Ringo Starr talks about his summer tour – and making music with friends
In 1967, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote With a Little Help from My Friends for drummer Ringo Starr to sing on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Although he performed it in the guise of Pepper compere “Billy Shears,” the track reinforced Starr’s status as the most relatable member of the Fab Four. Here was a guy with insecurities like the rest of us: “What would you think if I sang out of tune / Would you stand up and walk out on me? / Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song / And I’ll try not to sing out of key.”
When the Beatles broke up in 1970, no one doubted that John, Paul and George would have viable solo careers. But Ringo? While he had just spent eight years keeping time in the biggest band ever, he possessed a distinctly limited vocal range. His songwriting skills – as evidenced, for example, on the nautical-themed Octopus’s Garden – hadn’t inspired much confidence that he could thrive alone. Yes, he would need some help from his friends.
And that’s precisely what happened. With writing and production assistance from George Harrison, Starr notched a couple of sizable hits early on with It Don’t Come Easy (1971) and Back Off Boogaloo (1972). For the album Ringo (1973), Starr enlisted a stellar lineup of guest musicians, many of whom contributed original songs on which he sang lead vocal. John, Paul and George, as well as Robbie Robertson, Marc Bolan (T. Rex), Harry Nilsson and Billy Preston, appear on the LP, which spawned the chart successes Photograph, Oh My My and You’re Sixteen (which features a McCartney kazoo solo). All of a sudden, Ringo was outselling his former bandmates with his own brand of radio-friendly pop-rock.
Nearly 40 years later, Ringo is still playing the role of host and lead singer at a musical party – getting by with a little help from his friends has become a full-on career strategy. On the cusp of 70 (his birthday is July 7), he’s back on the road with his All Starr Band, the rotating cast of supporting players he’s been trotting out for summer tours every two or three years since 1989.
“It came about by accident, actually,” Starr jauntily explains during a recent phone interview from Niagara Falls, Ont., the tour’s launch point.
“A guy came to see me because Pepsi had gone to see him about putting a Ringo tour together. I’d never even thought about it. We talked about it and I thought that’d be cool, but I didn’t have a band. And I just called Dr. John, Joe Walsh and Levon Helm to say, ‘Look, I’ve been offered a tour for the summer, do you want to come with me?’