With a little help from his friends, Ringo Starr cranked up the 13th-edition All-Starr Band last week in Niagara Falls, gassed it up, and is taking it on the road…
The sumptuous 2012 model All-Starr Band includes “newcomers” Steve Lukather (Toto) and Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) alongside veterans Todd Rundgren, Richard Page, Mark Rivera and Gregg Bissonette.
Playing to a sold-out crowd in the Avalon Ballroom at Fallsview Casino, this musical A-team pounded out a jukebox of hits that included Rosanna, Africa, Black Magic Woman, I Saw the Light and Broken Wings, along with Ringo’s classics like It Don’t Come Easy, Photograph, and Yellow Submarine.
Ringo also performed tracks including Wings and Anthem, both from his just-released 17th solo album, Ringo 2012. Ringo jokes…
I covered one of my old songs, Wings — I even thought that “Wings” would be a nice album title! I’m sure Paul would have been cool with me calling my album Wings, but someone else would have found a way to misinterpret that too. So “Ringo 2012″ it is – pure and simple – just the way I like things…because this is where I am now.
Where Ringo is now is where Rock Cellar Magazine was too — the launchpad of the 24-stop tour. He was bedecked in his trademark sunglasses, a dark blazer and matching pants — and, perhaps not surprisingly, a t-shirt bearing the Beatles’ Revolver album cover.
Ringo Starr chatted with us about his All-Starr Band, both past and present, and every member of the All-Starr band spoke exclusively with Rock Cellar Magazine about their favorite Beatles album and the indelible mark it made on their lives.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do you have a favorite Beatles album?
Ringo Starr: For me, that would be the second side of Abbey Road.
That one is my favorite because I just love all those bits and pieces that weren’t full songs that John and Paul had been working on and pulled all together — Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam, and She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.
RCM: Your song Octopus’s Garden was on the first side of Abbey Road. Can you share a memory of writing that song?
RS: I was with my family on a boating trip in Sardinia when I wrote that song. I remember the captain giving us squid and chips, and we said, “What’s that? We don’t eat squid. Have you got any fish?” Because we’re from Liverpool. (laughs)
The captain and me ended up hanging out together and we’re talking about octopus. He began telling me how they build these gardens – they go around on the seabed floor finding shiny stones and sea shells, and they put them all around…
I thought to myself, this is the happiest thing I’ve ever heard! I had my guitar with me and I played three chords, and that’s how the song Octopus’s Garden began. — Ringo Starr
RCM: Were you confident in your songwriting at that point in your career?
RS: More so at that point than when I presented Don’t Pass Me By on the White Album. I always just tried to write the best song I could. And that’s what I still try to do, because the plan of life is that you improve. That’s the only plan, really, with the hope that your ideas and art get stronger the longer you work at it.
RCM: It was a year ago this month that Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band died. What was it like to have Clemons on saxophone in your very first All-Starr Band back in ’89?
RS: Clarence was great because I was so nervous on the first All-Starrs tour and I wanted a big guy I could lean on, and no one was bigger than him. And a great musician, he was, and a lot of fun to be around.
RCM: More recently, Levon Helm died this April, and he too was a member of that first All-Starr Band.
RS: Levon, of course, I loved Levon. I loved his playing. His drumming style was incredible and it really belonged to him. You know, the drums don’t have all those chords that guitars have, where you can either put something in or leave something out — that’s really our art, and he was great at it. And a great singer, oh yes indeed.
I also loved him as a man. We were close over the years. He was on the Ringo album. You know, this happens, the wheel keeps spinning and God bless them both.
Left photo by Jeff Kravitz; WireImage Right photo by Robert Knight
RCM: Colin Hay (Men at Work) recently told Rock Cellar Magazine that being in the All-Starr Band is like being in the greatest cover band in the world.
RS: I’m surrounded by incredible musicians, incredible songs, and I don’t know if it’s going to work the day before we get here. All-Starrs have worked for the last 23 years now — so this is what we do.
I remember Stewart Copeland (The Police) came to see the show and he said the best line: “What a great band – no sidemen!” Until he said that, we never thought of it that way. The band loves that expression. And he’s right, because everybody on stage is a star in their own right.
