❉ A rich tribute to an extraordinary talent, whom many consider the most talented guitarist to play in Wings.
“What McCulloch brought wasn’t just professionalism, but a youthful buoyancy that helped these older songwriters rekindle the charge needed to create exhilarating rock… McCartney felt the Glasgow musician was “volatile”, and remembered how his wife Linda guided McCulloch into choosing a more enlightened path. Memories, like music, are ultimately guided by feeling.”
Let’s just go out and say it: Wings were a brilliant band! From their lo-fi beginnings touring British unis, to the new wave posture favoured on Back To The Egg, Wings carved a back catalogue that stands happily beside The Beatles in McCartney’s ouvre. By the time they recorded their fourth (and best) album Venus & Mars, Wings had grown in confidence, fashioning a live set that revelled in spectacle and scale, and boasted a five-piece that sounded limber and loose, not a spare note wasted among them. Taking Henry McCullough’s place as lead guitarist was Jimmy McCulloch, plucked from the streets of Glasgow. Deeply impressed by his wild playing, Paul McCartney invited the guitarist to perform on his brother’s seminal McGear album, before granting him a place in the band. And contrary to popular belief, McCartney was happy to showcase the individual members of Wings – simply listen to him calling out for “Jimmy!” during Junior Farm’s fiery instrumental section.
With this biography of the boyish McCulloch (fully authorised by his family), Little Wing author Paul Salley traces the entirety of the boisterous, guitar player’s journey, from Scots teenage guitar prodigy (Thunderclap Newman) to sideman for the rebooted Small Faces. McCulloch had left Wings by the time they released London Town, although his contributions can still be heard on the album, not least on rock highlight Café On The Left Bank.
All agreed that McCulloch was a deeply gifted performer: Mike McCartney likened him to Jimi Hendrix. “You’ve got the natural ability of not only playing the guitar, he said, “but transcending your learning.” What McCulloch brought wasn’t just professionalism, but a youthful buoyancy that helped these older songwriters rekindle the charge needed to create exhilarating rock. Inevitably, his energy managed to irritate other band members, leading Wings drummer Geoff Britton to admit he “hated Jimmy’s guts.”
McCartney too felt the Glasgow musician was “volatile”, and remembered how his wife Linda guided McCulloch into choosing a more enlightened path. Memories, like music, are ultimately guided by feeling.
For all his foibles, McCulloch was an extraordinary talent, and many consider him the most talented guitar player who performed with Wings. Fittingly, his last contribution with the group was Mull of Kintyre, a toasty Autumnal sounding track written in tribute to his native Scotland. By the time the video was released, McCulloch had left the band, but his brother Jack confirms that he was indeed awarded “gold, silver, and platinum records for his contribution.”
Sadly, McCulloch died at the heartbreakingly youthful age of 26, and any suggestions as to what he may have achieved can only be speculative. But it’s tempting to imagine that he would have continued to fashion his guitar sound and release a solo album of his own. Perhaps he might have patched things up with Denny Laine, and the two of them could have recorded a blues rock album of their own choosing. Or perhaps he might have moved back to Scotland and played more leisurely and locally.
Enough of that: Little Wing is a richly researched tribute to McCulloch and may prove fundamental on our continued critical re-evaluation of McCartney’s sophomore band. More importantly, it’s a strong critique on McCulloch.
❉ ‘Little Wing: The Jimmy McCulloch Story’ by Paul Salley was published 18 June 2021, Lotown Publishing. ISBN-10: 0578916495/ISBN-13: 978-0578916491. RRP £28.76.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s ‘U2: Every Album, Every Song’ is published by Sonicbond Publishing and available to buy from Burning Shed. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.