Few artists have demonstrated a greater facility for scouting out great guitarists than Paul McCartney has. Having played in The Beatles, with one of rock’s finest lead guitarists and one of rock’s greatest rhythm players, Sir Paul no doubt entered his solo career with exceptionally high standards in mind. Although he’s often handled six-string duties himself – emphasizing songcraft over solos – his albums and live shows also have benefitted from contributions from exemplary rock-guitar craftsmen. The 10 players below rank among the best of those fortunate enough to have filled that role for the former Beatle.
No musician played a bigger role in McCartney’s post-Beatles success than Denny Laine did. As co-founder of Wings (along with Paul and Linda), Laine played lead and rhythm guitar, occasional bass and even shared in the occasional writing credit, most notably on the hit, “Mull of Kintyre.” Laine remained with Wings until the group officially disbanded, in 1981. He continues to perform regularly, and is purported to be working on an autobiography.
Henry McCullough’s pedigree, prior to joining Wings in 1971, included a stint as Joe Cocker’s guitarist in Cocker’s backing group, The Grease Band. Playing alongside Denny Laine and Denny Sewell, the Irish guitarist offered up some of early Wings’ greatest solos, including the beautifully soaring six-string break on the hit, “My Love.” Other standout moments include his lead work on “Hi Hi Hi” and “Live and Let Die.” Musical differences led to McCullough’s departure from Wings just prior to the start of the Band on the Run sessions.
As one of the pop masterminds in 10cc, Eric Stewart was perfectly suited to step into the role of sideman for McCartney. Beginning with the undervalued 1982 album, Tug of War, Stewart collaborated with Sir Paul over a period of four years, even going so far as to co-write most of the songs for the 1986 album, Press to Play. Ironically, Stewart’s very first band, The Emperors of Rhythm, once beat out The Beatles in a performance audition at the turn of the ’60s.
A protégé of The Shadows’ Hank Marvin, Jimmy McCullough first made a name for himself as guitarist in the Pete Townshend-sponsored pop band, Thunderclap Newman. McCartney recruited McCullough into Wings in 1974, when McCullough’s second band, Stone the Crows, split up. As a member of Wings for the next three years, McCullough composed the music for “Medicine Jar,” from 1975’s Venus and Mars, and “Wino Junko,” which appeared on the 1976 Speed of Sound album. McCullough’s preferred guitars were an SG and a Les Paul. Tragically, he died of heart failure caused by a drug overdose at the young age of 26.
Robbie McIntosh’s stellar work with The Pretenders and other bands prepared him well for his stint with McCartney at the turn of the ’90s. With Chrissie Hynde’s blessing, McIntosh teamed with Sir Paul for McCartney’s stunning 1989 comeback album, Flowers in the Dirt, and subsequently became lead guitarist for McCartney’s 1989-90 World Tour. The gifted six-stringer remained with the former Beatle for four years, appearing on the albums Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990), Unplugged (1991) and Off the Ground (1993), as well as the concert films Get Back and Paul is Live.
Hamish Stuart honed his guitar skills in the funk outfit the Average White Band in the ’70s, showcasing his chops on such hits as “Cut the Cake” and “Pick Up the Pieces.” Coming on-board with McCartney for 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, the Glasgow, Scotland, native alternated between guitar and bass, often taking up the latter instrument on-stage whenever a song called for Sir Paul to play keys. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hamish learned to play guitar by listening to The Beatles, especially the A Hard Day’s Night album.
McCartney has often “borrowed” high-profile guitarists from other bands, but David Gilmour warrants special mention. As early as 1978, Sir Paul sought out Gilmour to play on the hard-hitting “Rockestra Theme,” which appeared on the Wings album, Back to the Egg. The Pink Floyd guitarist continued to pop up on McCartney’s recordings – most notably on “No More Lonely Nights,” from the 1984 soundtrack disc, Give My Regards to Broad Street – but it was the 1999 oldies effort, Run Devil Run, that allowed Gilmour to truly shine.
Rusty Anderson has been on-board as McCartney’s guitarist since 2001, when Sir Paul rang him up and asked him to play on the Driving Rain album. Four McCartney DVDs have since been released that feature Anderson’s searing six-string work, as well as the albums Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Memory Almost Full. Anderson’s main guitar is a cherished ’59 ES-335, and he plays an SG and a Les Paul as well. “I like 335s because they have a cool midrange quality and they can do everything I want from a guitar,” he told Gibson.com in 2009.
Brian Ray made his debut with McCartney in 2002, when Sir Paul and his band performed at that year’s Super Bowl. Five weeks later, Ray was on the road with the former Beatle, teamed alongside Rusty Anderson to complete the dazzling six-string duo that today packs a wallop in McCartney’s live shows. Ray’s stellar playing has graced several McCartney albums and DVDs during the past decade. His go-to instruments include a Goldtop reissue, a ’63 Dove, a ’64 SG Lyre and an SG bass.
As the only son of Sir Paul and his late wife, Linda, James McCartney has played guitar and drums on several of his father’s albums, including 1997’s Flaming Pie and 2001’s Driving Rain. He’s also co-written a handful of tracks with his famous Dad, and released two EPs of his own. “My Dad taught me simple chords [when I was nine], and I was able to start playing from that point,” the younger McCartney told Wales Online, in 2010. “But I think I’ve always been inspired to be a musician from when I was a baby, or for as long as I can remember.”