Steve Lukather, founding member of Toto, 35-year veteran of 2,000-plus albums (with Michael Jackson, Elton John, Miles Davis and many more), winner of five Grammys and inductee in the Musicians Hall of Fame.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What is your favorite Beatles album?
Steve Lukather:Meet the Beatles — that was the life changer for me, with the song I Saw Her Standing There.
It was George’s solo – well, everything really. My father had bought that album for me when I was seven, and I wore that record out! It was the “on” switch to my life, and every song was magic. The sound was otherworldly to me, as if something from another place and time came to touch me.
And that feeling is still there for me and for everyone I know that was there in realtime. Not “retro” but real time. You had to be there and live through it all, really, the way the Beatles changed everything. Kids today could never understand it. It was not like some teeny bop shit. It was real, and still is.
RCM: What other Beatles albums did you own? All of them?
SL: I collected them all from the moment they were released, so it was a soundtrack to my coming of age in every way. Getting a new Beatles record was an event, not a purchase. I would do things for my mom and dad to get the money to buy them, or it would be a birthday or Christmas gift, then I would sit and devour the music ’til it drove my family nuts! (laughs) But those Beatles albums were the first songs I learned to play.
photo courtesy of Steve Lukather
RCM: You were in a band even as a kid, right?
SL: Yeah, when I was 11 years old – and the White Album had just come out and I learned to play Back in the U.S.S.R. I was a little kid! It was always about the music for me, and my voice hadn’t even changed yet. And we were pretty good. We’d be makin’ 20 bucks a week playing gigs. I remember we played at school, and hearing the girls scream – I was a goner from then on! (laughs)
RCM: Tell us about the new album you’re working on.
SL: I am done tracking and recording, then it’s mix time with a few last minute overdubs, but it won’t come out ’til January 2013. So I’ll have time to be in the same room for the mixes, but I am very proud of it. It’s called Transition at this point.
Lukather in Toto; 1982 (photo: stevelukather.net)
RCM: And what are your plans for the year ahead?
SL: Well, I’ll be performing with Ringo until July 21st, then I leave on the 26th for a month in Europe with Toto, then back to L.A. for USA shows. Then I go back out to Mexico with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci for two G3 shows. I toured Australia with Joe and Steve Vai in March. Then I’m off ’til next February until I begin my solo tour, then come back in May to rehearse with Toto for our 35th anniversary world tour. That’s it in a nutshell!
RCM: As a newcome to the All-Starr Band, how have the first couple of weeks in rehearsals being going?
SL: It’s a great band with a bunch of great players and singers, and then of course, Ringo! I am so honored to be here and he is such an amazing man – everything I could have dreamed him to be. This is the best summer vacation I have ever had!
Gregg Bissonette, longtime rock drummer for the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, Brian Wilson, Duran Duran, Toto and his idol, Ringo Starr.
RCM: Do you have a favorite Beatles album?
Gregg Bissonette: I’d have to say A Hard Day’s Night.
I was seven years old at the time, and it was the first time I heard the Beatles. I remember going to the drive-in movies and seeing A Hard Day’s Night and hearing songs like Can’t Buy Me Love, You Can’t Do That, and Any Time at All. As the years went on, Help! was a huge album for me, along with Rubber Soul and Revolver which were hugely important to me – and still are. But I remember seeing all the U.S. Parlophone records around, but we had all the Capitol stuff like the Beatles’ Second Album, along with Meet the Beatles.
RCM: Meet the Beatles was actually the album that turned Steve Lukather onto the Fab Four. You have a long history with him, right?
GB: Yeah, the first time I met Steve was in ’85, right after I joined David Lee Roth’s band. Jeff Porcaro invited me to sit in with the band Los Lobotomys where he was playing drums with Steve Lukather on guitar and David Garfield on keyboards, and that was the first time we jammed together. We did a lot of gigs after that in Los Angeles and a lot of recording sessions.
Bissonette (right) with David Lee Roth
Then Steve invited me to play with Toto for four months in Europe in ’95. Then theLuke album was done and he invited me to tour that album in Japan and Europe, followed by a tour with Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton where we won a Grammy for an album called No Substitutions. I also played on his new album that isn’t finished yet; it’s so great to have him in the band…!
