After being unable to get distribution for his 1983 album OLD WAVE in the States or the UK, Starr dropped out of the music business for the rest of the decade and narrated the children’s TV series Tommy the Tank Engine along with appearing in the occasional commercial.
By the late 1980s, Starr’s substance abuse was out of control and he was blacking out often. So in October 1988, Starr and wife Barbara Bach entered a detox clinic in Tucson, Arizona, for a six-week alcohol and cocaine treatment program, trying to ignore the press constantly flying overhead.
He realized he needed to get back in the game, so with producer David Fischof came up with the concept for his All-Starr Band. The idea was to assemble a team of musicians who were concert draws in their own right. Starr would sing some Beatles songs and some solo songs, and then he would take a backseat on the drums while the other artists sang their hits.
The first incarnation of the All-Starr Band featured regulars Jim Keltner, Billy Preston, and Joe Walsh, along with Dr. John, Levon Helm and Rick Danko of the Band, and E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Nils Lofgren. They made their debut in Dallas on July 23, 1989, to ten thousand people and toured North America through the summer. New incarnations would follow every one to three years. By 2010, there had been eleven All-Starr bands featuring the likes of Sheila E., Jack Bruce, Edgar Winter, Zak Starkey (his son), Todd Rundgren, Billy Squier, Richard Marx, Randy Bachman, Peter Frampton, John Waite, John Entwistle, Howard Jones, Greg Lake, Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals), Eric Carmen, and many more. Starr released live albums like baseball programs, ten as of 2011, which are five more live albums than McCartney has issued.
The structure helped him get back on his feet. In 1990, Starr recorded a cover of the Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” for a TV special marking Lennon’s birth and death anniversaries. Featuring Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Walsh, and Keltner, the track was produced by Lynne, who went on to produce two of the best songs on Starr’s first album in nine years, TIME TAKES TIME, including “Don’t Go Where the Road Don’t Go.”
Lynne gives Starr a tougher drum sound and plays a louder, fiercer guitar than had been heard heretofore on a Ringo tune, like “In My Car” on steroids. Lynne layers in some Petty-esque acoustic rhythm guitars, then Suzie Katayama on cello where the lead guitar would typically be. Ringo jumps in, angry, bitter, recounting how he woke up from a nightmare, beaten up and alone in rehab with the walls closing in, and one’s first reaction is, “Whoa, this is a Ringo tune that truly rocks.”
As with much of the album, the lyrics are heavier than those on Starr’s previous work. He sings of once being at the epicenter of the world, but from what he can barely remember of the past, he blew it. Friends who used him when times were good have all disappeared. Still, he’s back with a vengeance and warning us to learn from him: don’t drive/live drunk, or you’ll end up driving where the road don’t go and end up nearly killing yourself. With this song he fashioned an anthem for anyone who has driven their life off a cliff but has rebuilt themselves and hit the road with reborn determination.