Henry McCullough dies; played guitar with Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe Cocker, Spooky Tooth

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Henry McCullough, an itinerant guitarist who had brief but memorable stints with Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe Cocker and Spooky Tooth, has died after suffering a heart attack on November 5, 2012 and enduring a lengthy period of partial recovery.

The Irish-born McCullough’s roving muse drew him into a series of rock ‘n’ roll’s signature moments — from the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969, to the initial soundtrack recording of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, to the initial touring edition of Wings, to the studio finale by Spooky Tooth, to a spoken-word guest appearance on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

A period of personal problems followed but he was, until his final illness, in the midst of a career comeback. Henry McCullough, in fact, had become a regular touring presence around his native country, releasing a live album called Blue Sunset in 1998 and composing an introspective new song called “Failed Christian” that immediately garnered the attention of “Cruel to Be Kind”-hitmaker Nick Lowe, who included it on his album Dig My Mood.

McCullough then issued Poor Man’s Moon in 2008 and, three years later, the well-received Unfinished Business — which also featured the haunting “Failed Christian.” The album also included a blues-soaked rendition of “Big Barn Bed,” the opening cut off of his lone album with Wings, 1973’s Red Rose Speedway.

Henry McCullough had originally joined McCartney as he set about issuing a series of stand-alone singles, beginning with 1972’s “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” which was banned in the UK. After the fall out surrounding that song, Wings released a reworking of the children’s song “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” They followed that up with “Hi Hi Hi,” which reached No. 10 but was likewise banned.

Red Rose Speedway then included Henry McCullough’s memorable first-take guitar solo on “My Love,” a song that became McCartney’s second solo No. 1 single. But after appearing on the former Beatle’s James Bond movie theme “Live and Let Die,” a No. 2 hit, McCullough left — citing continuing issues over artistic control.

“He was fantastic in the studio, Paul. But to do everything that he asked was just too much,” McCullough once told us in a Something Else! Sitdown. “Eventually, it got to us. Two of the band members in Wings [including drummer Denny Seiwell] walked out in the same week for different reasons [on the eve of the sessions for Band on the Run]. I had been too long on the road to be told like a child to play this or that — which is why I left, at the end of the day. I had come from working with Joe Cocker and somehow ended up singing bloody nursery rhymes.”

In all, McCullough played on five albums by Cocker and his Grease Band between 1969-75, a period that included McCullough’s appearance at the decade-defining Woodstock event. Their volcanic version of “With a Little Help From my Friends” was the closing song of their initial set on the final day of the event, and a highlight of the subsequent documentary film.

The guitarist guested on Spooky Tooth’s aptly named finale The Last Puff and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, both in 1970, and then issued a solo album called Mind Your Own Business in 1975 on Dark Horse, a record label founded by Paul’s former Beatles bandmate George Harrison.

Pink Floyd fans might recognize Henry McCullough, too, after a snippet conversation featuring his voice appeared on “Money,” from 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon: “I don’t know,” he famously says, “I was really drunk at the time.” McCullough said people still approached him, decades later, to discuss the story behind his comment.

“Wings were in Studio 1 at Abbey Road, and Pink Floyd were doing Dark Side in Studio 2 right across the hall,” McCullough told us. “They asked Paul to do a little bit of work on it with them. He said: ‘Henry, I’m busy. Nip across and see what the lads want.’ I go over, and they have six questions on pieces of paper, face down. For whatever reason, they wanted me to answer one — and the first thing you said was going to be recorded. They wanted something spontaneous. My piece of paper said: ‘When was the last time you had a fight with your wife?’” McCullough then broke into uproarious laughter.

Like many of his generation, the guitarist battled substance and alcohol abuse problems. At times, there was nothing funny about his struggles. For instance, after an early-1980s accident nearly ended his career when he severed tendons in his playing hand, Henry McCullough ended up busking on the street, almost within sight of where he was born and raised.

Still, McCullough maintained until the end that he was better off for all of his adventures — good and bad.

“One minute I was playing the Royal Albert Hall and the next playing on the street for Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bottle of whiskey,” Henry McCullough said. “I did it to get strength into my hand. I couldn’t hold the plectrum, so it was like starting new. Yet, once you come out on the other side, you feel as happy as I do, and the past doesn’t matter anymore. Every part of it has made me the man I am today, every little bit.”

Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Jimmy Nelson
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