During my years as a contributor to The American Spectator I have written several articles profiling the Beatles.
In 2010, I wrote an article about my memories of John Lennon’s assassination on its 30th anniversary. The following year, I wrote a piece highlighting my ten favorite George Harrison songs on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his death. I have written two articles about Paul McCartney. The first one took Macca to task for his criticism of former President Bush when he was honored at the White House in 2010 by President Obama with the Gershwin Prize for Song. Although I was annoyed by his criticism, I could not stay cross forever. My second McCartney article was a review of his 2013 Fenway Park concert. Last year, I wrote a piece listing my 50 favorite Beatles songs in honor of the 50th anniversary of their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Needless to say there is one Beatle who has been overlooked. Ringo does sometimes get the short end of the stick. When Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels offered $3,000 to the Beatles back in 1976 to reunite on his show, he quipped, “This is made out to the Beatles — you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you.” Yet when Ringo replaced Pete Best in 1962, he was the eldest and most experienced Beatle having been the drummer for Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. It was Ringo who had the connections in Hamburg and if not for that Beatlemania might never have come to pass.
Well, Ringo Starr has been patiently waiting his turn for his article and the wait is now over. Over the weekend, my roommate Christopher Kain and I saw Ringo and his All-Starr Band perform at Boston’s Wang Theater. Ringo, who turned 75 in July, has been touring with the All-Starr Band through its various lineup changes for more than 25 years. The current lineup includes Todd Rundgren, Richard Page of Pages and Mr. Mister, guitarist Steve Lukather of Toto, multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham also of Toto and Kansas, keyboard player Gregg Rolie of Santana and Journey and Gregg Bissonette, drummer for the David Lee Roth Band.
The premise of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band is a simple one. The shows alternate between Ringo singing some Beatles songs and a few of his solo hits and going on the drums and letting the other All-Starrs perform two or three of their hit songs. The Boston show followed this formula, but with a few wrinkles.
After the All-Starr Band hit the stage, Rundgren loudly introduced Ringo, who came out wearing black pants, a black t-shirt, and a large red coat along with his trademark sunglasses. This brought the audience to its feet. The show began with Ringo singing a cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which the Beatles originally recorded in 1964, followed by his 1971 hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”.
“Island in the Sun” marks a first for Ringo’s All-Starr Band. It is the first time that Ringo has written a song with all the current members of the All-Starr Band and it appears on Ringo’s new album Postcards from Paradise,which was released in March. When so-called oldies artists play new material it is usually when fans stand up and walk out to get a drink or go to the bathroom. I remember seeing this happen at the McCartney concert at Fenway when he performed “My Valentine” from Kisses on the Bottom album. During “Island in the Sun,” the audience stayed on its feet and it stayed put.
Ringo then made his way to his drum kit as the All-Starr Band took over. It began with Rundgren singing “I Saw The Light.” Rundgren would then turn the spotlight to Rolie. An original member of Santana, Rolie told the audience that he played “Evil Ways” at Woodstock. The All-Starr Band’s rendition of “Evil Ways” featured a rousing guitar solo by Lukather. Fittingly, Rolie passed on the baton to Lukather who no doubt spoke for everyone in the band when he said he was thrilled to be on stage every night and to look behind him and see who was playing the drums. Lukather began the Toto portion of the evening with “Rosanna,” which turned into an extended jam session.
I felt kind of bad for Richard Page when the audience sat down after the first few notes of “Kyrie” were played. After all, I saw Mr. Mister play at the height of their fame at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium in April 1986. That rainy Sunday afternoon, Page got a big taste of Beatlemania as the teenage girls in the audience screamed his name throughout the show. As quickly as Mr. Mister rose to the top of the charts, they dropped off the face of the earth. But Page has stayed in the music business as a songwriter and session musician. It has been nearly 30 years since “Kyrie” hit number one, but he remains both a consummate musician who knows how work an audience.
The audience would rise to its feet again when Rundgren played his 1983 novelty hit, “Bang the Drum All Day” before Ringo got back in the spotlight. He introduced the Shirelles’ “Boys” by saying, “I first played this song with my other band — Rory Storm and The Hurricanes.” Actually, “Boys” was the first Beatles song where Ringo sang lead and he still sings it well. Ringo played keyboards briefly at the beginning of “Don’t Pass Me By,” his very first composition with the Beatles. Originally written in 1962, it would not see the light of day until The White Album in 1969. Well, better late than never. It is one of the highlights of The White Album.
Of course, no Ringo Starr concert would be complete without “Yellow Submarine.” Ringo said, “If you don’t know this song then you’re in the wrong venue.” But the ever whimsical Ringo and his mischievous All-Starrs teased us with a few bars of “Stairway to Heaven.” I guess we can be thankful they didn’t tease us with “Freebird” or “Jessie’s Girl.”
Ringo left the stage to give the All-Starrs the spotlight on the Santana classic “Black Magic Woman” (which was originally written by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and recorded by the group when they were a blues outfit). This was yet another jam session with tremendous interaction between Lukather and Rolie on one side of the stage and Rundgren and Page on the other.
Ringo returned to the stage having removed his red jacket for a red flannel shirt. He dedicated the Johnny Burnette classic “You’re Sixteen” to 16-year old Kira Travis. She can one day tell her kids and grandkids that she got a shout out from a Beatle. This was followed by the John Lennon penned “I’m The Greatest.” When it was recorded in 1973, it featured both Lennon and George Harrison as well as longtime Beatles collaborators Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman. It would prove to be the closest thing ever to a Beatles reunion before Lennon’s murder.
The next section of All-Starr Band songs began with Richard Page’s “You Are Mine.” Recorded in 2010 on his solo album Peculiar Life, its lyrics have references to Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leonardo da Vinci, Patsy Cline, and Mozart and has a Crosby, Stills & Nash feel to it. Christopher turned to me at the conclusion of “You Are Mine” and said, “It’s great to hear new songs that don’t suck.” It is worth noting that Ringo played a cone drum during this song.
Warren Ham had a fantastic sax solo on Toto’s “Africa” while Rolie shined on Santana’s “Oye como va” (originally written by the late Tito Puente). After Ringo sang the early Lennon-McCartney composition “I Wanna Be Your Man,” Rundgren performed the Utopia song “Love is the Answer.” I was again brought back to Thunder Bay when Page sang “Broken Wings.” Meanwhile Lukather continues to “Hold the Line.” No doubt many in the audience experienced Toto recall.
The final stretch of the concert belonged to Ringo with “Photograph” (co-written with Harrison). Both Christopher and I agree that it is Ringo’s best song. Ringo told the audience the older he gets the more naturally he acts. The perfect segue for the late Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” and concluding with an appearance by Billy Shears himself singing “With a Little Help From My Friends” and a few bars of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”
I was truly astounded at Ringo’s energy. He was moving around the stage with the vigor of a man a third his age. A quarter century of sobriety no doubt helps, but it is clear that he is doing what he loves. And if that doesn’t keep you young then nothing will. I was equally amazed by the audience, which was on its feet for the vast majority of the show. It is quite remarkable when you consider that many of those attendance are Ringo’s age, possibly older. No doubt they are the recipients of some Ringo’s vigor. So were Christopher and I.
So if Ringo Starr comes to your town, please don’t pass him by nor for that matter his most helpful friends.
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