Ringo Starr is in his home studio in Los Angeles on Zoom discussing His All-Starr Band. Today they’re announcing their fall 2023 tour dates complementing the group’s spring run, which kicks off May 19 in Southern California. The world’s most famous drummer, who turns 84 in July and is more than six decades into an illustrious career, is also a fierce road warrior. And missing shows doesn’t sit well with him.
“Last year we had two tours – lately I’ve been doing a spring tour and an autumn tour,” Ringo tells Pollstar. “So we did the spring tour May-June, and Edgar [Winter] and [Steve] Lukather went down [with COVID] and we had to close it down. So we owed ten gigs for that tour. When we came back for the autumn tour, the front of it was repaying those ten gigs we owed because everyone was still holding on to their tickets. And it got so crazy. Labor Day was the first day and that week we did six gigs – that’s a lot of gigs, brother! [Editor’s note: a Beatle just called me his “brother.”] Then we did the last four shows we owed and got back into the autumn tour and what happens next? I went down. There’s nothing you can do.”
It don’t come easy, then. When asked if he’s ever before canceled an All Starr show in its 34-year history—five times longer than the Beatles were together, mind you—Ringo is strident. “Never, never. I was in Atlanta in bed with the flu once and had to cancel two gigs, that’s the only time. I love to play. I love an audience. This is a known fact. I keep telling the band, if only three people turn up, we’re playing.”
SEVEN PEACE BAND: The 2023 Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band lineup of Warren Ham Edgar Winter , Colin Hay, Ringo Starr, Hamish Stuart, Gregg Bissonette and Steve Lukather (Photo by Mike Colluci)
It’s a torrid touring schedule, though, with the All Starr Band playing 22 shows in roughly a month’s time over May-June and again in October-November. That’s an intense pace for someone even half Ringo’s age.
Dave Hart, Ringo’s longtime tour producer who books his tours and helps create the lineup, says that’s how Ringo likes it. “The key for us is good routing and comfortable travel,” Hart says. “He would rather be playing than sitting in a hotel and he’s told me that on numerous occasions. For the spring tour we added shows because we had two days off and he said, ‘Hey, you might as well add them.’”
Ringo, who is now a great-grandfather, hasn’t slowed a whit. He released EP3 last fall and is working on three more EPs, including songs with T-Bone Burnett and Linda Perry. He’s an active visual artist and philanthropist with his own foundation and is sharp as nails in our interview. He recalls The Beatles and Rory Storm & The Hurricanes in the early-60s playing for 12-hours in Hamburg without monitors and then a joke he made in the mid-90s when Cream’s Jack Bruce was an All Starr and Ginger Baker turning up: “When I introduced them, I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, two percent Cream!’”
According to Jeffrey Chonis, Ringo’s longtime drum tech who’s been on every All-Starr tour since they formed in 1989, Ringo is in tip-top shape – regularly exercising and meditating – and always cool calm and collected. “He’s just so disciplined, it’s inspiring,” he says. “He’s consistently in the gym. He’s a vegan, eats all organic and doesn’t eat a lot, just a little bit of nutritious food to keep him going. He’s in the gym six days a week and has trainers come to the house. I know his main trainer and she tells me Ringo is her hardest-working client.”
Hart, who previously worked for Nederlander Concerts (and saw the Beatles play Forest Hills in 1964), says the All-Starrs play 3,000- to 6,000 -cap rooms: mostly amphitheaters theaters, casinos. According to 328 Pollstar Boxoffice reports dating back to 1999, the All-Starrs moved more than 1 million tickets and grossed $74.5 million, averaging just over $250,000 and 3,611 tickets per concert. Recent shows suggest higher yields, including three nights at NYC’s Beacon Theatre last June that brought in $904,000 and two shows last September at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena and the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, grossing $496,000 and $445,000, respectively.
The band’s spring run includes three nights at the Venetian Theatre in Vegas with one-nighters at L.A.’s Greek Theatre and San Francisco’s Masonic; while the fall trek hits The Ryman and the Chicago Theatre.
The 2023’s All-Starr Band line-up, the group’s 15th, like its predecessors, is a topnotch lean mean touring machine with seasoned pros. This includes Edgar Winter, Toto’s Steve Lukather and Warren Ham, Men At Work’s Colin Hay, Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart and drummer Greg Bissonette (who played with ELO, Joe Satriani and David Lee Roth).
