Inside Wings: A 1978 Interview with Joe English

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  1. winojunko76

    winojunko76 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    INSIDE WINGS: An Interview With Joe English
    (Bill King's interview with Wings drummer Joe English was the front page feature in the very first issue of Beatlefan, published Dec. 19, 1978.)

    Just a little over two years ago, the longest-lasting and most consistent lineup of Wings that Paul McCartney ever had been able to put together fell apart when first guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and then drummer Joe English left the band.

    Wings fans around Rochester, NY, and Macon, GA, who knew English as one of their own were probably shocked more than others.

    After all, on May 18 and 19 of 1976, when McCartney had introduced English at Atlanta's Omni as being "from just down the road in Juliette, GA" (near Forsyth if that means anything), everyone marveled at how fortunate the longtime Georgia resident was to be playing in Wings. The band on the tour.
    That Wings Over America tour, the rock event of 1976, was a marvelous experience, English recalled in an exclusive interview with Beatlefan, with the large, professional McCartney organization taking care of almost everything. "All we had to do was show up and play decently and the people would go berserk," he said.

    And as a member of Wings, English's name had become known worldwide. He even got to do a lead vocal on one of the songs ("Must Do Something About It") on the platinum-selling "Wings at the Speed of Sound" album. Not bad for an unknown drummer whose previous claim to fame was playing in a pick-up band around Macon with Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band.

    And on his trips home to Georgia, English had seemed happy with his lot in Wings. When Beatlefan first met him at the annual Capricorn Records Barbecue in Macon in August 1977, he was very enthused about what turned out to be the "London Town" recording sessions. "It's going to be another 'Band on the Run'," he said. "We spent a month recording in the Virgin Islands and we have about 30 cuts from which Paul will pick the best."

    A couple of weeks later, he was off to London to pick up work on the unfinished album. When word hit in September that McCulloch was leaving, English's wife told Beatlefan that Joe had not known it was going to happen, but she wasn't that surprised.

    "I think he felt kind of constricted because Paul does run the band the way he wants it, without a doubt." But she indicated that Joe and the rest of Wings would go on without Jimmy. "Joe hopes Paul won't hire another guitarist but will get someone really good and big to tour with them. It would give them a kick in the ass musically and make them stretch, which they need. But right now they're just all excited about the new baby [James Louis McCartney]."

    Within two months, however, the low-key announcement came in the Wings Club Sandwich that not only had Jimmy left to join Small Faces (which, of course, didn't last), but that Joe English "decided recently to return full time to his family in America. Joe feels that his roots are there, and he was not too happy spending the necessary time in Britain."

    Why, everyone asked, would English give up such a good deal?

    "I just had to have a change of musical scene," he told Beatlefan in an interview in an Atlanta recording studio. At the time he was playing with the jazz-rock band Tall Dogs as percussionist and co-lead vocalist (Tall Dogs was the group he and Butch Trucks had started.) But not long after that, he joined Sea Level, the excellent Macon band that grew out of the Allman group.

    He continued, "I enjoyed being in Wings, and I learned a lot, but I got tired of the months and months of sitting in recording studios. I wanted to come home and see if I could make it as Joe English and not off Paul McCartney."

    English, a native of Syracuse, NY, had first come to Georgia in the early 1970s but wasn't doing much "except lving on a farm with no money" until "I got the call to go record with Paul in New Orleans [on "Venus and Mars"]. Tony Dorsey [the leader of the Wings horn section] was from Macon and he told Paul about me" after interim drummer Geoff Britton had been canned.

    English said he approached joining Wings with some trepidation but "it was easier than I thought. They were all very nice. And coming from doing nothing to playing before 67,000 at the Seattle Kingdome was a real buzz."

    Contrary to what some people think, he said, Wings is a real band. "In the studio, Paul made it so if you wanted to come every day and be part of the recording, mixing, ideas and putting the show together, you could. He really gave everyone a lot of freedom.

