Issue: July 1990
Author: Tom Mulhern
But when it comes to write and record a new song, there's always that uncertainty factor: After so many years of turning out a stream of catchy tunes and creating some of the most influential bass lines in pop music, is there still magic waiting to be brought forth? Every time he sits down to write, and every time he plugs in the bass, it's back to square one.
Yeah, he was a Beatle. Yeah, he's
incredibly famous. And, yeah, he's likely more successful than any player
in history. But above all else, he's a musician, and like any of
his peers-famous or not-past accomplishments are
no guarantee of future success.
Paul's had ups and downs, and to most people it would seem that being in the world's biggest band would be a virtually impossible act to follow. When the Beatles broke up, he could have walked away from the music business, and who would have blamed him? There's just one catch. The man loves music. At 48, he's leading his latest band with the enthusiasm characteristic of players half his age. From the minute he hits the stage for an afternoon soundcheck until the last note of the evening's encore, he's into it.
Before he had money or fame, or even a decent guitar, Paul McCartney was digging Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino, tapping into rock and roll to inspire his budding writing, singing, and playing abilities. Those influences are a strong part of early Beatles music, the propulsive force behind the Fab Four-Paul, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr-But as time passed, Paul's songwriting and playing evolved dramatically, becoming practically a genre unto themselves, almost as far removed from Chuck Berry as from Beethoven or Bach.
Despite decades of evolution, McCartney never lost touch with his roots. He returned to them for Back In The U.S.S.R., a 1988 album on which he covered '50s gems by his early heroes (the album was originally released only in the U.S.S.R.). During the jams that culminated in the LP Paul also started playing guitar in a band, something he hasn't done since long before the Beatles conquered the world. Of course, he hadn't given up for all those years: He picked guitar in the studio with the Beatles and Wings, as well as on solo recordings. However, he had almost always appeared onstage with his violin-shaped Hofner or his Rickenbacker 4001 bass.
Besides picking up the guitar again, Paul-at the insistence of new songwriting partner Elvis Costello-dusted off the old Hofner that had been in hibernation since the Beatles did "Get Back" on Apple Studios' rooftop for Let It Be in 1969. He applied it to Costello's "Veronica" on 1988's Spike.
For 1989's Flowers In The Dirt, McCartney used a variety of guitars and basses, including his old Hofner friend and his new 5-string Wal. Partly as a result of the Flowers sessions, partly as fallout from the U.S.S.R. album, and partly as an outgrowth of weekly jam sessions, a new band evolved, featuring McCartney on bass, guitar, piano, and vocals, his wife Linda on keyboards and backing vocals, Chris Whitten on drums, Hamish Stuart on guitar, bass, and backing vocals, Robbie McIntosh on guitar and vocals, and Paul Wickens (a.k.a. Wix) on keyboards. Since last year, McCartney and band have played to packed stadiums all over the world (including a 150,000-person venue in Rio de Janeiro).
Over the years, Paul has participated in charitable events, including Live Aid and the Prince's Trust concerts. He is currently promoting Friends Of The Earth, an environmental group. For musicians, though, few projects that he has lent his name to can equal his participation in Standing In The Shadows Of Motown: The Life And Music Of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson [Hal Leonard]. Acting as emcee to the accompanying cassettes, the English bassist had a rare opportunity to pay tribute to one of his contemporaries-and influences-from the '60s, a man who, like Paul McCartney, played a major role in shaping rock bass.
Q. You contributed to the book on James Jamerson. When did you first hear about him?
A. Well, I didn't realize who I was hearing for all those years-like a lot of people on the Motown stuff. I was always attracted to the bass lines. They had their own guys in Motown and their regular house band.
Q. You knew who the fronting artist was, but not the support players.
A. Exactly. It was just an artist on Motown. And we loved all those backing tracks and all those sort of "Heard It Through The Grapevine" songs. They were huge pieces of music for us. Just the backing tracks-never mind the great vocals in front of them. When they used to ask me who my favorite bass player was, I would say, "That Motown guy. The guy who plays in the band." But I never really knew who he was. Then James Jamerson, Jr. wrote and said, "I'm doing this big project to kind of get my dad's name known a bit more." I didn't even know who he was. So I did that, and it was very nice. I was happy to be of some use.
Q. By the time you first heard James Jamerson, you'd formed your own style. But was there anything that made you say, "Oh, I'll take a little of this or a little of that"?
A. Oh, sure. I'm always taking a little of this and a little of that. It's called being influenced. It's either called that or stealing. And what do they say? A good artist borrows; a great artist steals-or something like that. That makes us great artists then, because we stole a lot of stuff. If anyone ever said to us, "Wow! Where's that from?" we'd say, "Well, Chuck Berry," or that the "I Saw Her Standing There" riff is from [Berry's] "I'm Talking About You." We took a lot of stuff, but in blues, anyway, you do: People lift licks. It's part of the fun of being alive, too. You hear somebody's incredible riff and you go "Oooh." You hear a new chord somewhere and you go, "Oh, my God, that's it!" We used to travel miles for a new chord-literally-in Liverpool. We used to take bus rides for hours to go visit the guy who reputedly knew B7. None of us knew how to finger it. He was like the guru. We went to his house, and we sat there, and he played it a few times. Then we all said, "Brilliant, thanks," and we went home and practiced it. Yeah, we lifed a lot of stuff from Motown, but quite unashamedly. I'm happy to have done it.
