- Interview by:
- Laura Gross
- Timeline More from year 1999
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Run Devil Run Official album.
Songs mentioned in this interview
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One special edition of Run Devil Run, exclusive to Best Buy in the US, was released with a bonus CD including an interview conducted by Laura Gross.
Q: Run Devil Run, your first album for more than two years, is released on October 4th. It’s your first pure rock & roll album since 1988. How did the idea come about to get back to rock ‘n’ roll?
P: I’ve been thinking about doing a rock & roll album for many years; it was something that Linda and I were talking about and she was very keen on the idea. Linda loved her rock and roll and she loved this idea of me doing some of these rock & roll songs that I never did with The Beatles. So I got together about 25 songs that I just remembered; we hadn’t done them with The Beatles, but I just liked them. My fondness for the tracks was the important thing about picking them. A lot of the songs were obscure B-sides from way back. When we were doing early gigs with The Beatles we were drawn to B-sides, because, we had to be. With The Beatles we’d turn up at a gig and they’d be four or five bands on it. We weren’t necessarily topping the bill in the early days, there’d be a couple of bands on ahead of us – and what would happen was that you’d be waiting to go on, only to discover that the bands ahead of you were doing your set! There’d be doing Long Tall Sally or What’d I Say and you’d be in the dressing room thinking ‘Oh God, there goes our big number …. oh no, there goes another’. And they would wipe out your whole act. We realized that we had to do something about this, so we took to looking for B-sides, songs that were a little bit more obscure, in the hope that other acts wouldn’t play them at gigs before you did. In actual fact that is the reason why John and I began writing our own songs -there was no other reason for that other than that you knew that then other bands couldn’t access our stuff. That’s the truth; John and I never sat down and decided ‘we must become composers’, we just wrote because it was the only way of saving our act. Anyway, I had a whole store of memories of these B-sides, so in preparing for this album I just sat at home with a bunch of cassettes, played them, and wrote down the words to the songs I wanted to do on this album. And doing that was great – I sat at home exactly as I had done when I was a teenager, listening to a new 45 1 wanted to learn up. The only difference was that back then I’d be playing these records on a DancSette, now I was playing them on a cassette. But it was the same feeling; I’d play the first line of the song, stop the tape, write down the words, play the next line, stop the tape, get those words down. I thought ‘Wow, I love this! I haven’t done this since I was 15!’ And you get that same sort of teenage feeling, doing that; you get so proud that you’ve managed to get down all the words to the song. So that was it, I filled up a manila envelope with the lyrics to all these B-sides and favourites, I took them along with me to the studio on the Monday morning, I’d dip into my envelope, pull out a song and we’d do it. I’d pull out a song and say ‘Anybody know No Other Baby?, …. ‘No,. So I’d say ‘It goes like this’ and play it to the band for 15 minutes on an acoustic to show them the song. Then we’d split to our various instruments and would just do it.
Q: It sounds very rough and ready, very off-the-cuff. How long did you take to record the album like this?
P: Just a week. We booked Abbey Road studios for just five days, Monday to Friday. And by the end of that time we’d recorded 19 songs, 15 of which are on the album. We raced through them just like we did in the early days with The Beatles. We’d arrive at the studio, set up our gear and we’d record two songs before lunch, have a break for lunch and then record two more songs in the afternoon. I deliberately planned it like that. I remembered the early recording sessions at Abbey Road with The Beatles, which happened in a very specific way – when we’d arrive at the studio for 10 a.m., get your guitar in tune and your bass set up, everything ready to go by 10.30, when the producer and the engineer – the grown-ups – would arrive and ask what you’d be doing. In the next three hours, until 1.30, you’d record two songs, have lunch till 2.30 and then do another two songs before 5.30. That was the way we worked for quite a while with The Beatles, on albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver. And I re-member loving it because it was so fast; there was no time for anything but the music. I had a kind of professional nostalgia for that way of working and so I thought ‘I wonder if it would work these days, for tbis album?’ And it did.
Q: Did the other guys in the band know before the recording session what the songs were going to be?
