There's a cutting one-liner, apparently apocryphally attributed to John Lennon, to the effect that Ringo Starr wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles.
That's less a nod to Paul McCartney's percussion talents than a familiar – and unfair – knock on Starr, whose fortune and misfortune rested in being the least heralded musician in the greatest band of them all.
On Saturday, music's ultimate team player gets his due when he becomes the last member of the Beatles to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an individual artist. The Award for Musical Excellence marks a fab honor for a performer who always helped his friends get by – with little fanfare for himself.
Starr's credentials stretch far beyond his Beatles years. He's logged seven Top 10 Billboard hits – including two No. 1 songs ("Photograph" and "You're Sixteen"), the same number Lennon scored in the decade after the band split.
The 1973 "Ringo" album went platinum and is the closest thing we'll ever have to a Beatles reunion (Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison played in various configurations on the recording, but never all together). It's also among the finest of the solo Beatles disks.
But Starr's most enduring post-Beatles contribution to music may be his All-Starr Band tours, which began in 1989 and sparked a larger performing rebirth for aging rock gods as the jukebox heroes of the 1960s and 1970s hit middle age. He helped revive the careers of some once-major stars – Peter Frampton, Randy Bachman, Todd Rundgren – and lent others now gone – Billy Preston, Levon Helm, Jack Bruce – a stage for well-deserved victory laps.
Starr showed on the tours what discerning listeners confirmed from the rarities found in the Beatles "Anthology” albums of 1990s: He's a versatile, underrated musician whose drumming always was appropriate to the song – whether he was laying down pounding tracks for "Strawberry Fields Forever" or backing Bruce on Cream's "White Room" three decades later on stage.
As Starr nears 75, he's still touring and producing new music ("Postcards From Paradise" is his latest album), while, with McCartney, keeping alive the music of the group that made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame necessary.
McCartney is slated to induct his pal, and perhaps there will be a jam – both a reminder of last year's Grammy tribute reunion show and a throwback to memories that started more than a half century ago. Only this time, Ringo will be the undisputed Starr of the show.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.