Q. Listening to the "I'm Talking About You" bass line, it's easy to see where the line to "I Saw Her Standing There" came from.
A. Actually, I admitted it about 20 years ago. I admitted it more recently, too, and in an article it said something like, "He admits *perhaps unwisely.*" I said, "Come on, guys. I'm not going to tell you I wrote the bloody thing when Chuck Berry's bass player did." Actually, it's a guitar part. It's such a great riff. And most of the people we played for didn't know the song, so we were pretty safe.
Q. It was reasonably obscure.
A. Yeah, we worked on obscure songs with the Beatles. There was a good reason, too: All the other bands knew the hits; everybody knew "Ain't That A Shame." Everybody knew Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley." But not everybody knew [Bo Diddley's] "Crackin' Up." Hardly anybody knows "Crackin' Up" to this day-it was just one of his B sides that I loved. I don't know how dynamite it is, but I like it. We used to look for B sides-a good, smart move, too!-and obscure album tracks, because if we were turned on by them enough to bring something special to them just by being in love with them, you sing them good. John, for instance, used to sing "Anna" on the first Beatles album. And that was a really obscure record that we'd just found, and guys would play in the clubs. We'd take the record home and learn it. We learned a lot of songs like that:"Three Cool Cats," "Anna," "Thumbin' A Ride"-millions of great songs. And still to this day, I keep them filed in the back of my head in case I'm ever producing a young act, and they say, "We haven't got a song." I can go, "Wait a minute! Try this one. It's an old rock and roll thing, but it's got something."
Q. Assumedly, you started out left-handed.
A. Yeah, I'm left-handed.
Q. Some right-handed people actually play lefty.
A. I know! We were just in Japan, and there was a little kid there who had a Hofner bass, so I tried to be the older-brother guy. I said, "Hey, do you know this one?" I played the "I Saw Her Standing There" riff. I expected him just to say, "Oh, no, but wow, thanks for teaching me." But he said, "Sure," and he turned the bass wrong way around. They explained that he's really right-handed, but he just plays it left-handed because I do. And he went [imitates bass] do do do do do do do do-totally on top of it. His brother then picked up his Rickenbacker guitar and goes [imitates rhythm guitar] mmm Gah! mmm Gah!, and kicks in John's rhythm part. They had it word-perfect. But I'm actually left-handed. You know, Jimi Hendrix was left-handed, but played a right-handed guitar.
Q. Did anyone try to talk you out of playing left-handed?
A. No, I was lucky. In school, I
was allowed to be a left-handed writer, although Hamish [who plays right-handed]
apparently started off as a left-handed writer, because his school was
more strict up in Scotland. A little bit more dour up there. But
I was okay; they let me do that. And so when I came to play guitar, I bought
a right-handed guitar, a Zenith, an old acoustic which I've still got.
I sat down at home with a little chord book and started trying to work
it out. It didn't feel good at all; it felt very awkward. It felt very
awkward. It felt nothing natural about it. It was only when I saw a picture
of Slim Whitman in a magazine, and I saw he was left-handed and was holding
it all the "wrong" way, that I thought, "Oh, he must have turned his strings
around, then." So I started on that problem, which is always the nut: I
could never change the nut. I had the strings changed around, but the thick
bass string never fit in the little first-string slot in the nut. So I
had to gouge that out, which I could do reasonably successfully. But then
I always had my little thin string in this whacking great cavern of a hole
originally cut for the bass string. So I used to actually take matchsticks
and build up the bass nut that way. It was only later that I was able to
buy a left-handed guitar.
Q. You used a Hofner, even though most bassists in the U.S. had Fenders.
A. Yeah, most of the players were using Fenders in England, too. They still are better instruments. But, for me, it was a matter of expense. That's all it was.
Q. Really? Hofners aren't cheap basses in the States.
A. Yeah, but I was in Germany, where they're made, and I think they were about 30 quid, which is about $70. I wasn't earning that much. And the thing is, the way I'd been brough up, my dad had always hammered into us to never get in debt, because we weren't that rich. I think he'd got in debt when he was a bit younger in the marriage. He used to bet on the horses a bit; he was a bit of a naughty boy-in a very small way, but he got embarrassed at his finances. So John and George got a Club 40, and George had a Futurama-which is like a Fender copy-and then, later, Gretsches. Then John got the Rickenbackers. They were prepared to go into hock and use what we call hire/purchase credit. But it has been so battered into me not to do that, I wouldn't risk it. I thought the world would cave in if I did that. So I bought a cheap guitar. And the other thing was that the Hofner was violin-shaped and symmetrical, so being left-handed didn't look so stupid. And once I bought it, I fell in love with it. That's why I'm using it again now. For a light, dinky little bass, it has a very rich bass sound.
Q. You did switch to a Rickenbacker eventually.
A. Well, it was when Mr. Rickenbacker gave me one, when we were in L.A. I'm a cheap sort, I am. I had always wanted to get a Fender-I've got a Fender now, which I sometimes record with-but funnily enough, it never was my thing to get a Fender. It wasn't always the expense, because later I could afford it, but by then I'd kind of made the Hofner my trademark. And really, it was only when Mr. Rickenbacker said to me, "This will record better than what you've got." It looked nice, and I said, "We'll see." And obviously, a free guitar was a pretty hefty thing. You know, I'm still impressed by stuff like that. People expect you not to be impressed when you get a bit of money, but I'm still impressed by that. And the guys used to do anything for guitars they'd sell their souls [laughs] to get a free guitar [shouts] "Yeah! Yeah! We'll do it, whatever it is. Can I have it now? Can I take it home?" It was just like sweets to a baby, just to see new guitars in their cases. Well, you know-readers of the magazine know what that one's like. If you're a guitar fan, it means more than getting a new car, just opening that new case and seeing it and smelling it.
