NB/Disclosure: I was kindly provided a review copy of Little Wing and Paul is a friend of mine I’ve known since 2012. Thank you so much Paul!
I’ve been active in the classic rock fandom for a decade now and I’ve had the privilege to get to know so many amazing, talented, and knowledgeable people. There really is no better time than today for meeting people who love what you love as much as you love it. When I was a teenager, it was hard finding other people I could relate to, but thanks to the internet I’ve found my crowd and my outlet and it’s been an incredible experience and I can’t put a price on it.
As a classic rock journalist/historian/commentator of sorts, I’ve had the privilege to interview so many awesome people. The most popular interview on my blog by far is the one I did with my friend Paul Salley, the author of Little Wing: The Jimmy McCulloch Story. I did that interview for one of my classes during my journalism masters where I had to profile someone interesting. Paul is a huge inspiration to me as a writer and I’m so happy to have followed his journey writing this book, since I first got to know him in 2012.
Everyone knows Paul McCartney and Wings, but if you’re not a superfan, can you name the other members of the band? I know I couldn’t before I got to know my friend Paul and his project. When he first told me that he was writing about Jimmy McCulloch. I was like “is that some local musician?”
A dumb question, sure, but it’s exactly why this book needed to be written. You’ve heard Jimmy McCulloch’s guitar playing, but you may not have realised it. In these greatest guitarist ranking lists, you see the usual suspects and some other great guitarists, but one name that is criminally left out is Jimmy McCulloch: a 5’4″ Scottish powerhouse of a guitar player who started his music career as a tweenager (no, that’s not a typo) and unfortunately was gone too soon at only 26 years old. There’s no doubt that if he made it to the 1980s, he would have accomplished even more great things.
Jimmy McCulloch’s musical CV has a lot of enviable achievements:
- Age 11: Was in the youngest beat group in Scotland, The Jaygars. Opened for The Pretty Things, The Kinks, and The Who
- Age 13: Played guitar at the famous 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at Alexandra Palace. Pink Floyd famously headlined it.
- Age 15: Mentored by Pete Townshend and formed Thunderclap Newman
- Age 16: Thunderclap Newman reached #1 with “Something In The Air”
- Age 18: Played guitar with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
- Age 21: Joined Wings
- Age 24: Played on the first single to sell 2 million copies in the UK: Wings’ “Mull of Kintyre”
- Age 24: Joined a reformed version of The Small Faces
- Age 24: Formed a supergroup called Wild Horses with Brian Robertson, Jimmy Bain, and Kenney Jones
Little Wing is full of photos and jam packed with information on Jimmy McCulloch. You can easily tell that Paul put his heart and soul in it and it’s been a labour of love. He’s interviewed musicians, family, and friends of Jimmy McCulloch. He did this all independently, which is an incredible achievement! No big media company or big money backing. In the intro, Paul tells his story: the day that changed his life: watching Wingspan when it aired on TV. He was into The Beatles already, but when he found out about Wings it changed his life forever. 11 May 2001, when Wingspan aired, was a pivotal day for him. Six years later, he started his work for the book: researching and finding out all he can about this young whiz kid Scottish guitarist. The book is approved and authorised by Jimmy McCulloch’s family. The editor and designer of the book is Mark Cunningham, a big fan of Wings. He saw them in the early 70s.
The book is organised into 9 chapters, each one focussing on a different part of Jimmy’s life career from his childhood in Dumbarton to his final days. There are 4 additional chapters that list his discography, gear, and some kind words about Jimmy from various musicians.
On each page, you’ll find lots of photos and scans from newspapers and magazines, making this a beautifully done tribute to Jimmy McCulloch. The wait is absolutely worth it! Plus the book will look beautiful on your coffee table or bookshelf. Well done Paul and Mark!
The book is a fascinating journey through rock and roll history and you’ll get to see and read how Jimmy McCulloch rose from just a boy with a guitar and big dreams to opening for rock and roll royalty to reaching the top of the charts. Imagine growing up listening to The Beatles and then playing in one of The Beatles’ bands. That’s what I call living the dream! Jimmy McCulloch did that. His music really evolved and he could play in so many styles: beat music, psychedelic rock, you name it!
Throughout the book, you’ll read so many quotes from interviews and articles and lots of crazy stories. It’s rock and roll after all! You’ll have to read the book to find out and you’ll not want to put it down.
Jimmy McCulloch makes me think of other child prodigies: Brenda Lee – who sang that famous Christmas song “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” when she was only 13 years old, Michael Jackson – who got famous with The Jackson 5 at the age of 11, and Stevie Wonder – who was introduced to the world as “The 12 Year Old Genius”. All incredibly talented and Jimmy should be remembered just like them.
If you’re a big fan of Paul McCartney & Wings, without a doubt buy this book and read it! If you are just a big classic rock enthusiast like I am, read this book. You’ll learn a lot and gain an appreciation for one of the most underrated guitarists in classic rock. If you’re just fascinated with the 60s and 70s in general, you’ll have an appreciation for quotes from the interviews that talk all about life during that time, very different from how it is now. As someone who loves finding all the connections between rock bands and musicians and seeing who knew who and who was friends with who and who worked with who, this book was great for that – so many famous names dropped, many of these you’ll know and love.