P: No, they didn’t. That was another which was like the way we recorded with The Beatles early on. Back then John and I would have written the songs a week before and often George and Ringo would not have heard them before we ran them through for them at the studio – they weren’t with John and I when we wrote the songs and so it kept it really fresh. It meant that for every new recording, people only having just heard a song for the first time, they really had to think, ‘What do I want to do on this one?’ You had to make instant decisions, nothing could be left until later, you just have to go and do it – and I wanted to recreate exactly that for this album. So I booked Studio Two at Abbey Road – which was our old Beatles studio – and -I just rang up the band for a 10 o’clock start on Monday morning. Three of the guys in the band I knew, two I didn’t. Dave Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) was interested, he’s an old friend and I like his playing. Then I got in Mick Green, who I worked with before (on The Russian Album of 1998). Mick used to be in Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, he’s a great rock and roll player. Mick’s like the rough diamond and Dave would be the smooth diamond; they’re great guys and they complement each other. I knew I would be on bass, which was how I used to work with The Beatles’ – I didn’t swap instruments, I just sang and was on bass all week for The Beatles and I knew that was what I wanted to do again. I rang up Ian Paice out of Deep Purple, who I knew was drumming well and I got in touch with Pete Wingfield; I knew of his playing, he’s a really good rock: and roll pianist, but I hadn’t worked with him before. Ian Paice said ‘Is there any idea of what we’re going to do, I could learn up a couple of songs’ and I told him ‘No, there’s no homework allowed on this project, just come in fresh and I’ll tell you all about it on Monday morning. Somebody said to me ‘Didn’t you have any ego problems with all the band?’ and I told them ‘There wasn’t time’. There really wasn’t; it was really hard work, but very satisfying and by the end of each day, by 5.30, we just said ‘Right, we’re going home’. That is unheard of in the music business these days, it’s like having an office job. But it worked and the recording was about as fresh as you can get.
Q: It sounds busy…
P: Busy? That week was just like madness. But I think we all enjoyed it because it demanded of us the fact that we played well, quickly. No-one was allowed to say “I need an hour for a vocal warm-up.’ It was, ‘Sorry, luv, you haven’t got an hour to do the song, never mind a warm-up”.
Q: How is that mirrored in the music? Did that discipline make this a different sort of album?
P: We didn’t have long to think. We had to decide quickly and I think when faced with that there is a spirit in people that makes for a good decision. Allen Ginsberg used to say to me ‘First thought, best thought’; you know that when you are writing a poem or something, the first thing that comes into your mind is often the best one. So that was how we did it. In fact, one of the catch phrases we had during the week was ‘No thinking’. Thinking on something was outlawed, we banned thinking for the week and I think that shows in a very positive way on this album. With rock and roll you either do it or you don’t. So we had this instant attitude to do the tracks and the singing echoes that spirit; you thought ‘I have to get this right because we are going home in a minute’. You had to call on your instincts, you have to call on all of your musicianship suddenly.
Q: Are all the takes on the album live takes?
P: Yeah, all the takes on the album are the actual live takes, there wasn’t actually much fixing required. What you hear is basically what happened in that week.
Q. Critics have commented that you are “singing like an 18-year-old” on this album. Were you confident about being in good voice?
P: The truth is that for a year since Linda died I haven’t really sung. So I didn’t actually know if I could sing and I had a bad moment on the Sunday evening before we started recording. I thought ‘Wait a minute, not only do I not know if I can sing OK after a year of not singing; I also don’t know the bass parts to these songs and I have never done them before … great formula’. But then I realized ‘Hang on, the other guys don’t know the songs either’. So that was the saving grace. So I went in there, made up the bass part instantly, sang it while I was playing and I realized that if there is one thing that I have practice at it is playing the bass and singing at the same time- If you think about it, that is ray whole career with The Beatles and beyond; I am probably one of the most practiced people in the world at that thing.
Q. Although there are a few sad songs on the album, it’s generally very upbeat. Was that the spirit you were looking for?
P: No, that just happens because in rock and roll that tends to be the spirit; rock and roll tends to be very joyous – ‘Saturday night and I just got paid, fool about my money, don’t try to save. Heart says go, go have a good time, Saturday night, baby, I feel fine’ that is about the gist of most rock and roll lyrics. I do do “Lonesome Town” on the album, which is a Ricky Nelson song and is a sad song and of course for me now it is more meaningful it means more now than it ever meant before, just because it does. But it was good to do those songs, it was just like a little bit of therapy in a way. Working with a band like that, you get it off your chest. But mainly the album is very upbeat and very energetic. People have said to me that one of the ways to get over a tragedy is to stay really busy, but I thought ‘No, I am not going to do that’. I see that one but it is just too easy, it’s a bit like denial. So for a year I just didn’t do that, I just did whatever came along, whatever I felt good about.
Q: Although the album is essentially you and the hand covering these B-sides and favourites, you also wrote three new songs for it (Run Devil Run, Try Not To Cry, What It is). When did you decide to do them?
