When asked about Ringo’s contributions to The Beatles, all three of his former bandmates were always quick to confirm that they needed him as much as he needed them.
“He was quite simply the heart of The Beatles,” reckoned John Lennon.
“We just thought he was the very best drummer we’d ever seen,” declared Paul McCartney.
But maybe George Harrison summed it up best when he said, “Playing without Ringo is like driving a car on three wheels”.
Almost half a century after The Beatles broke up, Ringo has just completed a major European tour, and will begin its American leg in September, at the head of a band that includes Toto’s Steve Lukather, Santana’s Gregg Rolie, 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, Colin Hay from Men At Work), Warren Hamm (from Toto) and Greg Bissonette, whose credits include David Lee Roth.
Many of these revered players have their own successful live bands, but for all of them, playing with Ringo is something special.
Putting a genuinely all star band together might seem a daunting task, but tour coordinator George Travis points out, “I don’t think you’ll ever find a musician who doesn’t jump at the chance of working with Ringo Starr.
“When I call up anyone, and say, ‘Hey, I’m putting together a tour with Ringo…’, I don’t finish the sentence before they say, ‘I’m in.'”
Of course, no matter how stellar a band’s line-up might be, they couldn’t put a show on the road without a top-notch, dedicated road crew.
Ringo’s crew, like the members of his band, consists of consummate professionals, many of whom have been with him for many years.
“I feel blessed to work with this crew and tour staff – they are the best and the show wouldn’t happen without them,” says Ringo.”
Travis, nicknamed God by some of the team, has been putting All-Starr tours together since they started in 1989.
“I feel blessed to work with this crew and tour staff – they are the best and the show wouldn’t happen without them,” says Starr.
Before any All-Starr line-up hits the road, Travis will have spent months working closely with Dave Hart of Los Angeles-based Powerline Entertainment.
As tour producer, Hart describes his role as “helping to suggest artistes to be in the band. So I bring a list of potential guitarists, keyboardists and bass players. We talk about these people and how they might work together, and then Ringo decides who should be in the band.”
Travis adds, “It’s usually musicians from the ‘60s to the ‘80s and what he’s interested in is not just which songs they can bring to the show, but how they will click with the rest of the band.”
The other key figure at this planning stage is Mark Rivera, the saxophonist best-known for his lengthy association with Billy Joel, but who is also the All-Starrs’ musical director.
“Mark’s so busy with Billy Joel he can’t actually tour with the All-Starrs anymore,” Hart points out. “But once Ringo’s decided who will be in the band, Mark has a lot of input. He, Ringo and myself design the show. The order of the songs comes from Mark and Ringo. Mark comes to rehearsals and makes sure everything is working.”
“I feel blessed to work with this crew and tour staff – they are the best”
But how do the individual components of an All-Starr band come together?
One major change for this tour has been the inclusion of 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, whose decades of experience as a musician and songwriter made him an ideal choice.
“My agent got a call from Dave Hart, because the band’s long-time bassist Richard Page wanted to do some other things. They were basically looking for a singing bass player. When we met, the first question was, ‘Do you want to do it?’ Stupid question.”
Gouldman then spent several months learning the repertoire via YouTube clips provided by Rivera. “I felt I knew the band even before I met them,” he says.
Under Rivera’s watchful eye, they spent three days rehearsing at The Borgota Hotel auditorium (cap. 3,200) in Atlantic City where they also played two warm-up shows before flying to Paris for the first date of the tour, at L’Olympia (1,985) on 6 June.
With Rivera remaining in the US, if any further musical changes were needed, each band member acted as MD for whichever of their own songs the band was performing. For Toto’s Steve Lukather, for example, it’s songs such as Hold The Line and Rosanna and for Gouldman, it’s 10cc’s I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday.
Althouh Powerline’s Hart scheduled the American dates, it was Neil Warnock at United Talent Agency in the UK who put the European itinerary together.
