Photos and Words by Max Stewart
Congratulations are certainly in order for the man behind the kit in a little Liverpool foursome that you may have heard on the radio. The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr was officially knighted in the U.K. this year, marking a long overdue recognition for the rhythmic backbone of music’s most influential band. Question is, why did it take so long for Starr to be inducted? Starr has made a career of ensuring that the musical end product is the priority, not the bells and whistles. He also avoided sensational headlines, instead serving as the fun-loving and reliable balance in the ever-evolving and larger-than-life band. He did not put on airs or assume a major mystic personality shift, but rather he maintained his wise-cracking Liverpudlian wit and sense throughout the tidal wave that was Beatlemania.
Starr chose not to muddy the waters of Beatles’ songs with unnecessary clatter and discombobulated time signatures. Do not confuse ‘simplicity’ for lack of talent: he is a drummer’s drummer who was innovative and effortlessly unique. In an interview with drummer Steve Gorman of the Black Crowes, Gorman pointed out to me that Starr was his biggest drumming influence due to his ability to “swing” and “punctuate a point of a song.” His intent was not to saturate and confuse the music with overly-technical drum fills, but to selflessly serve the song. In fact, to get a true sense of how insanely influential he is as a drummer, watch this video the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame produced which includes high praise from Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Tré Cool (Green Day), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Max Weinberg (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), and Questlove (The Roots).
Just as he served so many songs for the Beatles while quietly cementing a style very distinctly his own, Starr does not let ego get in the way of a great live show when he tours with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Since 1989, the All-Starr band has had a revolving cast of musicians, including Levon Helm, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Dr. John, and many others. Throughout the night, Starr performs a few Beatles songs, a bit of his solo material, but in classic Ringo fashion, he takes a humble backseat on the drums for a good portion of the show in order to give the other band members the spotlight and an opportunity to showcase their hits.
In November, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band played the Fox Theatre in Atlanta with a band that included Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Warren Ham (Kansas) and Gregg Bissonette. The songs of the evening bounced around the musical universe in lightspeed fashion, I mean, where else are you gonna hear “Oye coma va,” “Africa,” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” in sequential order? The wide-ranging stylistic changes kept the show fresh and intriguing at every turn. This, again, is what Ringo Starr wants. The greater goal is to entertain his fans that have paid their hard-earned money to see him perform some good music live.
The Beatles’ songs were obviously the highlights for many, as Starr nailed the vocals that he sang lead for during the Beatles’ tenure: “Yellow Submarine,” “Act Naturally,” “What Goes On,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Don’t Pass Me By” and a rousing encore rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” His solo material (including the Seventies hits “Back Off Boogaloo,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” and “Photograph”) were all well-received moments in which the seated theatre crowd rose and joyously sang along. There were also many flashes of musicianship zest, including a “Helter Skelter” tease during “Back Off Boogaloo,” a “Kashmir” tease during “Yellow Submarine,” and a sit-in from Georgia’s Zac Brown Band drummer, Chris Fryar. ‘Peace and love’ is certainly Starr’s mantra as he routinely states the phrase and flashes the peace sign, but he even took a moment in Atlanta to thank the veterans of the United States, since his performance happened to be on Veterans Day. Hats off to you, Ringo.
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band’s melting pot of musicians makes the show a one-of-a-kind treat for fans who want a no frills, fun night with a musical legend. Starr does not view the live music setting as an opportunity to pursue overindulgent pet projects and incomprehensible soapbox lectures. No, Ringo Starr has always let the quality of the music be the guide as he spreads peace and love to fans and musicians alike.