On The Road With Ringo Starr

By Denise McCann Beck

(Reprinted with permission of Denise McCann Beck, who is Randy Backman's significant other.)

Part 1: July 6, 1995: My eleven-year-old daughter Callianne and I left Vancouver on Sunday, July 2nd to join her dad on tour with the Ringo Starr All-Star Band (third edition). I was so prepared for sending reports from the road! I had my laptop, a phone cord, an itinerary, and had downloaded all the Compuserve phone nodes for the cities I knew we were to visit. Unfortunately, I left the ballpoint mouse plugged into the back of the computer after I let Callianne play games with it on the first flight into Minneapolis. It must have gotten bent in my backpack in the scramble off the plane or into the rent-a-car, because when I tried to access CServe, I found that my mouse port had gotten damaged and I lost the mouse function entirely.

I quickly figured out how to use the keyboard commands to access most of my installed software, including the word processor that I'm typing this on. But I just as quickly found that WinCim only works with a mouse, because some of the functions remain inaccessible from keys alone. This meant that I could write the bulletins, but had no way to get online to deliver them. So for the past four days I've not bothered to write anything at all. But I finally decided that I had promised bulletins from the road, so that's what I would deliver, eventually. In other words, I'll write them, then save them until such time as I can access the Forum, then upload them one at a time, as if they were written that day.

Callianne & I spent the first day together (while we waited for the tour to catch up to us -- they were in St. Louis the first day back in the U.S. from Japan, Milwaukee the second) in Minneapolis at the Mall Of America, a giant indoor shopping complex with a theme park in the center. It's a Knott's Berry Farm clone, featuring a Peanuts-characters theme throughout, so that the whirling swings ride was "The Kite-Eating Tree" and so on. After shopping and riding ourselves into a stupor, we went back to the hotel (which was a good thirty miles or so away from the venue, for some reason that made sense only to the promoter, apparently) exhausted and happy, to await the arrival next morning of the husband/father unit from his gig at Milwaukee Summerfest.

The next day was Fourth of July, and a concert day for the All-Starrs. The stage setup was in an empty parking lot on the east side of the Mall Of America. I woke up in anticipation of a glorious reunion with my man, who had been in Japan for the past three weeks, went into the bathroom to primp, and discovered a horrible blood spot on the white of my left eye. I had burst a blood vessel, I imagine on the Screaming Yellow Eagle or the roller coaster the day before, and looked like Dracula's bride. He didn't care, of course, (hardly even noticed, as a matter of fact. It wasn't my eyes he was staring at, the love-starved brute!) but I did. It was very scary-looking. Visions of strokes and brain embolisms ready to burst in my head made me want nothing more than to stay in the hotel room in bed, but duty (and daughter) insisted I go to the concert, so at the last minute before the band van left the hotel, I went running after them yelling "Wait! I'm going." I was glad I did, even though the first half of the concert was missed by us, due to daughter wanting to find the (young, handsome) sons of the other guitar player, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, who were inside the Mall doing the rides we had done the day before. We never did find them in the crowd, and I finally insisted we HAD to go back to the concert site so I could catch at least SOME of the performance!

We crossed through the parking garage, all seven stories of which were filling up with pedestrians along the railings facing the field behind the concert stage where the fireworks display would be. Getting lost several times along our way through the immense, confusingly-marked floors of the structure ("This is P1 East. MAINE. Remember your floor." Graphic of a lobster stencilled on the wall. "This is P2 West. TEXAS. Remember your floor." Graphic of a cowboy hat. We must have run through half of the lower 48 states trying to find the way out!) We finally found our way back onto the concert site and nearly weren't allowed backstage by the security men. The pink VIP passes given us by the road manager before we left with assurances that they were all-areas access passes, were not believed to be so by the hired muscle. My lines worked, maybe because they were true:

"But this is the way we came out from backstage."

"Sorry, you can't go that way."

"We were told these WERE all-areas passes."

"Nope."

