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Robbie McIntosh (born 25 October 1957) is an English guitarist. McIntosh is well known as a session guitarist and member of The Pretenders from 1982 until 1987. In 1988 he began doing session guitar work for Paul McCartney joining his band full-time until early 1994. He continues to do session work and has performed both as a sideman with John Mayer and with his own band, The Robbie McIntosh Band.
McIntosh was born in Sutton, Surrey, and started playing the guitar at the age of ten, picking out things from any records listened to at the time. He had two older sisters, and their record collections became early influences: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Spencer Davis Group, Jimi Hendrix etc. His father’s love of jazz was also a factor: Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong – and his mother played the piano.
At age 13, he started taking classical guitar lessons from a teacher called Michael Lewin, who later became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. He continued through to Grade 8 (aged 18).
“Lightnin’ Hopkins was the first blues artist that captured my imagination; I’ve been besotted with blues music ever since.”
McIntosh’s first band was called 70% Proof. They played original material and covers of Humble Pie, The Who, Free and Stevie Wonder, amongst others. “The other guys in the band (Paul Eager, Russell Ayles and Graham Mincher) had all left school, so we used to rehearse on Sunday afternoons at the local dump works canteen. We were pretty good really.“
The Foster Brothers
McIntosh took A-levels at school, and had plans to study biology at university but failed, so he joined up with older Raynes Park boys Graham and Malcolm Foster in their band The Foster Brothers. He toured and recorded with them throughout 1977; the band gradually folded in early 1978.
After the Foster Bros., McIntosh worked for about six months as a lorry driver for a builder’s supply company, delivering sand, cement, bricks and the like on a three-ton lorry; he became an expert tipper. Completely out of the blue, he received a call from Chris Thompson who at the time was the singer in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. He had an outfit called Filthy McNasty who played a lot at The Bridge House, Canning Town, The Golden Lion, Fulham, etc. Thompson asked McIntosh to join as lead guitarist. In November 1978 the band went to Los Angeles to record with Richard Perry for his Planet Record label. The name of the band was changed to “Night.”
The band toured in America for most of 1979, supporting The Doobie Brothers.
Chris Thompson and the Islands
Night disbanded sometime in 1980, but Thompson and McIntosh stayed together to form “Chris Thompson and the Islands” with Malcolm Foster, Paul “Wix” Wickens (who would also join McIntosh in Paul McCartney’s band in 1989) and Mick Clews. Despite many gigs and various bouts of recording, a deal was never secured and McIntosh left at the end of 1981.
Dean Martin’s Dog
Living in Kingston at the time, McIntosh formed a fun band to play local pubs called “Dean Martin’s Dog,” with Malcolm Foster, Mick Clews, Jez Wire, Rupert Black and Mike Dudley. Not surprisingly it won “band name of the year” in Time Out magazine.
“Even when I’d joined The Pretenders the DMD gigs continued when I could fit them in. We played a bit of everything. Good band.”
Joins The Pretenders
Sometime in 1977/78 McIntosh met and became friends with James Honeyman-Scott. It was this friendship that led Honeyman-Scott to contact McIntosh in 1982 with a view to his joining The Pretenders as an extra member to help fill out the sound of the band’s live sound. Honeyman-Scott died in June ’82, and Billy Bremner took over initially; but McIntosh was auditioned and joined The Pretenders in September ’82.
He toured extensively and recorded Learning to Crawl and Get Close with the band before leaving in September 1987.
In 1985, McIntosh was the main guitarist on Roger Daltrey’s sixth solo album Under a Raging Moon, the album was a tribute to The Who’s former drummer Keith Moon who had died in 1978, The album was Daltrey’s best charting success in the US and McIntosh was featured on the music video for “Let Me Down Easy” aside Daltrey with Bryan Adams on the other side also playing guitar.
The Paul McCartney Years
In 1988, McIntosh resumed doing studio work, doing sessions with Paul McCartney. McCartney was preparing a band for his 1989–90 World Tour, and with Chrissie Hynde’s endorsement, McIntosh was chosen as the lead guitarist in the new Paul McCartney Band. He appears on all McCartney’s albums from 1989 through 1993, and also can be seen in the concert films Get Back and Paul Is Live.
