“Here, pass me the camera,” says Ringo in his charismatic Liverpool accent to guitarist Steve Lukather who’s trying to figure out my large, clumsy Canon DSLR camera. “Here’s how you work it. You hold down the button, see?” Ringo takes the camera and shoots a close-up of Lukather’s face and shows him the screen. “That’s how it works.” He passes my camera back me. I say to him, “Do you own a Canon, Ringo? How did you know to hold down the button in Live View?” But he’s already distracted by somebody else’s question, so I just happily let it go. Ringo’s official photographer Rob Shanahan leans in and says to me, “Cool. You have an original Ringo Starr photo in your camera. Of course no one will believe you.” We both laugh.
My friend Barry Canning and I are backstage pre-show at Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band’s June 6th inaugural show of their 2014 summer tour at Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario. Yes, we are hanging out with Ringo Starr. Yes, he just used my camera. Being friends with Steve Lukather, I feel lucky enough as it is to be hanging out with him before the show. Luke is a huge star in his own right and a looming presence in rock guitar history. (I wrote about my friendship with Luke in this article from 2012.) To our surprise, however, he has arranged for his friend Ringo to come say hi. And sure enough here is Ringo Starr, right in front of us, bumping elbows, making small talk. We get a few photos. We joke a bit. And then he’s whisked away to prepare for the show that’s about to start in about 30 minutes.
A few minutes before Ringo walked in our green room, we had heard a big roar of applause in the neighbouring room as the meet-and-greet winners greeted Ringo’s entrance. However, when he came in to greet us, we were so desperately attempting to be cool that we just wore huge grins, saying “Hey Ringo” and trying to be as calm as possible. “I’m a musician too,” I told myself. “I can’t behave like a school boy here.” But on the inside I was admittedly freaking out. This, after all, is an ex-Beatle. One of the fab four. Four. That’s all there were. And they changed the world. The world. And one was right here, talking to us. Somehow a Beatle’s destiny had led him to a pair of Newfoundlanders in a green room at Casino Rama. And more incredulous, of course, is how our destiny had led us to be standing in front of Ringo Starr, whose backbeat we marched to throughout our formative years as musicians pouring over every Beatles recording we could find.
As the road manager came in and gave everyone a 30-minute call, Barry and I bid farewell to Lukather (thanking him over and over for introducing us to Ringo) and made our way to our seats. A little after 9pm the band walked on to great applause as everyone strapped on instruments and made adjustments to equipment. All-Starr Todd Rundgren, in an enthusiastic circus master’s voice, introduced Ringo as the ex-Beatle sauntered casually out onto the stage to a roar from the audience.
The band broke into Carl Perkins’ classic “Matchbox,” one of Ringo’s well-known Beatles lead vocal features. Next up was my personal Ringo favourite, “It Don’t Come Easy,” followed by one from his latest album Ringo 2012 called “Wings.” Ringo then passed vocal duties over to Rundgren, who delivered a version of his hit “I Saw the Light” in his classic Philly Soul voice that was every bit as potent and powerful as the original studio recording. Rundgren then introduced ex-Santana vocalist/organist Greg Rollie, whose expressive voice was joined by the other musicians in a unison vocal for the classic “Evil Ways.” At this point of the show, guitarist Steve Lukather got to stretch out a bit and show the crowd his mastery of the fretboard as he went from fast flourishes to slow, melodic passages all in the blink of an eye. Lukather’s approach has it all: the passion of Hendrix, the bending perfection of Clapton, the whammy bar zaniness of Jeff Beck, and the bluesy groove of Jimmy Page. Lukather’s style is perfect for the Santana material, and only he could rightfully own that spot in the absence of Carlos himself.
Luke stayed in the spotlight for the Toto hit “Roseanna,” sharing the lead vocals with multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham who reached successfully to hit the impossibly high parts in the second half of the verses originally sung by Toto’s Bobby Kimball. Richard Page from Mr. Mister then delivered his massive ‘80s hit “Kyrie” to an enthusiastic audience response, hitting the high notes just as smoothly as his did in the studio 30 years ago. The show rolled on and gained momentum as the group of musicians delivered hit after hit, with Ringo playing along with ace studio and live drummer Greg Bissonnette while asserting himself vocally on his best-known Beatles and solo material. Ringo was kind enough to let Richard Page deliver a brand new song called “You Are Mine,” a touching ballad with a poetic lyric and creative arrangement that was expertly handled by all the pros onstage. It was a great balance that kept the energy up throughout the show. Rounding it all out with “A Little Help From My Friends,” the band left audience pleased and fulfilled.
It’s admittedly hard to write an objective review of a Ringo Starr concert when you are friends with the guitarist and you’ve just been introduced to Ringo himself. However, this concert and its musicians need not be objectified or critiqued anyway. Their collective musical history and sustained talent throughout the years render them beyond reproach, as the concert proved in spades. If you’re lucky enough to catch the tour as it rolls on throughout June, you’ll understand what I mean. Just don’t plan to get a whole lot of sleep for a few nights afterwards if you happen to meet Ringo Starr.