Five Takeaways from Little Wing
1. Meeting The Who was a pivotal point in Jimmy’s career
Jimmy McCulloch was born into a musical family. His father played music and was in a jazz band. He made a deal with Jimmy, play like Wes Montgomery and I’ll buy you a guitar. He did just that and a deal’s a deal, he bought him a guitar. Jimmy’s brother, Jack, is a drummer and they both played in bands together as kids.
Opening for The Who in 1965 was really Jimmy’s first big break into the industry and Pete Townshend was blown away and said that “Jimmy stood out simply because he played like a mature guy, but was only a little kid”. Jimmy McCulloch was really a One in a Million guitarist and that’s why his band was called that. They were very busy and played so many live shows to the point that Jimmy had to hire a tutor so he could continue his education.
When One in a Million broke up in 1968, that door closed, but another door opened after Jimmy ran into Pete Townshend. Townshend mentored Jimmy McCulloch and formed Thunderclap Newman. Fun fact, Kit Lambert, The Who’s manager, wanted to call the band My Favourite Freaks.
2. Jimmy got two big offers at the same time
Ever heard the expression “When it rains, it pours?” Well it happened for Jimmy, after his time in Stone the Crows and Blue, he got two offers from A-list rock stars to join their bands at the same time, both were incredible and honestly one would have a difficult time picking between the two. One offer was from David Bowie and the other offer was from Paul McCartney. Both incredibly high profile, but ultimately we all know what happened. Jimmy picked Paul even though David Bowie made his offer first.
When Denny Seiwell left the band, Wings needed a new drummer. Eighty drummers auditioned, one of them was Jack McCulloch, but ultimately Geoff Britton was picked. Other drummers who auditioned for Wings included Mitch Mitchell, Rob Townsend, and John “Twink” Alder (now known as Mohammed Abdullah).
Ultimately, joining Wings was the right move as Jimmy said of the music he made with Paul, “it’s the best music I’ve ever put down in my life, no doubt about that”. However, he quit in 1977 after internal conflicts in the band and arguments over money.
3. Jimmy was versatile as a guitarist
A guitar is a versatile instrument and can be heard in so many different music genres: blues, jazz, country, folk, rock and roll, R&B, soul, disco, you name it! A guitar can sound so different depending on who is playing it. That’s why I think it’s hard to pick who is the best guitar player ever, there are just so many different styles and it’s hard to pick what’s best. If you want to get an understanding for how good Jimmy was at guitar, you should know that he could play in so many different styles and evolved so much in over a decade long career. He grew up playing jazz music, when he first went pro he played beat music, then he moved onto psychedelic, hard rock, and even got a little proggy at times. From reading the book, I can see that Jimmy’s music taste was very diverse and was open minded when it came to music. He was definitely a sponge in the way that he could absorb all sorts of influences and incorporate it in his guitar playing. I wonder if he would have loved 80s new wave and synthpop, 90s grunge and Britpop, and 2000s pop punk.
He was so good at what he did that he had the honour of being the only band member referenced by name in a Paul McCartney song and that was on “Junior’s Farm” when Paul said “Take me down, Jimmy!” before the guitar solo. Paul McCartney name dropping you in a song is a flex.
As well as being a master at guitar, he wanted to sing more and he gained confidence in his singing thanks to the song “Medicine Jar”, lyrics written by Stone The Crows bandmate Colin Allen. Jimmy was a true artist and didn’t just stay still or complacent. He even tried his hand at being a music producer, working with The Khyber Trifles.
4. “Medicine Jar” and “Wino Junko” are not confessional songs
One of the most common myths about Jimmy McCulloch is that these two songs, his contributions to Wings albums Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound, respectively, are confessionals. Jimmy McCulloch didn’t write the lyrics for either of those songs. Colin Allen did. Jimmy wrote the music. Neither of these songs glorify drug use. Colin Allen’s inspiration for “Medicine Jar” was Jeanette Jacobs of The Cake and her use of Mandrax. The inspirations for “Wino Junko” were Jack Bruce (who used heroin and loved fine wines) and this private doctor that rock stars would use to get whatever drugs they wanted.
5. Most importantly, Jimmy McCulloch didn’t die of a heroin overdose
An even more damaging myth is around the circumstances of his death. Jimmy McCulloch didn’t use hard drugs. Sure, he liked to drink and smoke pot like anyone, but he wasn’t a druggie. Just before The Dukes were to go on tour, he was feeling anxious, exhausted, and unwell generally and went to the doctor and got prescribed some medications, but that was really it. He was healthy, but a bit thin. All that was in Jimmy’s system was an appropriate dose of prescriptions, alcohol, cannabis, and morphine. No heroin or cocaine. No one knows what happened, it was likely an accident.
The most important thing to do is to celebrate the musician’s life and achievements. These artists want to be remembered for the beautiful things they created and the people that they were. Give Jimmy’s music a listen. Below, you can find an accompanying playlist put together by Mark Cunningham:
You can find more information on the book by going to the official website. There, you can purchase the paperback or signed edition.
Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!
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