Phoenix, AZ — On June 26 of this year, Sir Paul McCartney brought an evening of legendary music to Talking Stick Resort Arena. Exactly two months later, Ringo Starr became the second Beatle to grace the stages of Arizona. This is the 30-year anniversary of this touring rock supergroup, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, with a shifting lineup that has included legends such as Joe Walsh, Todd Rungren, Clarence Clemons, Peter Frampton, John Entwhistle, and so many more (see list below). Starr is really the only constant member.
This year’s line up is no exception to Starr’s history of building a stellar lineup:
- The dueling guitarists were the unlikely pairing of Steve Lukather (Toto) and Colin Hay (Men At Work). These two master songwriters brought along their biggest hits to add to the already incredible setlist. Fans were treated to Toto’s “Rosanna”, “Africa”, and “Hold The Line” and Men At Work’s “Down Under”, “Overkill”, and of course “Who Can It Be Now.”
- On the Hammond organ was none other than Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) who chipped in the classic Santana songs “Evil Ways”, “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen”, and “Oye Como Va”, but unfortunately nothing from his days with Journey.
- Bassist Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) was back after his stint in the lineup from 2006 to 2008. He switched over to guitar when the band dove into the Average White Band standards “Pick Up The Pieces” and “Cut The Cake.”
- Gregg Bissonette on drums and Warren Ham on… well, everything else (saxophone, flute, keyboards, percussion, etc.) rounded out the lineup. Both have toured extensively with major recording acts, such as Bissonette’s time with “Diamond” David Lee Roth during the “Eat ‘Em And Smile” era, and Ham’s contributions to Kansas and Toto (now that’s an ironic combo of band names).
All that talent on the revolving stage of the Celebrity Theater culminated in the focal point of the evening; a man who’s former band is arguably the most famous band in the history of rock & roll. And yes, Starr brought a few songs to the setlist from his days with the Fab Four, starting with the only song credited to Lennon–McCartney–Starkey, “What Goes On.” Ringo Starr is the stage name of Sir Richard Starkey, knighted by Prince William on March 20, 2018. The two most popular Beatles songs that featured Starr’s voice where the whimsical “Yellow Submarine” and the song he sang in the guise of the one-and-only Billy Shears, “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
Starr’s credentials make him a legendary musician, but he seemed very unassuming. There was no fabricated swagger or false bravado in his delivery. He was reverent of the talent of his bandmates while clearly letting loose to have fun on stage. Even his attire hinted at high fashion with a jacket and black leather pants, but they were offset by a pair of comfortable sneakers and a rhinestone shirt that said “Peace Rocks”. The peace sign proved to be a prevalent theme throughout the show, from holding up the hand sign for peace to wearing peace necklaces. Starr looked spry and healthy wearing his signature sunglasses and sporting the kempt beard and mustache. Though he is 79 years old, there was nothing lethargic or geriatric about this performance. It was quite the opposite: an energetic and youthful performance from start to finish.
Although there are some Ringo Starr hits embroidered in the fabric of our collective memory, it takes a show like this to remind us of just how many there have been. Eight songs from his solo career broke the top 10 in the US charts and two hit number one (“You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph”). Between 1970 and 2017, Ringo has released 19 solo studio records. The second song of the set started the audience down memory lane with “It Don’t Come Easy” from the 1975 album Blast From Your Past.
Starr shared the spotlight and lead vocal duties with the singers that made their respective songs famous. It was like a karaoke dream where everyone sounded exactly like the record. One highlight was hearing Rolie breathing life into “Black Magic Woman,” and then hearing Lukather shredding on the soulful solos of Carlos Santana, was magical. As the song transitioned to “Gypsy Queen”, it was Gregg Bissonette’s turn to shine as he vamped on the drumset.
A majority of the crowd were old enough to remember the quirky videos of Men At Work on MTV’s heavy rotation in the early 80’s. There were possibly a handful of people that didn’t recognize Colin Hay playing guitar on stage, but everyone recognized that distinctive voice singing “I come from the land down under,” Ham obviously broke out the flute to play the infectious solo on “Down Under” and then later in the show played the famous sax line on “Who Can It Be Now.”
While out of the spotlight, Starr was still an archetypal presence as he rose to his drum throne and commandeered the instrument that he is best known for. The bass drum of his Ludwig drum kit that once sported The Beatles logo, now has a symbolic star and lotus flower logo, presumably in support of the Ringo Starr Art Lotus Foundation.
Being the drummer in the back typically garners less notoriety, especially when you’re standing on the shoulders of giants like Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. But throughout his career, he has received 9 Grammys, and has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a Beatle and then as a solo artist. Starr played in perfect synchronicity with Bissonette and reminded all of the musicians in the room why he is considered by many to be included in the category of best rock drummer of all time.
The wonderful evening of hit music was capped off with a resounding message of peace when Ringo and the boys joined in on the anthem “Give Peace A Chance,” the anti-war chant that John Lennon and Yoko Ono voiced 50 years ago from room 1742 that still needs to be heard today.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band – Celebrity Theatre 8-26-19
Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved