Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band
By Phil Wise
The Today show has a summer-long concert series in which artists perform outdoors at ungodly hours in the early morning. It seems like a nightmare to me, but the series has featured an eclectic mix of acts from ‘NSYNC to Tim McGraw. Not a particularly hip or cutting edge line-up, but this is morning TV.
Today’s featured act was none other than Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. This year’s band features an equally perplexing mix of artists including Sheila E. Ringo’s been touring with a different line-up in his All Starr band for about a decade and the roster reads like a roll call of Ringo’s AA meeting: Joe Walsh, John Entwhistle, Jack Bruce, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Todd Rundgren, Nils Lofgren, Dave Edmunds and many more. Now, no doubt this is a stellar line up of seasoned (sometimes seasoned and sautéed) veterans. No doubt they have some war stories to tell that I’d love to be privy to. Hell, some of these guys are bona fide legends. But, how do they play together some 30–plus years after some of them have made an impact on the musical landscape?
The Today show appearance started off with an interview with Ringo by Katie Couric. Despite Ringo always being presented as the affable, cheeky Beatle, he usually comes across in interviews as a bit sour and arrogant. Today was no different. Ringo seemed put-off that he had to appear on TV before noon and even after 35 years of press conferences, junkets and interviews, he still gets miffed when answering the same old questions about the Beatles and when or if the surviving three will reunite. Get with it Ringo, without the Beatles you’re painting houses—Ask Pete Best.
But let’s forgive Ringo his lack of nuance with the media. After all he was never the mouthpiece for the Beatles. He was the drummer and content in that role. So, let’s just look at the band.
Ringo took the mic for a few songs, including a Mattel-like karoke version of Yellow Submarine, and then handed vocal duties over to former Supertramp front man Roger Hodgson. Ringo’s taken plenty of heat for his “vocal stylings” over the years and I’m not going to throw another log onto that fire. Let’s just say that age has not turned a bottle of sour grapes into wine. Hodgson, on the other hand, still has that clear muppet-like voice he had on 70s hits like “The Logical Song” and “Give a Little Bit.” I hate those songs and always have, but if you like them then you wouldn’t be disappointed in their rendition today. But the accompaniment on all of those songs left a bad taste in my mouth. I had immediate flashbacks to a bowling alley “play room” and the smell of diapers and disinfectant-and-cigarette-smoke-smelling shag carpet. The combination of songs I’ve hated since I was three years old and the sweltering Chicago heat sent me into an immediate toxic shock.
But all things must pass and as Katie and Matt led us into a commercial I thought about poor old Ringo and his All Starr band. These are guys who at some point in their careers were at the topper most of the popper most only to end up in a two-bit cover band fronted by a short, angry half-legend. Do they miss the madness of their earlier careers? Are they content in life? And was it better to have been at the top and fallen than to have never seen the view?