By Ray Shasho
Guitarist/songwriter/vocalist/ Henry McCullough may not be a household name but has undeniably imprinted his roots in rock and roll folklore. McCullough’s first band of prominence was spearheaded by (Animals bassist/Hendrix manager) Chas Chandler. The band (Eire Apparent) toured with legendary performers such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Move, and Pink Floyd.
McCullough joined the legendary Irish Folk group, Sweeney’s Men, before joining Joe Cocker’s Grease band. McCullough toured with Cocker as his lead guitarist. Joe Cocker and The Grease Band performed on day (3) of the Woodstock Festival, August 17th, 1969. The band’s electrifying performance of the Beatles, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” was considered one of the most memorable of the event.
McCullough also had a short stint with the progressive rock band Spooky Tooth.
Several members of The Grease Band were asked to play on an avant-garde concept album called, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Henry McCullough and bandmate Neil Hubbard would play under the direction of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The album reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1971.
Also in 1971, Paul McCartney asked Henry McCullough to join his new band Wings as their lead guitarist. McCullough’s most significant contribution to McCartney’s Wings was his awe-inspiring solo on, “My Love.” According to McCullough, his guitar lick may have been induced by a divine nature. McCullough also played on, “Hi, Hi, Hi” which got tremendous airplay over Top 40 radio in America and peaked at #10 on the charts. The upbeat tune was loaded with sexual innuendos and banned by the BBC. McCullough also played on the James Bond theme song, “Live and Let Die” penned by McCartney, and charting at #2 on Billboard Top 100. The song was recorded during the ‘Red Rose Speedway’ sessions.
During a Wings recording session at Abbey Road studios, McCullough was asked to contribute a simple spoken sentence for another session in progress next door. The band was Pink Floyd and the recording was for the ‘Dark Side of the Moon album.’ McCullough’s notorious line, “I don't know; I was really drunk at the time” found its way on the “Money” track. ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ became one of the most successful selling albums in history, and is considered one of the greatest rock albums of all-time.
Some of the incredible artists that McCullough has worked with over the years include… Eric Burdon, Roy Harper, Donovan, Ronnie Lane, Frankie Miller, Marianne Faithful, and The Who.
McCullough most recently reunited with former Wings bandmate and drummer Denny Seiwell, and performed at the ‘Fest for Beatles Fans’ in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Henry McCullough’s latest release, “Poor Man’s Moon” is an amazing dose of British-blues, rock, folk, and country, played by one of the very best guitarist in the business.
Here’s my recent chat with the enduring and incredible Henry McCullough.
Ray Shasho: Thank you so much Henry for spending time with me today. You’ve performed on countless recordings throughout the years with so many legendary artists. Have you collaborated with fellow countrymen Van Morrison or the late great Rory Gallagher?
Henry McCullough: “I met Rory many years ago, he also played in showbands in Ireland, but I never had the pleasure of playing with Rory, I did speak to his brother(manager) about Rory coming over to produce my ‘Unfinished Business’ CD, but he wasn't well enough so that was that, RIP Rory Gallagher. I've not had the pleasure of playing with Van Morrison either, though our paths did cross a few times over the years.”
Ray Shasho: The greatest cover of The Beatles, “I Am The Walrus” has to be Spooky Tooth’s Prog Rock/ Psychedelic version on, ‘The Last Puff’ album. Was the band actually in the studio together or was it recorded in succession?
Henry McCullough: “From what I can remember, all of Spooky Tooth were in the Studio together, and my guitar part was overdubbed, I only had a minor part to play on ‘The Last Puff.’”
Ray Shasho: Do you know if The Beatles listened to the Tooth’s version of, “I Am The Walrus?”
Henry McCullough: “I really don't know if any of the Beatles heard this particular track on ‘The Last Puff,’ I doubt it, if any of The Beatles were to listen to every cover of Beatles songs; they would be listening for a very long time.”
Ray Shasho: Some of the most memorable Woodstock concert moments caught on film were Alvin Lee and Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home,” Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” Joe Cocker and The Grease Band’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” and Ritchie Havens “Freedom.” I’ve chatted with Gregg Rolie (Santana) about his Woodstock experience, what was Henry McCullough’s flashback to Woodstock?
Henry McCullough: “What a day that was, we were air lifted by helicopter, did the gig, and airlifted out. Impossible to try and explain to anyone what seed was planted at Woodstock that day, it changed a lot of people, it wasn't until in later years, looking back, that one realized, "what a moment in rock n roll history." I must say that Joe Cocker and The Grease Band were at top form and it did wonders for Joe. It was a great performance by Joe and the band. That was some gig, yes sir…. that was some gig.”
Ray Shasho: Santana’s Gregg Rolie hung around to watch one of his favorite performers, Sly Stone. Did you hang around to watch the other performers?
Henry McCullough: “We did not hang around too long after the gig at Woodstock, it was back to the hotel, a "last Puff" and away we went the following morning, to where, I can't remember.”
Ray Shasho: Have you ever jammed with Jimi Hendrix?