“My priority has been to route it so that it’s easy for Ringo to do, with days off where possible. It’s also about where he wants to play. We came up with an itinerary that was very mixed across the whole of Europe and then next year we’re planning to go to the Far East.”
Needless to say, Warnock was at L’Olympia to see the tour get underway. “Having Graham in the band has given them another boost of energy,” he feels. “I think changes in the line-up re-energises them. Those incredible 10cc songs get a great treatment from the rest of the band.”
Gouldman concurs, but points out that, “With this band we’re not here to exactly reproduce the records, because each of the All-Starr players has his own feel. Steve [Lukather], for example, is a brilliant world-class guitar player, but if we’re doing a 10cc song, he’ll have a different feel than [10cc’s] Rick Fenn has on our version. What’s important is that the spirit of the song is exactly right.”
Travis notes, “It’s a pretty intense thing, a tour like this. You have what is effectively a little village out there on the road, living it all day every day, never getting away from each other. These people have all worked with lots of other top artistes, but I reckon if you ask any of them for their favourite tour principal, Ringo would be in the top two.”
Tour manager Wayne LeBeaux has worked with Ringo for 17 years, and it is to him that Travis hands over once the tour gets underway.
“I have two great road managers, Donny Wightman and Fred Girello, who assist me in making everything happen, and once we’re on the road, my main job is taking care of Ringo. Donny and Fred look after the band.
“All these guys wanna do is play music and have a great time, so we enable them to have no worries other than showing-up on stage and making great music. And that happens night after night.”
Asked for a breakdown of the team, LeBeaux says, “There are 12 in the band party, and then 10 on the crew side – production manager, two sound guys, two lighting people, guitar tech, drum tech, keyboard tech and one merchandise person. We have just one bus and one truck, plus a few locally-sourced cars.”
Hearing George Travis enthuse about the crew, it’s clear he’s very proud of what they’ve all achieved together.
“Wayne and I have worked together on quite a few other projects,” he reveals. “I bring him in at the point when we’re figuring-out the logistics of the band. I tell him the details of the route and he then liaises with Mike Hawksworth at The Tour Company [in the US], who has been doing that since the early days of the Rolling Stones and The Who.”
When he starts detailing the individual merits of each crew stalwart, it’s hard to stop Travis before he’s mentioned everybody.
“Sue, our lighting director, is a great example of a woman who has made it in the business. I wish we had more women out there, but they have to work so much harder than the guys to prove themselves. Jeff Chonis, Ringo’s drum tech, has been with us since day one…”
And then he’s on a roll, explaining why Brian Bavido is the best front-of-house (FOH) soundman in the business, why Ken Kaler is the greatest production manager and on he goes.
Chatting with the individual crew members, it seems that they share Travis’s perspective but, being at the sharp end, they know exactly how demanding their roles are.
“I have to get the sound right because all of the guys in the band are real professionals,” says Bavido. “They know what they want to sound like, and they all care about it.”
Bavido has been responsible for changing the All-Starr audio set-up from analogue to digital. “When I took over the FOH position, it had always been analogue consoles but, being the young whipper-snapper, I wanted a digital desk. I knew it would be better because we’d be doing everything from ‘60s Beatles’ songs that needed plate reverb and a tape echo sound, to ‘80s rock tracks which required their own appropriate delays and reverbs.”
To achieve these differing soundscapes, they’re using two of the latest Yamaha PM7 consoles. “Nobody is using any external reverbs or delays,” he says. “It’s all built into the desk.”
This set-up has an added bonus. “Because the sound-modelling software in the desk is so sophisticated, we don’t have to carry heavy speaker systems on the road.” Instead, speakers suited to the halls are supplied locally and, “I use Lake system processors to tie into the local PA, and EQ as I need to. We connect everything through a couple of pieces of fibre-optic cable, and that’s it.”
“Booking Ringo is the highlight of my career. A guy who played in The Beatles – that’s really something”
Bertus De Blaauw
Something similar prevails in Susan Rose’s domain. “The lighting team consists of myself and my master electrician Brad Brown,” she says.