In addition to Ringo’s classics like “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph,” and “Oh My My,” and his Beatles jams like “What Goes On,” “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “I Wanna Be Your Man,” one can expect vociferous sing-alongs from the All-Starrs’ classic rock power jam catalog. This includes Winter’s “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein,” Toto’s “Hold The Line” and “Africa,” Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now” and “Down Under” and the Average White Band’s funk jams “Cut The Cake” and Pick Up The Pieces.”
Chonis, who’s been with Starr for 34 years, well understands Starr’s preternatural ability to keep disparate personalities together with the All-Starrs and its many guests. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again when he pulls people together for the All-Starrs,” he says. “These amazing talents come in and they leave their egos outside because Ringo sets the tone. We don’t allow drama. Everybody respects each other, whether it’s a crew guy or a band member. There’s no fighting, yelling or arguing because Ringo doesn’t put up with that. When he says peace and love, he doesn’t just say it, he walks the walk and talks the talk.”
Some of the luminaries who have turn up for Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, most often during the closer “With A Little Help From My Friends,” include an array of music legends including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Eric Burden, Ray Davies, Joan Baez, Pete Townsend, Rod Argent, Judy Collins and Steven Tyler among many others. Then’s there’s the various All-Starr line-up themselves, with Dr. John, Billy Preston, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton, Sheila E., Howard Jones, Dave Edmunds, Joe Walsh (his brother law) living up to their name.
Part of what’s also allowed Starr to balance so many disparate personalities is his native Liverpudlian wit. “He’s a scouser,” says Hart. “He’s from Liverpool. If he appreciates you or loves you he’ll lets you know by his sarcastic and often times cutting remarks which are very funny. You have to understand what scousers are, they’re the guys from Liverpool, I’m sure they had a quick wit about each other and about themselves and you’ve got to deal with it.
These interpersonal traits Ringo honed over the years are on full display in Peter Jackson’s incredible four-part, six-hour “The Beatles: Get Back” doc, released on Disney+ in late 2021. The unvarnished look at The Beatles, who were at an inflection point in 1969, is wildly illuminating. The film shows both the Fab Four’s creative genius and camaraderie hard at work while presaging the band’s heartbreaking dissolution.
It’s a fascinating and difficult watch as The Beatles work under impossible pressure requiring them to write, record and perform an entire album’s worth of new material in a matter of weeks–all while being filmed. There’s an ocean of water under the bridge, long-simmering tensions, creative competition and you can see their lives starting to take shape beyond The Beatles.
When the band frays and George quits in the first episode (and thankfully returns in the second), Ringo seems as solid as an oak and is nothing if not patient, accommodating and diplomatic throughout. He goes along to get along and then plays along without complaint to whatever spontaneous ditty a Beatle should vamp on or new song played over and over endlessly. There’s good reason his 1973 self-titled album Ringo is the only post-Beatles recording to feature cameos by all of the other Beatles.
Ringo, as is often said, is a criminally underrated drummer. His unique style stems in part from him being a lefty playing on a righty drum kit, which gives him a unique sound (explored in depth in his excellent Masterclass session).
“It explains a lot,” says Steve Lukather, who’s now been with Ringo for 11 years. “For his fills he leads with his left hand. If you ask any modern drummer, or anybody that plays musically, Ringo was a huge influence. People forget there’s no click tracks on those songs and his timing is incredible. He’s one of the only drummers in the world you can just play the drum track and know what song it is. And he came up with all his parts. Would ‘Ticket To Ride’ be the same playing just the two and four? No. Take ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ the fill on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ and that whole album, the drum sound and how it grooves in between straight notes and dotted eighth notes, that’s what rock and roll is all about!”
While that helps explain Starr’s technical mastery, his social skills are another matter. The bedrock of Ringo’s calm in the face of crazy, what the French call sangfroid (ice in the veins), was likely formed in hard-scrabble, post-war Liverpool where he faced down a number of health challenges. “I was in Liverpool Children’s Hospital for my 14th birthday,” Starr wrote in his wonderful coffee table book aptly named “Photograph,” which highlights his incredible photography with his commentary. “I also had my 7th birthday in hospital when I had peritonitis. I never had anything small. Appendicitis? No, peritonitis, where it explodes! So I had to spend another year in a hospital.”
