Among the rock tours scheduled for this summer which we didn’t get to see because of the pandemic (which is to say, all of them) was this year’s jaunt of Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band. The whole thing began back in 1989, when nearly two decades after the breakup of the Beatles, their drummer Ringo Starr decided it was time to hit the road again. But rather than do so as a solo artist (and let’s be honest: Ringo’s solo work and presence as a frontman wouldn’t successfully carry a ninety-minute concert by themselves), he had the innovation to gather a handful of other well-known musicians who were all also lead singers and create a band where everyone got to take turns performing their own hits.
The first version of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band in 1989 was an impressive line-up that included Joe Walsh, Clarence Clemons, Levon Helm, Dr. John and Billy Preston. In the three decades since, the All-Star band has toured every few years and featured a revolving door of musicians ranging from former members of the Who, Cream and Emerson, Lake and Palmer to solo artists as diverse as Peter Frampton, Richard Marx and Howard Jones. It’s always been fun anticipating just who Ringo Starr might recruit any given year, as well as seeing players of such widely varied musical backgrounds performing together (try telling someone in 1982 that they’d one day be seeing Colin Hay from Men at Work playing in the same band as Billy Squier).
In recent years, Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band seemed to have been inching towards an almost semi-permanent line-up, with the current version comprised entirely of participants who’ve done the project at least three times before (and in most cases, quite recently). And with Ringo Starr having just turned eighty (an eighty-year-old Beatle. Did any of us think we’d ever live to see the day?), it’s anyone guess how much longer Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band will be around at this point.
However, we’re certain (and hope) that there are at least a few more tours left for Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band (this year’s cancelled dates have already been rescheduled for 2021), which means there’s still time to take aboard some participants who’d be new to the project. The “rule” is that to qualify for the All-Starr band, a musician has to play an instrument and have sung lead on at least two radio hits (they let the “singing” requirement slide for Toto’s Steve Lukather, but being one of rock’s greatest living guitarist will gain you some perks). Of course, in a perfect world we’d want to be able to go see an All-Starr band which featured Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Elton John and Billy Joel on keyboards and Roger Waters on bass. But we’re going to focus on reality, musicians who are probably at the point of their career where the Ringo Starr All-Starr band would be a good fit for them, and vice versa.
Here are the ten we came up with.
#10 – Rindy Ross
One of the few criticisms we can perhaps make of the otherwise amazing and diverse All-Starr Band line-ups is that they’ve always been something of a boys’ club: in the thirty year history of the franchise, there’s only been one woman (Sheila E.) who did just one tour. Among the female musicians they might want to consider is Rindy Ross, who fronted the Seattle band Quarterflash in the early- and mid-Eighties. In addition to singing the hits “Take Me to Heart,” “Find Another Fool” and of course the classic “Harden My Heart,” Ross also performed double-duty as the saxophonist and could easily re-create that position in the All-Starr Band.
# 9 – Curt Smith
Either half of Tears for Fears – both lead singers – would make a great asset to the All-Starr band, but since Roland Ozabal is the much more active in writing and producing, we’re going to assume that Curt Smith would be the one more likely to be available. Smith – who plays bass onstage – sang Tears for Fears’ early cult hit, endlessly re-imagined “Mad World” as well as the later “Advice for the Young at Heart” (certainly a perfect anthem for the All-Starr tours). However, Smith would no doubt bring down the house with the classic international number one hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
# 8 – Jermaine Jackson
Let’s get serious: You can’t go wrong with representation from one of pop’s all-time great family dynasties. Okay, maybe we’d draw the line at LaToya, but Jermaine Jackson has always played bass on stage, and could still command a crowd with any of his solo hits (“Daddy’s Home,” “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming”), or classics from the Jackson Five on which he originally did some of the vocals (and let’s get really serious: In addition to the almost complete absence of female musicians, there’s also been something of a lack of racial diversity in the All-Star Band line-ups).
# 7 – Dave Pirner
It’s now the 2020s, which means it’s certainly not too soon for the grunge era to be represented in Ringo’s All-Starr band. Dave Pirner, longtime frontman and guitarist of Minneapolis rockers Soul Asylum would certainly be worthy of this honor. Beyond the Top Five track “Runaway Train,” alternative hits like “Somebody to Shove” and “Black Gold” could both provide the All-Starr Band with a bit of an edge as well as increasing the appeal of the tour for fans who came of age during the Nineties.
# 6 – Kip Winger
There seems to be no shortage of nostalgia for hair metal circa 1987-1991, but the formula typically called for those bands to be fronted by a lead singer who didn’t play an instrument (except they all suddenly played acoustic guitar when the band did their obligatory “unplugged” thing). This creates few potential candidates to represent the genre in Ringo’s ongoing project, but among those who do qualify is Winger frontman Kip Winger, who was also the bassist. Thus, he – along with his band’s hits “Seventeen,” “Headed for a Heartbreak” and “Miles Away” – could kick some butt in the All-Starr Band.
# 5 – Susanna Hoffs
Again addressing the lack of women who’ve toured as part of the All-Starr Band… In the Eighties the Bangles were a group which always tried to closely the Beatles, from a similar-sounding name to a similar sound (at least on their early recordings). Guitarist Susanna Hoffs has always been a crowd-pleaser, as are the hits (“Manic Monday,” “In My Room,” “Eternal Flame”) on which she sang lead.
# 4 – Ray Parker, Jr.
Say you’re the guy responsible for contacting potential new members about being in the Ringo Starr All-Starr band. Who you gonna call? Ray Parker, Jr. (who can play just about any instrument) released an honest-to-goodness rocker with “The Other Woman” (1982), while his 1979 hit with the group Raydio “You Can’t Change That” would work beautifully if All-Starr band regular Mark Rivera were also there to perform the higher-register vocal parts. But of course the main argument for Parker’s inclusion is that we know he could bring any venue’s audience instantly to their feet with the smash 1984 theme from Ghostbusters.
# 3 – Gary Numan
This suggestion is bound to prompt one of two strong reactions, both from people who point out that Gary Numan has only ever had one radio hit in the US (the 1979 Top Ten single “Cars”), and those in his very devoted fan base who will insist that Numan’s 40-plus year body of work (he still does fairly well in his native UK) puts him well above participating in anything like Ringo’s All-Starr Band. Obviously, it would be up to Numan, but the trademark weirdness that has always defined his work would definitely make him an interesting addition to the All-Starr Band (and as for a second “radio hit,” it’s a safe bet that enough Americans also know “Down in the Park”).
# 2 – Bruce Hornsby
He’s already got classic rock credibility from having spent some time as a touring member of the Grateful Dead, but the keyboardist is best known for fronting Bruce Hornsby & the Range, which had three Top Five hits in 1986 and 1987, including “Mandolin Rain” and “The Valley Road.” However, it’s Hornsby’s biggest hit, the classic number one hit “The Way it Is,” which addresses the issue of racism in America, that needs to be heard more than ever in this day and age.
# 1 – Christopher Cross
Christopher Cross, the artist behind a brief but very successful run of soft-rock hits in the early Eighties, did in fact sit in on one show with Ringo’s All-Starr Band several years ago. But it’s hard to believe that Cross has never done a full All-Starr tour, since frankly we can’t imagine an artist who’d be a better fit, between the type of music he plays, the fact that his most popular work is now viewed mainly as nostalgia, and the general state of their career. Cross’ biggest hits “Sailing” and especially “Ride Like the Wind” are definite crowd-pleasers, and he even (to further exemplify the connection) participated in a terrific one-time Beatles tribute concert (along with All-Starr regular Todd Rundgren and ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz) in Long Island, NY in October 2019.
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