“Everything else is done with local crews that we direct at each venue.”
Rose explains that instead of trundling heavy lighting gear all across Europe, “We just carry a GrandMa2 Lite desk. I have different lighting fixtures everyday so I have to clone the show daily and programme all afternoon to get it as close as possible to our normal show and maintain consistency.”
Ringo, she says, rarely interferes in her realm. “His main thing is that he likes to see the audience so we have par cans to light the audience throughout the show. And we also have Lekos on every band member to be able to see everyone on stage.”
Jeff Ravitz, founder of lighting design studio Intensity Advisors, based in North Hollywood, has been with Ringo since the first All-Starr tour, and puts everything in place to ensure that Susan Rose can function on the road.
“We send a plot and equipment list to the show promoter in each European city, so they can provide the lighting system from local vendors,” he says,
“The one element that changes for each tour is the backdrop. Intensity Advisors has designed several very complex and beautiful backdrops – those and some large stars are the only scenic elements Ringo has ever had, so we go to a lot of effort to be creative for him.”
Given that Ringo is notorious for liking to play in unusual spaces, every All-Starr crew member requires a high degree of adaptability.
“The smallest room we’ve done was an underground 250-seater [the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado] about two years ago,” recalls Bavido. “We’ve played a bingo hall in Wisconsin and we’ve done 80,000 people outdoors in Argentina.
“So it’s literally impossible, and not economically viable, to carry a PA that will suit all the options. However, with all of the technology we have now, I can make it work for whatever venue we’re in.”
With the first show in the bag, the tour was ready to move on across the continent, with most of the crew travelling by bus, while the band members and other core participants flew by private jet, provided by UK-based Premier Aviation,.
“We receive the dates months in advance, and our priority is to find the right aircraft that can provide consistency with crew, and making Ringo’s schedule work for him,” explains Premier broking manager Lizzy Templer. “In this case there were quite a few cities where they wanted to move on immediately after the show, so we had to make sure we could get late night extensions wherever possible.”
The plane, a 13-seat Embraer Legacy 600, adds a touch of luxury that 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, for one, especially appreciated. “It’s the joy of coming off stage, straight into a waiting car, whisked off to the airport and, quite often, after the gig we fly on to the next destination rather than going back to the hotel. We have to go through airport security but as it’s only the band plus the rest of that entourage, it’s pretty fast.”
The plane touched down in Groningen, Netherlands, on 7 June to headline the Holland International Blues Festival (12,500) in Grolloo, the following day.
Promoter Bertus De Blaauw of Mojo Concerts recalls, “It was a sell-out. Ringo is very special to the Dutch audience because when The Beatles visited Holland in the ‘60s, Ringo was sick so they had a substitute drummer. That made this the first chance for a lot of Dutch people to finally get to see Ringo Starr, and he and the All-Starrs went down fantastically with the crowd.
For me, booking Ringo is the highlight of my career. A guy who played in The Beatles – that’s really something.”
The second of four German dates, in Hamburg’s Freilichtbühne Stadtpark (4,500), didn’t go quite so smoothly, as promoter Johannes Wessels of Music Minds Concerts remembers.
“Hamburg loves Ringo, because of The Beatles connection from when they played there in the ‘60s, but when he got up that morning [10 June] he could not speak a word, so we had to cancel the show. But he said he had a special medicine which he was certain would work, and he’d be fine to do the show the next day.
“I couldn’t believe it, but he was absolutely confident. We left all the gear in the venue overnight and, happily, most of the crowd came back on the Monday and it was a great show,” Wessels relates.
There was an unexpected encounter for Ringo when the tour arrived for a virtually sold-out show at the Czech Republic’s Kongresove Centrum (2,500) in Prague on 19 June. Not only did promoter George Daron of Pragokoncert enjoy what he calls “a wonderful almost dance party-like atmosphere”, but he took the opportunity to introduce Ringo to top local drummer Frantisek Ringo Cech, known as The Czech Ringo since he won a contest in 1965.
