Henry McCullough is a classic rock music legend. He has the ability to handle a six string as well as any of the other guitar masters from his era. He has appeared on classic rock hits with Joe Cocker and Paul McCartney and is a very cool guy to converse with. He himself is a tough act to follow and definitely didn’t let it go to his head.
Henry recently talked with Buzz and shared some interesting stories and laughs. He had his first band at 14 years old as a three piece with an accordion player that could only play in “B”. His first guitar was a no name model that was black and had f holes. As he traded up, each one that he went to after that started to get better. He got an ES355 at one point that ended up having problems with the neck. He didn’t know about the truss rod in it which is used to adjust a neck. He traded it off to get a Fender Telecaster which later he regretted doing.
In 1999, one of his precious guitars, a cherry red Gibson ES335 went missing after a plane trip. “The guitar was never more than six feet away from me. I played it for thirty – two years. Go to pick it up. The suitcases came through, but no guitar.” He did get an insurance reimbursement check for a low-balled amount for this vintage piece.
He described his lost guitar as if he was talking about his first born. The guitar had been given some custom detailing to make it unique. There was a painting on the guitar of the inside cover of a Grease Band album, some shamrocks, and it would not be complete without a semi naked lady. “Tried to find another one. Got one and had it re-fretted, but it wasn’t quite right.” On one journey, “I busted the headstock on it. Had it fixed and then it played better than ever before.”
After over a decade, he and the guitar are soon to be reunited. They found the guitar for sale and are negotiating to buy it back. As the guitar is a vintage piece he has to buy back his own property for an inflated amount, but is happy to be able to see it again. Playing an ES335 is amazing; it’s such a sweet guitar that you can’t blame him for loving it so much. It’s not like a Les Paul which, “is like riding a bucking bronco if you don’t hold it right” explains Henry. For amps he goes back and forth between two Marshall Combos, a 40 and a 50 watt. “I don’t use any pedals,” he just plugs straight into the amps. The tones he gets are very nice.
Everyone has different influences. “I don’t have a guitar influence. I was more influenced by the sounds of rock ‘n roll. We were mostly influenced by skiffle. It was the punk of the day. It just took someone that could play in D, G, and A. Skiffle lit the fuse for rock ‘n roll.”
During the recording sessions for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the guys in Floyd had been interviewing people asking questions looking for something spontaneous. As they tried to get Paul McCartney to come and do it, he was busy at the time and looked at Henry and said, “Go see what they want.” Henry went across the hall and they started to ask the questions. Henry being a funny guy answered all the questions the same way stating, "I don't know, I was really drunk at the time!" and history was made.
Henry recalls some of his fondest moments in performing live. Obviously a very good time for him was Woodstock. “Rain started during, “With a little help from me friends.” God was our light show. It was just a gig to us at the time. It was really something else. Holiday land about twenty miles out. We were flown in an hour before your gig and then flown out. It was really a short lived thing. It was a very strong performance which activated Joe’s career internationally. I was also the only Irishman to play Woodstock.” He said he likes to tell the story now and embellish on it a bit too with a few “Irish white lies” he says jokingly. During that time “it was the youth explosion in ’67 and ’68. Then you had Altamont, things went haywire and people got edgy.” Another favorite time was, “any given moment of Wings over France. All of it was something else. Took an old bus, painted it like Peppers” and they toured like that. As far as a favorite time, just too many times to mention.
Henry was asked about his favorite recording sessions. “That’s a hard one. “My Love” session maybe.” If you look at it from an outsider’s point of view, he stunned McCartney with the solo. “I didn’t have an idea what I was going to play. He asked me and I said I don’t know. It made him nervous.” Once Henry was done McCartney was quite happy with the work.
Henry doesn’t have any plans to go into the recording studios at any time soon. “Recording costs …. I don’t have that kind of money anymore. Things aren’t as easy today.” He talks about doing session work now, “with a recession going on and houses handed back, fees have gone down. What you were getting five years ago you aren’t getting today. I work with a guy up the road now when he has work for me. It’s nice because I don’t have to go far. I live in Ireland; there isn’t a lot of work here.”
McCullough has so many great solo masterpieces to listen to. Poor Man’s Moon and Unfinished Business are both some incredible and more recent works of art that deserve a listen. He does have plans to go to France in April and is doing a New Jersey Beatles convention. “I don’t have an agent anymore” which makes it hard.
The humble man that Henry is, he still has moments of being somewhat star struck by meeting a celebrity. “I recently got to meet Mike Tyson.” He talked about meeting Tyson and that he was very nice and cordial with him. “He shook my hand and it was like meeting Elvis.”
Henry is back in the position in which he started in during 1962, playing in pubs. Nowadays he “takes things as they come and deals with them.” He does enjoy a bit of the music coming out now. “Some of the blues guitar players that are coming in are great. I don’t listen to music anymore. Maybe something easy on the ears.” Nowadays Henry likes “to come sit and watch some T.V.” and who wouldn’t.
As it is quite obvious that Henry McCullough is an accomplished guitarist and a classic rock legend, he is also just a down to Earth man. He enjoys telling his stories, which draws you in making you concentrate on what he was saying. It gradually forces your ears to listen to every word. He enjoys making people laugh. He recently made the comment about Paul McCartney that, “He was a tough act to follow.” Mr. McCullough needs to know is he was part of the tough act to beat. Filling the role of guitar player for guys like Paul and Joe Cocker says a lot, but he isn’t just a regular guy. He is truly a class act.