Following Stop and Smell the Roses, Starr's recording projects were beset with problems. After completing Old Wave in 1982 with producer Joe Walsh, he was unable to find a record company willing to release the album in the UK or the US. In 1987, he abandoned sessions in Memphis for a planned country album, produced by Chips Moman, after which Moman was blocked by a court injunction from issuing the recordings. Starr nevertheless maintained a high public profile through his narration over 1984–86 of the popular children's series Thomas & Friends, a Britt Allcroft production based on the books by the Reverend W. Awdry. For a single season in 1989, Starr also portrayed the character Mr. Conductor in the programme's American spin-off, Shining Time Station.
In 1985, Starr performed with his son Zak as part of Artists United Against Apartheid on the recording "Sun City",and, with Harrison and Eric Clapton, was among the special guests on Carl Perkins' TV special Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session. In 1987, he played drums on Harrison's Beatles pastiche "When We Was Fab" and also appeared in Godley & Creme's innovative video clip for the song. The same year, Starr joined Harrison, Clapton, Jeff Lynne and Elton John in a performance at London's Wembley Arena for the Prince's Trust charity. In January 1988, he attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, with Harrison and Ono (the latter representing Lennon), to accept the Beatles' induction into the Hall of Fame.
During October and November 1988, Starr and Bach attended a detox clinic in Tucson, Arizona, each receiving a six-week treatment for alcoholism. He later commented on his longstanding addiction: "Years I've lost, absolute years … I've no idea what happened. I lived in a blackout." Having embraced sobriety, Starr focused on re-establishing his career by making a return to touring. On 23 July 1989, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band gave their first performance to an audience of ten thousand in Dallas, Texas. Setting a pattern that would continue over the following decades, the band consisted of Starr and an assortment of musicians who had been successful in their own right with popular songs at different times. The concerts interchanged Starr's singing, including selections of his Beatles and solo songs, with performances of each of the other artists' well-known material, the latter incorporating either Starr or another musician as drummer.