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“I’m one of the least technical people you’re likely to meet,” says Paul McCartney. There we are, chatting in Paul’s studio in Sussex, southereast England, and to be honest this admission of non- technicality comes as a bit of blow. We have set up this interview to talk about Paul’s place in the history of bass guitars and bass playing, to help the research that Barry Moorhouse and I were doing for the Bass Book [Miller Freeman], and we were hoping Paul would give us the lowdown on just what basses he used when and why-the technical stuff. As it turned out, though, we had a much more interesting chat on how he felt about playing bass in the most amous band in the world, and we talked about events from the early days of the fledgling Beatles right through to current projects, including the new Beatles “reunion” tracks. Tell Me Why Deep in the Sussex countryside, a few hours’ drive out of London, your car eventually noses up the correct secluded drive to the McCartney studio, a converted mill that has a warm, friendly atmosphere. When we met, Paul was working on a big orchestral piece for EMI’s 100th anniversary in 1997. As you wait for McCartney to arrive, you can’t help but notice the clear ambience of the studio’s owner and his impressive history at every step: here an aging map of Liverpool on the wall, there a yellow sticky with a note to call George Martin, over in the corner a big old acoustic bass propped against the wall. Paul arrives. As he walks in I suddenly become aware of wearing a big, inane grin. This is Paul McCartney! screams one half of my brain. Stop grinning like an idiot and say something, insists the other. McCartney has encountered this many, many times, of course. He ignores the inane grin, shakes my hand, grins himself so I don’t feel alone, and steers me to a seat. Within seconds he has picked up the upright, which I now notice is painted gold, and announces that “my wife, Linda” bought it as a present, and that it used to belong to Elvis Presley’s original bassman, Bill Black. Paul sings two verses of “Heartbreak Hotel” by way of getting acquainted. So how un-technical are you, then, Paul? He’s still singing. “Down at the end of lonely street, er … I went into a guitar shop in America a few years ago,” he replies, putting down the big bass, “and some guy said, ‘What kind of bass strings do you use, Paul?’ I said, ‘Long shiny ones.’ “I don’t know the model names of basses,” he laughs, “I don’t know about amps, I don’t know about serial numbers. People say to me [adopts haughty voice]: ‘I’ve got a fantastic L35.’ I say, ‘Oh … yeah?’ It could be a motorbike for all I know. I’m just not like that, you know? With us it was always just Vox, Hofner-I never really got into the analytical end of it.” This, I have to tell you, appears in my experience to be a common feeling among Famous Musicians. There is this sneaking suspicion that if you analyze it, well … you just might destroy whatever it is that enables you to do the fantastic things you do. So I’m not about to press the great man too much on his self- analysis. But you started out as a guitarist, Paul, didn’t you? “I would have been about 15 or something, and me Dad bought me a trumpet,” he says, “because a trumpet was kind of a heroic instrument at that time, [due to the movie] The Man with the Golden Arm and all that. Me dad had been a trumpet player?, so he showed me a bit. But I realized I couldn’t sing with the trumpet, and I wanted to sing as well, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I traded it in for a guitar.” So the young McCartney picked up a Zenith acoustic and started to learn to play guitar. But he soon realized that something was wrong. The guitar was right-handed; Paul was left-handed. “I didn’t know what you did about that,” he recalls. “Nobody talked about being left-handed. So I tried it right-handed, and I couldn’t get any rhythm because it was the wrong hand doing it. Then I saw a picture of [singer/guitarist] Slim Whitman in one of the music papers,’ and I noticed-hang on, he’s got the guitar on the wrong way ’round. I found out he was left-handed so I thought, That’s good, you can have it the other way ’round. Then I changed the strings around. So that was the first thing. “I met John and George about the same time George used to get on the same bus; we got to chatting because he had an interest in guitars and music like I did, and we kind of hung out and became good friends. Meanwhile I’d met John through another friend of mine, and he’d asked me to join