June 30, 2023

FTV: Ringo in Eugene, Part 2


     At the conclusion of Part 1, we left Richy Starkey just as he hit the big time in the Liverpool music scene.  No, he wasn’t in The Beatles yet.  He was a member of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and Richy was known to be the best drummer within 150 miles of his home town.  The Beatles were an upcoming thing and were touring heavily under the guidance of Brian Epstein – a workload that included frequent gigs in Hamburg, Germany.  Their drummer, Pete Best, was a serviceable drummer for their live shows but he didn’t seem to grasp the recording end of the game.  Unlike their bass player, Pete could play.  Okay, that is not 100 percent true.  Stu Sutcliff resembled actor James Dean and early on played with his back to the audience to hide the fact that he really couldn’t play the bass when he joined.  ABeatle friend from the Hamburg days (and a bassist himself) Klaus Voorman dispells this myth saying that over time, Stu did become a good player.  Stu decided to leave the band to pursue his true passion, painting.  

     Some say it was Epstein who pushed The Beatles to replace Best, but it was their producer George Martin who first suggested they needed a new time keeper.  Paul McCartney recalled  “It was quite a blow.  Martin said, ‘Can you change your drummer?’  And we said, ‘We are quite happy with him, he works great in the clubs.’  And George [Martin] said, ‘Yes, but for recording, he just has to be more accurate.’”  Best wasn’t the best fit for the other Beatles (Lennon said he was ‘a bit slow’ in keeping up with the band’s jokey banter) and he was the one band member who opted to keep his ‘James Dean’ look rather than follow their new style trends.  Pete’s days with the band were soon to be over and Epstein was tasked with breaking the news.  Once they made the move, they decided to set their sights on the best drummer in Liverpool, who, of course, was Richy Starkey.

     George Harrison was the proactive one when it came to recruiting Ringo to the point of dropping by his house on Admiral Grove.  Ringo wasn’t home but George had a cup of tea with his mum.  Elsie told him her boy was at Butlin’s with Rory and the Hurricanes.  She promised to have him give George a call.  As the youngest member of The Beatles, it is hard to say if Paul and John listened to his opinion.  McCartney and Lennon must have had similar thoughts to Harrison’s, however, as they traveled to Butlin’s on Wednesday, August 15, 1962 and knocked on the door of the trailer Johnny Guitar and Ringo shared for the summer.  Johnny answered their knock and later said, “As soon as I saw them, I knew what they wanted.  They wanted Ringo.”  The two Beatles told Ringo that Pete Best was out of the band and they wanted Riongo to join them full time (apparently he never got the message to call George).  

     Starr had been growing more disenchanted with the Hurricanes so the offer to join the newest  ‘big thing’ was a no brainer but he had also been offered the drum position with King Size Taylor and the Dominoes.  John and Paul out bid the other band by offering him 25 Pounds per week.  As a courtesy, Ringo ran the offer by Rory who said he should take the gig but Ringo would have to give back the pink suit he wore on stage.  Starr gave his ex-boss three days to find a replacement by staying through their Saturday night gig.  The Beatles had wanted him to play with them at the Cavern Club in Liverpool that night, but finally agreed to let Ringo finish the week’s run with the Hurricanes.  Ringo was told to shave off his long sideburns and change his Teddy Boy hairstyle to match the combed down look now sported by the other Beatles.  For his part, Ringo never felt sorry for Pete Best since he knew he was the better drummer.

     The template was now set for The Beatles to transform the pop music world on both sides of the Atlantic.  The beginning of the ‘British Invasion’ of North America has been well documented and the purpose of this FTV is not to retell the whole Beatles story.  Having now covered Richy Starkey’s early years, how he became the best drummer in Liverpool, and Ringo joining the rocket ride known as ‘Beatlemania’, we need to skip forward in time.  To understand how (and why) Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band came to be, we must vault past The Beatles and look at what happened to Ringo in those post-Beatle years.  We can also bypass all of the animosity that was stirred up before and after the Fab Four were no more.  We will simply say when The Beatles folded, Ringo was suddenly a drummer without a band.

     For all the songwriting power that John, Paul, and (eventually) George brought to the table in and out of The Beatles, it was Ringo who actually put out the first albums after they broke up.  The first solo McCartney album followed Ringo’s first release only a month later, but that is a whole other story for another day.  The release of Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups of Blues in 1970 (the first a reworking of old time standards and the latter became known as ‘Ringo’s country album’) did not set the world on fire, but they kept him busy.  When his self-titled third album was released in 1973, Ringo suddenly hit his stride and found success with his singles Photograph, You’re Sixteen, and Oh My My climbing the charts.  Following on the heels  of one of his most recognizable singles (1971’s You Know It Don’t Come Easy written with Harrison), it seemed that everything in Ringo’s world was coming up roses.

