Beatles and Wings songs has kept him on the major touring circuit well into the silver hair tinged age of 80.

     And then, there was Ringo.  What becomes of a good drummer with a so-so voice when he finds himself without a band?  The Beatles handlers tried to give each band member a ‘voice’ to go with their personalities so during the Beatles’ heyday, Ringo usually sang one song on each of their early albums.  Starr was happy with his lot in The Beatles and responded to a fan request in Melody Maker for him to sing more, saying. “I am quite happy with my one little track on each album.”  He reportedly spent many hours in the studio playing cards with their road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans while the other three Beatles worked on perfecting tracks prior to recording.  As a left handed drummer playing a right handed kit, Ringo wasn’t flashy in the Buddy Rich mode of drumming, but he added drum parts that were unique to each song.  As a vocalist, songs like Yellow Submarine, With a Little Help From My Friends, and Octopus’s Garden just would not have sounded the same if it weren’t for Ringo’s interpretation.  

     With the Fab Four in the rear view mirror,  Starr did make some guest appearances here and there on various albums by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and his good friend Harry Nillson.  What was his first solo release after the breakup in 1970?  He had two in rather rapid succession:  His take on old rock and roll standards, Sentimental Journey and the country flavored Beaucoups of Blues, both released within five months of each other in 1970.  While he has released a remarkable 20 solo albums over the years (2019’s What’s My Name being the most recent one), Ringo has had a rather yo-yo like career arc in regards to the record charts.  

     It is not to say that Ringo did not have his own solo flirtations with the record charts.  Two songs he co-wrote with George Harrison, It Don’t Come Easy and Back Off Boogaloo both cracked the US and UK singles top ten in 1971.  Photograph (1973) and a remake of The Sherman Brother’s tune Your Sixteen (1974) appeared on his first solo rock album (Ringo) and also climbed into the singles top ten.  More importantly, the singles made the album his first critical and commercial success.  The Ringo album more or less set the template for the rest of Starr’s musical path which author Peter Doggett explained, “[As a musician first rather than a songwriter] Ringo would rely on his friends and his charm, and if both were on tap, then the results were usually appealing.”  

     Ringo kept busy during the rest of the 1970s founding a record label (Ring O’ Records), exploring a career in film, and the busy activities one finds open to them as a ‘celebrity presence’.  As a result, his own musical career diminished during this period as his ‘party hearty’ persona thrived.  Looking back in 2001, Starr said the downward trend in his musical career was caused by him, “[not] taking enough interest in music.”  As a founding member of the drinking club known as ‘The Hollywood Vampires’ with his friends Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, and Micky Dolenz, he was too distracted to sustain his own musical interests.  The ‘Hollywood Vampires’ name was recently revived as a musical entity by ex-member (and now sober) Alice Cooper as a tribute to musicians who have not survived the curse of living the rock star life.   Starr recalled the era, “We weren’t musicians dabbling in drugs and alcohol.  Now we were junkies dabbling in music.”

     In October and November of 1988, Ringo and his new wife, actor Barbara Bach (whom he had met while making the movie Cave Man in ) entered a detox clinic in Tucson, Arizona for a six-week treatment for alcoholism.  He later explained the decision to rid himself of his longtime addiction:  “Years I’ve lost, absolute years…I’ve no idea what happened.  I lived in a blackout.”  Interestingly, Eagle’s guitarist Joe Walsh has been sober about the same length of time as Ringo.  Walsh is married to Bach’s sister and the two brother-in-laws now campaign together on behalf of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

     As his former Vampire buddy, Micky Dolenz describes the period, “I am told I had a very good time.”  Ringo apparently decided he was no longer ‘having a very good time’ and after embracing sobriety, he decided it was time to refocus on his musical career and return to touring.

Returning to Doggett’s ‘rely on his friends and his charm, and if both were on tap, then the results were usually appealing’ template, Ringo formed the first iteration of his All-Starr Band.  They gave their first performance in Dallas on July 23, 1989 to an audience of ten thousand.  The concept echo’s Doggett’s description of Ringo’s recording career.  As Wiki describes it, “The band consisted of Starr and an assortment of musicians who had been successful in their own right at different times.  The concert(s) interchanged Starr’s singing, including selections of his Beatles and solo songs, with performances of each of the other artists’ well-known material, the latter incorporating either Starr or another musician as drummer.”