Forms The Robbie McIntosh Band
McIntosh went back to doing sessions until about 1998; he started to realise a dream by putting together a band of his own. “I decided to pick some of my favourite players and mates for a band that I thought would give a particular sound and edge to my songs; so I grabbed Paul Beavis, Pino Palladino, Mark Feltham and Melvin Duffy and “The Robbie McIntosh Band” was born. We did some gigs and recorded Emotional Bends, the debut album.” […]
Robbie is a really good guitar player who I’ve noticed for a long time and who I think really comes to the fore on this album. He’s very good, very enthusiastic, very funny – I mean, he knows the complete works of Tony Hancock or any British television series, particularly the obscure ones. And what’s very handy is that he knows all the Beatles songs because he was at just the right age to learn them all in the Sixties. So sometimes I’ll ask “What’s the chord…?” and he’ll say “I always thought it was A minor” and I’ll reply “Yes, that’s right!”.Paul McCartney, Club Sandwich, 1993
How did you first come into Paul McCartney’s orbit?
There were a couple of routes. I had met Paul and Linda in the studio when I was in the Pretenders, but only really to say hello and have a cup of tea. [Average White Band guitarist-bassist] Hamish Stuart was a friend of mine. He was already in Paul’s band. He probably went, “I know Robbie. He’s a nice guy,” or something like that. He kind of recommended me, along with Chrissie.
I went in and played a few tracks at Paul’s home studio, and later at Olympic Studios. He worked with three or four producers on Flowers in the Dirt. Some of it was just him. Some of it was with Mitchell Froom. Some of it was with Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum. I didn’t play on any of the Trevor Horn stuff.
I remember being at Olympic Studios. Paul and his manager were there. They said, “Do you want to join the band for live?” I remember saying, “I don’t want to go away for ages and ages. I’m not sure.” They said, “Well, we won’t go away for more than three weeks at a time.” I said, “All, right then.” That was it.
As a childhood Beatles fan, what was it like to play with Paul in the studio?
It was terrifying at first, but then it was absolutely amazing. He was so nice. I talked about learning “Blackbird” when I was about 12 or 13. Everybody learned that. I showed him how I played it, but there was one bit that was slightly off. He didn’t go, “That’s wrong.” He went, “Oh, I don’t do it like that.” [Demonstrates the difference on guitar.]
When we did the Unplugged stuff, he got me to play it with him. He gets up and does it. I’m there as well, but they don’t have a camera on me. He looks up at me to count in. I got to play it with him.
Prior to this, he had never done a Paul McCartney solo tour. He’d just done the Wings tours of the Seventies. This was a big deal. He’d never done close to this many Beatles songs in a concert.
Yeah. He’d never played some of those songs live, like the Sgt. Pepper thing.
And “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Things We Said Today,” and a ton of others.
Yeah. The Abbey Road medley and “Magical Mystery Tour” too. Obviously the Wings stuff we played, he did. He was great since he let us suggest things. I don’t think it was his idea to do the Abbey Road thing. I think it was Wix, who is still his keyboard player. I still see him a lot. He’s one of my closest mates. We were all in Chris Thompson and the Islands together. I know on the second tour in 1993, it was my idea to do “Fixing a Hole” since I’d always loved that track.
Some of these songs you’re doing, he’d last done them in the studio or on the stage with George Harrison on guitar. And now you’re the one playing those parts. What did it feel like as a Beatles fan to take on that role?
It was fantastic. On “All My Loving,” for instance, I’m not going to change the solo and start playing my own thing. On “Fixing a Hole,” me and Hamish played the solo together since it’s doubled on the record. That’s why it’s so strong. It’s actually two guitars. He doubled it with George.
When we did that, me and Hamish played the solo, note for note, together. It was fantastic. On the Abbey Road medley, we could play whatever we liked when we did the guitar tradeoff thing at the end. And then on “Let It Be,” there’s two different solos. The single solo and album solo are totally different. On that one, I did my own thing. It was a bit shit actually, thinking about. It was a bit rock. I have that little moment at the end of “Things We Said Today” to transition into “Eleanor Rigby.”
He gave us a lot of freedom. He was a great bandleader, Paul. He was never, “Don’t play that. I want you playing here.” He never moaned about what we played. He might say, “Can you make that bit a bit more this or that? Maybe you should start that a bit later.” With me at least, he was never fussy about what I played. He might have been a bit fussier with Hamish playing bass since Paul is such a great bass player. He’s a really hard act to follow. I wouldn’t have liked to be in Hamish’s shoes.