the Quarrymen, which was my very first group. I went in as lead guitarist, really because I wasn’t bad on guitar. When I wasn’t onstage I was even better-but when I got up onstage my fingers all went very stiff and found themselves underneath the strings instead of on top of them. So I vowed that first night that that was the end of my career as the lead guitar player. “Then we went to play in Hamburg, Germany, and I’d bought a Rosetti Solid Seven electric guitar in Liverpool before we went. It was a terrible guitar. It was really just a good-looking piece of wood. It had a nice paint job, but it was a disastrous, cheap guitar. It fell apart when I got to Hamburg-the sweat and the damp and the getting knocked around, falling over and stuff. So in Hamburg, with my guitar bust, I turned to the piano. “Stu Sutcliffe was a friend of John Lennon’s- they were at art school together-and Stu had won a painting competition. The prize was 75 quid [about $150].We said to him, ‘That’s exactly the price of a Hofner bass!’ He said, ‘It’s supposed to be for painting materials,’ but we managed to persuade him over a cappuccino.” Sutcliffe became the Beatles’ bass player after his prize money had been handed over the counter at Hessy’s music shop in Liverpool for a lovely new Homer 500/5 bass, a fillsize hollowbody model. “It kind of dwarfed him a bit,” says Paul. “He was a smallish guy, but it looked kind of heroic. He stood a certain way, he had shades, he looked the part-but he wasn’t that good a player. He hadn’t played anything up to buying that bass. Any of our mates could look at the group and spot it; any of the guys who were in groups like us – King Size Taylor & the Dominoes, the Big Three – they would just spot it, and they’d say: ‘Lousy bass player, man.'” Sometimes they’d even find themselves telling the hapless Stu to turn away if there was someone taking photos, because they didn’t want the more sharp-eyed to notice that Sutcliffe might very well be playing in the Wrong key. A bit paranoid? Well, Paul remembers that the first thing they’d do when they saw a photo of a band in action was to check out the fingering on the guitars. “We always used to look for that, and I still do,” he laughs. “You know: to see if Elvis could play guitar, in [the movie] The Girl Can’t Help It or whatever it was. He’s doing a D and … McCartney twists his head to look at an imaginary picture, “… yes, it’s all right. Whereas with some people you could tell they couldn’t play; it was just a prop. That was one of the things we used to love about guys in the audience: the girls would look at us; the guys would look at the chords. We’d nudge each other, ‘Look, look, this guy down here.’ he’d be looking deadly serious at you, and you could see him copping all the chords.” Ticket To Ride And so in our chronology of the early Beatles, Stu Sutcliffe is now the bass player – like it or not. “None of us wanted to be the bass player,” admits Paul. “It wasn’t the #1 job: we wanted to be up front. In our minds, it was the fat guy in the group who nearly always played the bass, and he stood at the back. None of us wanted that; we wanted to be up front singing, looking good, to pull the birds.” The Beatles played a second grueling season of gigs in Hamburg in mid-1961. “Stu said he was going to stay in Hamburg. He’d met a girl and was going to stay there with her and paint,” Paul remembers. So it was like, Uh-oh, we haven’t got a bass player. And evreone sort of turned ’round and looked at me. I was a bit lumbered with it, realy it was like, ‘Well … it’d better be you then.’I dont think you would have caught John doing it; he would have said: ‘No, you’re kidding. I’ve got a nice new Rickenbacker!’ I was playing piano and didn’t even have a guitar at the time, so I couldn’t really say that I wanted to be a guitarist.” You may have seen the Beatles’ Hamburg period portrayed in the movie Backbeat, and in one scene McCartney/s character picks up Sutcliffe’s right-handed bass and plays it left-handed and upside down. Did you really do that, Paul? “I did, yes. I had to! Guys wouldn’t let you change their strings around,” he laughs. “When John wasn’t there, I’d pick up his guitar and play it upside down. John did that [with my guitar] as well – he got pretty good playing upside down because of me. “I haven’t seen Backbeat, but I did see a clip where John’s character sings ‘Long Tall Sally,’ which is a piss-off for me because that’s a bit of my history. I was the guy who did ‘Long Tall Sally,’ and there was no reason why the John character should have sung that – he had plenty of raunchy, rocking songs that they could have had him sing. It’d be like having Elvis sing ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart.’ What’s that all about? And Dionne Warwick doesn’t do ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ Paul had to find a bass guitar of his own, so one day in 1961 he went shopping in Hamburg. “Eventually I found a little shop in the center of town, and I saw this violin-shaped bass guitar in the window.” This was the famous “violin bass”, a Hofner 500/1, made in Germany and similar in shape to Gibson’s early electric Bass model. McCartney recalls buying his first violin bass for the equivalent of about $45, and he insists it was a right-handed model that he turned upside down, although all the photographic evidence of the band in those early years shows him with a production left-hander. McCartney has had a number of different versions of the Hofner 500/1 over the years, but he stuck to the model as his sole Beatles live performance bass as well as the principal bass for the group’s recordings until late in the ’60s. Paul still owns a Hofner from the Beatles days (see photos), and he still uses it for touring. He had it repaired recently by Mandolin Bros. in New York. “They put it in tune for the first time in life,” he says proudly. “My man John [Hammel] took it over. Before, the [open] E could be in tune but the 3rd-fret G on that string was always all the bit sharp, so as soon as you’d gone to the 3 fret you were out. I was using it on a big tour, it was a bit embarrassing. I hadn’t used it for long time for that reason, but I got it all sorted out.” Paul has noticed in old footage of him playing the Hofner that he tended to use it different- than basses from other makers. “Because the Hofner’s so light you play it a bit like a guitar all that sort of high trilling stuff I used to do think, was because of the Hofner. When I play heavier bass like a Fender, it sits me down a bit and I play just bass. But I noticed in the Let It Be film that I play the Hofner right up there in ‘Get Back’ or something. I think it was just because it was such a light little guitar that it led you to play anywhere on it. Really, it led you to be a bit freer.” I wondered if Paul had found that bass line and the bass player’s frame of mind came easier[[ when he moved over to bass in the Beatles? Did he listen to other bass players much? “Funnily enough, I’d always liked bass,” he says. “As I said me dad was a musician, and I remember him giving me little lessons-not actual sit-down lesson but maybe there’d be something on the radio and he’d say, ‘Hear that low stuff? That’s the bass.’ remember him actually pointing out what bass was, and he’d do little lessons in harmony. So when I came to the Beatles, I had a little bit of musical knowledge through him – very amateur. “Then I started listening to other bass players – mainty Motown. As time went on, James Jamerson became my hero, although I didn’t actually know his name until quite recently Jamerson and later Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were my two biggest influences: James because he was so good and melodic, and Brian because he went to very unusual places. With the Beach Boys, the band might be playing in C, but the bass might stay on the G just to hold it a back. I started to realize the power the bass player had within the band. Not vengeful power – it was just that you could actually control it. So even though the whole band is going along in A, you could stick in E,” he says, and sings an insistent repeated bass note. “And they’d say: ‘Let us of the hook!’ You’re actually in control then – an amazing thing. So I sussed that and got particurlarly interested in playing the bass.” Eight Days A Week “Interested” is something of an understatement. Gradually, the bass parts became more and more important to the melodic and harmonic development of the Beatles’ recorded songs, an McCartney’s thoughtful and often uncoventional approach began to liberate the bass from its traditional rote of simply providing unexciting and unchallenging roots beneath the chord progression. Not only that, Paul’s engaging bass lines began to be pushed further forward in the mixes, and the band’s interest in recording maters became almost as revolutionary as their composing skills. “In the studio,” Paul remembers, “it was very much us and them in the beginning. You just entered by the tradesman’s entrance, set up your stuff, did your session, and left by the tradesman’s entrance. We were hardly ever asked to come up to the control room. Maybe at the end of a session it would be [adopts plummy upper-class British accent): ‘Would you like to come up and hear it, boys?’ ‘Oh could we? Thank you, mister.'” He describes the atmosphere at EMI’s recording studio at Abbey Road in north London as very prim and proper in the first years that the Beatles recorded there with producer George Martin: “Engineers had to wear shirts and ties, and all the maintenance men had white coats,” Paul remembers. “But it wasn’t such a bad thing, in fact. It was organized, and there was no element of laidback about it. “We hardly ever worked in the evening, actually – only later did we get into those evening sessions. We mainly worked the two day-sessions, so it was down to the pub in the evening to talk about our exploits. And when you think about how people drive themselves mad recording now, going crazy, up all night, still up doing funny things at 6 in the morning – for us, it was like ajob.” It seems remarkable today when you consider that the recording regime even led the band to record tracks as diverse as tile blasting rocker “I’m Down” and the soothing ballad “Yesterday” during the same day’s session. How did they cope with that? “We just had to,” McCartney says, shrugging his shoulders. “Just did it. Sing the rocker, that’s done; sing the ballad. And we seemed to have plenty of time for it – it’s that law that whatever time they give you is enough. We had to be there at 10, ready to go at 10:30. So you’d let yourselves in, test your amps, get yourselves in tune. It didn’t take long – as long as we knew you weren’t going to fart around, it takes about half an hour to do that. “And then George [Martin] would be there [adopts another plummy voice]: ‘Right chaps, what are you going to do?’ We’d sit around for about 20 minutes, and John and I normally would just show everyone what the song was. In the early days we all knew, because it was from the stage act. The record with ‘Twist and Shout’ on it was actually done from 10 in the morning till 10:30 at night. [Ed. Note: This was the first Beatles LP, released in the U.K. as Please Please Me and in the US. as Introducing the Beatles. During the period from 1963 to 1967, the US. Beatles albums were significantly different from the U.K. albums. See – discography, page 34.] We just stayed all day and did the whole album. That was a bit of a stretch, and John’s voice … by the end of ‘Twist and Shout,’ he couldn’t have done another song. You can hear it on the record; it was just ripped. But we liked that. As long as we had a day off after, no problem. Nobody ever took stuff for their throats, or did scales, and we never rehearsed. It was very, very loose, but we’d been playing so much together as a club act that we just sort of knew it. It would bore us to rehearse too much. We knew the songs, so we’d get quite a lot done at those sessions.” Listening back to the early Beatles albums now, there are only a few bass parts that stand out, but they clearly foreshadow the emergence of Paul’s mature playing style around the time of Rubber Soul, recorded in late 1965. [Ed. Note: For more on the development of McCartney’s style, see page 30.] On the early material, the problem is often not so much Paul’s playing but the ill defined recorded sound of the bass. Even so, on the songs recorded in the winter of 1962-63, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer energy of the bass playing on “I Saw Her Standing There”, nor can an informed listener fail to notice the growing awareness of light and shade within “Please Please Me” and “A Taste of Honey.” By the spring of 1964, there is a new confidence evident in the bass on tracks like “I’m Happy Just To Dance with You,” while “When I Get Home” sounds like someone beginning to revel in the sheer sound of his instrument. Getting Better “Unlike people now, we were very keen that every track sounded different,” Paul remembers of the Beatles’ prime studio days. “We thought in singles, see. People now think in albums; in fact they think in CDs. When John and I wrote, we were always writing singles. So our albums, right up to Sgt. Pepper, were albums of singles. It was like numbers going into a hat, and someone might pull your number out a bit of a lottery really: ‘Oh, I’m the single, great.’ We thought the Supremes were a bit boring; it always sounded like the same song, or very near. They were trying to keep that Motown-Supremes sound. Well, we weren’t trying to keep the Beatles sound; we were always trying to move on. We were always trying to get a new sound on every single thing that we did.” A lot of this invention was necessarily spontaneous. In the early sessions, when the band was trying to squeeze out a couple of songs (or more ) in a day, there was no time for philosophizing As Paul puts it, nobody had a cup of tea and sat around thinking about what to do. He consideres for a second and then starts to sing, “If you we red tonight” from “Yes It Is.” Paul explains: “You’d immediately walk over to the piano with George Martin, and he’d say ‘What was the melody you were singing, Paul?'” I remember that one from ‘Yes It Is,’ because John would sing the melody and we’d have harmony lines all over the bloody place, but it was great: you each had to learn this new tune. And then George would have another tune. Really quite cool. But we were used to doing it, so the minute we all sang it together it was, ‘Oh, oh, that’s good’. We’d sometimes stray to each other’s lines, but we had enough discipline. It was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.”‘ This ability to think on one’s feet and apply discipline (and, of course, just a little talent) began to spill over into their individual instrument contributions. McCartney’s bass lines became more exciting, perhaps drawing on that experience of weaving different vocal lines together. “As time went on, I began to realize you didn’t have to play just the root notes. If it was C, F, G, the it was normally C, F, G that I played. But I started to realize you could be pulling on the G, or stay on the C when it went into F. And then I took it beyond that. I thought, Well, if you can do that, what else could you do, how much further could you take it. You might even be able to play note that aren’t in the chord. I just started to experiment.” Those experiments gradually led McCartney to come up with bass line, where he played an independent line against the arrangement. ‘Michelle’ (recorded November 1965) is often cited as an early example of this trend. “That was actually thought up on that spot,” Paul reveals. “I would never have played ‘Michelle’ on bass until I had to record the bass line. Bass isn’t an instrument you sit around and sing to. I don’t, anyway. But I remember that opening six-note phrase against the descending chords in ‘Michelle’-that was like, oh a great moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience after year of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do that. It’s quite a well-known trick-I’m sure jazz players have done that against a descending sequence-but wherever I got it from something in the back of my brain said ‘Do that. It’s a bit more clever for the arrangement, and it’ll really sound good on those descending chords.'” By this time, McCartney had added a left-handed Rickenbacker 400 IS to his trusty Hofner for studio sessions, but he stuck with the Hofner for live work. “I was known for the violin shape,” he says. “It’s like Charlie Chaplin, you know? The little walking cane, mustache, and a bowler hat, and he’s Charlie. If he conies on with a bandanna and he’s shaved and he’s on a bike, it’s like, ‘who’s that?’ So I think there may have been an element of the Hofner being a stage trademark. Also, it was very light and I’d always played it live, so I might have been playing safe a bit, just using the instrument I’d always used.” Paul had been given the new Rickenbacker bass on the Beatles’ August 1965 U.S. tour, and he started using it in the studio during October and November to record songs for Rubber Soul. From that point on, he would alternate in the studio between the Rickenbacker and the Hofner, although by the time he recorded the superb “lead bass” parts for Sgt. Pepper at the end of 1966 and into 1967, he was using the Rickenbacker as his main studio instrument. Does he remember receiving the Rickenbacker? “Well, once we got to America we were quite famous, and Mr. Rickenbacker arrived and said, ‘John, we’d like to give you a presentation Rickenbacker,” and, ‘Paul, we have a bass.’ Oh, great! Freebie. Thank you very much! But it’s very difficult to remember much about the Beatles tours, because when you weren’t playing you were off, and you were either being whisked around or having a party. Actually, remembering it the morning after was difficult never mind 30 years after!” [EJ Note: “Mr. Rickenbacker” was F. C. Halt, the head of Rickenbacker at the time. According to John C. Hall, F.C.’s son and the current president of the company, the presentations to Lennon and McCartney were actually separate events that took place about a year apart.] Paul says the tong-scale Rickenbacker felt different and stayed in tune better than the Hofner “It sounded a little clearer, too,” he adds, “and it seemed a little heavier – not just literally heavier but it played a little more solid than the Hofner.” Paul says that from Rubber Soul onwards “it could have easily swung either way” between using the Hofner or the Rickenbacker. I show him a picture from the Rubber Soul sessions where he’s clearly using a capo on the Rickenbacker bass. “What am I doing there?” he asks. Um, I rather hoped he’d be able to tell me. “Well,” be laughs, “the thing with the bass on a lot of this stuff was that I’d try anything once. So I’ll try a capo. I often do that when I’m writing a song – stick a capo on just so it’s a different instrument than the one I normally play. Everything goes up a little bit and goes more tingly, and you get a song that reflects that. So it may well have been that we’d written a song on guitars: a certain key, so I only knew it in that key. Or maybe it was to get a higher sound. I often used to tune the strings down a tone, too, so the E would become a D. You’d have to be careful how hard you hit them, but it was kind of interesting. I would just mess around with any experimental effects. I’d try anything!” Day Tripper By the time of Revolver (recorded April-June 1966), McCartney’s bass playing had become wonderfully fluent, roaming pretty much when ever he wanted. “Rain”, released on a single during that period, is an all-time killer bass track. And, when Sgt. Pepper appeared in 1967, rock bass playing moved up another discernible notch. By that time, McCartney was using the Rickenbacker almost exclusively in the studio, and it directness and clarity aided his new quest distinctive bass lines. “Now I was thinking that maybe I could even run a little tune through the chords that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” he remembers. “Maybe I can have an independent melody? Sgt. Pepper ended up being my strongest thing on bass that has independent melodies. On ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, for example, you could easily have had root notes, whereas I was running an independent melody through it, and that became my thing. It is really only a way of getting from C to F or whatever, but you get there in an interesting way. So once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with bass, I did get quite proud to be a bass player. It was all very exciting. “Once you realized the control you had over the band, you were in control. They can’t go anywhere, man. Ha! Power! I then started to identify with other bass players and talk bass with the guys in the bands. In fact, when we met Elvis he was trying to learn bass, so I was like, ‘You’re trying to learn bass are you son? Sit down, let me show you a few things.’ So I was very proud of being the bass player. As it went on and got into that melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest.” I suggest to McCartney that he was probably responsible for more people becoming aware of the power and potential of bass guitar in the mid to-late ’60s than anyone else. “I wouldn’t personally credit myself but thanks for that,” he says. “But part of it, yes. I think Jamerson, him and me, I’d share the credit there. I was nicking a lot off him. That was the thing, though it did become a lot more of a funky instrument. It was becoming almost like a drum, the rhythmic possibilities. It was very exciting, that. And I became very proud to be the bass player in the Beatles” Around the time that the group recorded Magical Mystery Tour (April-December 1967), Paul’s Rickenbacker got a psychedelic paint job take a close look in the film and you’ll see the hippy-dippy colors. “Yep, I got out the old aerosols, Paul confirms. “We were all doing that: George did his guitar, and we did the cars. If you did the cars, you might as well do your guitars. It looked great. It was just ’cause we were tripping that what it was, man. Look at your guitar and you trip even more. I sort of grew out of that, like most people did. But you know, I’m a bit of visual man. I paint a lot: I’ve been painting for about the last ten years, and we were always involved in album covers and fashions. John went to art school, Stuart was a painter .” And Ringo “Ringo was a drummer,” he laughs, “but he could paint a nice apartment: two coats, one afternoon.” Despite McCartney’s own estimation that his bass playing reached a creative peak with Sgt. Pepper, the group’s last three albums – The Beatles (“The White Album”; recorded May-October 1968), Let