For much of his life, Michael Callahan didn’t look like Ringo Starr, not even when he wore a wig and impersonated the young Ringo in a Beatles tribute band called Shout.
But as the older Ringo, Callahan, AKA Ringer Star, has found a niche. There are other portrayals -- drummers in Beatle tribute bands appearing in the different phases from goofy mop top Ringo to the Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road eras. But in his research, Callahan has not found another performer impersonating the famed Beatle drummer in his present incarnation.
People have asked Callahan if he got plastic surgery to look like Starr. “My standard answer is that Ringo had to become a senior citizen in his 70s to start looking like me,” Callahan said.
On July 12, the third night of the Kansas Wheat Festival, at the main stage in the 200 block of North Washington Avenue where another night of street dancing will take place, Callahan will perform as Ringer Starr. He will get a little help from his friends. Area band Across the Pond, which specializes in British rock, will back Callahan.
Callahan has performed as Ringer Star in seven countries -- places like Finland, Peru, Bolivia --, never taking a band with him. There is always an exceptional band available that knows Beatles music and after one rehearsal with the group, Ringer and the lads are ready to go.
Callahan was a 10-year-old kid, living in Detroit, the motor city. His four older sisters used to take the bus to West Grand Avenue to Motown’s Hitsville, U.S.A. recording studio and buy 45 records on the front lawn.
Then along came this pop group from Liverpool, England -- John, Paul, George and Ringo -- touching ground at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, greeted by thousands of screaming girls. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” playing endlessly on transistor radios. The headliners on the Sunday evening CBS television variety program “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I had one sister who was a nut,” Callahan said. “She was insane. She was in love with Paul.
Callahan was not crazy for the Beatles like his sisters but he knew there was something special and transitory about their sound and he wanted to get in on it.
"Like every other kid in America when the Beatles came out in ‘64 on Ed Sullivan, I wanted a guitar,” Callahan said. “That's what I wanted to do.”
His parents bought him a guitar. He took three lessons. From junior high on, he played rhythm guitar and bass guitar in a lot of different bands.
From the drums to Ringo
Around 1978, Callahan heard The Police for the first time. When he heard Stewart Copeland’s style of drumming with the British rock band, he decided to become a drummer.
“His drumming just grabbed me,” Callahan said. “The whole band -- it was incredible. I learned all the Police songs on drums. I dreamed of putting together a Police tribute band but never did.”
Fate led him to another tribute.
After Ringo Starr cut his hair short and trimmed his beard, friends started commenting to Callahan how much they looked alike. When Callahan attended a Beatles festival in Chicago around six years ago, two members of his band were out of town so he joined with musicians from other Beatles tribute bands performed with them as Ringo. He used the name, Ringer Star, from the beginning.
“It just came to me one night perfect name,” Callahan said. “I’m like a dead ringer.”
From there offers came he Callahan soon found himself in England performing with the Liverpool Philharmonic. The symphony orchestra was having a George Harrison tribute night and Callahan sang, “Never Without You” on stage with Mark Hudson, who wrote the song with Starr and Gary Nicholson. They received a standing ovation.
Callahan recalled: “Here I am, third time in my life singing in front of a crowd of people and it’s 2,000 people at the Liverpool Philharmonic and I was like ‘what the heck is happening?’ How did i get here?’ I was scared to death, but I pulled it off.”
Since then, Callahan has toured the world. He has sat on a tour bus with both, Freda Kelly, who was secretary for the Beatles, and May Pang, who was John Lennon’s lover during his “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles around 1973 and ‘74.
“I felt like a nobody,” Callahan said. “To get in a little bit into this inner circle of Beatle royalty was incredible.
Callahan has seen Ringo Starr perform twice. The Beatle even acknowledged him with a peace sign from the stage, but the two men have never met.
“If I’m supposed to meet him, if our paths are supposed to cross, I feel they will,” Callahan said.
Approaching this weekend, he is simply looking forward to performing with Across the Pond at the Kansas Wheat Festival. The band will take the stage at 9 p.m. and Callahan will take the stage with them at 10 p.m. for a 45-minute set. Ringer Star and Across the Pond performed together last year at the Wichita River Festival.
“They’re a great band,”Callahan said. “They’re really good musicians. I love all of those guys.”
He’s also looking forward to playing the KWF for the first time in Wellington, a town he’s not familiar with.
“This is gonna be exciting,” Callahan said. “It sounds like a heck of a festival.”
Ringo often flashes the peace sign often and promotes love and peace. Callahan said he is on the same mission.
“I’m just in awe of what comes my way,” he said. “I thank a higher power in the universe for letting me be so in tune and having this going the way it’s been going -- it’s been a miracle. it’s been a great ride and i guess it’s not over yet.