RCM: Along with being his drummer, what’s your relationship like with Ringo?
GB: It’s a great friendship, but as drummers we have an awesome relationship too. We are always talking about fills and grooves and where this song, and that song, should end. For instance, Todd’s song I Saw the Light – I think Todd probably played the drums on that – it goes, dun-dun-dun-doo-bop-ti-ti-boom-boom for the intro and the verses. But then the chorus goes boom-ti-ti-bop. So they flip, and we are always joking about that, like, “This crazy part is coming up!” It’s a real brotherly drumming kind of relationship, and lord knows I’ve learned so much from Ringo over the years.
Todd Rundgren, songwriter, recording artist, software developer, interactive artist and renowned producer of albums including Meat Loaf’sBat Out of Hell.
RCM: Do you remember the first Beatles album you ever heard?
Todd Rundgren: I remember hearing the song Please Please Me on the car radio, from their debut album, and thinking, “Wow — that’s different! That’s different from the usual crap we hear on the radio.”
And it really was. It was very different to all the pretty boy Fabian or Frankie Avalon and a bunch of back-up musicians thing. Hearing the Beatles for the first time, I remember thinking, “These guys are tight, and exciting!”
But just before that – I was maybe 15 years old when the Beatles came out – before they had even released a record in the U.S., I remember being in the school library where they had magazines like Time and Newsweek.
I vividly recall leafing through those magazines and reading this little sidebar talking about the Beatles. But the focus was less about their music and more about their hair. Y’know, what they called the pudding-bowl hair cut, or whatever it was. And I thought, “This is for me because I hate having my hair cut!” I loved the idea of having long hair, so before I had ever heard their music I was into the Beatles – just because of the hair.
RCM: History repeats itself – Justin Bieber’s hair makes headlines now.
TR: Well, he is pretty much nothing but a haircut (laughs). And that’s nothing compared to when you saw the Beatles getting chased down the street by hundreds of screaming girls because they have long hair and pointy boots. I remember seeing that and thinking, “That’s what I need!” Because I couldn’t get a girlfriend for the life of me, but I thought, “All I got to do is grow my hair long and play a guitar, and life will be better!”
RCM: Any other Beatles’ songs you remember hearing for the first time?
TR: I remember the first time I heard Roll Over Beethoven on a jukebox in a pizza restaurant with a big 15-inch speaker. That was the very first time I’d ever heard a bass drum! And that thump that went, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, and thinking, “Wow, now that’s something!” I wasn’t just hearing it, I could feel it! And so my brain started to open up about all the possibilities of what music might be for me.
I was a guitar player and loved the instrument, and thought I might get into a band like the Ventures, y’know, playing Walk Don’t Run or instrumentals like that. And here were the Beatles – with songs that spoke about the concerns of youth and not just, “Oh baby, I love you.” It was music that was starting to get wider and brighter, and I wasn’t totally sure what it was but I knew it was something I wanted to do at that point… when I first heard those Beatles songs.
RCM: As a veteran of the All-Starr Band, how does this line-up compare to previous incarnations?
TR: This has been my third experience with the band, and this is the first time, from a non-musical stand point, where this band actually walks the walk, with the whole “peace and love” thing.
2012 All-Starr Band. Photo by Rob Shanahan
Every day that we play together, we love each other more! We go out to dinner together, we go to the movies together, and all that inspires us to play better together. And I guarantee that by the end of this tour, we’re going to be delivering renditions that surpass anything we’ve done before.
Richard Page, singer and bassist of multi-platinum-selling band Mr. Mister, songwriter for the likes of Kenny Loggins, Celine Dion, Tupac and Madonna, and musical collaborator with Elton John, Michael Jackson and countless others.
RCM: Is there one album that turned you onto the Beatles?
Richard Page: Lemme tell you, I wasn’t a huge Beatles fan in the beginning..!
