From the automotive industry to becoming a world-traveling musician, Motor-City Mike, Michael Callahan – better known as his stage-persona “Ringer Star” – has taken the Beatles Entertainment world by storm as a talented Ringo Starr tribute artist.

From the time Michael was a little boy, back in the 1960s, he’s been awe-struck in love with The Beatles. First hearing them on the Ed Sullivan Show, he decided he wanted to learn to play guitar…and that eventually led him to learning the drums – just like Ringo!

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Today, he sings, plays bass guitar and drums, and also travels the world as the Ringo Starr tribute artist Ringer Star. Aside from just performing on stage as Ringo Starr, Michael has also captured Ringo’s iconic look – down to the accent and signature double-handed peace sign when in character. With hundreds of people often mistaking him for the real Ringo, he’s traveled to Mexico, Brazil, New York City, Chicago, London, and even Liverpool, England – the home of the Beatles – for many different Beatles festivals. He’s even had a shout-out from the real Ringo Starr, at one of his concerts in Las Vegas!

CBS 62 was lucky enough to snag an in-depth, personal interview with the sensational musical tribute artist, to hear all about how he got into this business and what the experience has been like so far!

Check him out!

Ringer Star

(credit: Alan Kenny)

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Michael Timothy Patrick Callahan. Born in Highland Park, Michigan. Grew up at Grand River and Livernois in Detroit, just a couple of miles from the Grande Ballroom. but I was too young to attend any concerts. My family moved to Livonia, Michigan in 1968.

How long have you been a musician?

To be honest, it’s been around 45 years. (Man, that’s hard for me to say.) My first guitar lesson was at Capital Music on Grand River. I begged my parents for a guitar after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, as did every other kid in America. A couple years later, they did buy me a 30 dollar acoustic and agreed to pay for lessons. I found it difficult to read single note music so I found myself learning the songs I was being taught by ear, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells” and playing them for my instructor as if I was reading. One day, I learned “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, and when I asked my teacher at my next lesson if he had heard it, he said yes! And I played it for him and he said “Wow cool, teach me that.”

And that’s when I decided that was to be my last lesson. I wanted to play Rock and Roll and learn chords and did so on my own. My first band was in 1969 and was named “The Undecided,” chosen because the band could not decide on a name. I played rhythm guitar at first and then went to bass. We played at my junior high school talent show, Halloween dance, and Christmas party. I always would sit down after rehearsals and beat on the drums. Drums just felt natural for me to play.

But, it was in 1979 when I heard Stewart Copeland’s (of The Police) style of drumming, that was the turning point. I wanted to play like him. I bought my first drum kit in 1980 and have not stopped playing since, so almost 35 years drumming. Not to mention learning all of The Police’s tunes over five years.

How did you get into being a tribute star?

It was well back in late 1990s! Around ‘93 or so, I heard from a friend about an annual Beatles fest in Chicago and he said he was going to attend because he had gone the year before, and it was a blast. People dressed up in sixties mod clothing; you know, ratted hair, long fake eyelashs, go-go boots, mini-skirts, Beatles boots, Beatles suits, wigs, people talking in English accents. I thought, “How Cool Is That?!” Well, without a second thought, I was in Chicago the next day for the 3-day event. And I’ll tell you what, it was very groovy! Lots of musicians, a sound-alike contest, a battle of the bands contest, and Beatles memorabilia vendors. I told myself, “I am never coming back here without a band.”

Ringer Star

(credit: tributeartistringo.com)

…and for the next 20 some years, that’s what I did. We always came in the top three out of 15 to 18 bands, and even won a couple of times. In fact, my Chicago All Star Band has won the last two years in a row. Great fun.

See the winning performance here!

During that time period, I answered an ad in the Metro Times, “Look-alike, sound-alike Beatles Tribute Band looking for Ringo.” I auditioned for the band and got the job and also got my friend Greg G, in the band to play John Lennon. We named the band “SHOUT” in my basement in Southfield. Yeah, we had the suits, wigs, and the Beatles guitars, amps, and drum kit. I think I only did a gig or two with them and had a falling out with the bass player and left the band.

Getting back to the Chicago Fest, later in those years, I did attempt a couple of times to look and sing like Ringo with no real success. But, in 2012, we had lost 2 of our guitar players, Derrick and Tim, sons of Mike Palin (my bass player), who both grew up attending and playing in our bands over the years at the Chicago Beatles Fest. So having seen Ringo in concert many times, I thought, “I am ready to emulate Ringo to the nines.”

