Strict Rules Ringo Starr Makes His Staff Follow

To start by stating the obvious: Ringo Starr is one of the legendary Beatles. As a former Beatle, he's pretty much rock royalty and it would be sort of unsurprising to find out that he was high-maintenance, super-demanding, and when it comes to staff? Surely, he has a list of demands a mile and a half long, right? Only ... it doesn't seem that way at all.

By the time 2019 rolled into that train wreck of a year that was 2020, Starr had been celebrating 30 years with an albeit constantly changing lineup for his All-Starr Band. That's wildly impressive, and the group's longevity might just have something to do with Starr himself — and the way that he treats not only his fellow band members, but the behind-the-scenes people who make it all happen. When he spoke with People about the band's enduring popularity, he said it was down to one thing: "We've been together a long time. I do feel it's a family."

Meanwhile, Starr is also more hands-on than might be expected of someone who's been sitting at the top of the industry for a good long time. Anyone who follows him on X (formerly known as Twitter) can rest assured that they're following the real deal, and that it's actually him posting all those funky, emoji-filled messages. And that? That's pretty cool: As are some of the things that he does ask of his staff-turned-family.

Be prepared: Tours aren't vacations

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band have played all over the world, and it's easy to see how it might be tempting to schedule in a few days for sightseeing, relaxation, or exploring the various cities. While that might fly with some artists, Starr isn't one of them. According to what his longtime tour producer Dave Hart told Pollstar, he's got some major requirements that come alongside scheduling: "He would rather be playing than sitting in a hotel, and he's told me that on numerous occasions. For the spring tour, we added shows because we had two days off and he said, 'Hey, you might as well add them.'"

Hart says that Starr is also pretty strict when it comes to making choices that make traveling easier. That means booking logical routes — not like the irrational, criss-crossing tour that in 1959 ended with the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper — and making sure that everyone's comfortable on the way.

Starr himself has talked about how he insists that as many shows as possible get booked. In 2023, music journalist Lisa Torem attended a behind-the-scenes Q&A with Starr and his band (via Penny Black Music). Starr was asked about his schedule, and he replied that simply, he loved it. Too much time off? "Our tour manager gave us too many days off, so I complained. If I'm on tour, I want to play. ... We could play every night, but Edgar [Winter] needs a day off."

Be respectful, and check the drama at the door

Ringo Starr famously talks about peace and love a lot, but does he practice what he preaches? Absolutely, and that means that working for him requires leaving out the drama and being respectful of everyone else around. That's according to his go-to drum tech Jeff Chonis, and Chonis would know — he's been a part of the band's crew for every show the All-Starr Band has put on. He told People that it was actually pretty straightforward: "He doesn't allow drama. He sets the tone, and it's, 'Be respectful.'"

Chonis says that it's about more than just creating a brilliant work environment, and told Pollstar that his rules about drama allowed him to put the band together in the first place. "These amazing talents come in and they leave their egos outside because Ringo sets the tone. We don't allow drama. Everybody respects each other, whether it's a crew guy or a band member. There's no fighting, yelling, or arguing, because Ringo doesn't put up with that."

That sounds ... delightfully refreshing, actually. Starr told People that yes, of course his philosophy didn't work all the time, and of course, people are going to slip up and conflicts are inevitable. "We have to remember we are not saints — sometimes there's the attitude, the reactive. ... But we're doing the best we can."

Be prepared to have a little fun, and keep a sense of humor

Think that there's no room for pranks and practical jokes when there are thousands of people waiting to be treated to the most incredible musical experience of their lives? Ringo Starr thinks differently, because according to what he told Variety, "The rule was: We're not here to be tortured, let's have fun."

Starr told People that sometimes, having fun manifested in some pretty epic pranks. During one tour, they staged a massive backstage fight between Joe Walsh and Levon Helm — right down to arming the pair with broken (prop) bottles and knives. Clarence Clemons was in on it, too, calling their tour producer, David Fishof, to tell them to get to the dressing room stat: Things were getting ugly. Fishof ran in and promptly panicked at the sight, and although Starr didn't mention what he thought of the whole thing, everyone else apparently appreciated it. Starr said, "On the road, you're looking for stuff to do. That was a fun night."

Tour manager Donny Wightman says it's incredibly important to him that everyone walks away with some fond memories of fun times. In an interview with Louder With Ace, Wightman explained, "One of the things [Starr] will say ... he'll say at least once or twice a week, 'Hey, are the boys having fun?' He wants to make sure everybody's happy, everybody's having a good time, nobody's got issues or problems." And if there are issues? He wants them addressed.

He's not signing anything for anyone, so don't ask

Drummer and drum historian John DeChristopher has his finger on the pulse of the music scene — and that includes being good friends with Ringo Starr's drum tech, Jeff Chonis. In 2013, he wrote a blog post about trying to meet Starr via Chonis, and the fact that he was hoping to get something signed for an exhibition by the centuries-old Zildjian instrument manufacturers. Starr was using Zildjian cymbals at the time, so he thought he might have a shot at it ... but, it wasn't that easy. Starr had officially stopped signing autographs, even for those with a connection.