     The first All-Starr outing resulted in the release of an album in 1990 called Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band that compiled live performances from their first tour in 1989.  Starr recorded the track I Call Your Name with a supergroup lineup of Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, and  Jim Keltner (one of Ringo’s favorite drummers) for a 1990 TV special marking the 10th anniversary of John Lennon’s death and the 50th anniversary of Lennon’s birth.  A cameo appearance on an episode of The Simpsons (Brush with Greatness) would follow the next year.

Ringo’s re-emergence in music followed the All-Starr Band template when he collaborated on his first album release in nine years (Time Takes Time) with help from producers Phil Ramone, Don Was, Jeff Lynne, and Peter Asher.  Guest musicians included Brian Willson and Harry Nillson but even with this illustrious cast of characters, the album failed to achieve commercial success.  The chart success mattered less than something many musicians find as their careers extend beyond their early successes:  Ringo was making music that made him (and his fans) happy.  Playing music and spreading his ‘Peace and Love’ mantra were (and still are) enough for him.

     The concept for the All-Starr band came from producer David Fishof but Ringo has the say about who is in the rotating cast.  The ‘All-Starr’ band is so named because Ringo says, “All of the musicians on stage are stars in their own right,” and of course the ‘Starr’ is a play on his stage name.  Glancing at the list of musicians who have performed with the All-Starr band is like a trip through a modern version of Your Hit Parade.  Some tagged along for one or two tours while others made multiple tours with Ringo.  The list of those who have been All-Starrs and have now departed this mortal coil is in itself a ‘who’s who’ of class rock.  Dearly departed (as opposed to those who just ‘departed’) include:  Dr. John (keyboards, died in 2019), Billy Preston (keyboards, 2006), Rick Danko (bass, 1999), Levon Helm (drums, 2012), Clarence Clemons (saxophone, 2011), John Entwistle (bass, 2002), Gary Booker (keyboards, 2022), Jack Bruce (bass, 2014), Greg Lake (bass, 2016).

     Some signed on but for various reasons pulled out before actually touring with Ringo including Peter Cetera (from Chicago, opening the door for Eagle’s bassist Timothy B. Schmit), Dave Masson (Fleetwood Mac and Traffic), Ray Davies (The Kinks), and Ringo’s longtime collaborator Mark Hudson (who split after ten years due to some unexplained rift with Starr).  A long line of guest artists have appeared with the All-Starr band from Bruce Springsteen to Paul Shaffer to Jeff Healey and many, many more as they were in the right place at the right time to perform with Ringo.  Artists still active in the music biz who sign on when their schedules allow include the likes of Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (The Guess Who), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals), Peter Frampton, Simon Kirke (Bad Company), Eric Carmen (The Raspberries), Rodger Hodgson (Supertramp), Richard Page (bass, Mister Mister), and solo artists like Richard Marx, Howard Jones, and Todd Rundgren..

     Although they have taken breaks in their touring schedule, the COVID-19 pandemic put the longest hold on the festivities.  The All-Starrs got back on the road in 2022 but they ended up canceling a few shows when various members came down with COVID.  They are out on the road again in 2023 featuring pretty much the same members Ringo has taken on the road for the past decade or so.  One of the longest tenures belongs to Todd Rundgren but for some unexplained reason, he is not touring this time around.  Toto guitarist Steve Lukather has returned along with Edgar Winter (keys), Colin Hay (guitar, Men at Work), Hamish Stuart (bass, Average White Band), Warren Ham (sax), and Gregg Bissonette (drums,

David Lee Roth Band, Joe Satriani).

     We have a couple of Ringo’s All-Starr Band albums to share with our listeners.  The one released after the 1989 tour of the first line up and a triple disk set with highlights of many different All-Starr Band touring combinations.  I am kind of excited about this year’s tour because come June 2, 2023, they will be performing at the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene, Oregon.  Todd and Elizabeth have already lined up our tickets so with the West Coast Bureau acting as my hosts, I fully expect to supply readers with a blow by blow review of the show.

     Keep your ear on WOAS-FM 88.5 for the next week or so and we will drop enough tunes from Ringo (and perhaps The Beatles for some variety) to make your head spin!


Top Piece Video:  Ringo in 2010 with Jim Keltner joining the band – not a solo Ringo song but certainly one of his most beloved from the days of the Fab Four!