Tell Ringo Starr he’s one of the elder statesmen of rock ‘n’ roll and he interrupts.
“I’m probably the eldest statesman,” he corrects.
But he says it in that Ringo voice, instantly familiar and unchanged although its owner is 50 years old and light years past his Beatle days.
“Rock ‘n’ roll keeps you young--if it doesn’t kill you, of course,” he explains.
Starr has just released “Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band,” a compact disc recorded in concert during his 1989 tour with eight veteran rockers, and he’s already thinking about the lineup for another All-Starr troupe.
It’s a different Ringo than the one who was better known over much of the last decade for drinking than drumming. And the enthusiasm has as much to do with last year’s tour as his 1988 stint in an alcoholic recovery program.
“It was great proof to me that I could actually get up there and play,” he said. “And it was great proof that all these musicians that I’ve known all over the years, you know, still thought they’d like to play with me.”
The All-Starrs of 1989 were guitarists Nils Lofgren and Joe Walsh, keyboard players Dr. John and Billy Preston, saxman Clarence Clemons, drummers Jim Keltner and Levon Helm and bass player Rick Danko.
Starr admits to wondering whether he could get on stage with musicians of that caliber again, and whether they would want to get up there with him.
“Most of the ‘80s I was incommunicado with the planet and you know I wouldn’t blame ‘em, you know, because why would they want to get up with this crazy drunken fool--and I didn’t want to get up anyway. I was too busy getting stupid.”
Starr and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, spent five weeks in an alcohol treatment program in 1988, and after that he had to ask himself what he was going to do with his life. The All-Starr band was the answer.
“I’m a musician and we went out there and we put it together, and it was just a great mind-blower that it certainly worked and we all had fun,” he said.
The Rykodisc CD has a dozen songs, but only five featuring Starr: “It Don’t Come Easy,” “The No-No Song,” “Honey Don’t,” “You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph.”
Starr is intent on getting beyond his Beatles past. “Someone already said, ‘Well, you don’t have “Little Help From My Friends,” “Yellow Submarine.” ’ Well, you know, that’s not the point here. The point is the band that was on tour, and this is what we felt would make the best CD.”
It’s fun, he says, being able to step out front and sing, but not have to stay there.
Starr doesn’t know yet who will be in the next All-Starr band because some of last year’s members will almost certainly have other commitments. But Starr is certain to have an audience regardless of the complement.
The ’89 tour drew fans ranging from children on up to adults as old as 70. Children under 7 were let in free with their parents to make the problem of finding baby-sitters no impediment.
A lot of the children were more familiar with Starr as the tiny Mr. Conductor of the PBS television show “Shining Time Station.” The children’s show includes a storybook segment from “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends,” an English show Starr narrated.
Starr has no trouble seeing himself as a family entertainer, and apparently neither do the fans. “You have to grow up and everybody’s grown up with me,” he said.