So Mike (Daddy O) Palin and I put together an All-Star band of past Beatles Fest winners that everyone in Chicago knew and are some of the best musicians. I got the current Ringo haircut, grew the beard, had glasses made, bought and made the earrings and neck chains, and then went for it. The crowd liked it, though we did not win the competition that year…but we were very well received.

Well when I walked off stage that first Ringo year, I was going to go home, cut the beard, let my hair grow long, and say, “See ya next year.” That’s when everything changed for me.

A gentleman named Charles Snapp, a tourism director from Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, approached me as soon as I walked off stage and told me he would like for me to come down the Beatles at the Ridge in Arkansas for his annual Beatles Fest in September to act and perform as “Ringer Star,” and I agreed.

So I go to Walnut Ridge, this little sleepy 5,000-person town, and they freaked out! I really had them going, totally unexpected for them and me. Beatles fans wanting photos and autographs, their local news crew out following and interviewing me, it was truly intense for me, although inside I felt bad and I didn’t think I could continue to deceive these sweet people, but this was my job now, so I continued the acting for 12 more hours. Some folks took a picture with me and then went to the local Walmart to blow them up, and come back and find me so I could autograph them.

Ringer Star

(credit: tributeartistringo.com)

I was very cautious about what I signed, and of course the few things I did sign were signed as “Ringer Star.” The last guy I want to upset is Ringo Starr, so in all my travels and people I meet, I let them have their moment thinking they are with the real Ringo, but always inform them that I’m “Motor City Mike” and gave them my Ringer Star card. You see, there’s a line I will never cross over out of respect for Ringo (and possible legal reasons), and that is to never take advantage of this gift of looking like the Beatle, Ringo Starr. The response was so overwhelming, Charles said I should think about being a full-time tribute artist. I really didn’t give it much thought at the time, as I had a well-paying job in the aircraft business.

What did you do before you took this gig on full-time?

I attended Henry Ford Community for an Associate in Science Degree in Automotive Technology. My first job was at American Motors as experimental mechanic in AMC’s advance engineering department. I left after a few years and went to the GM proving Grounds in Milford as an Experimental Durability Technician for Buick Olds and Cadillac. I then received a better offer at a Prototype shop in Inkster called Carron and Co. I was a Project Engineering Coordinator for a huge crash program for Ford Motor Company. Also became a Program Manager for FMC Bench Mark Center. Carron closed down in 2000 or 2001, and I was unemployed. Just so you know, during all these years, I had always been involved in the music scene and was playing whenever I could.

Ringer Star

(credit: Mike Callahan)

So by that point in my life, I had had enough of the automotive business and decided to pursue my passion included mixing boards, huge speaker systems, and lots of amps, doing sound reinforcement for bands and large events, DJ-ing private parties, playing in a couple bands, recording, engineering, and producing on a small scale. I also helped my good friend Tom for over a year, building the Audio Cafe Recording Studio in Eastpointe, Michigan, and working with Tom for a while…which I still do, on occasion.

In 2007, I took a job in the prototype aircraft industry for 5 years, and in 2012, I was unemployed again. I had saved a little cash and decided to take Charles up on his idea [that he had mentioned at the 2012 Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans] to become a Ringo Tribute Artist. So I set up my own little world tour and called it “The Ringer Star Market Research Tour.” The idea was to go to every Beatles event in America, Canada, and England, to let the International Beatles Entertainment Community know I exist, and not only as a look-alike, but as a drummer, singer, and performer. With a little help from my friends, (no pun intended) my longtime friend Ed Primeau (whom I met at my first Beatles Fest in Chicago) was kind enough to set me up with The Ringer Star website, a Facebook page, and business cards.

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Then, off Ed and I went with video camera in-hand to document all the events we attended in Chicago, Tulsa, Oklahoma, NYC, Danbury, Connecticut, and Louisville’s Abbey Road on The River, Halifax, Canada, London, and Liverpool. I also went to Las Vegas to attend two Ringo’s All Starr Band performances at the Palms.

Tell us about your traveling experiences, as Ringer Star.

