Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ringo Starr saves the world

You know Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Hulk and the X-Men, characters created by Stan Lee. Now meet Lee's latest superhero: Ringo Starr. Yes, the man who sang "Yellow Submarine" and drummed on countless Beatles classics will appear in an animated DVD to be released later this year. Ringo will provide his voice and soundtrack music to the project but Lee hasn't specified what secret powers the character will possess. However, it's a good bet he'll battle evil, save the world, and use sterling rhythm to do it.

Ringo actually has some "experience" in the area of animation. Old-timers will remember TV's Beatles cartoons, which haven't been seen since they originally aired in the 1960s. The feature film "Yellow Submarine" has been released on DVD and continues to thrill audiences young and old with its groundbreaking psychedelic sequences. Don't forget Ringo's appearance on "The Simpsons," during which he finally answered Marge's fan letter from 1964.

Besides appearing as a superhero, Ringo will undertake a 22-date tour during June and July. This version of his All-Starr Band features special guests Rod Argent (of the Zombies), Edgar Winter, Billy Squier and Richard Marx. Regulars including drummer Sheila E, musical director Mark Rivera and Starr-collaborator Mark Hudson will return.

The tour will originate with two dates at Casino Rama in Orilla, Ontario, where the band will rehearse. That will be followed by just two shows in the Midwest: Detroit on June 16 and Chicago June 17.

In both recording and touring, Ringo will tell you he has gotten by "with a little help from my friends," as one of his song titles says. His 1973 "Ringo" album was the original all-star affair featuring his three ex-Beatle bandmates. Ringo applied the same idea to touring when he launched the first All-Starr trek in 1989.

Ringo's musical friends that year included saxman Clarence Clemens; Rick Danko and Levon Helm from the Band; Dr. John; Nils Lofgren; keyboardist Billy Preston; drummer Jim Keltner and one-time Eagle Joe Walsh. My wife Sue and I were in the audience for a show at downstate Charlevoix. Seeing such music luminaries on stage together made for a fast-moving and entertaining program which included Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" and plenty of Ringo's hits. Flashing "victory" signs with both hands, Ringo appeared to be a superhero in the making.

The 65-year-old musician's nostalgic good-time formula created another memorable show for us at Marcus Center's Uihlein Hall in Milwaukee during 2003. All-Starrs this time out included Paul Carrack (Mike and the Mechanics); Colin Hay (Men at Work); John Waite (the Babys); and Sheila E ("The Glamorous Life"). Ringo surprised the crowd by performing his "Don't Pass Me By" from the Beatles "White Album" for the first time in concert. Fans also heard the drummerman polish his image with "It Don't Come Easy," "Honey Don't," "Boys," "No No Song," and "I Wanna Be Your Man."

Also in 2003, Starr began recording for independent label Koch Records and produced "Ringorama" that year. He followed that album with "Choose Love" in 2005. Both discs have been warmly received by fans and critics.

Ringo, of course, has been recording for over four decades. He generally had a song on every Beatles album (except "Let It Be") and scored 14 hits as a solo artist. He topped the Billboard singles chart in 1973 and 1974 with "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen."

Despite achieving seven consecutive Top Ten hits, recording a dozen top-notch studio albums, continual touring and other creative endeavors, Ringo has yet to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. That's a shame. Fellow Beatles John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison have already been accorded the honor.

So, Ringo stands ready to save the world, but does the Hall of Fame have room for a superhero? Perhaps Ringo's new status will elevate him to membership. After all, comic book mogul Stan Lee promised Ringo he'd do his "best to make him famous."

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