Ringo Starr drummed for the Beatles eight years. He's been ringleader of Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band for three times that. That's called getting by with more than just a little help from his musical friends.
The shifting selection of superstars started touring in 1989, and the current lineup (lucky No. 12) draws members from Santana, Toto, the David Lee Roth Band, and a certified guitar legend in Todd Rundgren. Not that Starr is any slouch behind the skins. In the early Sixties, when his old band was playing seedy Hamburg clubs, he was one of few drummers who could handle the merciless schedule of 14-hour sets (one hour on, one hour off). No surprise that five decades later he's still hammering away.
Prior to his Austin debut at ACL Live at Moody Theater on Oct. 8 & 12, the 74-year-old Liverpool native granted us 15 minutes on the phone.
AC: Has your All Starr Band played Texas much?
RS: Yeah, mainly Dallas, and Houston a couple of times. I haven't played Austin, have I? No, I don't think so. They've got Austin City Limits there, which is a great show. Every couple of years I'm asked to do it, and every couple of years I seem to be in Florida or somewhere far away.
AC: A lot has been written about the influence of American rock & roll on the bands you were in. Many influential acts were from Texas. Was that an influence on your drumming style?
RS: I don't think so [laughs]. But a lot of good music did come out of there. Lightnin' Hopkins came out of Houston, and as an 18/19-year-old, I tried to emigrate to Houston. I know that's not Austin, but it's Texas. I went to the American Embassy in Liverpool. They gave me a load of forms, and I took them back, and they gave me another load of forms, and I went, "Oh, god." I'm 18. You just don't fill forms in when you're 18.
AC: What was the appeal?
RS: Well, Lightnin' Hopkins was my blues hero, and I just wanted to be near him. I was just a huge, huge fan. I was working in a factory, and I got a list of factory jobs I could get when I got to Houston, but it didn't turn out that well. So I had to put up with getting in the Beatles.
AC: Not a bad fall-back.
RS: I know. It was my second choice.
AC: So as a drummer –
RS: The best drummer you'll ever talk to on your phone!
AC: I'm not saying not. Yet a lot of people look at drummers as just the guy in the back. Do you feel you've evolved as a drummer given all the people you've worked with over the years? In the All Starrs you've worked with bloody everybody.
RS: And I tell you, that's the joy. I get to play my songs, and in this band I get to play drums with Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather, and [Austin's] Gregg Rolie. That's the thrill. I get to stand in front with "Little Help" and "Yellow Submarine" and be the entertainer. So this is such a win-win situation for me, because I get to do everything I love, and I get to do it onstage.
AC: And then there's your son, Zak Starkey. Sons of other famous drummers, like Jason Bonham, have trouble stepping out of the shadow of their fathers. When Zak said, "I want to take this up," what were your feelings?
RS: He was 10, and I had drums in the living room. I gave him a lesson, and a week later I said I'll give you another lesson. The second lesson I gave him, he said, "Oh, I can do that." I said, "Well, now you're on your own," and that's how he's been ever since. He's been dedicated to the jobs, and he plays great guitar, too. He's musical. And my other son plays drums as well. Don't ask me why – because drums were in the house? I don't know. He's a cool drummer as well, but he didn't take it as a profession like Zak did. He has a family and that, and he drums occasionally.
AC: You ever have a chance to work with Zak?
RS: The first time I worked with Zak was the Stevie Van Zandt anti-apartheid track in the Eighties, but then I had Zak in an All Starr band, and it was great, because I could go and see my boy actually working.
AC: Like Peter Hook from New Order. He takes his lad with him as well.
RS: A lot of people do now. David Crosby tours with his son. I always feel with Zak, I could never get him a job. You can't say, "Could you put him in your band?" They have to want him in the band. So everything he's done, he's done by himself, and that's great.
AC: Anyone who could survive Oasis for five minutes, you've got to applaud them just for that.
RS: One hundred and eighty gigs he played with them. He's been with the Who for 20-odd years, and he's played on a lot of records. He's got his own band called PenguinsRising, and he plays a lot of guitar on that. When he plays live, they have another drummer.
AC: You did films too. The Magic Christian is a cult fave in these parts. Have you ever thought of going back to acting?
RS: I made a decision: I've just got to go back to playing music, and that's why I formed the All Starr Band back in '89. I thought, "They've got a lot of actors that can do that." I was never really an actor. I just could do a bit of stuff. I made a decision, and I remember it really well: "I just want to play drums. I just want to be in a band."
AC: Who do you decide on for any particular All Starr tour?
RS: We think it over, because I get a lot of interest from managers. I get a lot of interest from certain players. I've gotten a lot of interest in different people myself, and I actually sit here with records and make the band from there. I have to say, "Okay, I need a bass player. I need a bass player with songs. I need bass players who are singers as well. I need a lead guitar." And in my band, it's important they have songs as well [because we perform them]. And a keyboardist. It's important they have songs as well. There's a lot of great keyboard players out there, but they don't sing. They're not recognized by their songs, so I have to do it that way. I make a decision, and we make a phone call. We put it together. We end up in rehearsals the first day, and I have no idea if it's going to work or not. I only rely on that it's worked for 25 years. What happened with this band – and I love this band that's coming to Austin – we just get on well. We get on as mates, we get on as a band, we can swear at each other without it being vicious. So this is a win-win. There's no magic. Well, there's magic in the end, but it works.
Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band tag-team ACL Live at the Moody Theater twice: Wed., Oct. 8 & Sun., Oct. 12.
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