Between Paul and James Jamerson, there are no better bass players for pop music. If you want to be a bass player, just listen to those two guys. They have it all. They have everything.
How is Paul the human being different than Paul the icon?
He’s great. And if you consider who he is, that the world has revolved around him since he was 19 or 20, he’s amazing. He fantastic. He’s just really great to work for. I saw him on the last tour. I hadn’t seen him for years. I saw him the night before he played Glastonbury, when he did a pop-up gig. It wasn’t far from where I live. Me and [drummer] Chris Whitten went into his dressing room with just him and his wife and makeup lady. We had a chat for five minutes. It was great. He’s looking a lot older, but he’s 80 years old.
I love the Unplugged record. He did that before any other veteran artist.
Yeah. The great thing about Paul is that he said, “If we’re doing it unplugged, we’re doing it completely unplugged.” None of those acoustic guitars were plugged in. They just have microphones on them. That means we couldn’t wander around the stage. We had to stay on mic. The piano and drums both have mics on them. Nothing is plugged in. There’s no electronic instruments at all. The microphones we’re using are the only electronics.
I really love the version of “And I Love Her.”
That one was wonderful. Another one we did there that was my suggestion was “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” I’ve got the 12-string right here that I used on that song at that gig.
Was making Off the Ground a positive experience? I’m sure it was very different than Flowers in the Dirt.
Yeah. The only producers on that were Paul and a guy called Julian Mendelsohn. He was more of an engineer than a producer, to be fair, but he had produced some hits. We did that all at Paul’s studio.
I think as an album, it lacks a little something. It’s a bit same-y as an album. The thing about Flowers in the Dirt and having all those producers on it, and the time it took to make, there’s a lot of different colors. It’s a very interesting album.
I think with Off the Ground … I like the title track. I got to play some slide guitar, which I love doing. There’s a couple of songs he wrote with Elvis [Costello] on there, which are great. But it’s not a great album. It’s good fun though. We had a lot of fun.
How was the 1993 tour different than the 1989 tour?
There were some different songs. There was a different stage setup. It was a great tour. Really fun.
Tell me about getting to know Linda.
She was one of the nicest people that I’ve ever known. The thing about Linda is that she was the same to everybody. I didn’t matter if you were cleaning the rooms at the hotel or if you were a big-shot actress or actor or something. She was the same to everybody. She had no airs at all. She was always the same to everybody.
We had a nice stay with me and my wife and my kids hanging out with Paul and Linda at their house. It was a beautiful day. Stella and Mary were there. James was still quite young. They had these plastic plates you could paint on and put them in the oven. We still have them.
Linda was the nicest. She was lovely. When we were doing Off the Ground, we’d go round a couple of times a week to their house and she’d cook, which was nice. We’d sit and watch the telly on the weekend. It was really cool.
It’s such a tragedy she died so young.
It is. The last time I played with Paul … After I did the Off the Ground tour, Paul kind of laid us all off. Then they did the Beatles Anthology. I played with him at the benefit for Montserrat at the Royal Albert Hall [in 1997]. I was in the house band, anyway. Linda was still alive. She died about six months after that. She was sick at the time. I told Paul to give her my best.
That Monserrat show was amazing, especially the Abbey Road medley Paul played with the orchestra.
Yeah. It was a great moment. And then everybody came onstage, and they didn’t know what song to do. We were all onstage together. It was Sting on bass, Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Paul, Carl Perkins, and the rest of the house band. Somebody said, “Why won’t we do ‘Kansas City’?” Someone said, “How does it start?” Complete silence. And so I went, “Oh, I know.” And I played the beginning. I got a pat on the back for that since nobody else could remember how it started. [Laughs.]
When Paul went back on the road in 2002, did you hope he was going to call you up?
I guess so. It didn’t happen. He got a whole American band. He even got an American keyboard player. But not long before they were supposed to go out on tour, he jumped ship. He called Wix and got Wix back in. He’s really the only person that could have done that with all the sounds he gets. He’s such a great guy as well.Robbie McIntosh – From Robbie McIntosh: Guitarist for Paul McCartney, John Mayer, Pretenders – Rolling Stone, May 16, 2023
Last updated on June 4, 2023