It Be (January-May 1969) and Abbey Road (April-August 1969)-are not exactly undistinguished when it comes to bass. My personal favorites include the insistent line underpinning “Dear Prudence” from The Beatles and the swooping, joyous part on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road. [Ed. Note: And who could get that fantastic lick from “Come Together”?] Hello, Goodbye As you might imagine, when the Beatles shut the shop in 1970, McCartney felt a huge void in his life. “That was difficult, all the business shit and all that. It was very difficult to suddenly not be in the Beatles, after your whole life except your childhood had been involved with being in this very successful group. I always say I can really identify with unemployed people, because once it was clear we weren’t doing the Beatles anymore I go real withdrawals and had serious problems. I just thought, Fuck it, I’m not even getting up, don’t even ring, don’t set the alarm. I started drinking, not shaving, just didn’t care, as if I’d had a major tragedy in my life and was grieving. And I was.” Gradually he began to get out of that, greatly helped by the support of his wife. “She’d say ‘Come on, this can’t go on too long, you know. You’re good. You’re either going to stop doing music or you’d better get on with it.’ So then I started to put little things together, and it sort got me back into being interested in music. It got rid of a bit of the fear of, well, how do you follow the Beatles?” The answer, of course, was Wings. Although McCartney could have assumed any role he wished in that band, he chose to be the bass player. Why? “Because I always approach a tour by thinking as if I’m not there: ‘Well, this geezer McCartney’s going on tour. What would I like to see him do? Well, I’d like to see him play bass. He’s good on that old bass.’ So I’d think: I must play bass. The people in the audience would expect me to play bass. And they’d probably want me to do ‘Yesterday,’ so we’ll sling that in somewhere. With early Wings I didn’t – I’d had enough of that but now I would do it, because it goes down well. I’m the opposite of Bob Dylan. I know [guitarist] G.E. Smith, who played with him, and apparently they’d say, ‘Oh Bob, “Tambourine Man” went down great tonight, fantastic.’ And that meant he wouldn’t do it- he’d knock it out [of the set] the next night. I think I’m less complex than that. If it went down. well, I leave it in.” Paul looks back on his bass playing in the Wings period as less pioneering than the Beatles days. “I think it was okay, but I never quite had the interest I had during that period around Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper. I think that was a ‘prize period’ when I was playing my best bass. I could concentrate everything on writing the song, singing harmony with John, and playing the bass – pretty much my role – or maybe playing a bit of piano or guitar or something. Other than that I really didn’t have much to do, so I could put all my energy into that. After that I sidelined the role of bass a bit, in favor of the role of frontman. It was not really my favorite thing to do, but there was nothing else to do. With Wings, I was the band leader, the business manager, the this, the that. We didn’t have Apple, we didn’t have [Beatles’ manager Brian] Epstein, we didn’t have anything – it was me doing it all. That was the biggest headache. In the Beatles, I’d been free of all of that; we had a manager, and we had three other great guys. “Now I’m 52 years old, and when we went on this recent tour, we’d be going for two hours. With the Beatles we did about 25 minutes, if you were lucky and I did only about ten minutes, because John would do ten, George would do a bit, Ringo’d do a song, and we’d be off. And we’d do it quicker if we were annoyed we’d be off in 20 minutes. If you think about it, I was 20-odd – then and I was doing maybe 15 minutes. It’s incredible that I can even handle two hours. But life goes on there it is. I’m still at it.” Get Back Paul has been seen with a variety of basses over those years, including a Jazz Bass and a Yamaha BB- series model, but a more recent newcomer was a Wal 5-string that he seems very pleased with. “We had These jams in Docklands in London that turned into The Russian Album, and Trevor Horn showed up one time. I knew him as a producer, but he told me he used to be a bass player in a ballroom-type show band before [he was in] Buggles. So he showed up, and he had a Wal 5-string bass. I said, ‘Oh, that’s cool: low B, great.’ So I got one too, based on his recommendation, and I really like it. “My favorite thing I’ve done recently on it was the new Beatles record we’ve made [‘Free Like a Bird’], which is really cool. I don’t want to build it up too much because we’ve got to sit on it for a while, because it’s for this big TV series The Beatles Anthology. There’s a thing called ‘anticipointment’ have you heard of that? It’s a good word. You build up [a movie like] ET or Four Weddings and a Funeral so much, and then you go to see it and it’s like, Well, I didn’t think it was that good. It’s never quite as good as people say – so I’m keeping a little bit cool. But I think we’ve done well. “To do this song, we took a cassette of John’s, not multitracked, but exactly like that,” he says, pointing at my little Sony recorder. “It was him and piano, interlocked. You could pull the fader down and get rid of the piano they’re there. And I mean – not being boastful with [producer] Jeff Lynne, we did a really good job. We recorded it here; me, George, and Ringo. I played the Wal, and what I liked was I played very, very normal bass, really out of the way, because I didn’t want to ‘feature.’ There are one or two moments where I break a little bit loose, but mostly I try to anchor the track. There’s one lovely moment when it modulates to C, so I was able to use the low C of the 5-string-and that’s it, the only time I use the low one, which I like, rather than just bassing out and being low, low, low. I play normal bass, and then there’s this low C and the song takes off. It actually takes off anyway because a lot of harmonies come in and stuff, but it’s a real cool moment that I’m proud of. That’s my Wal moment.” Wasn’t it strange playing along with John Lennon’s cassette? “It was very strange and was very magic; it was very spooky and it was very wonderful. Before the session we were talking about it, and I was trying to help set it because we never even knew if we could be in room together, never mind make music together after all these years. So I was talking to Ringo about how we’d do it, and he said it may even be joyous. And it was-it was really cool. We pulled it off, that’s the thing. And I don’t care what anyone says. We could work together. We did a bit of technical stuff on the tape, to make it work, and Jeff Lynne was very good. We had Geoff Emerick, our old Beatle engineer; he’s solid, really great. He knows how Ringo’s snare should sound.” No George Martin? “George wasn’t involved – no. George doesn’t want to produce much anymore ’cause his hearing’s not as good as it used to be. He’s a very sensible guy, and he says [plummy voice again]: ‘Look, Paul, I like to do proper job,’ and if he doesn’t feel he’s up to it he won’t do it. It’s very noble of him, actually more people would take the money and run. Since this interview was done, the Beatles’ reunited again to record two more track although no plans have been announced concerning the release of this new material. Another recent event that’s been wide reported in the press was Paul’s reconciliation with Yoko Ono and the recording, at Paul’s studio, of an Ono piece as performed by the McCartney family (Paul, Linda, and their children Mary, Stella, Heather, and James) alone with Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon. The piece, “Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue,” was recorded in one take, mixed by McCartney and turned over to Yoko. Paul reported played the Bill Black upright bass, and hew quoted in Rolling Stone as saying the proceedings were “quite strange, lovely strange.” Paul says that he, Harrison, and Starr had done a lot of interviews together for the Anthology film, with the intention of setting a few myths straight. Although, as he points out, that doesn’t always work. “Funniest thing is that we don’t always agree on the memories, because it was 30 years ago. It can be hilarious – and it’s on camera. There’s one bit where Ringo’s telling a story, and he says, ‘At that point George had a sore throat … ‘and the camera pans to George. George says, ‘I thought it was Paul and the camera pans to me, and I say, ‘Well I know it was John.’ I’ve worked it out since: if Ringo thought it was George, it wasn’t Ringo, if George thought it was me, it wasn’t George and if I thought it was John, it wasn’t me. It must have been John – he’s the only one left! But this is funny, for the definitive bloody thing on the Beatles. You’ve just got to laugh. It’s fucking human, so real. We forget – who cares? We did some great stuff. But exact analysis was never our bag.”
Last updated on January 11, 2021