The Henry McCullough Interview
When electric guitarist, drummer, bassist and fiddle player Henry McCullough, formerly of Paul McCartney & Wings, took the stage at the famous Iridium club in New York City to perform one of only a handful of shows in the US behind his new album, Poor Man’s Moon, I was there.
He began the evening on acoustic guitar, playing new songs like “Skin And Bone” alongside older tracks like the especially poignant “Boston To Belfast.” Switching to electric guitar, things got kind of heavy as McCullough and his band more or less spent an hour of loose jamming and noodling at Les Paul’s old haunt. I was hoping that ex-Wings drummer Denny Seiwell, also on the bill, would have sat in with his old bandmate it didn’t happen (the pair did perform together at the Beatles Fest in Chicago and were both part of a Beatles covers CD called Shabby Road).
It’s too bad McCullough’s CDs aren’t in wide release in the States. The guy can play electric blues like nobody’s business and he’s a true legend and I fear not enough people — on our shores especially — will get to hear his latest CD. But I got to see him at the Iridium. I spoke to McCullough before the gig for the second time about Poor Man’s Moon and the shows he's playing to support it, including the Iridium.
I know you were over here last year for The Fest for Beatles Fans (formerly Beatlefest), but this time you are coming over to do that again … and to play the Iridium.
Yes, this time I was able to get a gig at the Iridium, which I knew of only in that I knew Les Paul had played for 15 years in a club in New York … but I didn’t know it was called the Iridium. When it was explained to me who had played there, not just Les Paul but about everybody, I thought "Well that’s a bit special, isn’t it?" I am really looking forward to it.
I am a big fan of Poor Man’s Moon. Can you tell me how that came about?
Well thanks very much; I’m glad you like it! It kind of came about actually from Beatlefest last year. When I came to be part of the convention in Chicago last year I realized I was a bit ill equipped. I had my own CDs, but nothing to do with the Beatles, so I spoke with Denny (Siewell) about going in and doing some Beatles songs. I thought I could just nip into the studio with an acoustic and sing 15 Beatles tunes, but it was all a bit of a mess and about halfway through the recordings it picked up and it became something I didn’t realize I was looking for. I put the CD together with some friends of mine here in Ireland and here it is.
I think what I especially like about the new CD is how it really it is written from your age and perspective. What do you think is next on the horizon?
That’s exactly right, that’s what it’s all about. I co-wrote six songs of this CD with Eamon Carr. He’s the drummer with an Irish band called Horslips and he’s also a journalist and he writes poetry and stuff like this. He said, if I send you up some lyrics Henry, [would] you do them as you do them, whichever way you want. But I’d never done anything like that before; anything I’d ever done, like with the Grease Band (Joe Cocker’s late 60s outfit that McCullough took over after Cocker quit), was just songs we had there on the day. Poor Man’s Moon was really nice to do and interesting, but now that I’ve done that I don’t know if I want to go down that road again. But it was certainly worth looking at, that’s for sure.
And is the CD available everywhere now?
I had it released here in Ireland and then there [were] some problems with the distribution — the guy vanished off the face of the earth! But I was lucky enough to get a small release with Silver Wolf, so that’s great. You know, other than Beatlefest last year, I haven’t been to America since 1984, so it’s great to play there and get something out there as well.
No hope for more dates or a bigger tour?
At this particular point it will only be the three nights at the festival and then at the Iridium. Then I have to get back to Ireland because we have a gig in France for ten days, a quick in and out, which is great. I’d love to be able to come to America and settle in with Denny, do a little tour; it might be a bit late in the day for me so to speak, but I’d be up for anything that were to come. I’ve been to Japan, all over Europe, Poland, Norway; I do get about a bit.
So the touring doesn’t really grate on you?
No, I just enjoy it so much. Getting away to do a three week tour or a two week tour in a different country, I found from the very first day I put myself in a van traveling with musicians that this is all I wanted to do. To be sightseeing and traveling meant as much to me as the music did, of course they go hand in and ... like sandwich (laughs).
Are you bringing a band with you or…
No it’s just me self. The band that [is] going to work with me at the Beatles festival, they’re excellent. They all do different gigs but for those three days they become the house band [and] everything they do is like spot-on. I want to do a couple Beatles numbers the way I put them down in the studio, which could be interesting. .
And at the Iridium?
Denny is playing with his own jazz trio and I was put in touch with a guy who is putting a small band together for me. It will be very exciting, though I don’t think at this particular time with one gig at the Iridium we’ll be breaking any records. It’s not going to change me. It just might give me a little more ammunition, set a fire alight a bit. It’s really a gift for me for the one night.
I am certainly looking forward to it, hearing those great songs from the new CD and seeing you at the Iridium.
I’ll do songs from my different CDs, mostly me own stuff. I haven’t exactly worked out how I am going to approach the Iridium, but I’ll have plan A … then I’ll have a plan B!
Photo by Tony Scarano