I think I was about 10 years old when they first came on the scene and I was living in Santa Monica, CA. Growing up there, and at that time, the Beach Boys were much more popular in my area where I lived. There were a few Beatles fans, and I remember that kids at school would kind of draw a line in the sand, like you were either a Beatles fan or you were a Beach Boys fan. And you’d dress the part. You’d dress like a Beach Boy or you’d dress like a Beatle. And I was a Beach Boys fan.
All that changed when I discovered Revolver, and then I really, really got what they were all about. That album blew my mind because it was so intricate and so interesting lyrically and compositionally. It was so unusual and groundbreaking. So with Revolver, that’s where I really started to become a fan of the Beatles.
RCM: You’ve been with the All-Starr Band for a few years now. How does it differ from being in previous bands like Pages, Mr. Mister and Third Matinee?
RP: I’d say it’s just like any other band except we haven’t been with each other for years and years, so we don’t carry around all the baggage. (laughs) So that’s good! It’s really a lot of fun as we get to hang out, socialize, and get to know each other.
And the cool thing about it is that all the songs are huge hits that everybody knows. They’re a part of everybody’s history, like Gregg Rolie doing Black Magic Woman this tour. It’s always amazing to watch people’s faces light up as soon as they hear the down beat of a song they love. You should see it from where we’re standing the people just go crazy when we break into Yellow Submarine.
RCM: What was it like when you first met Ringo?
RP: I was totally enamored when I first met him and I was kind of intimidated. He was so kind, though, and so regular. He’s just a really sweet guy. And he’s able to compartmentalize the “Ringo” part of his character.
RCM: How so?
RP: Richard Starkey is a separate thing from “Ringo.” He’s managed to have a healthy attitude about his celebrity, and lives his live with a lot of dignity. That’s one really cool thing about him once you get to know him.
Mr. Mister (from richardpagemusic.com)
Another cool thing about Ringo is this year, he’s letting me play a third song on tour and it’s not a Mr. Mister song. It’s a solo song of mine called You Are Mine which was on my last album, Peculiar Life.
RCM: And you have a new album soon to be released, right?
RP: Yes, it’s called Songs from the Sketchbook and it’s coming out in a few weeks. The songs were all demos or songs that I’ve pitched to other people – maybe they cut them, maybe they didn’t. But most of them are songs that I really like that maybe nobody’s heard.
I was inspired by people talking on the internet about these demos I’ve had that were bootlegged, where fans would trade them around and talk about them. And I thought that if they’re going to do that, then I’m going to get some of them together and master them and put them out the way I want them to be heard. I think it’s a cool idea and I’m really excited about
Gregg Rolie, co-founder of supergroups Santana and Journey, known for his keyboards and vocals on Evil Ways, No One to Depend On, and Black Magic Woman; Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Santana.
RCM: Was there a pivotal Beatles album in your life?
Gregg Rolie: Man, there are so many of them that would be hard to choose just one.
I can answer that question by saying the Beatles did things from Revolver to Rubber Soul that were so innovative, so hard to do. Complete opposite side of those albums would be Sgt. Peppers with the multi-tracking with four tracks. Nobody had ever done that before, either. So I can’t pick just one album, because their whole career was brilliant, and to think that it actually happened over the period of nine years — all that music was created. I’ve never seen anything so prolific as that.
And it wasn’t like schlock stuff, they did everything and they did it successfully. I know when I first heard Love Me Do on my little clock radio when I was a kid, I remember listening to it as I was going to sleep and thinking what a cool tune it was. I don’t know if anybody knew who they were at that time, but I remember how I felt like I was the one who discovered them. (laughs)
RCM: What are you working on these days?
GR: I’m in the process of finishing about six songs right now and I did have some stuff that I put out on a CD called Five Days. It’s just me and a piano, because my son thought it was a great idea – singing and playing at the same time, the way they used to do it.
RCM: How was that experience?
GR: It was unnerving, I have to tell you! When playing and singing at the same time, you have to get it right. And so I’ve done a few things like that recently and played songs that nobody would ever think I would do, along with ones I did with my band which are more of a Latin flavor. And that’s new. What I get a lot of is, fans saying, “Is that a Santana song? I don’t remember that song? Which I consider a compliment because it means it’s in the pocket with what the music is.
