Ringo Starr has kicked off plenty of tours with his All-Star Bands over the years. But Thursday night's (Aug. 1) start of the Beatles drummer's latest sojourn had some particularly special meaning.
It's been just over 30 years — since July 23, 1989 — that Starr launched his first All-Starr Band outing, a corps that included brother-in-law Joe Walsh, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band, and Clarence Clemons and Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. His similarly well-credentialed 15th lineup, meanwhile, showed the state of the All-Starrs is still solid, delivering a characteristically hit-filled, just over two-hour show before a packed and exuberant house at Caesars Windsor on the south shore of the Detroit River.
"For me (the band) was one of those magical moments because it's something you don't plan," Starr told Billboard prior to rehearsals for the tour opener. "Somebody went to my lawyer in L.A… and asked if I'd like to put a band together and go on tour. I don't know what happened — I said yes! And then I realized I didn't have a band so I thought, 'Well, I'm just gonna call up old friends and they can sing and I'll sing and we'll all play together. That's how the first one got started.
"I never sit and think, 'Oh, man, we'll be doing this in 30 years…' It's not a thought you have. But it's still going and it's still popular and I'm still having fun and I love playing, so I've got all the reasons I need to do it year after year."
This year's All-Starr Band deftly straddled the familiar and fresh on Thursday. Guitarist Steve Lukather and keyboardist Gregg Rolie have been part of the ranks for seven years and turned out favorites from the former's Toto (a jammed-out "Rosanna," "Africa" and "Hold the Line") and Rolie's days in Santana "(Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and "Oye Como Va"). The troupe clearly hasn't tired of playing Colin Hay's Men At Work hits, either, rolling through the crafted pop of "Down Under," "Overkill" (which Lukather complimented afterwards) and a particularly spirited "Who Can It Be Now?"
And the Average White Band's Hamish Stuart, switching between bass and guitar, returned for the first time in 11 years, adding a funky flavor with "Pick Up the Pieces," "Cut the Cake" and the Isley Brothers' "Work To Do."
Starr, meanwhile, kept the peace signs flashing and smile on his face, whether he was down front or on the drum kit. The Beatles' rendition of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox" kicked off the show and led into Starr's first solo hit, "It Don't Come Easy," after which he saluted co-writer and late Beatles mate George Harrison with a hearty, "Hare Krishna, George!" Before the Rubber Soul rarity "What Goes On" Starr noted that it was the only Beatles song credited to Lennon, McCartney and Starkey — quipping that "the names should have been the other way around." "Yellow Submarine" was its usual singalong favorite, while "Photograph," "Act Naturally" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" sent the crowd home on a high note.
"You can't doubt those songs," Starr explained. "That's what was planted in me when I put the All-Starrs together — you have to have hits. It's like the 'hit band,' you know? And it's a great thing for me because I get a chance to play with everybody on drums and then I get to go down and perform and have fun with the audience.
"It worked 30 years ago, and it's still working today."
The All-Starrs will be working the current tour all of August, finishing Sept. 1 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Starr's fall will be busy as well. He'll be publishing a third photo book, Another Day in the Life, and he'll be finishing up his next album, the follow up to 2017's Give More Love, with guest appearances by Walsh and Paul McCartney, who Starr joined on stage earlier this month at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. "I'm actually pretty far along," Starr says of the album, though no title and release date have been announced yet. Meanwhile, he's acknowledged that the Beatles will be releasing an Abbey Road boxed set to celebrate that album's 50th anniversary.
"I've loved all the re-releases because of the remastering, and you can hear the drums, which got dialed down in the old days," Starr says. "I get a bit fed up, personally, with all those, like, Take 9 or Take 3, the odd takes that we didn't put out, but that's part of the box set and you have to do stuff like that. But I've always just listened to the record itself, what we put out in the 60s or 1970, and it's brighter. It's amazing with Beatles music; We have a billion streams a year now, and every generation still has a listen to us. Far out."