Tony Bacon: I’d like to talk about you as a bass player, really, and go back as far as we can. I apologise in advance for going back…
Paul McCartney: No, I’m happy to go back. People think oh, you’ve had so many questions about The Beatles you must be fed up. I love it. It was a great period of my life. I don’t mind, I’m proud of it. I think what it was, near the break-up of the Beatles we didn’t want to hear about Beatles because it was painful. Now there’s enough time gone. But my bass playing days go back to when Stuart was the bass player with his big Hofner.
Tony Bacon: Because you started out as a guitar player.
Paul McCartney: Yeah, I did. We all started together when we were kind of kids, early teens, I would have been about 15 or something. Me Dad bought me a trumpet for one my birthdays, because a trumpet was kind of a heroic instrument at that time, ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ and all that. And I liked it, and he’d been a trumpet player so he showed me a bit of trumpet. But I realised I couldn’t sing with the trumpet, and I wanted to sing as well, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I traded it in for a guitar. He said fine, he was very understanding, an amateur musician himself, he had a little band called Jim Mac’s Band in the 1920s. So I went down and got a Zenith guitar which I’ve still got around somewhere, quite nice, and I learned on that.
Tony Bacon: Was being left-handed a problem straight away?
Paul McCartney: I realised when I got it home that it was right-handed and I was left-handed, and I didn’t know what you did about that, there were no rule books. Nobody talked about being left-handed. So I tried it this way, and I couldn’t get any rhythm because it was all the wrong hand doing it. And then I saw a picture of Slim Whitman in NME or Melody Maker, one of the early musical papers, it was a little ad for Slim Whitman, and I just noticed… hang on, he’s got the guitar on the wrong way round, oh this is OK. I found out he was left-handed, so I thought that’s good, you can have it the other way round then.
Then I changed the strings round. I never could change the nut, I was not a tech, so I would just change the strings round. The sixth string always had a fat hole, so the first string would have to go into it, and we’d chop a little bit of a match off, stick that in there, and that would kind of lift the nut enough, and then you had to hollow out a bit of the nut to get the bass string in because that kept slipping out. So you did your own technical work, ha ha. High precision… a very do-it-yourself affair. But it eventually worked, and it would hold all the strings, that was the main thing, because if you clouted it it would just come off.
Tony Bacon: You met John and George around this time, didn’t you?
Paul McCartney: George used to get on the bus. I was and still am one and a half years older than George, I’ve managed to keep ahead of him. So he was the younger guy getting on the bus one stop after my stop. Cos we were round about the same age… it was probably like his haircut or something that made me think well, he’s a bit groovy, he had what we used to call a bit of a Tony Curtis, greased back, you know? So I’d think well he’s probably all right to talk to. We got chatting on the bus and he had an interest in guitars like I did, and music. Turned out he was going to try to make one, going to make a little solidbody Hawaiian, which was like a good place to start. You didn’t have to get into the hollow body or anything, which was very difficult. And he did that, and we kind of hung out and became good friends. He did that Hawaiian thing and it wasn’t bad, real high action of course.
Tony Bacon: And John?
Paul McCartney: Meanwhile I’d met John through another friend of mine, and he’d asked me to join The Quarrymen, which was the very first group. So I did that, and I kind of went in first of all as lead guitarist really, because I wasn’t bad on guitar. And when I wasn’t on stage I was even better. But when I got up on stage at the very first gig I totally blew it, I had never experienced these things called nerves before.
Tony Bacon: Was this still with the Zenith?
Paul McCartney: This was still with the Zenith, yeah, might have got a pickup on it by then. I did, I got a little pickup and a little wire, bought the pickup separately, tried to gash it on there. But I was playing ‘Guitar Boogie’ (sings riff) and I knew it fine off-stage, like I say, but on-stage my fingers all went very stiff and then found themselves underneath the strings instead of on top of them. So I vowed that night that that was the end of my career as the lead guitar player, I just thought I’ll lean back. So me and John kind of both did that around that same time, both became rhythm guitarists. And I knew George, as I said, and we were kind of looking for a lead guitarist, so I got George in. So that meant there were three of us on guitar at that time, on and off, the nucleus of us was just three acoustic guitars. So we did a few auditions like that, sometimes John wouldn’t even have his guitar. Because he had one of those Guaranteed Not To Split guitars that were advertised in the back of the Daily Mirror. That was his main claim to fame. So maybe it had split. But we did a few auditions where just me and George played guitars and John just stood in the middle. And then he nicked a guitar at that audition so he had a guitar again. But it was mainly three guitars.
Tony Bacon: What about your first electric guitar?
Paul McCartney: Then we got to Hamburg and I bought a Rosetti [Solid Seven model]. It was a terrible guitar. It was really just a good looking piece of wood, it had a nice colour or something, some paint job, but it was a disastrous guitar, cheap. I bought that in Liverpool and took it out to Hamburg. My dad had a big thing against hire purchase, on the never-never, he’d lost money that way, and so he was very keen that you shouldn’t do that, so I had to buy something really cheap to persuade him that I could do it. That fell apart when I got to Hamburg, the Rosetti, the sweat and the damp and the getting knocked around, falling over and stuff.
Tony Bacon: Can you remember buying it?
Paul McCartney: Yes, in Hessy’s [music store in Liverpool]. It seemed nice at the time, but obviously as I say it didn’t perform very well, and eventually half the gigs… because you couldn’t always get things, we were playing in a little club and there wasn’t immediately a music shop, you had to go into town of Hamburg to get strings, new equipment. We’d always go into Steinways, which is where John found first of all a Club 40, him and George got Club 40s, which was one step up from where we’d been, and then John found a Rickenbacker, which was like boom! We’re there. Because you couldn’t really get Rickenbackers in England. It was like the clothes thing in Hamburg, there were different clothes, so you’d buy up a few little outfits, come back to England and it’d be like, bloody hell where d’you get that? Oh, I’ve been abroad. We had some natty jackets with suede collars, and we came back with some bits of equipment. I didn’t really, until my guitar bust. I then turned to the piano.