Rolie (rt) with Journey (photo: Michael Putland)
RCM: You have been an ardent supporter of the non-profit organization Little Kids Rock, that works to keep art and music in the public school systems. Tell us about that.
GR: Well, the very fact that they’re taking music and art out of the education is moronic. It’s a proven scientific fact that if you work that side of the brain it will help you with the other side. It really does. And replacing cultural education in schools with a bunch of numbers is a disgrace.
How will kids know what’s in a museum, if they even know what a museum is? Music and art is such a great point of expression for human beings – it shapes well rounded individuals, and it’s good for the soul, even if you don’t do it professionally. And when you take that choice out of education, you’re taking away something that is beautiful and vital, and I don’t agree with it. I did a show for them in San Francisco, and I think there should be a lot more of that.
RCM: As a newcomer to the All-Starr Band, how was that first day of rehearsals?
GR: Ringo said that first day, “Ah, we’ll get to know each other in a couple days,” and we pretty much did! I knew Luke (Steve Lukather), not that well but I met him years ago, and I had never met Richard or Todd or Ringo. But it turned out great as this is a great group of human beings to play with. And as you get older, that becomes more important, surrounding yourself with good people, because it will just accentuate that blending of the band even more.
Mark Rivera, multi-instrumentalist who has toured with Foreigner, Billy Joel, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, and Simon & Garfunkel; saxophonist and musical director of the 13th All-Starr Band tour.
RCM: Do you have a favorite Beatles album?
Mark Rivera:Revolver, no question. I absolutely love Revolver.
I love all the Beatles albums — as I like to call them, because they were albums — but that one in particular because when engineer Geoff Emerick started the recording, he just totally went against the grain. He started blowing up all the equipment because up until then, they weren’t wearing lab suits and you couldn’t put a microphone too close to a bass drum. He just pushed all the limits.
I believe the first song he recorded was Tomorrow Never Knows, which is my ringtone on my phone. Revolver is just a tremendous sounding record, as they took all the boundaries and knocked them down. You’ve got to realise they changed the face of music, not just once, but again and again and again!
When they first came out they were writing pop songs about love, and by the second and third album, things were changing and evolving. I remember the changes happening by the time Rubber Soul came out, and how the band’s appearance was changing with John’s hair getting longer. And they affected every part of my life. Not just the music, but fashion and friends as well. Todd said earlier that the Beatles influenced the way we get along with friends, because they made us want to be in a band, just like them.
So Revolver sticks out as my favourite, and always will. In fact, I’ve got on a Revolver pin and Ringo is wearing a Revolver shirt today. That album changed everything, and I just love it.
RCM: You’ve been with the All-Starr Band since ’95 and have shared the stage with the likes of Randy Bachman, Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, Rodger Hodgson, Peter Frampton, Sheila E and many more. Is there one All-Starr member who you most connected with over the years?
MR: Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + the Mechanics, Ace) and I hung out together a lot. I just love Paul Carrack — his voice, his personality. When he was in the band we did the songs Tempted, Living Years, and How Long?, so we covered three separate parts of his career.
Then there’s Edgar Winter, who is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever worked with. The band at that time, I remember how Richard (Page) blew my mind because I didn’t know what a wonderful musician he is, until he came in and just nailed Edgar’s song Frankenstein.
And that’s not easy, because Edgar has these big ears and he hears everything and will say, “Oh no, that’s an F sharp up into a G.” Every bit and piece of that big song is relevant. And with this band, I think Luke (Steve Lukather) is off the chain! He’s the finest guitarist I’ve ever shared the stage with.
RCM: Your debut album, Common Bond, will be released this summer, right
MR: Yes. People ask me why I decided to do a record now, especially with the state of affairs with the music industry. But I wanted to make an album that reflects all these different people I’ve played with and how incredible influences, like the Beatles, have shaped my music. I love Jimi Hendrix, so I recorded Spanish Castle Magic, and I have some very special guests on the album like Nils Lofgren, Billy Joel, and Ringo.
I’m living a dream, playing in the All-Starr Band. As musicians, I don’t think you can come into this career without being influenced by the Beatles. The source of everything we do really started with Ringo, and all of us are just really thankful for getting our starts by listening to Beatles records.