And the clincher, delivered with a little desperate wail trembling around the edges, "Her father is the lead guitar player! We have to be back there by the time they get off stage or we'll hold up the van! Then they'll be really upset with us!" I make sure that goon-guy understands that this first person plural pronoun includes himself, and at that point he decides the better part of valor is to personally conduct us to the backstage area and lay us on some other poor schmo's doorstep. And of course, when we get there, we are fine, since we really DO belong there and the backstage crew recognizes us.

We ran up on stage in time to see the last few bars of "Takin' Care of Business", then Mark Farner did his hit, "Some Kind Of Wonderfu"" and Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals did "Good Lovin'". Then Ringo ran out from behind the drum kit, resplendent in sequined American flag vest (and was I wishing I had brought my camera after all, heavy and bulky though it is? Can you say "kick yourself, Denise!"? I did. Repeatedly.) and did "Photograph", then closed the show with "The No-No Song" and "A Little Help From My Friends". The crowd went wild, though they had been there for hours standing in the rain, then puddles. Really, it's a bit of Beatles magic that is there at all times. Ringo talks like a Beatle. He looks like a Beatle. He has that dry Liverpudlian humour that screams "A Hard Day's Night" when you hear it. The people in the front rows of the audience and pressed up against the security fences after the shows hoping to catch a glimpse of Ringo as he is hustled away are wearing their old Beatles t-shirts, waving Beatles books, looking like they're going to pass out from sheer ecstasy at being in such close proximity to a real, live Beatle. I keep trying to imagine what kind of life it must be for a kid from Liverpool to have stumbled into -- how for the rest of his life there is never a possibility of the kind of normalcy you and I take for granted. Of course there are compensations...

The evening ended with the most grandiose fireworks display I have ever seen. And we were right under the blasting rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air. It went on for at least half an hour, maybe more. And chunks of casings and burnt rope and still-burning embers kept showering down on our heads! It was quite dramatic and exuberant. Those Americans sure know how to party!

Friday July 7, Chicago:

Today was a day off, and Ringo's 55th birthday. Barb, Ringo's wife, arranged a party for the whole band plus Todd Rungren, who happens to be in Chicago for a concert tomorrow and staying in the same hotel as we, coincidentally. The Grateful Dead are in this hotel, too. Also some Arabian Sheik's entourage, who arrived with twenty luggage carts full to the brim of designer suitcases and took over the top two floors. This is a very fancy-schmancy establishment. I'm hoarding all the little designer shampoos and sewing kits. (Hey, the needles come pre-threaded!) People in the lobby keep asking us which group we're with. Anyway, Barb booked a private room in an Italian restaurant called Bice (bee-chay) on Ontario street. Before I left home, one of the many tasks I had to struggle to finish was the ordering of Ringo's present, a star named after him. I called the company that issues the certificates, luckily located close by in Illinois, and they had it waiting here at the hotel when we arrived three days ago. It was very nice, and quite official-looking, too, a beautiful framed certificate stating the astronomical co-ordinates of the star, a small one in constellation Hercules, the fact that it would henceforth be known as the Ringo Starr, and a star map showing exactly where it is in the sky. Then Barb asked Randy to write a song for the birthday party, too. Randy didn't have a guitar, they'd all gone ahead on the equipment truck to the next gig (tomorrow in Indiana) so I modestly (hah!) offered to accompany him on the mandolin. He was trying different lyrics to familiar songs like The Brady Bunch, the Mickey Mouse song, etc., when I got the idea to do something set to the tune of "There was a dog sat on a porch and Bingo was his name-o" and that was the winning idea. Between Randy, Callianne and me we quickly wrote a set of six verses. The Xs are where you clap instead of singing:

Ringo Was His Name-O

There was a lad from Liverpool and Ringo was his name-o
R-I-N-G-O, R-I-N-G-O, R-I-N-G-O, and Ringo was his name-o

He joined a band that rocked the world, The Beatles was their name-o
(X)-I-N-G-O, (X)-I-N-G-O, (X)-I-N-G-O, and Ringo was his name-o

Honey Don't, Act Naturally, and Boys made music history
(X-X)-N-G-O, (X-X)-N-G-O, (X-X)-N-G-O, and Ringo was his name-o

Then he took his solo path with No-No Song and Photograph
(X-X-X)-G-O, (X-X-X)-G-O, (X-X-X)-G-O, and Ringo was his name-o

Now you've got your All-Starr crew and we'll play anywhere for you
(X-X-X-X-)-O, (X-X-X-X-)-O, (X-X-X-X-)-O, and Ringo is your name-o

We have gathered here to say we hope you have a great birthday
(X-X-X-X-X), (X-X-X-X-X), (X-X-X-X-X) and Ringo is your name-o!