Henry McCullough: “Yes I did jam with the great Jimi Hendrix. We (Eire Apparent) had the same managers, and he produced the first single, and the first L.P. which I didn't play on. I was sacked for enjoying the fruits of America. Steve Paul had the Scene Club in New York and the "Eire Apparent" had a week’s residency. Jimi arrived with Buddy Miles and that was a jam and a half … jeez, I've just realized how long ago it all was.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was an incredible album. How were you and Neil Hubbard selected to play on the album? Also describe the production process.
Henry McCullough: “It was The Grease Band that played on all the tracks. Together we were doing a lot of sessions in and around London; Joe had gone to do his thing with Leon Russell in the U.S., Mad Dogs & Englishmen. We needed another guitar player to work live gigs with The Grease Band and that’s where Neil Hubbard came into the picture … a great guitarist.
“We would start the day with Andrew Lloyd Webber showing us the chord sheets etc. etc. and away we went. Particular bits that had a short riff for guitar … I learned on piano before we would start the session. When all the backing tracks were finished, that was it for us, then they brought in the singers etc, I never played with Ian Gillian, nor did I get to meet him or any of the singers involved.”
Ray Shasho: You played on; “My Love” WINGS first number 1 hit in America. Was that beautiful guitar solo your own creation?
Henry McCullough: The solo on "My Love" was done at Air studios, George Martin’s studio.
Yes that's me playing the solo, and was done in one take. I mentioned to Paul that I wanted to change whatever was suggested. The conversation between Paul and I went like this ..."what are you gonna’ play?" - "I don't know" - " You don't know what you’re gonna’ play?" -"No."
“Now, there's Paul, George Martin etc. in the control room, a 50 piece orchestra waiting on me in the studio, (they were recording both the orchestra and guitar solo at the same time) so, in I went and plugged in the Gold Top, took a deep breath, and when I exhaled it was all over, a bit like going to the dentist. It was a one take wonder, a gift from God? I don't know… somebody/something happened, everybody saw it/felt it, ask Sir Paul and I think you would get a similar answer.”
Ray Shasho: I witnessed WINGS first American tour in 1976. Do you have any regrets about leaving the band before their first worldwide tour?
Henry McCullough: “Of course, but I can't dwell on the past. I walked out just prior to going to Lagos, an awful time to walk away, not the thing to do and it is the only thing I regret. But sure, look where it got him, and I’m a happy man.”
Ray Shasho: I’m guessing no one had a clue how famous your line …"I don't know; I was really drunk at the time" would become after it was recorded at the end of “Money” on the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album?
Henry McCullough: “I honestly can't remember what the question was that brought that reply, and I’ve not seen any of the Floyd since that day in Abbey Road.”
Ray Shasho: “Skin and Bone” from your latest release, ‘Poor Man’s Moon’ is a really cool tune …awesome country and blues guitar licks. Were you influenced by American country and blues artists?
Henry McCullough: “Yes, country, blues, all of that stuff. Hank Williams, John Lee Hooker, Snooks Eaglin, bluegrass …. You know what I mean.”
Ray Shasho: Nashville has so many incredible players and is a main hub for recording music in the U.S. these days. Do you spend any time in Nashville?
Henry McCullough: “I never got to hang around Nashville; I made it to the Country Music Hall of Fame and met Conway Twitty … that was nice.”
Ray Shasho: Love your cover tune of, “A Mess of Blues.” Did you ever get an opportunity to meet with Elvis or Scotty Moore?
Henry McCullough: “Never met Elvis or Scotty Moore, oh well, but I did hear them like all the rest of the world and that was good enough for me.”
Ray Shasho:What’s the origin behind your song, “Failed Christian?”
Henry McCullough: ““Failed Christian,” an outsider looking in, Spirit in music, there's a prayer in a song.”
Ray Shasho: Henry, what are your latest endeavors?
Henry McCullough: “Off to ‘The Beatles Fest’ in New Jersey, the Iridium in N.Y.C., France and Poland in April, and Norway in the summer. I just do what I've always done, play music, travel and to keep on looking for which I know is out there. It's not ever-present … you gotta’ look for it before you get paid.”
Ray Shasho: Thank you very much Henry, it’s been a real pleasure, you’re a truly gifted guitar player and songwriter! Thanks for all the great music throughout the years.
Henry McCullough: “Thanks Ray!”
Order Henry McCullough’s latest CD ‘Poor Man’s Moon’ at Amazon.com
Henry McCullough official website www.henrymccullough.com
Special Thanks to Anne Leighton of Leighton Media for this interview
Official website www.anneleighton.com
Leighton Music Services http://leightonmusicservices.blogspot.com/
Contact Ray Shasho at email@example.com
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Ray Shasho is a product of the second half of the 20th century, made in the USA from parts around the world, and within him is every trend in music, television, politics and culture contributing to his philosophical and comically analytical reflections collected in his fine book of memories. I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray. So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book! It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are. ~~Pacific Book Review
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