Imagine Ringo Starr, arguably the most famous drummer in the world, sitting at your Shabbat table tapping away a steady beat as your family belts out their favorite Carlebach tunes.
It happened to David Fishof, the New York music business entrepreneur who revived Starr’s performing career in the late 1980s by masterminding the Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band brand.
“My whole family was there. He joined us in washing before the meal and my son-in-law gave a dvar Torah on the significance of musical tropes,” said Fishof recently from his home in California.
“I remember Ringo said, ‘boy, I like this.’ My favorite moment though was when we started singing zemirot and Ringo began drumming along. If someone told Shlomo Carlebach up in heaven that a Beatle was drumming to his music, he would be so happy.”
The unlikely relationship between the one-time sports agent-turned tour producer and the rock and roll legend emerged during a fallow time in Starr’s career and upward spike in Fishof’s. He had branched out from representing athletes (including many of the mid-80s New York Giants, including Phil Simms) to packaging oldies tours – 1984’s “Happy Together Tour” featuring The Turtles, Gary Puckett and Spanky and Our Gang, and a Monkees 20th anniversary reunion tour in 1986.
Following a hugely successful, Pepsi-sponsored Dirty Dancing tour featuring music and performers from the hit movie, Fishof was asked to come up with some new ideas.
“I told them I had an idea to take Ringo on the road with an all-star backing band.
I wrote a letter and a few months later I got a call to go over to England and meet with Ringo,” said Fishof. “At that time, he was doing absolutely nothing – he and Barbara [Bach, his wife] had come out of rehab and were looking for something to do. I went right out and bought every book on the Beatles that I could find.”
Fishof went to the meeting with a prepared radio ad he had recorded so Ringo could understand his vision. “Coming live on tour, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.”
Three weeks later Fishof received an affirmative answer from Starr and they began talking about putting a band together.
“Ringo said that he wanted Joe Walsh and Levon Helm [from The Band]. I suggested Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons [then recently dismissed from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band] and I contacted [one-time Beatles sideman] Billy Preston.”
The show debuted in Dallas in July 1989 and presented a pattern that would continue for over a dozen versions of the band in the ensuing decades – Starr and a band of musicians who had been successful in their own right interchanging between Starr’s singing a selection of his Beatles and solo songs, with performances of each of the other artists’ well-known material, the latter incorporating either Starr or another musician as drummer.
It was so well-received, and lucrative, that Fishof went on to stage eight different Starr and Starr-Band tours between 1989 and 2003. That meant a lot of time together for Fishof and Starr, during which the Orthodox Jew schooled the Liverpool native in the basics of Judaism.
“One time at a Chinese place in Vancouver, I was eating a salad and drinking water, and Ringo turned to me and joked, ‘I’m going to tell your father you’re eating in a non-kosher restaurant,’” recalled Fishof.
Being on the road with veteran rockers inducted Fishof into their sometimes rough-around-the-edges sense of fun, like the time Ringo and his bandmates punked him.
“After the fourth show of that first tour, I was eating dinner at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey and Clarence Clemons walks up to me and says ‘I’m outta here... this idea of yours isn’t going to work. You can’t put all these stars in one band, they’re not going to get along.’ “He then told me that Joe Walsh and Levon Helm were having a huge fight in the dressing room. Nils Lofgren walked by then and said that he was quitting too, and advised me to try to break up the fight.
“Now these guys are all 10 years older than me, a yeshiva boy. What am I going to do? But I rushed into the dressing room, and Joe and Levon are screaming at each other, and there’s blood on their hands and face. Joe’s got a knife and Levon’s got a broken, jagged bottle. Just when I was ready to run, they turned to me, put their arms around each other and stuck their tongues out. Ringo walked out from behind a corner and everyone had a good laugh at my expense.”
Subsequent – hopefully less raucous for Fishof’s sake – editions of the All-Starrs included luminaries like Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, Squeeze’s Paul Carrack and Bad Company’s Simon Kirke.
“It was never a problem getting the musicians – they all wanted to spend time with Ringo. Joe Walsh said it best – ‘we’re a very democratic band, whatever Ringo tell us to do, we do,’” said Fishof. “My idea was to keep the band fresh with changing talent.”
By the time he and Starr “amicably” parted ways in 2003, one of the only unrealized aspirations that Fishof, a staunch supporter of Israel, had was to see the Beatle perform in the Jewish state. That milestone is finally taking place this month, when Starr and the latest version of his All-Starr Band churn out the hits at the Menora Mivtachim Arena on June 23 and 24 with a band featuring Colin Hay from Men at Work, Toto’s Steve Lukather, Journey’s Gregg Rolie and 10cc’s Graham Gouldman.
“I’m so excited he’s finally coming to Israel, I always wanted to him to come, but I couldn’t get enough support dates,” said Fishof. “For Ringo to come to Israel is amazing. It will help create awareness that Israel is a great place to play. So many artists are scared to come or have been pressured to not come, but there have been so many big names who do play there, like Guns N’ Roses and Britney Spears, that now artists want to go.”
Fishof has gone on to other projects, including founding the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where lifelong amateur musicians and weekend rockers gather for lessons, jams and camaraderie with stars like Roger Daltrey, Sammy Hagar, Heart’s Nancy Wilson and Buddy Guy.
“It’s been really great for me, and I’m changing people’s lives,” said Fishof, who added that he hopes to bring the camp to Israel in the near future. “Participants walk away from the weekend with amazing stories and experiences. And so do the musicians. Roger Daltrey said, ‘I was one of them, I just got lucky.’” That’s how Fishof feels about the years he was fortunate enough to ride the wave with Starr.
“It really ended on a good note with us. I love Ringo, he’s the greatest.”