Q. Well, a car is just a car.
A. A car is only a car, but you can't play a car!
Q. If you went to a party and saw a guitar standing in the corner, it wasn't likely to be a left-handed model. Didn't that frustrate you?
A. I had to learn backwards. I can play right-handed guitar a bit, just enough for at parties. Hopefully, by that point everyone is drunk when I pick it up, because otherwise they're going to catch me. But I could do that, and the guys obviously wouldn't let me restring it. Certainly, they wouldn't let me gouge out their nuts. And at a party, you only want to play it for 15 or 30 minutes or so, and by the time you've goofed up their guitar and you hand it back to them, they've got to string it back again, and it's silly. So I had to learn upside down. It's funny: John learned upside down, too, because of me-because mine was the only other guitar around for him, if he broke a string or didn't have his. That's more unusual; left-handed guys can nearly always play a straight guitar. Actually, Robbie is very accomplished that way. He can do both. He can actually play pretty well: [in a stage voice] Dirty swine! The rest of us can just play passably, but he's actually pretty good the wrong way around.
Q. How did the Rickenbacker change your approach? Did you have to really labor with it?
A. No, the Rickenbacker was very nice. They were right: It recorded better. it had sort of a fatter neck, and it was much more stable-didn't go out of tune as easily. Also, it stayed in tune right up the neck; the Hofner had problems when you got right up near the top. So I hardly ever went up there-although some of that stuff in "Paperback Writer" is Hofner, so it did actually stay in tune for that. But it was a little more difficult to work with, being a cheaper instrument. I guess you pay for that precision.
Q. By the time you got the Rickenbacker, recording technology was starting to catch up to what you and George Martin were trying to accomplish, too.
A. That's true. On the early stuff, the drums and bass were really mixed towards the back of the records.
Q. Not by the time of "Rain" or "Paperback Writer."
A. Well, it started to move forward, and we noticed it was moving forward. There was also the kind of thing you get in groups: John would have his volume on 8, and George would have his volume on 7. The next time you looked, George would be on 8, too. You hadn't noticed him doing it. So John would casually go to 9. That happened on the recording desk, too. We each had a fader, and you'd say *[slyly]* "Oh, I think the bass ought to be a little louder there." Techniques gradually improved. The other thing was that records originally couldn't actually take that amount of bass.
Q. You obviously didn't abandon guitar altogether, but did you ever feel that you had hopelessly locked yourself into the role of the bassist?
A. It's funny, actually. I have problems with one of the books that's been written about us, because the guy obviously didn't like me. That's fair enough. But this guy started to make up a whole story of how I was so keen to be the bass player that I really did a number on Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bass player. He made it sound as if I had planned this whole thing to become the Beatles' bass player. I remember ringing George up shortly after this book came out, and I asked him, "Do you remember me really going hard to chuck Stu out of the group and be a bass player?" And he said, "No, you got lumbered with bass, man. None of us would do it." I said, "Well, that's how I remembered it." Because it's true: We all wanted to be guitar players.
Q. Sure. Bass players were never frontmen.
A. The fat boy in the back was the bass player, and who wanted to be him? So I really wasn't too keen to do it, but I'd had a real bad guitar-because of my fear of getting in debt. When I went to Hamburg, I had a thing called the Rosetti Lucky 7, which is a really terrible British guitar with terrible action. It just fell apart on me-you know, just the heat in the club and the sweat made it fall apart. Eventually, I sort of busted it-early rumblings of the Who! In a drunken moment it was busted somewhere, and it had to go. So I ended up with my back to the audience, playing piano, which was then the only thing I could do unless I could get a new guitar.
So, yeah, I did pretty much get lumbered into playing bass. I didn't really want to do it, but then I started to see interesting things in it. One of the very earliest was in "Michelle." There's that descending chord thing that goes [sings bass notes] "do do do do words I know do do do do do my Michelle"-you know, the little descending minor thing. And I found that if I played a C, and then went to a G, and then to C, it really turned that phrase around. It gave it a musicality that the descending chords just hadn't got. It was lovely. And it was one of my first sort of awakenings: "Ooh, ooh, bass can really change a track!" you know, if you put the bass on the root note, you've got a kind of straight track. But later I learned how to make other notes work for me, as Brian Wilson was to prove on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, a big influential album for me. If you're in C, and you put it on something that's not the root note-it creates a little tension. It's great. It just *[takes a long, expectant, gasping breath]* holds the track, and so by the time you go to C, its like "Oh, thank God he went to C!" And you can create tension with it. I didn't know that's what I was doing; it just sounded nice. And that started to get me much more interested in bass. It was no longer a matter of just being this low note in the back of it.
