Fifty years after the Beatles permanently retired from the road, Ringo Starr can’t seem to get enough of it. On June 3rd, the perpetually youthful stickman launched a month-long summer tour across North America with his All-Starr Band. Starr has eschewed arenas for more intimate venues, giving the gigs the informal feel of a Liverpool rave-up. “I love these old theaters,” he told Rolling Stone during a sitdown at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. “Mainly because I can see everybody!”
That certainly wasn’t the case with the Beatles’ final live performances, which saw the foursome relegated to enormous stadiums where audience synergy was all but impossible. This detachment was a major factor in their decision to quit touring, but reestablishing the link with his first All-Starr Band in 1989 has had a restorative effect on Starr. “I play because this is what I do,” he says. “I love to play, and I’m still playing. I’m playing with great musicians, singers, and writers. So, I’m blessed I’m still doing it, really.”
His current band, the 12th and longest serving line-up of the All-Starrs, boasts luminaries including power-pop wizard Todd Rundgren, Toto’s Steve Lukather, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, and Gregg Rolie, fresh from a reunion with Santana. They accompanied Starr on his previous outing last fall, and are slated to do so on an upcoming trek this autumn.
When he’s not bringing music to the masses, he can usually be found in his home studio in Los Angeles, working on a new album with a little help from his rock-star friends. Rolling Stone caught up with Starr in his dressing room to discuss the new songs, the new tour, his old band (you know the one) and the passing of George Martin.
You just kicked off your summer tour with the All-Starrs. You’ve been with this lineup for quite a while now. Four years?
Four years and one week! We’ve been saying four years and Todd [Rundgren] worked out we’re in our fifth year now by a week.
What do you look for when you’re putting a group together? How do you know you’ve found one that’s right?
I never know if the All-Starrs are going to work ’til we get to rehearsals. I know in my head, “Well, we’ve got this guy, he’s got these great numbers. But we need a bass player!” Bass players are usually the most difficult. That’s why Richard [Page] has been with me for years now. He has such beautiful songs. Then Gregg Rolie was the find – he’s so great. And that’s how I do it. We know everyone can play. But when we turn up at rehearsals, that’s the only time we know. What’s great with this band is that we really jell as human beings. I have had some All-Starrs where everybody wasn’t as excited as I was [laughs].
That’s not good.
No, but they had good songs. I’d change up the band, anyway. I change the band quite a lot. I mean, the first band [in 1989] was incredible. I was so nervous. I was so insecure, I had three drummers: myself, Jim Keltner and Levon [Helm].