Well, the chain of events are fascinating to me. Had I not gone to Chicago in 2012, I would not have been invited to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. From there, I visited Abbey Road on the River in Louisville, Kentucky, and there, I found out about the International Beatles-Week in Liverpool.

I then went to Liverpool for the International Beatles-Week and was asked to perform by the Beatles Week promoter Jon Keats at the Liverpool Philharmonic Theatre. Seeing me there, the promoters, Ricardo from Mexico City and Aggeu from Brazil, asked me to perform with their best Beatles bands in beautiful Mexico City and Belo Horizonte. I was also asked to come back to Liverpool again to perform at the Royal Court Theater this year with Scotland’s best Beatles band and Mark Hudson (Ringo’s producer for his first eight albums). The travel has been just great and I’m hoping to do a lot more in the years to come.

See Ringer Star perform at the Liverpool Philharmonic Theatre here!

See Ringer Star and his All Star Band perform “Love Me Do” at the Royal Court Theater in Liverpool, England here!

Ringer Star

(credit: Alan Kenny)

 

Have you been a life-long Beatles fan?

OH YES! Since 1964 and the Ed Sullivan Show. I was ten years old with 4 older sisters and one younger. My youngest sister, Peggy, was my playmate, and the older girls were dating boys and had girlfriends, so not much time for a little brother. I truly annoyed everyone in the family and in school with my compulsive banging on everything…dinner table, silverware, walls, floors, sisters heads, and even stove and fridge. I was always beating on something just for the sound it would make. One day, my next older sister who, up until that point, I never really hung out with, was in the kitchen and I overheard her ask my mom if she could take ME to her girlfriend’s house, who lived on the next block.

I was as surprised as my mother about why Molly would be requesting her little annoying brother to go to a young teenage girl’s house with her. Molly’s response was… ‘Kathy Sue just bought the new Beatles album and she made guitars for us and she wants Michael (me) to play drums and be Ringo.’ Wow, this was a huge deal for me go across the alley to a cute teenage girl’s house. Giddy Up! So, my Mom said yes, and hand-in-hand, off we went on the short journey to my first drumming gig on the next block. We got to the house and went up two flights of stairs to the attic where I saw a record player and The Beatles’ first album, two guitars made out of cardboard with sewing thread for strings, and twine for the guitar strap.

Ringer Star

(credit: Mike Callahan)

Thinking back, it was pretty creative for a 13 or 14 year-old girl to make these. But the best part was the drum kit I was to BANG ON! That’s right – a card table with all the kitchen pots and pans on it, wow, I was in Heaven, no parents, no nuns, nobody to tell me “STOP POUNDING ON THAT, MICHAEL!” Well, the girls strapped on their “guitars,” I got behind the pots, Kathy Sue dropped the needle on the record, and the three of us were off and running. The girls shaking their heads singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” doing the OOOOs, me banging on the pots and pans – man, we were tearing it up.

It was an afternoon that seemed like yesterday. One year, I was playing drums at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, and I think I was in my late ’40s, and that vision of that attic session with the girls came back in my mind’s eye and I remember saying to myself “OMG, I am still doing this.” And now at 60, (WHAT THE WHAT?!) I have recently come to grips that THIS must be my calling and destiny at this time in my life. Though, I’ve never looked like Ringo until now. Very strange to me.

Tell us about fans’ reactions to you as Ringer! Has anyone ever thought you were actually Ringo?

ALL THE TIME! Sometimes, even when I tell them I am an impersonator, they still think I am Ringo…insisting I am him telling them I’m an impersonator. I have truly fooled hundreds and hundreds of people, even if it’s just for that minute. And people absolutely love it, it makes everyone so happy, and that is probably the best thing about this gig – the smiles it brings to everyone, young and old. Not to mention, getting a picture with me is the closest thing they are ever going to get to the real Ringo, and people know that and they just have an absolute blast with it. I once had a woman ask me if I had surgery to look like Ringo. I say no, I’m the first genetically-cloned Beatle.

Are you planning on putting together a full band?