    "Of course, if he thought something should be played a certain way, he'd tell you to do it, and 99 percent of the time I'd go along because it was usually the right thing. But if I came up with something better, I'd tell him and he'd go for it."

    That Wings lineup probably would have stayed together, English said, "if there had been more gigs, but it was really a hassle going on the road with Paul. It was like taking the whole Shrine Circus on tour."
    Still, he got a lot out of the many recording sessions. "I feel like I went to school for three years learning about the studio from Paul, and I think I could produce an album now, because I've worked for three years with someone who's one of the top producers in the business.

    "Paul definitely is the hardest working person I've ever encountered. I told him before I left that he had nothing to worry about and had a great future ahead of him," English added with a smile.

    English did have some gripes about his tenure with Wings, however. For one thing, he said, onstage the burden rested mostly on his and Paul's shoulders.

    "Most nights his bass and my drums had to carry the show," he said. "And that went for harmonies, too. Linda is a nice chick and I really like her, but let's face it, she can't play and she can't sing. And Denny Laine can sing, but he tends to sing off-key. It took us forever to get those 'Wings Over America' tapes ready for the live album. We had to go into the studio and overdub most of the backing vocals."

    Another thing that bothered him was that "I was continually promised a share of the record royalties, but I never received any." He admitted, though, that he was "very well paid. And I never had to do anything. It was all taken care of for me."

    But, he added, that lack of responsibility is one reason he decided to leave Wings. "It's like 'Can he make it on his own? Can he rise to the top again?' I want to find out."

    Of course, going from one of the world's supergroups to nine months on his own and then a much smaller group that still has a long way to go "is a big change," he said. "I keep wondering why I haven't gone into shock. But it's only money and you can't get hung up on that, 'cause then you only want more. And you forget about things like going fishing and having fun and growing old and being happy."

    That's one reason, he said, "why I live in the South. I refuse to go to Los Angeles and get into all that. When Wings played Atlanta, I took Paul to my home in Forsyth and he fell in love with it. [See photos in the "Hands Across the Water" book of the tour. Paul has a very strong sense of home and so he understood why I wanted to come back here."

    English on 'Wings Over the World'

    An insider's perspective on the "Wings Over the World" TV special was provided by English and published in Beatlefan #3, April 1979 . . .

    English said one of the reasons the special was so long in coming was that it took quite a bit of time to get the soundtrack in suitable order. Before he left Wings, he said, the band spent many hours in the recording studio "doing a bunch of overdubs on the soundtrack and mixing it down."

    Most of the overdubs were necessary because of "people singing out of tune and I don't mean Paul . . ."
    English said a list of sound problems to be corrected in the studio showed that "the keyboard had the most, Denny the second most and then most of the vocal harmonies. Paul had to do a few lead vocals because of a bad mike or something, but most of the harmonies were out of tune. It was an abnormal amount of overdubs" taking about two months to complete.

    "We would sit in a giant recording studio and you'd watch yourself singing or playing on the screen and have to make the same inflections with your voice just like in the movie. It was funny, a real trip," he said.

    English said he's glad he left Wings so he could "grow some musically" but looking back on fond memories of the tour, "I sort of miss it now." He added that he videotaped the special "and I'll play it for my grandchildren."

    Postscript: English quit Sea Level in 1980 and moved to Nashville, where he launched a career in contemporary Christian music with the Joe English Band.
  2. scotty j.

    scotty j. Forum Resident

    Columbia, MO, US
    Thanks for posting this interesting article.
  3. mrjinks

    mrjinks Optimistically Challenged

    Boise, ID.
    He & Gabe Dixon must have the same career counselor.
    Hep Alien and heatherly like this.
  4. heatherly

    heatherly Well-Known Member

  5. Arnold Grove

    Arnold Grove Senior Member

    And Geoff Britton too. He was too busy with the karate, right? Arnie
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