Zak Starkey’s blond hair is still matted with sweat, and he’s wearing the same black T-shirt and track pants from the rock show he’s just performed as the drummer for The Who.
Starkey is not changing or freshening up, either. There is no point.
“No break. I’ve got to keep going. I’m so (expletive) hyped-up from tonight — what are you going to do? I’ve got to play,” said Starkey, minutes after leaving the Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace. He piled into a waiting SUV, and was en route to the Sand Dollar Lounge on Polaris Avenue to play another set with his own band, Sshh (pronounced “shush”).
The three-person band is named for Starkey’s girlfriend vocalist, Sshh Liguz, sitting by his side.
The two do not converse, exactly. They yell, frequently shouting over each other, bickering comically and with the passion of rock stars.
“Will you stop (expletive) shouting now?” Starkey finally says. “I just got off sage with The Who!”
“I’m shouting so you can hear me!” Liguz yells back. “He’s deaf, you know!”
This goes on for several minutes, each exchange punctuated with laughter.
“She’s called ‘Sshh,’ ” Starkey says. “Now do you get it?”
Liguz and Starkey (yes, he’s the son of Ringo Starr) booked the Sand Dollar gig when they heard members of the Rolling Stones’ touring lineup played there in October. The Stones played at the bar after cancelling an appearance at T-Mobile Arena due to Mick Jagger’s vocal problems. Liguz, too, is struggling vocally, but was ignoring doctor’s orders for vocal rest.
“You practically have to put a gag on her to stop talking,” Starkey says, adding that Who vocalist Roger Daltrey has been working with Liguz on vocal exercises so she can perform in Las Vegas. Sshh is scheduled to play the Sand Dollar after every show by The Who at the Colosseum tomorrow, Monday, Wednesday and Aug. 11. Also, the EP “Jet Engines” is due out Aug. 18.
“We heard it was a great music venue,” Starkey said. “Bit of a biker bar, and we’re not bikers, are we? We’re more like punk, really, but people are going to dig it.”
Starkey has not yet had a chance to enjoy Vegas, and has not even seen “Love” at The Mirage, featuring his father’s legendary work with The Beatles. “I am rehearsing, we’re playing, there’s no time,” he says. “I don’t gamble. I avoid hookers, at all costs (laughs).”
“Oh, thanks!” Liguz says. “That really set me at ease there.”
Liguz and Starkey met either 12 years ago (his version) or 10 (hers) at a nightclub while Starkey was on tour in her hometown of Sydney, Australia with Oasis. Sshh has just released an album of covers, “Issues,” featuring guest appearances by original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock and drummer Paul Cook, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who sings Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.”
In a sonically explosive presentation at Sand Dollar, Sshh unleashed original songs mixed with cuts from “Issues.” The shows, preceded by burlesque striptease performances, start around midnight and roll until about 2 a.m.
Starkey plays guitar in Sshh, refusing to take the drums. Of his musical training, he says, “I don’t really have any. I saw T-Rex when I was a kid, in 1971, or ‘72, and that was it for me. My dad took me to see them and I said, ‘That is what I will do.’” Ringo and his then-wife, Maureen, gave young Zak a plastic Hagstrom model acoustic when he was just age 7.
“I taught myself,” Starkey says. “I was always knocking about with it around the house.” But he became enamoured of drums when his father took him to see The Who when Zak was 10. He began to understand that “Uncle Keith,” his father’s good friend Keith Moon, was actually a rock star.
“I saw Uncle Keith play drums and said, ‘Screw that! and got into the drums,” Starkey says. “I had worked out the connection between the records my parents had and who my father was, and who these people were that were visiting our house.” He recalls Moon painting and drawing with him when he was a kid, and later Pete Townshend telling him, “It’s because you were the same age mentally.”
Moon and Starr left Starkey to work out his drumming on his own. “It was, ‘Get on with yourself!’ while listening to records. My parents had great records, all the great rock records. They had no crap records, not in our home.”
Starkey says his father hoped he would be a doctor or lawyer instead of a musician. “I tell him, ‘If that had happened, I’d castrate you and then sue you!’ ” Starkey says, amid another burst of laughter.
The 51-year-old Starkey said he has learned to live with the unbending attention and adulation afforded a member of The Beatles’ family.
“I think it’s (expletive) great, I really do, because it’s all about the music,” he says. “But I don’t go for the whole ‘rock royalty’ thing. I just keep my head down, you know? The most exposure I will look for, myself, is this band. It’s not like I need to talk up anyone else. The Who certainly doesn’t need the drummer out there talking about them to the press.”
Liguz leaps at the statement. “I was just saying to someone the other day, there is nowhere for The Who to go now. You’ve played the Super Bowl and the Olympics, the biggest gigs there are. You can’t go higher than that, can you?”
“We’ve done the big shows, and we love it here — you saw a great Who show tonight,” Starkey says. “But ultimately, this band is more important to me. These are our songs that we write, and it’s more important to me than money. There is nothing more rewarding than performing them and buzzing about them.”
Starkey is foremost a musician and composer.
“If I could buy a Porsche, or make a record, I’ll always make a record. That’s my thing,” he says. “I don’t need a car. But I need to write and make music.”
Liguz then fires a playful punch toward her boyfriend, punctuating the thought. “She’ll save the real one for the stage!” he joked.