Ringo loved the song. I found out later that this Bingo song is unknown in Great Britain (Harry, the Irish component of our Celtic band on Saltspring didn't know it either) and Ringo was astonished when everybody in the room began to sing along on the choruses. He thought we'd all rehearsed together for days! Very successful.

When it came time to open the presents, I'm not exaggerating to say he really loved mine and Callianne's - a spray bottle with an electric fan on the end of it. You fill the bottle with water, turn on the fan and spritz yourself. It blows a fine, cooling mist of water all over. It's very refreshing, and also a novelty, fun item. Ringo filled the bottle with San Pellegrino from the table and tried it out on everyone, me and Callianne included. Randy says that yesterday (July 15) in Pennsylvania, Ringo got it out on stage and sprayed down the whole band during the 100-degree heat wave. I included a copy of The Black Velvet Band tape, too (modesty be dammned...). Then when Randy gave him the star chart present, he seemed to be genuinely touched. He thanked Randy and me especially, though it ostensibly came from the whole band (they had each chipped in), probably because in his normal fashion, Randy had left the address label (to him at the hotel) on the package.

All in all, a very fulfilling night. I sang an original song to a Beatle. I played the "Happy Birthday Song" to Ringo Starr leading a roomful of famous songwriters on my mandolin. I can die happy now!

July 10, 1995:

Last night was the Cleveland concert at the Power Plant entertainment complex (in a renovated oil- fired, brick, electrical generating plant with a three-story smokestack) on the Cayahoga riverfront, which, I am pleased to say, is no longer so polluted it catches fire and burns. Cleveland is a much more attractive city than I imagined it would be. Sure, there's steel girdered bridges and lots of ugly industry along the river, but there are also rolling green hills and beautiful shopping complexes and gorgeous water fountains. It's the setting for Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye", with silver, implacable lake Erie on the north perimeter. I love seeing the places where great novels were written. It was the same when I visited Thomas Hardy's Dorset. Helps the visualization become complete.

At the concert, Callianne and I were on stage left with Barb Starkey and Ringo's daughter Lee, an absolutely gorgeous, rail-thin and model-like blonde of about 22 years. It was the first time I'd stood behind Zak and Ringo and watched them drum from close-up, and what a phenomenal experience it was! They play in perfect synch, every beat exactly in place, every shot complimenting each other's style. It's like they have a telepathic mind-link that tells them exactly what the other one is going to play. It's fantastic. Especially Zak, who is easily the best drummer I've ever seen, from Jimi Hendryx's drummer to Keith Moon (stood behind both of them on stage, too -- at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967), or any of the drummers I worked with in Vancouver. He's powerful and intense and like a human metronome -- perfectly in tempo at all times. Holds the entire band solidly in the groove, and the groove he sets is always the perfect, most tasty choice possible, from the four on the floor of "Takin' Care Of Business" to the shuffle two-step of "Honey Don't". Ringo, too, is tempo perfection. But Ringo sits up straight and plays as though there's no effort involved at all, never even seems to sweat, (he still does that Beatle-esque head shake, as though he's still wearing a moptop haircut, which he isn't) while Zak bends over his drums and plays with ferocious intensity and concentration, sweating and dripping and smashing drumsticks to smithereens. Last night his drum roadie threw one of his broken drumsticks into the trash barrel next to me. I fished out the two halves and taped them together again when I got back to the room here (another four-star hotel. Ho-hum. Gee, it would be easy to get used to living like this...) and saved it as a memento.

