Peace & Love: Check Starr's eponymous website for home videos and more. Our lad hasn't lost a whit of his charm.
By Bruce Robinson
Barring any truly shocking revelations from Bohemian Grove, it should be safe to assert that June 21 will be the first time an authentic Beatle has played in Sonoma County. On that date, Ringo Starr brings the most recent edition of his All-Starr Band to the Wells Fargo Center, continuing a series of summer tours he began in 1989.
"I got a call from a guy asking if I'd be interested in putting a band together," Starr has explained. "I had been thinking the same thing, and so I went through my phone book, rang up a few friends and asked them if they'd like to have some fun in the summer."
The result was a classic-rock dream team: Joe Walsh, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Jim Keltner, Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons. The concept was a boomer's delight, too, as each of the stars took a turn in the spotlight, singing a greatest hit or favorite oldie. The tour was a hit, and the live album it produced (Starr's first of four to date) sold well, establishing a pattern that is going into its ninth cycle this summer.
But the caliber of sidemen that the former Beatle was able to recruit began to dim over time, and his last outing, in 2003, was reduced to such second-tier attractions as John Waite (the Babys), Colin Haye (Men at Work) and Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + the Mechanics).
This time out, Starr, who will be 66 next month, has assembled a new crew that manages to span both generations and genres more than any of his previous bands. Here, in alphabetical order, is a quick who's who:
Rod Argent Co-founder of the British Invasion darlings the Zombies, Argent gave his surname to the harder rocking band that gave the world "Hold Your Head Up," and is known for his muscular, prog-rock-inclined keyboards.
Sheila E A Bay Area darling with an impeccable Latin jazz heritage, Sheila Escovedo's pop credentials owe a lot to Prince's purple coattails. A holdover from the last All-Starr band, she's the only member of this ensemble to have ever toured with Starr before.
Richard Marx A one-time singer of commercials and backing vocalist for Lionel Richie, Marx seems an odd choice for this group, even if he did cash in with a handful of forgettable but high-charting hits ("Hold On to the Nights," "Right Here Waiting") in the late '80s.
Billy Squier Another name not heard much lately, guitarist Squier is a relic from the early 1980s' golden age of arena rock, when "The Stroke," "My Kinda Lover" and "Everybody Wants You" triggered the flicking of thousands of Bics.
Hamish Stuart The intended ironies of the name taken by the Average White Band may have slipped away somewhere between their origins in Glasgow and their embrace on America's dance floors, but the compelling syncopations of "Pick Up the Pieces" and "Cut the Cake" were all that really mattered. Stuart was a founding member and co-wrote the former.
Edgar Winter As a saxophone and keyboard player, Johnny Winter's younger brother has been more willing to venture away from mainline blues, which is how he cracked the Top 40 with "Free Ride," "Keep Playin' That Rock and Roll" and the electro-funk instrumental "Frankenstein."
Of course, the ringleader for the whole outfit has probably outsold them all combined. Under his universally known stage name, Richard Starkey ("Richie" to his intimates) has released a remarkable 23 solo recordings, and collected nine Top 10 singles. And while he is credited with just two compositions from the Beatles' catalog (bonus trivia points for naming them), he has proven to be an able writer of his own material, including "It Don't Come Easy," "Back Off Boogaloo" and, with George Harrison, "Photograph."
Concertgoers can expect to hear those solo hits mixed with signature songs from his fab days, such as "Yellow Submarine," "Act Naturally" or "Octopus's Garden."
But more than anything else, the ongoing series of All-Starr tours demonstrates once again that John and Paul nailed the perfect vehicle for Ringo back on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Almost 40 years later, he's still out making music and charming audiences, as always, with a little help from his friends.
Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band take the stage on Wednesday, June 21, at 8pm. Wells Fargo Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $49 (standing room only) to $149. 707.546.3600.