Also, once I got into it, this engineer in Hamburg named Adrian made me a great bass amp that he called the coffin. It was a quad amp with big, round knobs-just bass and treble. No sophisticated graphics. He had these two 15" speakers in a big black box that looked a lot like a coffin. And, man! Suddenly that was a total other world. That was bass as we know it now. And, in fact, they wouldn't let me record with that. They were too frightened. It was like reggae bass: It was just too right there. It was great live.
Q. So the recording engineers wanted you to tone it down?
A. Yeah. They said, "Look, the other groups use a Fender Showman or Bassman amp. We've got one here. Wouldn't you like to try it? Oh, that sounds much better." So I got persuaded out of that. It probably fell apart, as well. I started to get into bass more, although I never put down the guitar. Obviously, you can't write on a bass.
Q. You can come up with a groove, though.
A. You come up with a groove, but when you're writing, you need the guitar or a piano. So I would always remember that first and foremost I started off as a guitar player. That's one of the reasons I'm playing guitar on this tour.
Q. But you're also playing bass.
A. Oh, I'm playing a lot of bass still, yeah. Mainly, I play bass-and piano and acoustic guitar-but for the first time on tour I'm playing electric lead.
Q. During your soundcheck, you were playing your Les Paul on a bluesy number, and it had a terrific tone.
A. Yeah, I got a nice tone on my bass pickup on that guitar. I had it on the bass pickup through a distortion unit. It sounds really good, like an Isley Brothers thing. It gets that lovely sort of fuzz sustain. So I guess I think of myself as a guitar player, really. Mainly acoustic-that's my main instrument, I suppose. If I couldn't have any other instrument, I would have to have an acoustic guitar. I always take one on holiday, and most times I have one in the dressing room.
Q. Do you have any favorite guitar parts that you played with the Beatles?
A. I liked "Taxman" just because of what it was. I was very inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It was really my first voyage into feedback. I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night-he was a kind of DJ-type guy. You'd go back to his place, and he'd sit you down, give you a drink, and say, "Just check this out." He'd go over to his deck, and for hours he'd blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton-he was sort of showing me where all of Eric's stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening's education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. It was just before George was into that. In fact, I don't really think George did get too heavily into that kind of thing. George was generally a little more restrained in his guitar playing. He wasn't into heavy feedback.
Q. So even hearing Jimi Hendrix and John Mayall's records didn't make you think that you should give up bass to pursue guitar?
A. Not really, no. I'd always felt that the bass thing was really it, because we had to have a bass player. At the very beginning, I did think, "Well, that's put shot to any plans I had of being a guitar player." But I got interested in bass as a lead instrument. I think around about the time of Sgt. Pepper's-"With A Little Help From My Friends" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"-there were some pretty good bass lines. Like Motown. Like Brian Wilson's lines in the Beach Boys. So, it was okay by the time I came to do that. But with "Taxman," I got the guitar and was playing around in the studio with the feedback and stuff, and I said to George, "Maybe you could play it like this." I can't quite remember how it happened that I played it, but it was probably one of those times when somebody says, "Well, why don't *you* do it then?"
Q. Rather than spend the time teaching someone else?
A. Rather than spending the time to get the idea over. And I don't think George was too miffed. But when people say, "Great solo on 'Taxman,'" I don't think he's too pleased to have to say, "Well, that was Paul, actually." I didn't really do much like that-just once or twice. I also liked the part I did on "Blackbird" on acoustic; that was one of my favorites.
Q. How did you react when, in the late '60s, a new breed of lead bassists such as Jack Bruce and John Entwistle emerged?
A. I thought it was quite interesting. To me, it depends who you're talking about, and what record, but often I thought it was too busy. I often felt it was like the bass as lead guitar, and I don't think it makes as nice a noise as a lead guitar. It's sort of like speed merchants. I've never been one. I remember reading where somebody said that someone's the fastest bass player ever, and I thought, "Big deal." You know, there used to be a guy in Britain-I think he's still around-called Bert Weedon, who used to come onto the children's TV programs. He used to say, "I'm now going to play 1,000 notes in a minute." And then he'd get one string and go dididididid and play up and down, hitting it very, very fast. It was quite funny, actually. It's one thing to be fast, but that's short-lived. I think I'd rather be melodic, or I'd rather have content than just speed.
Q. Any favorite bass players or guitarists today?
A. I like Stanley Clarke. We only really met once, and just had a bit of fun in Montserrat. And he played on a couple of tracks. I admitted to him, "Hey, I'm trying to steal your licks, man!" He said, "Oh, you've got licks of your own." So we just had a bit of fun. I decided not to steal his licks after all; he was right. He's got his style; I've got my style. And he's a great guy. I like Eddie Van Halen as a player. He gets it right quite often. I like a lot of heavy metal guys because they wind it up. What I usually like in a heavy metal band is the guitar player. But when it's just miles of scales, I lose interest. I like some of the hot sounds. And I also like David Gilmour. I think Clapton is real good, particularly these days. But I still like Hendrix the best.
Q. Have you ever had any doubts about your playing?
A. Definitely. Often. Probably every time I've done a bass part. I have some self-doubts because I think, "Oh, my God; I've made so many records. How am I going to make this sound fresh?" But if you're lucky, you just get a little thing, like, you know, in "Rain," where there's this sort of high stuff. Then you go, "Ooh, I've got it!" And the rest of the part flows because you've got something to feel special about. "Paperback Writer"-there's something. Or the lines that I discovered in "With A Little Help From My Friends." And what gets rid of the self-doubts is just plugging at it, keeping at it, and finding something to sort of release myself with.
