WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Paul McCartney, Nick Mason and more team up for Henry McCullough tribute song 'Live Long Rock 'n' Roll' co written and produced by internationally acclaimed Irish songwriter Don Mescall
Hot Press sat down with Don Mescall, who was a close friend of Henry'sand a long-standing Irish musician, to talk about the making of the song.
"I was introduced to Henry by a friend of ours called Kevin Nolan back inthe late '90s," Don told us. "It was just one of those situations where we goton instantly. I think Henry had just become aware of my songwriting andwe had an instant connection over Woodstock. Henry was the only Irishman to play Woodstock, and I'd just started working with the protestsinger Richie Havens - who opened Woodstock. So that opened the doorfor us becoming friends.
"I think then in the late '90s, he came to London for some recording. Iinvited him over and he stayed with me and my ex-wife and we had a greatnight of music and stories. We just hit it off. He was one of thesecharismatic, gentle, funny people. Unbelievably talented - beyondcomprehension really. If you listen to his solo in McCartney's 'My Love' -that's a God-given moment alone. You could go to Berkeley for 15 years ofyour life and you ain't gonna learn that.
"So over the years, when things started rolling a bit with my own my work,I used to gravitate towards Ballywonderland - which was Henry and Josie'splace up in Ballymoney. So I'd be going around the country doing theselittle singer-songwriter gigs, and any time I was up that part of the country,I'd stay with them. We became close friends that way. We'd sit out his backkitchen with a couple of guitars drinking tea - with all these exotic birdsabout the place, which Henry's wife Josie used to keep - and that's whenthe wonderful moments for me where. Henry would be reminiscing aboutthe old days. He'd tell stories. He'd play stuff; stuff that he'd written butmaybe never shared. He'd talk about Woodstock, he'd talk about his timewith Joe Cocker, Wings.
"It was during one of these sabbaticals that he talked about how it all started for him. I was amazed to find out that his first gig was with a showband. I think he was a rhythm guitarist at the start. So I was blown away because to go from that story to Woodstock...I looked across from him and thought, 'Jesus you've given your life to rock 'n' roll.'"
These early stories and Don's wonder at the life that Henry had lived were the inspiration for 'Live Long Rock 'n' Roll'.
"Another part of it related back to Henry's history with the showbands," he adds. "The showbands would've been playing the stuff that was coming in on the radio from America. American rock'n'roll. Chuck Berry. All that kind of thing. And there was a particular style of rhythm guitar playing, which sounds a bit like 'chic-a-dong-dee'. And when we went to write that song 'Live Long', Henry came up with this line which went, 'Late night playing 'chic-a-dong-dee/chic-a-chic-a-dong-day'. And I was laughing! That was a type of slang for the sounds that they all would've recognised from that era. But it was funny, because everyone who I invited to do the recording of this song - Paul McCartney, Albert Lee, Nick Mason - they all knew exactly what that was. I remember saying that I wanted to change that line, and Henry turned to me simply and said, 'Ah Donny - that's the hook!'"
After this, Henry took ill towards 2012 with a heart attack. Don would'vekept in touch with him.
"Any time I was in Ireland I would go to see him. That was a very sad time.It left him almost locked inside a body that didn't work anymore.
"Around 2013, Don met Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason while he wasproducing a record for Decca Records. At lunch, their conversation turnedto the early Pink Floyd days. Unbeknown to Don, Henry McCullough hadhis own association with Pink Floyd, lending the words "I don't know I wasreally drunk at the time" to the track 'Money' from Dark Side of the Moon.
"Nick also mentioned that Henry had played a with a band who'd touredwith Pink Floyd during some of their earlier days, so the association wentback that far. They were all very fond of Henry.
"So, Nick was in the studio and I told him that Henry had taken ill. I said,'I've come up with an idea. I went back over a few songs that I'd writtenwith Henry and I found one that I think is very special. I think this is thekind of song that I could invite people to record on. So he said, 'Look, sendme the song.' So I did. I was in Britannia Row and I put down a very basicguitar track and bass drum and sang a guide vocal and sent it to Nick. Hegot back right away and said, 'That's a cool song, I want to play drums onit.'"
With Nick coming into the studio to play drums, this was the start of Donbuilding the super group, which would later include everyone from PaulCarrack to the London Community Gospel Choir. Henry was still alive asthis was going on.
"That's when the song started to develop, after Nick. Then I knew I neededto get guitar on it, so through a mutual friend of mine, I got in contact withAlbert Lee. I'd known Albert. I'd met him once at Nashville while he wasout playing with Emmylou Harris. I just sent the song to Albert, because Iknew that he'd worked with Henry in many different outlets and I knew hewas very fond of him. So I invited Albert into the studio. As it happened, Albert was gonna be on tour around the UK and he said he'd stop by. Andwhat I loved about Albert is that he played the guitar part very much likeHenry would've played it. If you listen to it - it's Henry licks. He's payinghis respects to Henry."
From this, the ball was very much rolling. Albert recommended that Donreach out to Chris Stainton, who said he'd happily be part of the project.
"Then Henry's wife Josie introduced me to Dave Robinson, who would'vebeen a friend of Henry's and a founder of Stiff Records. I went for dinnerwith him and a few drinks and I knew I was mad for trying to do this but Isaid, 'Dave, I have a favour, I really want to get Paul McCartney on this'.Everyone told me I was crazy and I'd never get him. But a week or twolater, word got back to me from Macca that he loved the song and he reallywanted to play on it.
"There are still sometimes when I'm on my own in the studio when I'lllisten to Paul McCartney's bass on the track and think, 'If anyone broughtmagic to this track - it was Sir Paul McCartney.' I have to hand it to him.This wasn't a rushed job. He put heart and soul into the bass line on thetrack. It's absolutely incredible."
At this stage, it was still 2014, and for Don, the top person for singing thetrack was, of course, Joe Cocker.
"I'd been trying to get a direct line to Joe. I reached out to him and gotword back that Joe really liked the song. But unfortunately, Joe passedaway in the winter of 2014. It was such a shame, because he loved Henrydearly. Another legend in the music industry that passed."
Don persisted in finding the right vocalist and over drinks one eveningwith his publisher Dave Loader (Notting Hill Music Publishing) Davesuggested Gary Brooker (Procol Harum). A few weeks later, Gary agreedand recorded the final Vocal at Don's studio in Greenwich - Pepper PotStudio.
Fiachra Trench (string composer), who was a long time collaborator of McCartney's and a friend of Don's wrote the wonderful string arrangementfor the track, Don also reached out to Paul Carrick and Paul Brady forsome backing vocals.
"I couldn't have found a better singer," Don says speaking about Gary, "anda nicer man. I mean again, he was very like the others. He had nothing toprove. No ego. He was of that ilk where they'd done it all, seen it all, beenthrough it all - and all they wanted now was to make good music. Andabove that, they all loved Henry McCullough wanted to pay their finalrespects to him."