“They had a lovely photo taken to commemorate the moment,” says Daron. “The Czech Ringo is hugely respected in our country, very popular and a most confident guy. Yet, before meeting Ringo Starr, I could see how very nervous he looked, which I had never experienced with him before.”
The tour moved on through venues in cities as widely scattered as Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Italy, winding-up with a celebration of good vibes and classic song-smithery at Italy’s Auditorium Cavea (3,200) in Rome on 11 July.
As Dave Hart puts it, “At the start of every show, Ringo says, ‘Do you wanna have a good time?’ And they scream. Then he says, ‘Do you wanna hear some good music?’ And they respond to that, and that’s his focus. Although they are all stars in their own right, nobody behaves like a superstar in the band, it’s about everybody working together.”
After a well-earned summer break, the American leg begins on 1 September at Tulsa’s Hard Rock Hotel And Casino (2,500).
“They’ll play Radio City Music Hall [6,000] in New York again and finish at The Greek [5,900] in Los Angeles again, and tickets are moving very fast,” says Hart.
“The idea is not to get stuck in a rut. We might do a venue like The Fox Theatre [4,500] in St Louis, followed by an arena in Iowa, then an outdoor venue in Ohio, so we keep things changing which makes it interesting for the band.
“The show itself works in any kind of venue, so it looks like we have a good thing that will just keep on going.”
See Audience issue 177, published in October 2014, for the story of Paul McCartney on tour.
Tour producer Dave Hart, Powerline Entertainment, US:
“My most amazing memory was when the band played Radio City Music Hall, on Ringo’s birthday. At the end of the show, the Radio City people rolled-out a birthday cake shaped like a full drum set, which Ringo loved. He stuck a drumstick into it, and then left the stage thinking it was all over.
“Then his brother-in-law Joe Walsh stopped him, and made him listen because there was music playing on the stage. Somebody was playing the old Beatles’ song They Say It’s Your Birthday. Ringo turns around and looked out to centre stage and there’s Paul McCartney. The crowd screamed as if they were at Shea Stadium in 1965.”
Front-of-house audio engineer Brian Bavido:
“We’ve had some weather issues over the years. When Edgar Winter was in the band , out of nowhere, while he was playing Frankenstein, a massive lightning storm started-up, very scary, but it looked to the audience like we might have planned it, hired some kind of effects company to do the lightning. But then came the massive downpour of rain which soaked everyone there and all our gear.”
European agent Neil Warnock, United Talent Agency, UK
“When Ringo comes offstage you can see him glowing. There’s a wow factor for me in just being there. When you’re standing there talking to him, you can’t help thinking, ‘I’m talking to a Beatle’ and all those Beatles memories flood back.”
Llighting designer Jeff Ravitz, Intensity Advisors, US
“I remember during rehearsals for Ringo’s first tour in our practice hall with a really low ceiling. Ringo shouted out to me in the middle of a song, in that famous Liverpudlian accent, ‚Jeff, you’re burnin’ my head. The last band I was with didn’t have lights like this.’ Ah, right, his last band …”
Tour manager Wayne LeBeaux:
“I remember the first time I had to call him to wake him up at 9.00am. I was in the room next door, but I was so nervous when I dialled the phone. I had woken up many stars before then, but none of them was Ringo. I was calling Ringo Starr and he’s one of a kind. But it turned out OK, he was fine about it and I carried on breathing.”