I felt that sense again last night of having fulfilled a lifetime dream. I was on stage with some of the greatest legends in rock music history. Felt like where I was always meant to be. Course, I'd rather be actually performing instead of watching from the wings, but even that's fine. It's just the thrill of a lifetime being on this trip. Yesterday after the show I thanked Ringo when we were in the van for including us along. He patted my hand and told me I was welcome. I really am most grateful.

Everywhere we go the fans are outside waiting. I don't know how they find out where and when Ringo's going to show up, but they always seem to know, and are standing outside the hotel doors clutching records and Beatles books for him to sign. He almost never does, but yesterday, one girl with bright pink/purple hair was there all day long, and finally, last night after the gig, he signed her copy of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with the silver pen she gave him. I guess perseverance does win out in the end.

July 10, 1995

Callianne and I flew to Detroit on a later flight than the band because there weren't any seats left on theirs. When we got there, it turned out to be cheaper to rent a car for twenty-four hours than to take a shuttle to the hotel, which was almost an hour's drive north of the airport. We made the mistake of trusting the rental clerk's directions to Bloomington, and ended up thoroughly lost in the endless suburbs north of Detroit. A trip that should have taken forty-five minutes took two and a half hours. By the time we finally found the hotel, the band had left, but Randy left us a note saying the van would be back to pick us up. We hurriedly changed and got down to the front door just as it pulled up.

It's a good thing they sent the van back for us, because I would never have found Pine Knob otherwise. It's even further north, past an area of exclusive homes in gated communities that you can't even see from the main road, just an occasional glimpse of stately chimneys poking up discreetly from the treetops. Pine Knob is Detroit's excuse for a ski hill, something that wouldn't even qualify as a foothill in the mountains of our home province of British Columbia, but certainly higher ground than anything else around it. The concert area is an amphitheatre stage surrounded by a grassy knoll from which one can look down into the stage area. And unlike the Ravinia concert stage in Chicago, everyone out on the grass can be thoroughly involved in the concert because there are four huge video monitors showing closeups of the musicians who would otherwise look like dolls far off on the stage.

The concert was breathtakingly great. The sound guys even seemed to have solved the problem of John Entwhistle's bass drowning out everyone else. John, from The Who, is (surprise, surprise) quite deaf after all the years of smashing guitars on stage with the amps turned up to "11" and says he needs to have the bass turned up loud enough to feel it throughout his body. Unfortunately, at that volume everybody else on the stage feels the bass throughout THEIR bodies, as well, and cannot hear their own instruments. It's been the only ongoing problem the band has had, amazingly enough. For a group of guys who have for years all been stars in their own rights, they share the limelight quite peacefully and diplomatically. Have, in fact, become that true rarity, a real BAND. Anyway, they sounded fabulous. Felix Cavaliere's voice on "Groovin'" and "My Girl" was especially mellow and memorable. Quite a set of pipes in that throat! But the hero of the hour was Mark Farner, who really shone for the supportive hometown crowd, getting a full sing-along going on "I'm Your Captain" (what a deliciously eerie experience it was to be in the middle of thousands of voices chanting "I'm getting closer to my ho-o-ome..." and hear it echoing back from the surrounding hills) and an all-out dance-along on "Locomotion".

Tomorrow the guys go to the Cherry Festival in northern Acme, Michigan, and Callianne and I fly on to New York City, because they're taking a charter jet and there's no room for us. I'd rather get a head start on the Big Apple, anyway.