Ringo discovered the wonder and allure of drumming from a hospital ward, which he described as a “magical moment” and a “gift from God.” When he got home, he made his first trap kit from “biscuit tins” before his stepfather bought him a real set. He joined with neighbors to form The Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group and later joined Liverpool’s “biggest band,” Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, whose embrace of rock and roll got them booted off the famed Cavern Club stage.
While he came up with The Beatles, and hung with them both in Liverpool and Hamburg, when he was finally asked join, Starr did what maybe no one else in the world would do when greatness came calling. “No, I can’t join tonight, we’re in a band here, we’ve got a job,” he told Beatles manager Brian Epstein. This because he was playing with Rory Storm at Butlin’s, a British holiday camp, a commitment he honored before joining The Beatles.
Obviously, during The Beatles, but also amidst his post-Beatles/pre-All-Starr Band period, his life seemed a whirlwind. He put out two albums in 1970, but it was his non-album single “It Don’t Come Easy,” written and produced with Harrison released the next year, that became his first smash hit. His self-titled album Ringo in ’73 featured more hits, including “Oh My My” and “Photograph,” and was the only post-Beatles album to feature John, Paul and George, but that’s only part of that landmark album’s significance.
RIngo is filled with top-notch collaborators including some of the all-time greats in James Booker, T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, Nicky Hopkins, Martha Reeves, Steve Cropper, Harry Nilsson and Bobby Keys. Perhaps more significantly for Ringo’s career, the album also featured players who would fill out the first All-Starr lineup 16 years later in Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, and The Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko. In 1989 they would be joined by Dr. John and the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons and Nils Lofgren to form the first All-Starr lineup.
In “Photograph,” Ringo has pictures of and writes about some of his closest friends, which included the late, great Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and Marc Bolan, some of the most creative and talented musicians of their time (and all of whom, it might be said, knew how to party). Ringo had stopped playing music and was more focused on film.
He appeard in TK with Petter Sellers in TK, “Blindmen,” (1971), “That’ll Be the Day” (1973) and “Son Of Dracula” (1974) with Nilsson, Moon, Kalus Vorman and John Bonham(!). He also produced “Born To Boogie,” a film on Bolan. In addition to appearing in Scorcese’s
“Last Waltz.” His 1981 film “Caveman” is where he would meet and marry his like partner Barbara Bach.
When Starr finally formed the first All-Starr Band in 1989, he writes that it was “special because it was the first lineup. I had sobered up and was sitting around wondering what to do … The first light went on when I remembered that I’m a musician. I’d become so derelict for all those years, that I’d forgotten that.”
When David Fishof offered to produce a tour, Ringo thought, “I’m going to take a lot of people with me. I was so insecure because I’d never toured on my own before. I opened my phone book and called these people and they all said ‘Yes.’ It was incredible!”
“It was pretty amazing,” Chonis says of the first All-Starr tour. “It was a new concept and nobody knew whether it would work or not, but it definitely did. It worked for Ringo because he didn’t have to carry the whole show and it worked for the audience because every song they’re hearing is a hit and it’s one hit after another.”
While you’re certain to hear a few “peace and loves” if you should catch the show (or ever speak to Ringo), you should know that for him those words aren’t just empty gestures mindlessly spouted off. It’s a deep personal belief and commitment to bettering the
world through philanthropy and raising people’s consciousness. His Lotus Foundation
is a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to fund, support and participate in charitable projects aimed at advancing social welfare in areas including substance abuse, cerebral palsy, brain tumors, cancer, battered women and children, homelessness and animals in need. One hundred percent of Starr’s artwork, which he actively creates, goes to the foundation.
Additionally, he’s turned his birthday, July 7, into an annual global platform for peace and love. Last year’s celebration saw people in 26 countries celebrating the initiative. Additionally, his peace and love message was broadcast into space via the Artemis Music Space Network through the International Space Station.
Back on earth, Ringo is again discussing his passion for playing live. “When we started, we played anywhere we could play and that’s how it was,” he says. “Though my career hit the highest height, when we were starting, when I was with Rory and then The Beatles, we were just doing it to play. Who knew where it was going to go? Playing is part of our upbringing. The records are fine and all that, but playing to an audience, that’s the greatest gift we’ve been given and I love it.”