Starr Struck: Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band
At the ripe old age of 70, former Beatle Ringo Starr has done well for himself. The days of pondering what it would be like to be 64 are long past but he has a lot to show for these years. After being in the greatest show on Earth (for what it was worth) Ringo embarked on a reasonably successful solo career as both a musician and an actor. He has been married to actress Barbara Bach for almost thirty years and his oldest son Zak has played drums for The Who for close to fifteen years.
In 1989, with his solo recording career on the decline, Ringo hit upon the idea of forming a touring group comprised of musicians that were all headliners in their own rights. He dubbed this the All-Starr Band and its first incarnation, including Joe Walsh, Levon Helm, and Billy Preston, proved a popular concert event with the public. Over the next two decades, Ringo continued the All-Starr Band shows off and on with an ever changing and evolving group of musicians that made every concert a unique experience. I had the good fortune of seeing one of the group’s strongest line-ups in 1999 at the Florida Theater when it featured Jack Bruce, Todd Rundgren, and Gary Brooker.
When the 2010 All-Starr Band tour was announced in support of Ringo’s latest solo album, Y Not, I jumped at a chance to see a new incarnation of the group headed by one of the last two people on this planet that can say they were really a Beatle (sorry Pete Best). The current version features an interesting cross section of rock history with Ringo and Rick Derringer (of The McCoys) representing the 60’s, Edgar Winter (of The Edgar Winter Group) and Gary Wright from the 70’s, and Wally Palmar (of The Romantics) and Richard Page (of Mr. Mister) exemplifying the 80’s. The evening was guaranteed to be not only entertaining but diverse as well.
I bought tickets for the July 17 show months in advance and was glad I did when I discovered it had sold out. The 4000 seat St. Augustine Amphitheater is a nice venue but it is outdoors with only marginal cover. I knew there was no way the Florida heat was going to be enjoyable in July but I felt even worse for the performers who have to be on the stage near bright lights generating their own heat. I figured if a 70 year old Beatle was willing to give it a shot, I could too!
The week before the concert, I found out that Billy Taylor, keyboardist for The Royal Guardsmen, and his wife Donna would be able to join my wife Cindy and me for the show. I had mentioned it to Billy when I found he would be on vacation nearby that week but tickets were showing as sold out when I checked online. He wisely called the box office directly and found out that ten tickets had just been released so he quickly reduced this number to eight and gave me the good news!
We all met up for a late lunch / early dinner at The Conch House in St. Augustine that Saturday afternoon. It was hot but the breeze coming off the nearby water actually made it pleasant enough to eat outside and their was ample shade. Realizing that St. Augustine is a popular tourist destination on just about any weekend and that the concert would only add to the crowds, we got their early and were able to enjoy a very relaxing meal including an incredible desert that featured a life sized chocolate conch shell!
Following dinner, we headed over to the amphitheater so Billy could pick up his tickets as soon as the box office opened. Sold out signs were posted everywhere and a crowd, including people holding up signs for buying tickets, was already starting to form even though the show did not start for close to two hours. When the gates opened around 6:30, the parking lot was already full of people in Beatles t-shirts revved up and ready to rock and roll!
The first thing I did on the way in was check out the tour merchandise for interesting souvenirs. For some reason, this was dubbed the “2010 Art Tour” and most of the items for sale had to do with Ringo’s paintings. As a painter, Ringo is a very talented musician so even though I could have purchased a signed copy of one of his spin art paintings for as little as $50, I decided to pass. Larger paintings were priced up into the thousands. I couldn’t find much in the way of merchandise that featured the whole band so I saved my money on this event.
Entering the seating area, Cindy and I parted company with Billy and Donna who were seated in a different section. Once we got to our seats, which were very centrally located in the amphitheater, I began to notice just how bad the heat was outside. It only got worse as the place began to fill up and people were packed elbow to elbow with very little breeze.
When you have a line up like the All-Starr Band’s do, there is no need for an opening act. They hit the stage and immediately launched into several numbers from Ringo’s long career as a Beatle and solo performer. The opening tune was It Don’t Come Easy, an early track from Ringo’s solo career that did much to sum up where he found himself personally in regard to the recent break up of The Beatles. This was follow by a standard he recorded with his former band, Carl Perkin’s Honey Don’t, and a more recent solo track, Choose Love.
After Ringo’s introduction came solo spotlights for each of the band’s members. The highlight of this round was Rick Derringer’s rousing rendition of The McCoy’s number one song Hang on Sloopy and Gary Wright performing his hit Dream Weaver. For these tunes Ringo relinquished the foreground and returned to his roots as a humble drummer. Seeing him banging away behind Derringer during his highly polished guitar work on Sloopy really hammered home what a super group this was.
Ringo came back out front to perform a few more songs including a fun sing along of Yellow Submarine. As he concluded this portion and announced another band segment, he wiped his sweat covered brow and flung it toward the audience. Everyone laughed in appreciation because even though the sun had gone down it was still sweltering inside the amphitheater.
The second solo set began with an outstanding rendition of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein that proved the pale performer still has what it takes to thrill a crowd. This portion really belonged to the 80’s musicians as Wally Palmer gave us a toe tapping version of What I Like About You followed by Richard Page’s soul shattering Broken Wings. While all of these performers may have been past their musical primes and their hey days are beyond them, they were all on top of their games this night.
Wrapping up what was quickly becoming a two hour extravaganza, Ringo performed one his most popular solo songs, Photograph, and then jokingly introduced With a Little Help from My Friends as a song that wasn’t getting a good crowd response on the tour and was being dropped if it wasn’t well received here. He had nothing to worry about from this audience. The crowd stood and sang with him through the entire number until he ran off the stage. The applause was still going when he popped back in for a brief but heartfelt encore of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance.
As the still enthusiastic crowd began to file out of the amphitheater, I realized there was probably no way for us to reconnect with Billy and Donna in the shuffle. Cindy and I slowly made our way out and eventually found our car. I have to give the St. Augustine Amphitheater credit, considering there were 4000+ people all leaving the show at the same time, this was one of the most orderly and efficient exits I have ever experienced. Once we got to the parking lot, it was no more than ten minutes before we were on the road and headed back to Jacksonville. Billy called on the way back to share his equally positive review of the concert and his brilliant plan to wait for the crowd to thin out before he left by hanging out at one of the refreshment stands with an ice cold beer!
Ringo Starr may eventually be remembered as the “smart Beatle”. He certainly knows how to play to his strengths and how to put together an impressive band. This incarnation of the All-Starrs has given me a new found respect for the incredible guitar playing of Rick Derringer and made me thankful that Edgar Winter is still with us! The rest of the group were no slouches either. I can now say beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though Ringo is a long way from thirty-two, he can certainly still boogaloo!
Special thanks to Billy Taylor for providing some of the photos for this article.