As Paul McCartney celebrates a birthday today, we caught up with five collaborators from across his celebrated solo career to talk about the experience, and what McCartney has meant to them.
The oldest intersection here belongs to guitarist Dave Mason, who took part in a recording with McCartney and his 1970s-era band Wings. Celebrated rhythm players Stanley Clarke and Steve Gadd joined in early 1980s sessions with McCartney and legendary Beatles producer George Martin, coming away with lasting memories.
Others, like guitarists Brian Ray and Steve Lukather, have enjoyed on-going musical relationships with McCartney since first working with him years ago. Ray is a member of McCartney’s longest-running backing band, while Lukather recently joined McCartney and Ringo Starr for a gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America …
“SILLY LOVE SONGS,” (GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADSTREET, 1984): Toto members Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro took part in the only new reinterpretation of a Wings song to be included on this soundtrack and film. A huge hit in 1976, “Silly Love Songs” would spend five non-consecutive weeks atop the U.S. charts. Eight years later, Give My Regards offered a notable twist, as the band members were featured in memorably strange on-stage get ups. Lukather, a died-in-the-wool Beatles nut, ultimately couldn’t have cared less.
STEVE LUKATHER: We had met Paul during the Thriller record. That was the first time we met. Paul then invited Jeff and I over to be in the movie with him. Now, we didn’t know we were going to wear all of that makeup and shit, which was pretty funny. Then, we realized he was doing it, too — so, if it was good enough for Paul McCartney, it was good enough for us. We kept telling everybody, ‘Hey, we’re in the new McCartney movie.’ And it comes out, and we’re unrecognizable! But we had such a blast. Now, if you work in the business long enough, you don’t get starstruck too often. When Paul McCartney walks in the room, though, you just think: ‘Wow.’ But he and Linda were so awesome. She was great — funny, smart, together. A beautiful person. I had to pinch myself. I played the Mellotron that was on “Strawberry Fields.” I played the riff in front of him — and I thought, ‘Boy, I better not fuck this up.’ I asked Linda if she thought he would be mad at me, and she said no. So, I did it, and he just laughed and started telling Beatles stories. That opened up the floodgates. We ended up jamming to old Beatles tunes with Paul.
“TAKE IT AWAY,” (TUG OF WAR, 1982): When studio ace Steve Gadd arrived for these McCartney sessions in early 1981 at George Martin’s Air Studios, the drummer was joining a group that also included Starr — but that partial Beatles reunion was colored by bandmate John Lennon’s recent murder. Together with Gadd, they’d complete the upbeat single “Take It Away,” which would spend five weeks on the Billboard singles chart while ultimately reaching No. 10 — but Gadd says Lennon’s loss was keenly felt.
STEVE GADD: It was a big impact. It wasn’t morbid there, but there was a lot of security around. Not where we could see them, but we knew that they had the perimeter set up and that they were being very careful. It was just a hard time. We didn’t really talk about John a lot. Everyone was just trying to get on with it, you know? I’m glad I was there. Playing with those guys was quite an experience.
“LISTEN WHAT THE MAN SAID,” (VENUS AND MARS, 1975): The guest star likely best remembered on this U.S. and Canadian charttopper is saxophonist Tom Scott, but he wasn’t the only big name to drop by. Dave Mason, of Traffic and later Fleetwood Mac fame, also dropped by as sessions for Wings’ fourth studio album continued. The entire thing, it turns out, was based on a happenstance meeting.
DAVE MASON: Actually, they were recording in New Orleans, and I was doing a show there. A couple of the guys from Wings came by to the see the show, and we had a day off the next day. They said: “Why don’t you come down to the studio?” I’m sure Paul would love to see you. So, I just stopped by, and they happened to be cutting “Listen to What the Man Said.” Paul was, like: “Hey, c’mon, you should sit in with us. [Laughs.]”
“HEY HEY,” (PIPES OF PEACE, 1983): One of just three songs on this project not written solely by McCartney — the other two feature Michael Jackson — “Hey Hey” found bassist Stanley Clarke joining in a raucous instrumental. At least, at first. Midway through, Clarke — who played on both Pipes of Peace and its 1982 predecessor Tug of War — steps forward for a memorably jazzy interlude. These sessions helped create a lasting bond between performers known for their work on the same instrument.
STANLEY CLARKE: He’s a beautiful player. Of all of the recordings I’ve played on, those two records are among the most memorable. We went down to this island, and I hung out with Paul for a couple of weeks. I really, really had a lot of fun. He’s a very melodic player. Melody just comes right out of him. That’s only natural for him to play the bass like that. He does it without thinking. He’s a writer who sings songs, so it was only natural when he plays the bass, his lines would be very melodic.
“ONLY MAMA KNOWS,” (MEMORY ALMOST FULL, 2007): Though he’s worked with the same touring band since 2002, McCartney has most often recorded alone over his last few pop recordings. Ray played on one song from 2005’s Chaos and Creation, five other Memory Almost Full cuts, and roughly half of McCartney’s New, his most recent effort. That means guitarist Brian Ray has to make the most of his rare opportunities, like this rollicking standout from ’07 — still a concert staple for this long-standing lineup, which has outlasted Wings.
BRIAN RAY: It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? It’s longer than the Beatles recorded together, too. I wasn’t even thinking in those terms, at first. But once it got to eight years, I thought: “Oh my God, he’s going to let this happen. Paul is going to let this be his longest-serving band.” It’s an incredible honor. I owe so much of my life, my energy, my enthusiasm for life and music and people and my positive attitude, I owe all of that so directly to Paul. He’s not just my favorite bass player on the planet; he’s not only the best songwriter in our lifetime. He’s also an inspiring, cool guy just to hang with. I’m honored on every possible level.