Yes, I said it. Ringo Starr is the greatest rock n’ roll drummer of all-time.
I understand that there’s always a subjective element to calling someone the “greatest.” Here are my three pieces of evidence:
- Ringo has his own singular sound. It was kind of groundbreaking and is impossible to replicate.
- He serves the song, not himself.
- He doesn’t have to hit a bunch of stuff (see: Keith Moon) or hit stuff real hard (see: John Bonham) to be effective.
Now that we got that out of the way, Ringo brought the 398th version of his All-Starr band to Mystic last night. Okay, so there haven’t been that many All-Starr bands, but close enough.
The All-Starr Concept
Ringo Starr created his first All-Starr band in 1989, the same year he started a delightful run as the tiny conductor on the original Thomas the Tank Engine kids television show (bizarrely and hilariously, legendary R-rated comic George Carlin succeeded him).
The All-Starr concept was simple: Ringo and a handful of his famous friends would play both Ringo/Beatles songs and their own material. It was a fairly original idea at the time.
The lineup of the first version was stunning. Every member was a legend: Levon Helm (drums) and Rick Danko (bass) from the Band (the second greatest rock n’ roll rhythm section to McCartney and Starr), Joe Walsh (guitar), the Eagles’ Nils Lofgren (guitar), Billy Preston (organ), Dr. John (piano), and Springsteen’s saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Holy moly, man.
Many legitimate stars have been in the band since, including Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren, Sheila E., members of Cream, the Guess Who, Bad Company, the Who, Procol Harum, and many more.
I Can’t Believe I Forgot About the Average White Band
Ringo’s current All-Starr band isn’t filled with as many big knockers. Members of Santana, Average White Band, Men at Work, and Toto top the bill.
Considering that fact, they definitely out-kicked their coverage. Their energy never wavered, and they even occasionally had a reckless, heavy vibe. The jams at the end of Toto’s “Rosanna” and Santana-via-Fleetwood Mac hit “Black Magic Woman” were impressive.
I knew the types of hits I was in for from members of Santana (“Evil Ways”), Toto (“Rosanna” and “Africa”) and Men at Work (“Land Down Under,” “Who Can it Be Now?”). Each were fun and fairly by-the-books.
I forgot, however, about how sweet and funky the Average White Band is. My goodness. “Pick up the Pieces,” “Cut the Cake,” and “Work to Do” were all red hot. Revisit their white soul if you haven’t listened to them in a while (or perhaps at all).
What Goes On
The main attraction, of course, was the Beatle in our midst.
“Matchbox” was an interesting choice to open the show. The classic Carl Perkins song – which he took from Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1927 blues standard “Matchbox Blues” and recorded for Sun Records in 1957 – is one of Ringo’s more obscure Beatles vocal performances. Its high energy, old school rock n’ roll vibe was a good table-setter.
Two more seminal tracks followed: Ringo’s best solo song, “It Don’t Come Easy,” and the first song he received songwriting credit for, Rubber Soul deep cut “What Goes On.” The latter, a fun rockabilly stomp, is the only Lennon-McCartney-Starr composition, as he noted before they played it.
While there were some requisite choices (“Yellow Submarine,” “You’re Sixteen,” “Photograph”), the less obvious songs were the most interesting.
Ringo began a version of White Album country track “Don’t Pass Me By” on piano before returning to the front of the stage to sway and sing and flash peace signs. He showed his country side again on an upbeat take on Buck Owen’s classic “Act Naturally,” which was his vocal on the Beatles Help! album.
One of my unpopular music opinions is that the Beatles early music is better than their later period. Ringo dug deep into their early repertoire, pulling out 1962 Please Please Me album cut (and track he used to play with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, his group before the Beatles, as he noted) “Boys” and 1963’s “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
That One Time a Songwriter That Opened for me Sang Onstage with a Beatle
Beloved local songwriter Ben Kyle joined Ringo for closing “With a Little Help from my Friends.” The Romantica frontman is evidently friends with him? It was really cool to see.
Yes, you read that right, Kyle once opened for me. I’m kind of stretching the truth, but only kind of. Many years ago, Ben was on a bill of songwriters put together by our mutual friend Erik Brandt at the old Black Bear Crossings coffee shop on Como Lake.
He happened to play before me. It was my very first show, and one of his first as well, I believe. That only made it crazier to see him onstage with a freaking Beatle.
Peace and Love, Peace and Love
The show ended with a bit of the famous chorus from John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Playing in front of a trippy stage backdrop, Ringo spent much of the show preaching about peace and love, as he often does.
His sincere hippie idealism is an antidote for our overly cynical world. The joy he provides through his music promotes his values better than anything else.
Notes and Otherwise
- Alternate article title: “Ringo Starr is Just Happy to be Here.”
- At one point, Toto’s Steve Lukather introduced his “new best friend.” To my surprise, it wasn’t Rivers Cuomo (it was Ringo, aww). I can’t even imagine the stacks and stacks of Weezer-provided cash that Lukather and his Toto bandmates are getting thanks to their covers of “Rosanna” and “Africa.”
- Speaking of, “Rosanna” is better than “Africa,” don’t @ me. I’ve listened to both songs on enough bargain bin Best of the ‘80s CDs to know.
- A couple of the band members had a Minnesota theme going on: bassist Hamish Stuart was wearing a Rod Carew jersey and drummer Gregg Bissonette wore a Prince shirt. Ringo was wearing a shirt with stars on it, which I can only assume is a reference to First Ave. Why else would Ringo wear a shirt with stars?
- “I just want Ringo to be my adopted grandfather” – Music in Minnesota’s Laura Lee Buhman (who took the lovely photos that accompany this article)