Paul McCartney turns 65 today, moving him out of the year of "When I'm 64" and all that went along with that.
Paul is a very important figure in my life. I first heard of the Beatles in 1963 when a disc jockey brought back a copy of Love Me Do from a trip to Britian and played it on air here in the states. I have to admit, I wasn't terribly impressed. I was 11 and a rocker already, loving the music of Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the rest of the first rock era. So Love Me Do sounded...soft to me. I wanted to rock!
All of that changed the evening of February 9th, 1964, when I, along with millions of other young people sat in front of the black and white television broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show. It was like I'd been hit by a train! The impact on me was massive and instant. That night I washed the grease out of my hair and the next day, combed my Elvis wave down into the now infamous bowl cut that George Harrison had picked up from one of their tours to Germany.
But even more than the look, it was the MUSIC! I sat there after the show, in shell shock, not believing what I had just experienced. All I know is that I had to do THAT! I had to do music. I already was a musician. Having played from 4 years old, I banged on drums, strumbed a Mickey Mouse ukelele and at the moment, was playing saxophone in junior high. But this was DIFFERENT! My mom asked me what I wanted for my 13th birthday and the answer was swift and ready: A GUITAR!!!
So into the car and off to Sears, America's store, where you could get anything you needed. We walked away with a $30.00 Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar and my face was about to crack from the smile. That guitar, primitive by today's standards, would see action it was never designed to handle. But it did. I played that first day until my fingers bled. They would bleed a lot in the coming days and weeks. My routine quickly became this: Get up before leaving for school, get dressed, eat, play guitar until the last moment, go to school. At school, read magazines on the Beatles, the other British Invasion groups, on guitars, talk about guitars and The Beatles, sing their songs, come home, do homework to get it out of the way, have a snack, play guitar until dinner, after dinner, play guitar, go to sleep, sometimes while still playing guitar (I would sometimes wake up to find the guitar on my body, having fallen asleep while playing).
This routine would continue for years. I started my first rock band in highschool. It was called Section C, only because we didn't have a name yet and the band members were all talking under the stadium with a sign which read Section C. This changed quickly to Grape Society. It was the pyschedelic days and President Johnson was pushing his Great Society on the nation. All we wanted to do was drink (in the days before drugs hit us) so we combined the two. And yes, we were good. We ROCKED folks socks off. The band was becoming popular and we were being touted as the next big thing to hit our town, maybe even go national. And then...disaster hit!
Our lead guitarist, Jim Riffel. Well...he moved. Arrrggghhh! He was only 16 and his dad got transferred to Pensacola, Florida so he had to go too. It was 1968, we were hot and he leaves. We were all so bummed. There wasn't another guitarist anywhere as good as Jim and I just knew the band was done. But Jim's influence in my life wasn't overwith yet. If I only knew what was about to happen, I would have never taken him up on his invitation to spend part of the summer with him.
Sgt. Pepper was the rage for the last year, with it's veiled references to drugs and Magical Mystery Tour had just been released with it's strong references to drugs. In the band, we had sniffed all kinds of things, today called huffing. I was now hanging around professional musicians and had just smoked marijuana for the first time. Jim invited me to spend part of the summer with him and I did. The first night there, we were in the back of a friends car and he whispered that he was going to drop acid that night and wanted to know if I wanted to too. Well, of course I couldn't say no in the face of peer pressure. So we did. And I have to tell you, it was the most beautiful experience I had had to that day. I now understood why the drug heads of the day always said, "OH WOW"..lol!
But far more significantly, it was the first step of a terrible journey for me. I was hooked and started taking everything someone gave me. My grades went from the top to the bottom. I started selling drugs to my friends, helping to ruin their lives too. Over the period of a year, I went from an intellectual to a smelly, mindless drug dealer, who was failing in school, about to be drafted to Viet Nam, who just lost the girl of his dreams, and the rest of his world was crashing down around him. A good friend of mine just commited suidcide and though I don't remember the pain, I back then stood at the same threshold.
It was only a quickly voiced prayer in my time of desperation, an old friend who came over that day as an answer to that prayer, and the wonderful, boundless grace of God that got me past that moment and to this day. I started going to church with a friend and accepted Jesus as my savior, for he truely was. They didn't care what I looked like, smelled like, or talked like. The folks at that little church welcomed me into their flock like a long lost relative. As my mind started to heal, I saw that drugs were a deadend, emphasis on DEAD! I cleaned up, my grades went back up and I suddenly had a new hope and outlook on my life. Then, there was music again.
I suddenly discovered that I was part of a wave of revival that had started in southern California and was sweeping the country called the Jesus Movement, and with it, was Jesus MUSIC, made by rock and rollers like myself, only about our new found faith. I jumped right in and over the years, found myself in the middle of it all. I became a pioneering radio announcer at the first full time commercial Christian rock station in the world. And then hit the road with the top performers of the day, as, what else, a BASS PLAYER!
As I toured around the world, time after time, folks would come up to me and say that my playing and stage presence reminded them of Paul McCartney. They had no idea how big a compliment that was, one I had trouble accepting. But it's no secret what an influence the man has had on me musically.
Today, I work in the film and television production business as a sound mixer/sound recordist, but I still step on stage on occasion and each time I do, I step back in time to that night, in front of the TV, when those four men changed the course of history for the world, and for me!