In less than a month Ringo Starr will hit the road with the twelfth iteration of his All Starr Band. This year’s group includes Todd Rundgren, Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Steve Lukather (Toto) and Gregg Rollie (Santana, Journey). Each All-Starr will sing their two biggest hits, and back Ringo on a mixture of Beatles and solo tunes.
We spoke to Ringo about what motivates him to keep touring, why you’re unlikely to hear “Octopus’s Garden” this summer and whether or not Let It Be will ever be released on DVD.
What inspired you to put the first All Starr Band together back in the 1980s?
Well, I had this offer from Pepsi to put a band together and go on tour. I hadn’t really thought about it, but then I thought, “That would be cool.” I got my phonebook out and called several people. If you look at the first All Starr Band, it was like an orchestra. I was a little insecure about it because I hadn’t done it before. Anyway, I called Dr. John, Billy Preston … It’s flooding back now because we just lost Levon Helm. I had him on one side of me, and Jim Keltner on the other. We had three drummers in the band, a great front line. That’s how it started, and it’s still going.
Tell me the criteria that you use in picking All Starr bands these days.
It’s always the same: you have to have recognizable hits. We are the 1-800 band, but we’re live. Everybody has to have hits in the 1960s, which I do, in the 1970s, which I do, and we’re getting into the 1980s now. I don’t think we’ve quite managed the 1990s yet. This year’s band is a great line-up. I’ve got Richard Page back, because he’s great. I’ve got Todd Rundgren. I’ve had him before too. He’s great fun to have onstage. And we’re gonna get to know Steve Lukather and Gregg Rolie.
It’s a great gig for guys like Steve and Gregg. They sing incredibly famous songs, but not everyone knows their names.
Yeah. As soon as people hear the song, they know what’s going on. And I think that people who come to the Ringo and the All Starr shows know what they’re gonna get from me. They get a couple of the new record, and then we just play all these incredible songs. The great thing about it is, though I come down to the front of the stage to do several of the numbers, I get a chance to sit at my kit and play with all of these great songs. So it’s a win/win for me.
Have you ever thought about touring on tour own, without the All Starrs?
I don’t really have enough songs. You know what I mean? Even from the beginning, I never wanted it to be like, “Ok, I’m up there all night.” I wanted the opportunity to play with really cool guys, which so far that’s what happened. Then I come down for “A Little Help From My Friends,” “Yellow Submarine” and stuff like that.
Why don’t you play “Octopus’s Garden” at these shows?
It’s difficult with “Yellow Submarine.” I don’t want to be underwater half the gig. We’re trying this time to do something we haven’t done in a while, so that’ll be a surprise.
Are you thinking about doing “Don’t Pass Me By” again?
Yeah, I’m thinking about doing “Don’t Pass Me By,” and I’m thinking about doing “Matchbox.” I haven’t done that in while, So, you gotta wait and see.
Then there’s songs like “Photograph” that you gotta do at every show.
I do. Yes. And, of course, I have to do “A Little Help.” If I went to see me and I didn’t do that song, I’d feel cheated. I feel the audience would too. There’s certain songs that are in the setlist and then I just change, like, four or five others. I put a couple of new ones in the from my new CD Ringo 2012. You know everyone else’s songs. You’ll know “Evil Ways,” “Rosanna,” “Hold The Line,” “Hello, It’s Me” and “Africa.”
People always seem to wonder why you spend so much time touring.
They always want to say, “You’re doing it again? Why?” Well, this is what I do. This is how I started. I wanted to play. Nobody likes to go on tour. Everyone just wants to be in the city. It can get hard, the traveling. But we get those two hours of bliss and that’s great. That’s what keeps us going. I love to be out there, and it’s just what I do.
Do you ever think about writing a memoir?
No. I’ve been asked to write my autobiography and really they only want 8 years (1962-1970), and I keep saying it would be five volumes before I even got into the band. On my last three or four records I’ve tried to record a musical version of a small part of my life.
Are you gonna keep telling your life story on your albums?
I’m hoping to. But I got the new record out. If anyone wants to check up on me, they can go get it and they can hear “In Liverpool” this time. I’m still in Liverpool, so hopefully I get out of Liverpool by the next CD, on my way to London.
There are lots of Beatles concerts on film and tape. Do you ever think about putting them all out?
Everything that the Beatles ever did, that we were involved in, is out. What isn’t out?
Everything’s been bootlegged, but aren’t there lots of shows you guys haven’t released?
Well, there’s the Hollywood Bowl, Shea, what else is there? We didn’t even get the last concert in San Francisco. We didn’t film it. So I don’t know what films you’re talking about. Unless you’re talking about two people with cameras that were filming from the audience. Now there’s a thousand phones held up and they just film you. But that’s okay. That’s how it goes.
Are you thinking about releasing the Let It Be movie on DVD?
I think that’s also a possibility. One day that will come out. But we’re not talking about it right now. As you know, there’s very little that hasn’t come out. I’d forgotten that one though. You just mentioned the one thing that hasn’t come out. I’m too busy living now…Don’t forget we all wish Joe Walsh the best of luck on his big fancy tour.
I’m actually talking to him in about five hours for another story.
Oh yeah, because he’s a lazy sod. He gets up late. When you talk to him, give him my love. I talked to him two nights ago, of course, because we’re related now. [In 2009 Walsh married Marjorie Bach, Ringo’s sister in-law.] Any time I talk to any musicians I tell them to just put a band together and go out. That’s what we do. Any guy sitting at home wondering what to do with his life, and he’s a musician, put a band together and go out there and play.
Yeah. Why retire in this business?
As long as I can hold a pair of sticks, I don’t have to retire. I may end up in a slow blues band, but that’s how it works.
Chuck Berry still tours. Even Pete Seeger.
B.B. King! B.B. is my hero now. People keep saying, “B.B. King, but he’s sitting down.” Yeah, he’s sitting down. I’m sitting down too! The only thing that will ever stop us is if we stop. That’s how it is. Anyway, I didn’t feel like this in the 1970s, but I feel it now. I just wanna play.