Q. On guitar, do you mostly fingerpick or flatpick?
A. I normally use a flatpick. John learned-I think I read recently he'd learned off Donovan or one of Donovan's friends, who were more into the folk thing, so they would fingerpick in the proper way, first string, third string, and all that. The proper thing, I got my own little sort of cheating way of doing it, so on "Blackbird" I'm actually sort of pulling two strings all the time. But then, when it gets to the little fingerpicking sort of thing, it's not real. I figured anyway that everyone else was doing that correct stuff, so it wouldn't hurt.
Q. It certainly doesn't sound like strum, strum, strum.
A. No, it's more like fingerpicking. I kind of liked it. I was trying to emulate those folk players. John was the only one who actually stuck at it and learned it. If you listen to "Julia," he's playing properly with fingerpicking on that. I was always quite proud of the lad. I think he just had a friend who showed him, and so that's really a nice part on "Julia." But I could never be bothered, really, learning things. You know, I'm a great learner. I always sort of figure something out. Like, I've never had guitar lessons, bass lessons, piano lessons, music-writing lessons, songwriting lessons, or horse-riding lessons, for that matter, or painting-I do some of that. I always jump into things, and so by the time I'm ready for my first lesson, I'm beyond it. I always did try to have music lessons. I always tried to have someone teach me how to notate music, because I still don't know to this day.
Q. You're doing okay.
A. But I figure I'm doing okay, yeah [laughs]. I tried when I was a kid, and I couldn't get it-it just didn't seem like nice fun to me. It seemed like hard work. I tried piano lessons when I was 16, but then I'd already written "When I'm 64"-the melody of it, anyway. And so the guy taking me back to five-finger exercises was really just hell; it was torturing me. I'd been plunking around on little chords, and I had a little bass line. So I never got on with that. And it was the same with everything-like I say, fingerpicking or anything else. I've always just sort of busked it and learned, and I enjoyed the accident.
Q. You used fuzz bass very early. Was it a sort of substitute for playing guitar?
A. I love fuzz bass. Yeah, it helps you be a bit more lyrical because it makes the notes linger, gives you a bit more sustain. That used to really turn the whole thing around.
Q. The Rickenbacker bass seemed to do that without fuzz.
A. Well...the thing now is, the new fuzzes are not quite as good as the old fuzzes were. The technology's changed. And there were a lot of primitive things that we used to use in the Beatles, prehistoric machines. One of my theories about sound nowadays is that the machines back then were more fuck-uppable. I'm not sure if that's in the dictionary. But they were more destructible. You could actually make a desk [recording console] overload, whereas now they're all made so that no matter what idiot gets on them, they won't overload. Most of the old equipment we used, you could get to really surprise you. Now a brand-new desk is built for idiots like us to trample on. We used to do a great trick with acoustic guitars like on "Ob La Di, Ob La Da." I played acoustic on that, an octave above the bass line. It gave a great sound-like when you have two singers singing in octaves, it really reinforces the bass line. We got them to record the acoustic guitars in the red. The recording engineers said, "Oh, my God! This is going to be terrible!" We said, "Well, just try it." We had heard mistakes that happened before that and said, "We love that sound. What's happening?" And they said, "That's because it's in the red." So we recorded slammin' it in the red. And these old boards would distort just enough and compress and suck. So instead of going [imitates staccato "Ob La Di" riff] dink dink dink dink, it just flowed. So, a new fuzz box just won't go as crazy as an old one would. And it does make it all a little bit cleaner, which I'm not wild on, actually, because I'm a big fan of blues records and stuff, where there's never a clean moment. Nothing was ever clean. It was always one old, ropey mike stuck somewhere near the guitar player, and you could hear his foot more than some things.
Q. Do you ever just sit around at home and tweak your amp to explore new sounds?
A. I do that mainly in the studio, which is almost like home. I can go in and just goof, and sometimes I just work on guitar sounds. I can get a nice clean sound fairly easily. It's the pumped-up sounds that I like to experiment with. I've got one of the old Vox AC-30s that Jeff Beck used to call "the old Beatle bashers." I once asked him if he used them, and he said, "What? Those old Beatle bashers?" Then he realized what he'd said [laughs] But I love the sound of them; I actually love the *straight* sound. It's pokey. It's not too clean. I'm not a big fan of clean in rock and roll. It's funny in a way, because I guess I've got a reputation for being a fairly clean rock and roller. But my taste doesn't extend that way.
Q. If you really want a clean sound, you can always go to acoustic.
A. Yeah. Or *[whispers]* you can just turn down. That's the perfect way to get clean. But that's no fun at all! That is *Back To The Future,* guys. You want a whole wall of this stuff. So, yeah. I sit around and experiment with pedals, too.
Q. Have you ever gone on an equipment-buying spree?
A. Very occasionally. My first Epiphone was one of them, where I just went down to a guitar shop after having heard B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, and I wanted something that fed back. He said, "This Epiphone will do it, because it's semi-acoustic." And he was right. The only reason I don't use it onstage is because it's a little too hot. It's great in the studio. You've got to stand in the right position for it not to feed back-I always had to do that in the studio, but nowadays guitars don't do this.