     For every career peak, there has to be the inevitable slide to a career valley.  There are many reasons why Ringo hit bottom harder and deeper than one might have expected.  First he tried dabbling in film.  Ringo had been the surprise of the first Beatles features (Hard Days Night and Help!) so it seemed natural for him to try his hand acting.  The movie roles he took on were not the kind of fare that would raise his acting chops significantly, but they did take him away from what (up to then) was a pretty solid musical path.  Hooking up with songwriter Harry Nillson led them both far astray and their drunken exploits rose to near mythical levels.  Worst of all, Ringo settled into a lifestyle one can only call ‘being a celebrity’ which not only killed his music career, but it also ended his first marriage.  Ringo partied so hard he nearly lost everything and unlike his drinking buddies Nillson and Keith Moon (of The Who), who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of drinking and drugging, he managed to survive.

     Over the next forty years, Ringo managed to put out another 17 albums, but most came and went with little fanfare.  Not to say he did not record a few good tunes, but his heart and mind just weren’t in it.  After his marriage to Maureen dissolved, he went through a series of relationships before he finally settled down with actress Barbara Bach whom he met while they were filming the movie Caveman in 1981.  Bach came on board in time to get sucked into the vortex of ‘Ringo the celebrity drinking his life away’ period.  Ringo says he has been told many tales about things he did during this period of his life, many of which he has absolutely no recollections of.  As his old friend Micky Dolenz (of The Monkees and another charter member of the Hollywood Vampires drinking club that included Moon, Alice Cooper, Nillson and whoever else they dragged in) has said, “People tell me I had a really good time, but there are years of my life that I just can not remember.”

     Things came to a head in October of 1988 when, after several days of heavy drinking, Ringo says, “I came to one Friday afternoon and was told by the staff that I had trashed the house so badly they thought there had been burglars and I had trashed Barbara so badly they thought she was dead.”  Their episodes of drunken antics and spats were now spilling over into public displays that were beginning to be reported by various news outlets and magazines.  Finally, they realized they needed help:  “I had a real bad alcohol problem and very few people knew of my problem.  Of course, there was one moment of clarity.  It was a Friday about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  Barbara had been talking about rehab.  This was the end of the line for me.  I’d had enough and I’d caused a lot of damage.  I had come out of a huge blackout.  I said, ‘You’ve got to get us into one of those places.  We need help’, and she did.”

     Barbara recalled, “We went into rehab because we needed desperately [to make] a change.  I got used to living at the bottom.  But you get to a point where you realize, ‘This isn’t living’.”  Within hours of their ‘moment of clarity’, they were flying to the Sierra Tucson Rehab Center near the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona.  As if to underscore how deep his addiction was, Ringo drank himself under the table on the flight:  “I landed drunk as a skunk at the clinic.  I drank all the way and got off the plane completely demented.  I thought I was going to a lunatic asylum,  I thought I’d gone too far and they were going to put me away in a little cell and forget about me.  Instead of that, they put their arms around me and loved me and told me it [would] get better.  ‘Give us a chance,’ they said.  With God’s help a day at a time it certainly has.”

     The $35,000 per person fee for the five-week run of treatment was a small price for Ringo and Barbara to pay.  After his misgivings about arriving plastered, Ringo fully bought into the program:  “Eight days in, I decided, ‘I’m here to get help because I know I’m sick.  I just did whatever they asked me and, thank God, it pulled me through.”  When word finally leaked out about their rehab, The Beatles former spokesman Derek Taylor confirmed the couple were being treated but would not say where.  Ringo and Barbara repaid their friend (and a recovering alcoholic himself) by writing the foreword to his book, Getting Sober . . . and Loving It!  There was no preferential treatment given to the Starr couple:  they performed menial tasks assigned to them, did their own laundry, cleaned ashtrays, attended group therapy sessions, and ditched their ‘up at all hours’ schedule for an ‘early to bed, dearly to rise’ routine

     Many of Ringo’s friends said they were ‘astonished’ when they heard about his problem.  According to Linda McCartney, she and Paul were well aware of what the Starrs were doing to their lives, but “We dreaded what would happen to the friendship we so cherished if we tried to intervene.  There was nothing we could do about it.”  The British press were brutal in their assessment of Ringo’s troubles (“My beloved Britain turned against me when Barbara and I checked into the drying out clinic.  They thought I was only doing it for the publicity.”) while America as a whole was much more supportive.  They left Arizona in December and as 1989 dawned, Ringo’s resolve would be tested as he navigated his social and professional engagements while managing to keep on the sober side of the ledger.

