Happy Birthday to Paul McCartney, who turns 71 years old today (June 18th). To date, McCartney is the most successful songwriter in history, having written or co-written 30 U.S. Number One hits. McCartney met his original songwriting partner John Lennon on July 6th, 1957 at a church social where Lennon was performing. After joining Lennon's band, the Quarrymen, McCartney persuaded Lennon to add his friend George Harrison in 1958, and the seeds of the Beatles were born. Ringo Starr joined the group in 1962.
Over 50 years since starting his musical career, and having written some of the most beloved music of the 20th century, McCartney is still unable to read or write a note of music: "I can think songs up, I can think arrangements, I can structure things, but I can't physically write stuff down on a page. I always had a kind of dyslexia when I was a kid. I was taking piano lessons -- I took them at a few points in me life. Whenever I did, it always seemed boring, it always seemed like homework -- I don't wanna put any students off who are learning properly. I always had great difficulties with it."
McCartney is currently working on his first new original album since 2007's Memory Almost Full, and admits that his past figures in quite heavily when working up new material: "Y'know, you reference most things you do either to, 'Would that work with the Beatles? Would this be a good Wings song? Would John (Lennon) like this?' Y'know, 'What would George play on this?' -- and stuff. I think you do that. I often think of John."
Out now is McCartney's deluxe and expanded version of Wings' 1976 triple-album live set, Wings Over America. Also newly released is the album's 1980 accompanying concert film, Rockshow. The reissue follows the 2012 Grammy Award-winning deluxe version of his second solo album 1971's Ram. In 2011, the "McCartney Archive Collection" saw the release of both of McCartney's legendary "one-man-band" solo sets -- 1970's McCartney and 1980's and McCartney II, which followed 2010's inaugural reissue of Wings' 1973 set, Band On The Run. McCartney's last studio album was the 2012 primarily standards set, Kisses On The Bottom, which snagged the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album earlier this year.
McCartney married photographer Linda Eastman in 1969 and they had four children -- Mary, Stella and James -- and McCartney adopted Linda's daughter Heather from her previous marriage.
After the Beatles' breakup in 1971, the pair formed the solo group Wings in 1971, which scored a number of Top Ten hits, including the Number Ones "My Love," "Band On The Run," "Listen To What the Man Said," "Silly Love Songs," "With A Little Luck," and "Coming Up." McCartney disbanded the group in 1981.
After Linda McCartney's death from cancer in 1998, McCartney married Heather Mills in 2002. A daughter, Beatrice Milly followed in 2003. The couple divorced in 2008 with Mills receiving a $48.6 payout from McCartney. On what would have been John Lennon's 71st birthday -- October 9th, 2011 -- McCartney walked down the isle for a third time with his girlfriend of four years, 51-year-old New York socialite, Nancy Shevell.
Last year, McCartney released the pop-jazz collection, Kisses On The Bottom, which peaked at Number Five. McCartney told us that it was nice to work outside the confines of the rock world, which can seem to be pretty cut and dried once you hit the studio: "So it was nice, it was a good way to work. There was no preconceived ideas and I think we all feel like we contributed. And then we'd throw John Pizzarelli or one of the guys the solo; 'Hey John, you wanna take a solo?' -- and y'know, you can do that in the jazz world, 'cause they're used to doing that -- and they just go, 'Yeah, OK' and they take a solo.' And so nobody's ever heard that solo before. It was really, really nice. I think it comes over a bit on the album, the freshness. I hope it does, anyway."
McCartney has often said that his main objective in life is to enjoy himself: "The other thing is, y'know, I do like what I do. It's not really hard work for me. I love to paint. I love to write poetry. I love to make music. I mean, even talking to you is not a pressure (laughs)." )
McCartney recalled how he went from a three-meat meal a-day carnivore to a hardcore vegetarian and vehement animal rights spokesman: "My original thing was actually just an animal lovers point of view. I actually was on a farm and watching the newborn lambs gamboling in the spring sunshine, and I was eating leg of lamb -- and the two didn't compute. So I just thought, 'Y'know, I should try to stop this.' And that was over 20 years ago, and ever since, I've not been interested in meat -- or fish -- for that matter."
Both McCartney and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson have shared a sort of "mutual admiration society" with each other over the years. Wilson says that he has always been awestruck by McCartney's talent: "When I heard 'The Long And Winding Road' and 'Let It Be,' I said to myself 'My God, I cannot believe that one man can create that kind of music." Thank the good Lord for Paul McCartney's music. He's gonna be around for a while. He's gonna be around."