July 12, 1995

What a lot we've managed to cram in the past day and a half. C. & I arrived at LaGuardia at 2 pm and by 3:30 were madly running around the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on "Museum Row", 5th ave. at 80th st., or thereabouts. This because Cals has been reading a book I bought her in Minneapolis that is set in the Museum. She only read it because she had gone through all her Babysitter's Clubs and Fright Street (or something like that. Apologies to the author for not knowing the right name...) books and was reduced to reading the book that *Mom* had had chosen as a good one. To her chagrin, she really liked it, and was totally engrossed in the mystery. It was great fun to see how many areas we could get to before the 5:15 closing time. We did pretty well, covering European art and statuary from Medieval through the Renaissance, passing on to American Architecture (That was *my* favourite area. Amazing to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house, the Tiffany windows, the Shaker bedroom all set up as actual rooms you could walk into and experience as living spaces. I want a pegboard around the wall of my bedroom like the Shaker one. You can hang everything on it, including chairs you want to get off the floor and out of the way!) through the Egyptian temple, on into Armour and Weaponry, through the Far East and ending up in European paintings just as the bell rang. Whew! Then off to dinner at an Afghani restaurant recommended by our cab driver as an alternative to the Indian Tandoori one we were headed for. I think he was related to the owners, but never mind, the food was delicious. Then, as we walked back to our hotel we happened to pass the Gershwin Theatre where Show Boat is playing. I talked Callianne into going in and "just seeing if they have tickets. It doesn't mean we have to go..." She was pretty pooped by this time. But when we got inside (it helped that it was air conditioned) and found that there were two good seats left in the first balcony, she said okay and we spent the next three hours on "Ol' Man River," a song that we knew far too well before the evening was over. Can you say "reprise?" I knew you could.

Today was the day for which we had ostensibly been brought along on the tour. The black-tie unveiling of Ringo's painting that he did for the new "Private Issue" Discover Card. The company's idea is that each person can design their own card, and they asked Ringo, Jane Seymour, and Florence Griffiths Joyner (the Olympic gold-medalist runner) to do original paintings for the launch. The event was held after hours at the Guggenheim museum, making that twice in 24 hours that I've been inside a Frank Lloyd Wright space. The musem is designed around the spiral shape of a snail's shell or an upside down layer cake whose layers get larger as they go up, not smaller. You walk around a ramp that has galleries off it all the way up to the ceiling. An amazing space. And even more amazing paintings in the rooms: Van Goghs, Manets, Chagalls, Picassos. I was overcome with a sense of fairytale unreality. You could walk right up to a Van Gogh landscape and see every ferocious brushstroke. I could have touched them, if the guards hadn't been there. The main floor of the museum was crammed with media and celebrities, all desperately trying to waylay the waiters with the hos d'oeuvres, which they carried on tiny trays high above their heads and wouldn't let the starving hoards devour. Alan Thicke was the Master of Ceremonies. I went up to him and said hello, reminded him I'd been on his daytime talk show three times in the late seventies and early eighties (this was in Canada only). He *sort* of remembered me... introduced me to his new wife, a lovely tall blond amazon from North Carolina, at least twenty years his (and my) junior, but who's counting?

The stars unveiled their paintings amid much foofaraw and photo ops and then they were auctioned off, the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for terminally ill children. They got a total of $63,000 from the sale of the three paintings. Not half bad! Ringo's, a simple series of circles and lines on a deep blue background that evoked a face, went for $33,000. The same image is painted on the backdrop behind the All-Starr Band at the concerts, so you can see it there. It's also on the new Discover card's brochure, which I'm sure is everywhere.

What a fabulous, star-studded trip this has been. Tomorrow night is Radio City Music Hall, then we leave the tour and go home. I'm going to need lots of quiet time to recover from all this!

July 13, 95

The Radio City concert was fabulous. Just being in that fabled concert hall for the first time was a real thrill for me. The guys played the best they ever did, and backstage after was full of "names" -- Conan O'Brien, drummer Max Weinberg (who got up on stage for the encore and drummed alongside Zak on "A Little Help From My Friends") and Mary Wilson, former Supreme.

After the concert we went to theupper westside brownstone home/office of David Fishof, Ringo's, well, I don't know. Manager? Agent? Something like that, anyway, because all the tour posters say Ringo Starr and David Fishoff present Ringo Starr and his Third All-Starr Band, etc. etc. It was Barb Starkey's (nee Bach) sister's birthday and they were giving an after-concert party in her honour. I snapped a picture of Callianne sitting on Ringo's lap. Lots of fun. But tomorrow -- back to the real world. Callianne goes to summer camp and I go to my gig at the Cowichan Folk Music Festival on Vancouver Island.

Back to making my own bed and washing my own dishes. I think I'm actually looking forward to it.

The End

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