Artistes who joined Ringo in the All-Starr Band over the years include: 1989, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Dr John, Rick Danko, 1992 Jeff Healey, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Busey, Kenny Passarelli, 1995 Steven Tyler, Slash, Stevie Nick, 1997–1998 Peter Frampton, Ginger Baker, Eric Burdon, Leo Kottke
1999Todd Rundgren, Gary Brooker, Jack Bruce, Simon Kirke 2000Ray Davies, Billy Preston. 2001Roger Hodgson, Ian Hunter, Howard Jones, Greg Lake, Sheila E. 2003Paul Carrack, Colin Hay, Mark Rivera. 2006Edgar Winter, Billy Squier, Richard Marx, Rod Argent, Hamish Stuart.
Edgar Winter, Billy Squier, Gary Wright, Colin Hay, Gregg Bissonette.
Rick Derringer, Gary Wright, Richard Page, Wally Palmar.
Steve Lukather, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie, Mark Rivera, Warren Ham.
This year’s band (2018)
Ringo Starr – drums, percussion, piano, vocals; Steve Lukather – guitars, vocals; Graham Gouldman – bass guitar, vocals; Gregg Rolie – keyboards, vocals; Colin Hay – guitars, vocals; Gregg Bissonette – drums, backing vocals and Warren Ham – saxophone, harmonica, flute, percussion, keyboards, vocals.
Adolfo Galli, Di And Gi, Italy.
“I first worked with Ringo in 1992. He has the ability to surround himself with highly respected musicians, proponents of rock history, and it’s always a pleasure to see bands of this calibre in action. For a superband of this type, the challenge is to find locations not excessively capacious, but which can put the public at ease to better appreciate the music, so we try to recreate theaters in historical squares, such as Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone. In this environment Ringo can support tickets in the range from €50-120 [$58-140].
Gerard Drouot, Gerard Drouot Productions, France
“Ringo is a lovely guy with a great sense of humour. He even remembered the venue from 55 years ago when The Beatles supported Johnny Halllyday’s wife Sylvie Vartan there for two weeks, although he’d forgotten her name.
We priced the tickets quite high because it is truly an all star band. Our team got on great with Wayne and the crew and have worked with many of them before on Bruce Springsteen shows.”
Pernille Møller Pedersen, ICO, Dernmark
“Some of Ringo’s music was the reason I got into the music business in the first place and I’ve been a a fan of The Beatles as long as I can remember, Our two shows went very well and the audiences loved it. Our office and production teams have nothing but nice words to say about Ringo, the band, his management and crew – they were all a pleasure to work with – and we are obviusly very proud to work with such a legend and his band of top musicians.”
Mark Fetto, Morpheus Lights, US
“We have worked with Ringo for 20 years and for the European run of this tour, we are providing the front-of-house GrandMa Lighting Consoles and crew chief Brad Brown to work with LD Susan Rose and help coordinate the locally supplied lighting rigs. Once they begin doing US dates, we will provide the majority of the lighting system, with some local support at each venue.”
Richard Hoermann, Barracuda Music, Austria
“I have done Ringo’s shows in Austria for the past 10 years and it is always a pleasure because he’s a great chap, lots of fun. The Austrian audience adores him for his musical works and his great sense of humour. The Stadthalle [20 June] sold 4,500 seats, which was a sell-out at the chosen configuration, with tickets from €43-85 [$50-100].”
Ollie Kite, Edwin Shirley Trucking, UK
“We have known Ringo’s production staff for many years and find them a pleasure to work with. We’re supplying one truck, and one driver, Danny King, for the tour, as they are using local production. The sudden postponement of the show in Hamburg necessitated immediately finding a second driver to get the truck to the next show, but otherwise it has all gone well.”
Michel Welter, Den Atelier, Luxembourg
“This is the first time we’ve worked with Ringo and, I believe, also the first time he’s played in the country, so all in all a really special show, with the Rockhal in its seated set-up. It sold well with ticket prices ranging from €62-82 [$72-96].”
Andy Gray, Phoenix Bussing, UK
“We have a long-standing relationship with the All-Starr tours, and for this European leg we provided one 14m double-decker Setra S431dt with 14 bunks. Dealing with George Travis and production manager Ken Kaler has been straightforward and super easy – no dramas, no craziness.”