McCartney will always be known as rock's most inventive and influential bass players. Legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, who helped develop the bass sound on the group's latter day records, shed light on how he recorded McCartney on bass: "Paul didn't like reverb. And it was that one thing when I used to with his bass, y'know, as you know I used to try everything. And I thought, well, I've got to try to place his bass. . . and I used to put a little bit of the echo chamber on it, and very slightly -- but he always heard it and it was only one track I ended putting reverb on his bass. Now, Paul was very conscious of reverb and I don't know why."
Wings co-founder Denny Laine told us that despite the accolades, most people don't realize how important McCartney's bass playing truly is to his music: "He was a very tuneful bass player and that's an art in itself. Y'know, it's even harder to play bass and sing than it is, than playing chords on a guitar and singing, y'know?"
Producer George Martin, who was behind the boards for all the Beatles albums and a handful of solo McCartney discs, cites McCartney's 1968 "White Album" classic "Blackbird" as one of his all-time favorites: "I always liked the finger-picking style of guitar playing, from both John and Paul. And when Paul did 'Blackbird' it was such a simple way of performing a song -- all by himself, nothing else -- just tapping away with his foot."
Denny Seiwell, who began drumming for McCartney in late 1970 during the Ram sessions, went on to co-found Wings with him in the summer of 1971. He says that he knew at once that he was performing on music for the ages: "I was so fascinated with these songs though, when Paul started singing them. Playing the drum parts that matched and filling in all the blanks when we got the basic track down and we were putting some overdubs together, y'know? Everything that I did from Ram, right straight through, even through Wild Life, I knew it was timeless music; that this was going to be heard for a long period of time. It wasn't just another record that I was making."
Seiwell added that although McCartney's songwriting, arranging and instrumental talents have been lauded for years, at his peak, he was absolutely the greatest vocalist in popular music: "Every vocal that this guy (laughs) sang was so passionate -- any of those vocals could've been used on the final recording. That if you tuned into it at all, you couldn't go wrong. He was so amazing (in) that period of time."
Of all the former Beatles, McCartney always strived for a normal life, raising his kids without a formal staff, sending them to public schools, driving himself and walking the streets of the world with out teams of bodyguards. McCartney was asked if he's ever afraid for his safety: "I feel as safe as I've ever felt. Y'know, what are you gonna do, man? You walk down any street anywhere and you're at risk. I believe that. It's the famous people that make the big stories. But, y'know when McDonald's gets bombed, it's the 'little people' that get hurt. So we're all at risk, but the big man's gonna take us when it's time anyway, so what are you gonna do? I'm enjoying life, so I feel pretty safe."
Despite short-lived and ill-fated plans earlier in the decade to reunite Wings with co-founders Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell with former Styx bassist and vocalist Glen Burtnik handling bass and lead vocals, Wings' final lead guitarist Lawrence Juber has given up any hope of McCartney calling on Wings to ever back him again: "The reality is that, a) Paul will never do Wings without Linda, 'cause, I mean, whatever criticisms Linda came in for in terms of her musicianship, she was an essential part of the band. And if you go and you listen, and you listen to the texture of the backing vocals on the Wings stuff; and you go to Paul's concerts now when he's doing Wings tunes, there's something missing -- and that something missing is Linda."
Lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, who's been part of McCartney's backing band for the past dozen years, says that he's given up trying to define what sets his boss apart from the rest: "Paul McCartney is a funny phenomenon in the respect that he's like one of the greatest songwriters of all time, one of the greatest singers of all time (and) one of the greatest musicians. . . He's recorded a jillion records and he's got the whole Beatles history, and I really don't have a box that I put him in -- I put him in a whole bunch of different boxes."
Paul McCartney tour dates (subject to change):
June 22 - Warsaw, Poland - National Stadium
June 25 - Verona, Italy - Roman Amphitheatre
June 27 - Vienna, Austria - Happel Stadium
July 7 - Ottawa, ON - Scotiabank Place
July 9 - Boston, MA - Fenway Park
July 12 - Washington, DC - Nationals Park
July 14 - Indianapolis, IN - Bankers Life Fieldhouse
July 16 - Milwaukee, WI - Miller Park
July 19 - Safeco Field - Seattle, Washington
July 23 - Quebec City, QC - Plains Of Abraham
August 9, 10, 11 - San Francisco, CA - Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park (***Show Date TBA)
August 12 - Winnipeg, MB - Investors Group Field
August 14 - Regina, SK - Mosaic Stadium At Taylor Field