P: When I was getting the lyrics together and thinking about what songs I was going to do, I was writing at the same time and rather than write a ballad I thought that as I was going to do a rock and roll album I might as well write a couple of rockers, as they might come in handy if we didn’t have enough stuff. I like trying to write rock and roll, but rock and roll songs are actually very bard to write. Most songwriters will tell you that it is easier to write a ballad. I think the thing is that it is difficult to get songs sounding genwne in rock and roll “-‘ because you are not black, you don’t live in the South, you are not some poor guy on a terrace with an old blues guitar. That is the difficulty, you are not experienced in all this stuff that the music came from. But I love rock and roll so much that I can try in thy own way to recreate thosefeefings.1 had as a kid of admiration for these rock and roll people. Some people have said to me that the three songs I wrote on the album don’t stand out as ‘obvious McCartney tracks’. If that’s the case, I’ll be pleased because I was worried about that. Although we were trying to get a modern sound on all of the songs, all of those that I didn’t write are retro and we were worried that the new songs might not fit into that thing. But one day at the studio we were doing one of the new songs, one of my songs, and one of the roadies said ‘Who did this one?’. And that was cool; he didn’t know it was a new track So we thought ‘we’re cracking it here’. Actually, somebody said it would an interesting game to play to play the album and see if you can tell which songs I wrote without looking at the credits. As I said, although the majority of the songs on the album are retro songs, they are not retro sounds. Sometimes if you listen to the radio you’ll bear a modern song followed by – if the station is liberal enough – an old rock and roll song. Sometimes the sound on the older song is woolier, just a little bit more old-fashioned, it is not as crisp as a modern recording. So me and Chris Thomas, the producer, decided it would be good on this album if the retro song could be recorded so that they could live alongside the normal, modern stuff that is played on the radio. So we talked to Geoff Emerick, our engineer, and went for this more modern sound to the older songs, not exclusively but mainly.
Q: But the first song, Blue Jean Bop, sounds close to the original.
P: Yeah, there were a couple of songs that I just wanted to stay faithful to the originals because my memory of them was so clear and I loved them so much. Blue Jean Bop was off a Gene Vincent album we had in Liverpool and it wasn’t as big a hit as Be Bop A Lula, but it was one we loved. We were at a place near Penny Lane at a friend of it friend’s flat We went there one afternoon with this Gene Vincent album and played Blue Jean Bop and the track simply brings those days back to me.
Q: She Said Yeah, the next track, is a sexy song.
P: It’s a Larry Williams song and it is my favourite of his songs. He did some other good stuff like Bony Moronie but this was always a song I loved and wanted to get around to doing. I remember turning Mick Jagger onto it and I think the Stones did a version of it. There were two songs I turned Mick onto that the Stones have done. One was She Said Yeah and the other was Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. Mick would deny it — ‘Wot? Never saw him, never met him’ – but I distinctly remember having him up into a little music room and playing it to him. He loved it and he went and did it. We’ve messed around with the track a little bit, but it is sort of like my memory of the original.
Q: The next track is All Shook Up.
P: I have the loveliest memory of All Shook Up. We were mad Elvis fans before he went into the Army. We thought the Army made him a little too grown up, but he was fantastic. Anyway, back in Liverpool me and my best mate, Ian James, who I still know, we used to go around in these draped flecked jackets. We thought they were really cool, that you could not have a more cool item of clothing, and we would wander around the fairgrounds in Liverpool trying to pick up girls. We thought the girls would come flooding to us, us being in these jackets. But of course they never took any notice of us’. We could not get arrested. That got us down, we got depressed, got the teenage blues, so much so that it gave me a headache. So we went back to his granny’s house in the Dingle, round by where Ringo lived., and we put All Shook Up on the record player. And I swear that hearing that song got rid of the blues, my headache went and we were lifted out of that depression. Rock and roll can do that to you, it can raise you when you’re down, and 1 love it so much for that power that it has.
Q: Talking of uplifting rock and roll, the next track Run Devil Run is one of yours and it”s very Chuck Berry.