Q. That's a right-handed guitar, isn't it?
A. Yeah, it's right-handed, but I play it left, and I had the nut changed.
Q. Do you run your picking arm into the knobs all the time?
A. Yeah, but that's all I know. It was only much later in my career when I got the luxury of having it my way 'round. You know, I'm kind of used to playing what we call in Liverpool cac-handed. Spell that as you will; nobody's done it yet. Or *gammy*-handed, which is what they also call left-handed people.
Q. When did you get a 5-string bass?
A. I was doing some jams in London that eventually turned into the Russian album, and one of the people who kind of volunteered to come along was Trevor Horn, the producer. I didn't know it, but it turned out that he'd been a bass player; I just knew his work as a producer. So he showed up with a Wal 5-string, and I just loved the extra string, the extra depth I'd been noticing on some records. I went to see Peter Gabriel, and there was always that [makes a low growling sound] somewhere in the show, and I was wondering where they were getting it from. Half the time it was the synths. But I noticed bass players getting that noise, and when Trevor showed up with the Wal, I said, "Oh, I like those." In fact, Linda bought it for me for my birthday.
Q. Did you use it on "Figure Of Eight"?
A. Yeah. And there's a real low bass on "Rough Ride." It's doubled with synth. "We Got Married" is nice and low, too, and in the show it kind of shakes your booty.
Q. What about "My Brave Face"?
A. That's the Hofner.
Q. How does it feel to switch back to the Hofner after playing the Wal?
A. I think it's great. I was working with Elvis Costello, and when he was doing his album [Spike], he asked me if I'd guest on it. And he asked me to bring the Rickenbacker and the Hofner, because he's sort of a fan of older instruments. He often uses Hofner guitars because they've got a real honky sound that he likes. It's a period sound. During the work on Flowers In The Dirt, he said "Why don't you try the Hofner?" It was a little bit like pulling it out of mothballs. I had resigned myself to not working with it again because it's not very precise, but he said, "Oh, I love the sound, and you must be able to get it in tune." So we fiddled around, and we did a bit of work on it. We just about got it so it was in tune everywhere on the neck, so that was great after all these years. You've got to have the bridge at a very acute angle to get it to work. But anyway, it started to sound really good and he was very happy with it. He asked me to play it on "Veronica." So it reawoke my interest in it. And the other thing is, I saw a little bit of the Let It Be film of the Beatles on the roof doing "Get Back," and I realized that the way I was holding the Hofner was not like you hold a big, heavy thing that weighs you down and you sort of become a part of it. It's as if it were just a little jacket or something; it's so light, it's like a little piece of balsa wood.
Q. The Wals are considerably heavier.
A. Yeah, and the Rickenbacker's in between. So when I saw this Let It Be footage, I noticed how easy it looked to play. And because it's so light, you play guitary stuff on it; you play quite fast stuff. It just kind of flows more naturally than if you're on a physically heavy bass.
Q. The bass line to "Ebony And Ivory" is very tasty, but the melody and harmonies are so strong that many people probably don't even notice it.
A. Yeah, that's right.
Q. How do you feel about it after doing so much work?
A. Oh, I don't mind. I sing it, too, so if they notice the singing, that's great. I wrote it, and if they notice the writing, that's great, too. I don't mind; you can't have everything. The thing about that song, working with Stevie Wonder-Stevie is such a *consummate* musician-working with someone that good really keeps you on your toes. He did the drumming on that, but we started off with a rhythm box, one of the first Linn drum machines. He brought it to Montserrat, and as you know, he's blind. He kept opening the top and fiddling in it, sticking his hand in it. The guys would say, "Stevie, watch out, man, it's switched on; it's live." And he'd say, "Yeah, I know." Bloody hell! I'd never stick my fingers in there. I'm not mechanical, you know. Stevie just knows what he's doing. So while he's sticking his fingers in there and adjusting stuff, I'm saying, "I hope he doesn't hit a live wire in there."
After we put a track down with that, Stevie did the drums, and then we did the vocals. So then I figured I had to put down a good bass part. I sat around and tried to work out something that would sympathize with the record; I was quite pleased with it.
Q. Do you every splice bass parts together, or create a line by punching it in bit by bit?
A. I like to be more intuitive. It depends if I'm in good form or bad form. If I'm in bad form, I go on forever and I don't really find anything. And that's very frustrating. But we all have those days, right? But if I'm in good form, I'll goof around with it a few times and find some really good ideas that I'll then solidify and pull into an actual part as if it was written, and then just be free in certain little bits, but mainly put in what I think is a bass part that kind of sympathizes with the song. I don't really like to come too "out of the song" with a bass. Because in my view, it's kind of like film music: You shouldn't really notice it. You should be watching the acting. You shouldn't ever hear the beautiful theme from Dr. Zhivago, because it means they're not acting that good. They should be acting so good, you should just feel the music. And in bass, I like to do a similar thing. If you're a bass player, I like to have something there for you to check out. But I don't necessarily want the bass to stick out more than anything else on the record. I want it to be probably about third on the record: Voices should be first; guitars and drums should be second; and then you should kind of get a feel of the bass.
Q. But on a number like "Silly Love Songs," the bass is louder than anything.
A. Now, that is the opposite of what I just said, because that is the bass in your face. And that was really just because we were making a dance record on purpose. I had been accused around that time of singing too much about love. I said, "Hey, wait a minute! It's the best thing!" Love definitely beats hate, and it's definitely kind of cool, at least in my book. But it can be perceived as sort of soppy. So I wrote this song, and asked, "What's wrong with silly love songs?" I wrote it out on holiday in Hawaii; I just had piano and chords, and I then wanted to have a melody on bass. We really pushed the bass and drums right out front. But it drove the song along quite nicely. Pushed it hard. We wanted to make something you could dance to, so you had to.
