Many Beatles fans were disappointed when a much-anticipated Grammys reunion featuring Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney found Starr performing alongside McCartney’s regular drummer, Abe Laboriel Jr. That’s actually Starr’s preferred format these days.
His regular All-Starr Band tours always feature an additional drummer — and, in fact, the initial 1989 lineup actually had a pair of them in Jim Keltner and Levon Helm. This ostensibly allowed Starr to take center stage for his always-charming vocal features like “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” But, over time, Starr has clearly become more and more accustomed to playing in tandem with someone else. He’ll occasionally even leave the stage entirely to one of his featured guests.
“This is a topic of conversation amongst all of us in the All-Starr Band, which is how disappointed we are that Ringo won’t play a song without a second drummer,” Todd Rundgren, a member of current All-Starrs lineup, tells Rock Cellar. “From a playing standpoint, it’s a great disappointment that we don’t ever get to just play with Ringo and get to wallow in that groove.”
Son Zak, also a drummer, toured with his dad in 1992 and ’95. Simon Kirke, who kept time for both Bad Company and Free, was with the All-Starr Band from 1997-2000, and then saw Sheila E. take over rhythmic duties in 2001, ’03 and 2006. Since then, Gregg Bissonette has served as Starr’s second drummer.
Rundgren, who also toured with the All-Starrs in 1992 and ’99, adds: “I think it’s just a habit at this point. But he was just paranoid about taking on the entire load himself of being the only drummer. Part of it is he likes songs that are simple and straight ahead in terms of his own playing. If it gets too complicated, it becomes an issue.”
Sticking to that linear style becomes more difficult when compiling the complex, multi-artist setlists for the All-Starr Bands. On the 1992 tour, for instance, Rundgren decided to include the song “Black Maria,” found on his celebrated solo effort Something/Anything from 20 years before. Noting that “there’s all these odd stops and starts in there and odd bar counts,” Rundgren laughingly remembers Ringo saying: “‘I’m gonna sit this one out.’”
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