          Professionally, Ringo was about to rebound.  He was a featured player in the popular PBS children’s program Shining Time Station.  He put out his first album in six years (1989’s compilation Starr Struck:  Ringo’s Best) if, for no other reason, than to remind everyone he  had sold a lot of records in the past.  Co-starring in the video for Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down brought him even more exposure as the song received heavy airplay on MTV.  He came full circle when he and country star Buck Owens recorded a duet of their mutual hit Act Naturally.  Ringo’s world had certainly taken a turn for the better in his sobriety.  Little did he know that he would soon be pitched a concept by a thirty-three year old show business agent that would set him on a course that would land him in Eugene, Oregon on June 2, 2023.  I am pretty sure that David Fishof did not even realize the 30 year effect his proposal would have on Ringo’s career.

     Back in 1984, the then twenty-eight year old Fishof organized one of the first ‘nostalgia’ tours of 60s pop groups.  His first outing featured The Association, The Turtles, Gary Puckett, and Spanky and Our Gang.  His second major outing involved putting together the twentieth-anniversary tour for The Monkees.  In 1989, he decided to see if he could interest Ringo in hitting the road with an all star band.  With major backing from Pepsi, he had the resources to make it happen, so he offered Starr a million dollars to do the tour.  Ringo summoned Fishof to London to meet in person and when they agreed to do it, Ringo informed him he had been thinking the same thing. 

      They discussed which musicians might fit the bill for the All-Starr band and came up with an impressive list:  Billy Preston (who had played keyboards on some of The Beatles later albums), Nils Lofgren (who Ringo knew and would later become part of Bruce Springsteen’s band), Levon Helm (from The Band), Joe Walsh (from The Eagles), and Ringo’s favorite drummer, studio ace Jim Keltner.  A call from Starr’s lawyers a couple of days later cemented the relationship and no one was happier than Richy:  “I still love to play.  I go down the front and sing Photograph or whatever, then I get to go back to the drums and play with all these other musicians.  It is a win-win situation.  I get the chance to be both the entertainer and the musician.  Everyone’s a star, but I’m the big star.”  In concert, Ringo always says, “Everyone on stage is a star in their own right.”

     The All-Starr band has toured frequently and every few years the members change.  Some go out for one tour, others hang around for multiple years.  Artists like Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings (The Guess Who), John Entwhistle (The Who), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad),

and Richard Page (Mr. Mister) have appeared on stage with the All-Starrs, not to mention Ringo’s boy, drummer Zac Starkey.  This year’s band featured the same core group he has used for many tours including Edgar Winters (keys and sax), Steve Lukather (guitarist from Toto), Average White Band bassist Hamish Stuart, guitarist Colin Hay (Men at Work), Sax/keys player Warren Ham and former David Lee Roth Band drummer Gregg Bissonette.

     During the Eugene show, Ringo did his thing and got great crowd reactions for his signature tunes like I’m the Greatest and You Know It Don’t Come Easy.  The ovations that greeted All-Starr member’s hits were just as enthusiastic.  Winter did an extended version of his hit single Fankenstein, Lukather contributed Rosanna and Africa, and Hay covered his Men at Work songs Down Under and Who Can It Be Now.  Lukather teased a few Beatles riffs during the night but Ringo laughingly brushed them aside, saying, ‘Nah, we won’t do that one.”  Space does not allow for a complete concert list, but as previously mentioned in Part 1, that sort of information is readily available online.

     The highlight of the show for me was Bissonette.  Ringo always tours with another great drummer in the band and I can see why he has kept Bissonette around for multiple outings.  He is one of the best live drummers I have seen and I have seen a lot of great drummers over the years.  Ringo?  Yep he was great in front of and behind the drums.  His tour will be making its way to the midwest and eastern states later this summer and fall.  It is worth the time if you might be interested in seeing Ringo do what he has done best over the past thirty years – make a joyful noise.  Peace and Love, Ringo.


Top Piece Video:  Ringo’s Eugene show featured the same line up shown here from Toronto’s Massy Hall in September of 2022…the only major change seemed to be Lukather’s hair which is now as white as Edgar Winter’s!