Q. Do you generally mike your bass in the studio, or go direct?
A. All my career, I've miked it. But these days I do both. I have the option. I run out a lead into the studio. I've always worked in the studio, but the tendency these days is to go into the control room and plug straight into the board. I've always liked the liveliness of an amp. By doing a split, they can get me live or clean-direct through to the board-or put a mike on the amp. We can mix the two, or go for one or the other, depending on what we want in the end.
Q. Does it make it easier to get the sound you want when you work with Geoff Emerick or George Martin, who've been engineering or producing for you on so many projects, including the Beatles recordings?
A. Yeah. Geoff Emerick's very good. He reads me. He's really good to work with. Geoff is a very deep engineer. He knows what he's doing, he's emotionally involved, and he has all the chops. And having known him for that amount of time, he knows what I've done. He keeps you on your toes. If an engineer doesn't really know your work, you think, "Oh, I can get away with that stuff." I don't mind trying to get away with stuff, actually, because in the early days of the Beatles, with George Martin, you used to do a take and you'd think, "I hope that's right." And if George said it was okay, I'd say to the other guys, [whispers] "Listen. I played a mistake in the middle." And they'd say, [whispers] "If he doesn't notice it, don't tell him." The bass was a lot further back, back then. And a lot of Beatles records have what I thought were mistakes. So it was cool if it got through: Hmm, passed the exam! I won't complain. We always thought we'd left school, and we were always so glad to see the back of school, but then, when we came into life, all the people from school came into life, too! They fooled us, man; they all came! So all the school sneaks became the bad reporters, and all the teachers became the judges, and all that.
Q. How did you get this band together?
A. We started during the making of Flowers In The Dirt. First of all, I wanted to play live, because I was in the studio every day doing bits and pieces. And the easiest thing to do was to have a jam once a week-invite a few people, see who shows up. The original idea was to have a kind of thing where anyone who wanted showed up. But that started to get a little too inexact, because one week you might have no one show up, or you might have 50 people show up. So we invited people to a Friday evening jam, and each week was a different lineup of people. Basically, when I'm jamming, I just run through all the old rock and roll numbers that I know. So that's songs like "Lucille," "Matchbox," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Bring It On Home"-you know, all those kinds of standards. And the drummer who impressed me, among others who also stood out, was Chris. He wasn't too set in his ways.
A. *[Laughs.]* Well, we're talking *drummers* here, and if you get a drummer who's absolutely set in his ways, sometimes you'll get one who'll say, "I can't play to that." So you need someone who's a little bit flexible. He's young enough not to be set in his ways, and good enough to hold a good, strict tempo. Younger guys normally have trouble with things like shuffles. They're not from those times. People like Ringo have an automatic shuffle-it's just part of his repertoire. It's like a gear he can go into. And I know from the little bit of drumming that I do that a shuffle is pretty hard to do-to get a nice loose shuffle. Apparently, Chris was nervous as all hell, and it was the worst day of his life. But he played great anyway, so we invited him back, and he became a regular. I decided to do some recordings from those, because the jams were feeling good and we were building up a loose repertoire. So we did what became the album that was released exclusively in Russia.
Q. Are you as concerned about the quality of the guitar player?
A. I'm very fussy about guitar players. I go back too far to be satisfied easily. I knew Jimi Hendrix when he was playing in London, and I was a major, major fan. In fact, he still is my favorite guitar player-just through his whole attitude and his playing. I mean, I like attitude, but it's no good unless you can play. And in fact, some of the attitude kinds of things, like picking with his teeth, Jimi didn't really want to do. It was just show, and he got fed up with that very quickly because he was a real proper guitar player. He played lovely acoustic, too. He was the first guy to really wind it up, to get into heavy feedback. I caught his first gig in London, and I used to follow him around London like a fan. It's a very small area, and people would ring me up and say that Jimi's playing at Blazes tonight, or at the Bag O' Nails. And I was there.
One of my greatest memories was that we released Sgt. Pepper's on Friday night, and on Sunday night Jimi was playing at the Savile Theatre, which Brian Epstein used to run, just for something to do on a Sunday night.
There was never any entertainment on for Sunday night, so Brian began to book people in, like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. And we could go into a little special box, and not be bothered, and we could watch all these great acts. So Jimi came on, and he opened up with Sgt. Pepper's, which had only been released on Friday. That was a great, great memory. Since then, I've seen people like Clapton, who I admire a lot, and David Gilmour. And there's just something there about what I'd call a real guitar player. They hold the instrument right, they play it right. They have the right attitude about it, and they've got something individual that each one of them that's special brings to it. In the jams, I suppose I was mildly disappointed that I never really found the guitarist who really blew me off my feet-although there were some really good players. Johnny Marr showed up, and we had a great time. The kind of guy I was looking for was more of a Hendrixy type, where Johnny's more of what I'd consider a rhythm guitarist cum lead. All these guys were brilliant.