P: I was in Atlanta with my son and he wanted to visit the funky side of town. So we went down there and were just wandering around the block and we came across this sort of voodoo shop selling cures for everything. I was looking in the shop window and I saw this bottle of bath salts called Ran Devil Run. I thought that was a good title for a song. So when I was on holiday after that I started thing of words for it and it came quite easily – ‘Run Devil run, the angels having fun, making, winners out of sinners, better leave before he’s done, and when he gets through he’ll be coming after you, so listen to what I’m telling you, run Devil run.’ I was actually out sailing when I did the verses. It’s nothing about sailing, it’s about a swamp in Alabama, but imagination roams… Interestingly, some people have said that the harmonies on the song had a Linda feel to them and I thought that too. She didn’t record on it, it was done more recently, but it is like she is singing on it. Well I hive no problem with thal It just must be something about my voice and her voice and how it used to match. Living so close together I think you grow into each other a bit. But I have thought that recently; I have thought ‘She is singing backing, yeah, magic!’
Q: Have you ordered any Run Devil Run bath salts?
P: Yeah, I’m getting the bath salts and I’ll be taking a bath with them. Not that I have got many demons to get rid of but there may be one or two lurking and this stuff is definitely going to do the trick.
Q: The next track, No Other Baby, has a familiar sound to it but it’s hard to place-
P: It’s a strange track because I didn’t have a record of it. I did not know who had recorded it or who had written it, but I knew I loved the song from the late Fifties. And, luckily, I just remembered the words. Thank goodness for memory. That was one I pulled out of my envelope and when I asked the guys in the band if anybody knew it, nobody did. I barely knew it, but I just remembered it. Actually, we used to do it at the sound checks when we were last on tour, so the tour guys probably know it. But I found out recently that it was recorded by an English skittle group called The Vipers, who were a favourite little skiffle group of ours. Funnily enough I was talking to George Martin about this song and I suddenly remembered that he recorded The Vipers, George recorded the original track. Talk about things coming full circle.
Q: The next song, Lonesome Town, was one of the numbers you performed at the recent tribute to Linda rock show at The Albert Hall. It’s a sad song.
P: Well, it’s going to be sad because of my circumstances now. When I first heard it, it was just a nice ballad about lonesome people that Ricky Nelson did. With that one, I got into the studio fully intending to do it like Ricky Nelson, just a complete remake because I thought I won’t be able to better it. Then I thought I’d just take it higher, sing it in my higher voice. So we did that and it was going great, until we got to the middle and because I was taking in higher I was having to sing so high in the middle it got ridiculous’. it was like Mickey Mouse. So I tried to take it down, but that didn’t work, it was going to spoil the mood. Then, in two seconds flat, I thought ‘Dave (Gilmour), you sing the tune and I will sing the harmony above it’. That was good and that was exactly how we would work with The Beatles – someone would come up with a good idea and you didn’t take two weeks to go through the bureaucracy of whether it was a good idea. You just did it and I like that.
Q: How much time did you give yourselves with each song?
P: It was about one and a half hours per song, which these days is not enough time to turn the computer on.
Q: Try Not To Cry, the next song, is a new one of yours. It’s very upbeat but it does have very sad lyrics.
P: I guess so. I didn’t intend to make it sad. When you’re writing a song there are various ways to do it and one of the ways is just to spill out what is coming into your head and the chorus was just that Sometimes you just look for a sound. If you go ‘eee” it doesn’t sound too nice when you sing it. But ‘ahhhh’ is better to sing. So words like ‘night’ are really good to sing and words like ‘meeee’ are not. It doesn”t always work but that is a little rule. So I was just going ‘try, try, cry, cry, high, high’ when I was writing it, because songs with those words in them are good to sing. So I wasn’t so much looking for the meaning of the words, rather the sound of those words. And once I had written it I realised it is kind of sad.
Q: The next song, Movie Magg, is a little country and western.
P: It’s a Carl Perkins song and The Beatles were really major fans of Carl, we did a lot of his songs and Movie Magg was a crazy little song that I always liked. When I got to know Carl later on I’d ask him about his songs and he was such a country dude – he actually picked cotton when he was a ldd – he had all these wonderful stories about his songs. And this one is about him trying to take his girlfriend Maggie to the movies on a horse called Becky, which turned out to be a mule. This is like a real story; he actually had a mule called Becky, he had a girlfriend called Maggie and they rode on Becky’s back to the movies. I thought that was just so wild. I wanted to do it because it was a kind of homage to Carl.
Q: The next track, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, was written by another of your heroes, Chuck Berry.
