Ringo Starr calls from his hotel room amid the neon bling and bustle of Las Vegas, a Liverpudlian accent still peppering that unmistakable voice. Fresh off of rehearsal, the spry and ageless 77-year-old rocker readies for something he doesn’t have to do: tour.
“Every time I put a band together and we talk to the press, they say, ‘You want to tour? You’re still playing?’” Starr said. “And I say, ‘Yep, because that’s what I do. I’m not an electrician.’”
He’s a drummer, arguably the most significant on the planet. Thanks to his Beatles tenure and solo career, the Rock Hall of Famer continues causing countless others to pick up sticks eons after the British Invasion.
“Ringo is the archetype of a great pop-rock drummer,” said Atlanta musician and producer Robert Schneider of psychedelic rockers the Apples in Stereo. “To me, he represents drumming perfection: heavy, groovy and solid, yet a little wild and not overly technical.”
Bill King, editor and publisher of the Atlanta-based Beatlefan magazine, calls him “one of the most influential drummers ever.”
Starr, with his All Starr Band in tow, will display that influence Nov. 11 at the Fox Theatre. Known to have an enduring affection for the city, Starr even invested in a downtown Atlanta eatery, the defunct London Brasserie, in the late 1980s.
His favorite Atlanta haunt today? “The Container Store,” he quipped. “That’s the place for me, brother. I need to contain myself, it seems.”
Yeah, the Beatle the press dubbed “the funny one” more than 50 years ago still has it. Subsequently, his evolution has led from cheeky mop topper to a contemporary poster child for peace and love.
Starr has become synonymous with the phrase, perpetually uttering it in interviews and onstage; consistently waving the two-fingered sign in public; and plastering it on his website and on the cover of his latest album, “Give More Love.” Each year on July 7 — they say it’s his birthday — Starr organizes a public peace and love salute with satellite events dropping all over the planet.
If ever the world needed Starr to raise his peaceable hands, it might be now.
Fatefully, Starr and company were booked to start their current tour in Las Vegas months in advance of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. A lone shooter took the lives of 59 people, including himself, and injured more than 500 others.
When recalling watching the event play out on television, Starr pauses with muted emotion. “Every time it comes up, I get a tear in my eye that so many went down,” Starr said. “Fifty-nine families have a lot to deal with, and all of those people who were wounded. … It’s hard to deal with it in your mind.”
The day after the tragedy, Starr was scheduled for a business meeting in Vegas ahead of an eight-night residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino set to begin less than two weeks later.
“It was a big decision to go or not,” he said. “I decided, ‘Let’s go. Let’s not let it stop our lives. We’ve got to carry on.’”
Then in the midst of the meeting, someone broke the news to Starr that his close friend and collaborator, musician Tom Petty, had died. Trudging forward, Starr made it through the meeting and kept the tour launch date on the books for Oct. 13 in Vegas.
On Oct. 12, Starr and wife Barbara Bach donated $100,000 through their Lotus Foundation to the Nevada Resort Association’s Vegas Strong Fund. The latter benefits those impacted by the Vegas shooting.
Peace and loving his way through adversity seems par for Starr’s course. In 1989, after years of struggling with addiction, Starr entered rehab and surrendered to sobriety. Seven months later, he put together his first All Starr Band.
“And here we are,” Starr said. “The dream is still unfolding.”
The concept of Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band finds the drummer sharing the stage with a who’s who of rotating musicians. To be an All Starr, you need a hit record or two to your credit. The production allows each All Starr to have his or her time in the spotlight, rocking their respective tunes. The rest of the set list, approximately half, goes to Starr with the band backing him on Beatles and solo tracks. This results in a show loaded with a total of about two dozen radio-friendly, classic rock anthems.
Since 1989, a laundry list of performers have held All Starr slots, from Starr’s brother-in-law Joe Walsh and the late Billy “the fifth Beatle” Preston to Shelia E. and Peter Frampton. According to Starr, he’s had 12 official incarnations.
The latest lineup proves to be the longest running with the core remaining the same since 2012. It features Todd Rundgren; Gregg Rolie (Santana); Richard Page (Mr. Mister); Steve Lukather (Toto); and veteran drummer Gregg Bissonette. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Warren Ham (Kansas) joined in 2014.
“Over the years, we’ve really gotten to know each other,” Starr explained. “We know where each other is heading. Once we get the harmonies right, we’re off (and running).”
Despite the fact he could easily dominate the stage himself for the entirety of a show, Starr opts for the communal experience of making music with others, allowing all involved a chance to shine.
“He likes getting to play to other peoples’ numbers,” said King. “As he says, all he ever wanted to be was a drummer. To him, the fact that he still gets to do that is the ultimate payoff. He’s spent his life doing what he wanted to do, which is play drums.”