Q. This is the first permanent band you've had since Wings disbanded.
A. It's the first sort of definite band, yeah. You know, after the Beatles, anyone could be forgiven for saying, "Well, that's it. I've *been* in a band." I heard Brian May of Queen say, "You're only ever in one great band." I kind of know what he means, spiritually, but I think I've been really lucky. The '76 lineup was real good-with little Jimmy McCulloch. Strange little lineup, but a magic one. I'm very excited about this band, because it's pretty musical. We can sort of go anywhere with it, which is very interesting, and a little bit daunting, because if you can go anywhere, where do you go? It's like going on holiday: If you've got the power to go anywhere, you're really stuck for choices. But I'm not really worried about that, because I've got a pretty firm direction of where I want to go with the next stuff, so I'll try that out and see what comes of it.
Q. Do you like having someone full-time who can pick up, say, bass, if you want to play guitar?
A. Yeah. That was one of the big attractions of Hamish. He's interested in bass-not just as a minor instrument; he's quite into it. I started on acoustic guitar, and I played Hamburg on guitar, and all. As I said, when it got busted I had to switch to piano. Which was quite good, because I'd had a piano at home. My dad was a good pianist, but not trained. Like I've picked it up, he picked it up; he learned by ear. I used to say to him, "Teach me some of your stuff." And he said, "No. You've got to learn properly." He felt he wasn't good enough to teach me, which was okay, actually, I just did what he did; I emulated him and just picked things up that I heard off records. We all sort of started with middle C, found the chord of C, found F and found G, and then we found Am, and then the rest of it-got into all the augmented and that sort of stuff as we went along.
So, I never really got to go back to guitar, except for the odd solo with the Beatles, where I'd do odd little things, like "Taxman," "Tomorrow Never Knows," I played soem stuff there. "Paperback Writer," I played the riff on that. Then there were the acoustic things like "Yesterday" and "Blackbird."
Q. You played with Carl Perkins on "Get It." How did you two get together?
A. I rang him up, and he was in the States playing clubs. We met him in the very early days with the Beatles, and he was a good old friend, such a down-home boy. I love Carl-he's so great. I'll tell you a story about Carl; I don't think he'd mind me telling this. We were recording in Montserrat, and a musician friend was sailing around the world on a yacht-a bit of a tax dodge, I think [laughs], and he sailed into Montserrat and came to see us. He invited us to his boat. There was this British naval crew piping us aboard this spotless yacht. Carl was really impressed with the buffet and the champagne, and the way it was all laid out. He came over to me and said. "Paul, where I come from they call this shittin' in high cotton." It's one of my favorite expressions. After that, we recorded "Get It," and at the end both of us are laughing, and that's the joke we're laughing at. We had to cut it, because otherwise we'd have never gotten it played on the radio.
Q. Did you both play guitar on it?
A. Yeah. I just played a little bit, and Carl did a rhythm part. The fun tended to come when we had a free moment, so he and I sat on the floor of the studio and we were talking and there was a mike on. I was just telling him about some of his old songs we loved, like "Lend Me Your Comb" and "Your True Love." I told him we were very big fans of his and we used to do "Your True Love." And then we'd sing together. Then we'd stop, and he'd say, "Well, you know, Paul, I used to do this," and he'd show me some fingerpicking things he used to do.
Q. Back in the early days of the Beatles, you did "Matchbox" and other songs by Carl Perkins. Were you awed to meet someone who, to you, was a legend?
A. Absolutely. Anyone who was a legend in our formative years is still a legend. I haven't grown out of that. Carl is still the guy who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes," and he can never do any wrong. It only took one guy to do that, and he did it. Elvis recorded it and beat his version, but still Carl wrote it. There's some magic stuff. We used to love those early albums-very primitive, very simple, but just such soul. Carl has lovely stories about how he was taught by an old black gentleman [John Westbrook], and he speaks of him with great reverence. It's very nice to hear. He said, "You know, Paul, I used to pick cotton in the field, and when we had a break, we'd sit down and this old black gentleman would show me some of his licks." It was very exciting for us kids. We'd grown up in a kind of urban world, and we didn't really know about that stuff. He's still an idol. Little Richard was another idol. And in the same way, the magic didn't fade any when we met him. He's great-wacky. He always gives me a bit of fun: Whenever he does an interview, he looks into the camera and says "Now Paul, you know I taught you how to do that woooooooo." It's true; he did! He says it like I don't admit it, but I admit it quite happily. In fact, the first thing I ever did showbiz-wise was at the end of term, when on the last day of school you'd have a bit of a blowout. All the kids would party around and there wasn't a lot of work, and the teachers were too busy cleaning the desks and getting out of there. I remember standing on a desk in Cliff Edge's room; his real name was W. Edge, the history master, and we used to like him because he was a bit looser than some of the other teachers. We called him Cliff Edge. I was standing on the desk-it was like a scene out of an old rock and roll movie-and I was clapping and singing "Tutti Frutti" like Little Richard, and all the guys in the class were going, "Yeah!" and rockin' around.
I still owe a great debt to Little Richard and a lot of those guys, just because they turned us on. It's something when people turn you on, something I don't think you ever forget. It's so deep when you're young, too. The turn-on, when you're younger, is so intense. It burns itself into your soul, hearing "That'll Be The Day" and "Heartbreak Hotel" and "What'd I Say?" They burned themselves into my being.
Q. And you can't get them out.
A. I wouldn't want to get
them out, ever. That's something I'm really proud to have burned into my
soul, branded in me.