P: Yeah, when you listen to it, it has got to be Chuck Berry. We did it with an accordion on it, so it’s a bit kind of Cajun, but the words are just Chuck Berry poetry. He is such a fine poet, a really great American poet. Seriously, he is mainly known now as a rock and roller but Chuck will be known as a great poet in the next century. I always admire his talent, you try to do it like him sometimes but it is really hard. We all knew Buddy Holly’s version but Chuck’s original version has such a great sense of humour in the lyrics. One of the verses goes ‘Milo De Venus was a beautiful lass, she had the world in the palm of her hand’. I mean, it is Venus de Milo, Chuck. But Milo de Venus is just much better, I’m into that. As I say, we knew Buddy!s version of it, I think John (Lennon) used to do it. I always liked it, but it’s a bit of a mouthful to sing. But I’ve always liked Chuck – “Back In The USA” was the inspiration for me writing “Back in the USSR”, it was like a spoof on Chuck’s stuff. I respect him a lot as a songwriter.
Q: What It Is, the following track, is your third new song on the album.
P: There isn’t much of a story to that one. But the nice thing about it was that I was just writing it with half an idea in the back of my mind that I might do this rock and roll album and I wrote it while Linda was still alive. So it was a nice song to sing to her ‘You, you’re what it is.. So it has a kind of sentimental attachment for me, I wrote it for her.
Q: What about Coquette?
P. Coquette was a B-side of Fats Domino’s and I’d always liked the tune. It was just a charming little song that I had always meant to do. It has a bit of a retro sound but it’s just me doing Fats and I love it so much that I could not do it any other way.
Q: I Got Stung?
P: After Elvis got out of the Army he did I Got Stung. I remembered us not being too keen on it at the time but recently I remembered the intro and I just love it –“Holy smoke and land snakes alive, I never thought this would happen to me thought I just had to do it because of that intro. We do more of a shouty version than Eivis’s version, and I’m pleased with the way it turned out.
Q: Honey Hush?
P: Honey Hush is a song that has very, very early memories for me. I remember that John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe had an art school flat at a place called Gambier Terrace, which looks out onto Liverpool Cathedral. It was an amazing place, just a bare flat, a mattress, a record player, a little ashtray and that was it. And George and I stayed there on the one of the first times I’d stayed out all night. We were a bit younger than John and Stu – George was even younger than me … and he still is – and it was a great experience for us lads to stay over at someone’s flat and not sleep at home. I remember waking up in the morning after having virtually no sleep and it felt so cool. It was this cold little apartment with the record player next to the mattress and the first thing we did in the morning was put on this Johnny Burnette record, Honey Hush. When we were making this album I came in one morning a little tired and confused and did this one just to blow all the cobwebs away. It was one of those songs that I hadn’t been able to get all the lines down when I was writing out the lyrics at home, I just couldn’t figure out the lyric on one line. So I thought I’d just write it down phonetically and find a lyric sheet later, when we went to record. But I never got the lyric sheet, I never found out the real words. So when we were recording it I thought I’d just sing it phonetically. The real lyrics are nothing like what I sing but it was in the spirit of the album, not to even care what the lyric was. Mumble, baby.
Q: What was your memory of the next track, Shake A Hand?
P: When we were working in Hamburg with The Beatles there was this one jukebox in a pool hall we used to go to. This jukebox had records on it that the other jukeboxes didn’t, so that was where we went to get down and learn the words to the songs, because we couldn’t buy the records. This particular pool hall jukebox had Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters, which I love, but my favourite was Shake A Hand by Little Richard. I never got the record, just listened to it on the juke box. To this day I haven’t got the record. But I knew I wanted to cover it and we did it pretty much like Richard. He taught me everything I know. Richard, if you are reading this, it is true – you taught me everything, baby, and I am admitting it here.
Q: The final track on the album is Elvis again, Party or Let’s Have A Party.
P: Let’s Have A Party was one that Elvis did in Loving You; it’s such a great song and again it’s one of those songs that as kids we could never get the words right and there was no authority that we could consult on them. We thought one of the lines went ‘I never kissed a goo’ and we did not know what a ‘goo’ was. But that was what it sounded like, so we used to sing ‘never kissed a bear, I never kissed a goo, but I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room, let’s have a party.’ But when we came to do the track for this album I was singing ‘,I never kissed a goo’ and one of the guys asked ‘What is that?’ So we looked it up and it’s ‘never kissed a goon’.. which isn’t a whole lot more sensible either. I just liked the madness of the words, but we did it as ‘goon’. But I have never kissed a goon, that is true, so what more do you want?
P: So that’s it, that’s my new album. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, we cut it in a week in March and we’re releasing it on October 4th. I’m glad that I’ve got back to my roots and it will reassure anyone who thinks ‘Oh he’s gone all classical now” that that is not the case. It’s just another of the things I do. I still love my rock and roll.
Last updated on January 30, 2020