Sir Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, has as good a resume as any entertainer could ever desire.
It would have been enough had he simply been a member of the Beatles. His ticket to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was issued years ago, for his work with that band. He is also a member of the Rock Hall for his own, post-Beatles career. He has acted. He has been a best-selling author. His own All Starr band has featured some of the greatest names in pop music and has played the world over many times. England’s Prince William knighted Starr in 2018.
Is there anything left on his to-do list? We asked Starr, who brings his band to Berglund Center on Tuesday, for his first-ever Roanoke performance.
“I’m still doing what I love to do,” Starr said in a July 26 phone interview. “That’s it. I don’t really need to climb Everest.”
Starr, who turned 79 on July 7, said that he is blessed.
“Being a musician, as long as I can hold the sticks, I’ve got a job,” he said. “And it still seems that people want to come see me and the band, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Starr has had this particular job for 30 years. He and producer David Fishof put the show together after Starr completed rehab for alcohol addiction. The first All Starr Band featured members of The Band (bassist Rick Danko, drummer Levon Helm); Bruce Springsteen’s The E Street Band (guitarist Nils Lofgren, saxophonist Clarence Clemons); session drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardists Billy Preston and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack; and Starr’s brother-in-law, Joe Walsh (of The Eagles).
Another E Street Band member, drummer Max Weinberg, played about 15 dates on that first run. Weinberg, who recently appeared with his band at Rocky Mount’s Harvester Performance Center, had grown up a Beatles fan, and in a late June interview discussed Starr’s place in the rock drumming pantheon.
“Ringo was as important to rock drumming in the ’60s as Gene Krupa, the famous jazz drummer, was to big band and jazz in the ’30s,” Weinberg said. “He focused attention on the drummer, for one thing. ... Drumming-wise, no one’s ever sounded better. It’s hard to imagine the Beatles sounding the way they did on their recordings, or live — he was a very exciting drummer — without Ringo.”
From there, Starr changed band members through 14 touring incarnations, bringing on such players as Todd Rundgren, Dave Edmunds, John Entwistle, Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce, Sheila E., Richard Marx, Christopher Cross and Starr’s son, drummer Zak Starkey — along with dozens of guests who have sat in at one tour stop or another.
The version scheduled to hit Roanoke features drummer Gregg Bissonette, guitarist/singer Steve Lukather, keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie, guitarist/singer Colin Hay, bassist/singer Hamish Stuart and saxophonist/flutist Warren Ham.
Bissonette, a session and touring drummer who played with David Lee Roth’s first post-Van Halen band, joined in 2008, and has been the band’s second drummer ever since.
“I’d met Greg, but I found out that Greg does seminars on the way I play,” Starr said, with a laugh. “So I thought, hey, let’s give him a call. And he came, and he stayed.”
When Starr goes out front to sing one, Bissonette can emulate him. But he’s not copying him.
“He’s sounding like me in his own way,” said Starr, whose vocals on “Yellow Submarine,” “Act Naturally” and “Photograph” are set staples. “He understands what I’m doing, cause I’m not very busy when I play. If it needs any busy-ness in the songs that we’re doing at the time, then he does that.”
Lukather is a session player who came to fame with Toto. Rolie, who sang lead on Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” was also a founding member of Journey, and is in the rock hall for his work in both bands. He and Lukather joined in 2012 and remain All Starrs.
They are incredible musicians, Starr said. And they have songs to sing. That was always the focus. Starr does about a dozen numbers from both his Beatles and solo careers, with other band members able to chip in with hits of their own.
Lukather might sing Toto hits including “Rosanna” and “Africa,” according to set lists from recent All Starr Band shows. Rolie has performed “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” from the Santana catalog. Colin Hay, who first achieved fame with Men at Work, has sung “Down Under” and “Overkill.” Stuart — who also has played bass for Starr’s Beatles’ bandmate, Paul McCartney — is a founding member of Average White Band, and set lists show that he has sung “Work to Do” and led the band through the funky AWB instrumental, “Pick Up the Pieces.”
“And that’s been the original thought of putting this together, was we’ll have a band, and they’ll all have songs,” Starr said. “I’ve got songs. And we’ll play for each other.”
And for international audiences, too. After a West Coast date in March, the show hit Japan for nine March and April dates before a North American run.
Starr said that the kick he gets from playing live hasn’t changed.
“I love the audience,” he said. “They love me. ... Why I left the factory was to play drums with good musicians and get a reaction from a crowd. And that still goes on today.
“In my day, a lot of drummers went into the back bedroom and practiced. I always practiced, but when I got the kit, I went into the back bedroom once, and I hated it so much, just playing by myself. All of my learning, I got from playing with other bands, other musicians in Liverpool.”
A publicist interrupted him to note that there were three minutes left in the interview.
“Time passes so quickly when you’re talking about drums,” he said.
Starr and his mates will play 14 more shows after leaving Roanoke. He has no immediate plan to quit.
“After every tour, a couple of weeks later, [I say] oh, that’s it, I’m never doing it again,” he said. “Three weeks after saying that, then I’m calling, saying OK, are we going on tour or what? We’re already getting ready for next year, though I swore I wasn’t going to go next year. It’s on the list.”