Well, that’s interesting you ask that. The way things have been going, I have been very fortunate as a singer/performer to be assigned, if you will, the best Beatles bands in every country and city I go to. The promoters pick their best band, I send the band a CD with a set list of songs, the order, key, and tempo, so they can learn them. We have a few hours of rehearsal, and then we do the show. It’s very uncomplicated, very inexpensive not traveling with a band…and all the money and expense, not to mention drama and egos, needing back-up musicians to fill in for whatever reasons if gigs are booked and someone gets sick or has personal issues, is tough. I kind of like this arrangement, but the down side is not enough work and gigs, so I am quite sure that is all going to change next year. There is talk of me doing some touring with the Mexico City band Morsa, six or eight cities throughout Mexico in March. And the Cavern Club folks in England are planning to put together a band consisting of well-known musicians from famous bands who can draw a crowd on their own for a European Tour, so we would be doing a real Ringer and His All Star Band Show. I would, however, like to put a Detroit All Star Band together of the same caliber and format as the Brits.

Ringer Star

(credit: Mike Callahan)

Tell us about the best experience you’ve had, either on stage or off stage, as Ringer Star.

There really are quite a few. But I would have to say, at the top of the list was seeing Ringo in Las Vegas in September of last year. I was at the end of my budget of my Market Research Tour funds, the objective being to leave no rock unturned in the International Beatle Entertainment Community, and what better way to end the year of travel than to see the man himself? Ringo only did two shows in America last year and they were at the Pearl Theater in the Palms Hotel in Vegas. I had a couple friends living out there and recruited them to assist me in this adventure. They found me a front row ticket, left side of stage, for the Friday night show, and third row, right side, for Saturday night. Now, I would never go to a Ringo concert dressed as him, I just think that’s cheesy, but hey, this is Vegas – the capital of impersonators – so that’s how I justified dressing like Ringo that night.

So it’s show time, I get on the elevator to go down to the show, and I get off on the wrong floor. This woman comes up to me gives me a hug and says, “How you doing, honey,” and being in character, I respond as she’s hugging me, “Pretty good right now, love.” Long story short, it was the wife of a member of Ringo’s band…Wow! So, when I hooked up with my two friends, I gave them my business cards and informed them that they are to give them to everyone I take a picture with and tell them I am “Motor City Mike” from Detroit, a Ringo Tribute Artist. I informed them that nothing could prepare them for what was about to happen. Long story short, we were mobbed by people wanting pictures. The look on my friends’ faces was priceless, they were freaked out! Hotel security got involved, but everybody received my card, thanks to my assistants. Even Ringo’s road manager came out and made an announcement that “THIS IS NOT THE REAL RINGO.” But it gets better. I am now in my front row seat, Ringo runs on stage, and we are dressed identically, the only difference was the star on his shirt was silver, and mine was white.

Well, a couple of minutes into the first song, Ringo looks over at me, and I stand up and flash him his famous two handed peace sign. Ringo, holding the mic in his right hand, puts his left hand on his forehead and does his signature head-back, open-mouth laugh, and points at me. Wow, my mission for the year was now complete: RINGO SAW ME! Later in the concert, Ringo said “There’s a guy up here in the front who looks a lot like me, but is he talented?” As my whole body went into some weird paralysis hearing those words come out of Ringo’s mouth, in that millisecond, I saw myself running up to center stage like a little girl, hands in the air and saying “Yes! I’m talented! I Sing! I play Drums! Let me come up and do a song with you!” Well, that was going to impossible since I had been zapped into a paralyzed state!

Now, one other person I really wanted to meet was Ringo’s drummer Greg Bissonette, a Detroit native with an incredible musical history. And after the show, BOOM! Greg walks out the theater door, with other band members, and sees me and he said, “Cool, can I have a picture with you?” as did I with other members of Ringo’s band. That was very, very cool.

Ringer Star

(credit: Mike Callahan)

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I would just like to say that this new life journey that I am on now I feel has really been a Godsend to me. It’s like all of my little dreams that have come and gone over many years past have now all manifested at this time in my life. Like touring the world as a performer, meeting my childhood and adult music icons, playing drums, singing and performing in theaters instead of bars and clubs, playing with way more accomplished musicians than myself, bringing happiness and joy to so many people around the world. I have been blessed to be able to do this, and express my own genuine love of people and really feel that joy and happiness from them in my own heart and soul, it is so cool. I am truly growing into being an Ambassador of Peace and Love, as is Ringo, and I love it! I thank God and pray for direction every day, to say and do the right thing and never take advantage of this gift given to me and stay humble and honored to be who I am and what I have become.

Peace and love, Michael Callahan, Ringer Star.

Make sure to find Ringer Star on his website here and Facebook page here!

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