DeChristopher was able to get his meeting, but wrote, "I'll never forget the look he gave me when I showed up with the three drum heads for him to sign — his look said, 'Are you kidding me?'" Starr did sign, but only when he was assured that the drums were headed for a public exhibition.

It's been years since Starr asked fans to stop sending him fan mail, and warned, "... nothing will be signed after the 20th of October. If that has a date on the envelope, it's going to be tossed. I'm warning you, with peace and love." He was on The Howard Stern Show when he explained why the policy started: He had been signing guitar scratch plates, and someone in his circle found them — complete with a cheap guitar — selling online for thousands of dollars. Who can blame him?

Ringo Starr's rider requirements: No discrimination

This one's going back a bit, all the way to The Beatles and 1965. The Smoking Gun has a copy of their concert rider from a show in Portland, Oregon, and it's surprisingly short. It's just a few pages of pretty reasonable requests, but there are some things that are pretty interesting ... including the fact that ticket prices were to start at $4. (Adjusted for inflation, that's $39.33 in 2023.) 

One of the requests was specifically for Starr, and that was a 4-foot-high riser that was big enough for him and his drum kit — which meant it needed to be 10 feet by 6 feet. Perhaps more interesting is that there's another note in there, too: The fifth rule that needed to be agreed upon and upheld simply states, "Artists will not be required to perform before a segregated audience."

And that, remember, was 1965. Fast forward to 2020, and anti-discrimination policies are still at the forefront of Starr's operation. He explained to the Beverly Hills Courier that it was actually pretty simple: "All each of us can do is stand up for what we think is right and treat people with peace and love and lead by example. I've never understood treating people differently because of the color of their skin. The Beatles didn't stand for it then and I still don't."

Everyone's a key member of the crew, so everyone's treated equally

While it might seem like a no-brainer that the biggest names on a tour get the very best hotel rooms, meals, and tour bus, that doesn't seem to be the case with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. When tour manager Donny Wightman sat down for a conversation with Louder With Ace, he shared something kind of surprising: Everyone gets a piece of the pie when it comes to those things that make life on the road just a little bit easier.

When asked if there was a massive divide between band members based on fame — or a lack thereof — Wightman clarified that everyone stayed in the same hotels. (And yes, he added, they're hotels that are just as nice as one might guess.) There's a nice plane involved, too, and Wightman says that it's a rule that when things get booked, they're booked for everyone. Everyone is included in everything, from getting comfy seats on the plane to a seat at the table when mealtimes roll around.

And that includes Starr, who is reportedly renowned for hanging out with the band and crew alike, and making sure everyone's feeling happy, included, and at home. Wightman says that although he's in the thick of things telling stories and cracking jokes, there's still an underlying, almost unspoken rule: "There is still, always, that respect."

Give 110%, and take responsibility when things go wrong

There's an old saying that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and while that might be true for Ringo Starr's absolutely epic All-Starr Band, there's a bit more to it than that. Starr seems to value not only the talents of each and every person in his band and crew, but their input as well. When tour manager Donny Wightman sat down to give Louder With Ace a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to tour with the group, he revealed that after the show, everyone was expected to sit down, talk about what happened — or what didn't happen — and take responsibility for the good and the bad.

Wightman said that the norm was to take off from the venue ASAP, in order to avoid the post-concert chaos. Once they got to where they were going, though, everyone reconvened. "Every night, the guys will critique their own performances," he explained.

In spite of the obvious fact that everyone involved is at the top of their game and some of the best in the industry, mistakes do happen. Although Starr expects everyone to give their all, he also seems to be incredibly understanding — especially if someone takes responsibility for their mistake. Giving it all they've got? That's important: If he thinks they're not, well, he explained to USA Today what happens then. "I've had some really incredible players, and several who didn't want to put in 100%." Were they in the next lineup? "No."

There's going to be some time at the gym

This one's kind of a loose guideline, and it's sort of Ringo Starr setting the tone and leading by example. When USA Today asked him how he managed to keep going at his pace as he started celebrating birthdays in his eighth decade, he credited a healthy, vegetarian diet, constantly keeping busy, and his long-standing gym routine. He revealed that he had a trainer that he worked with three times a week, and explained that even when they weren't around, or when they were on the road, he was still in the gym every day.

While it's not a requirement that his band and crew join him, tour manager Donny Wightman has explained (via Louder With Ace) that it's sort of an unofficial thing that happened every morning at precisely 10:30 a.m.

"They all want to make their appearance. None of them are gym rats, but ... they want to make a good impression." He went on to tell the story of one cowboy-boot-wearing member of the group who went once, realized that it just wasn't going to work for the gym, and was seen out buying more appropriate footwear later. "He wanted to fit in, he wanted to be one of the guys," Wightman said. So, while Starr might not specifically require anyone to join him, he does seem to set a good example by insisting that there's time made for his own personal workout schedule.