Paul McCartney took the term “solo album” to the next level on his first release following the dissolution of the Beatles in 1970. The multi-talented musician played every instrument on the appropriately titled McCartney, drawing on skills he’d honed through years serving as the group’s utility man — mastering guitar, bass, piano, and even drums. (That’s him, not Ringo Starr, behind the kit on “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Dear Prudence,” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”)
The one-man-band approach was temporarily retired after he formed Wings in 1971, but McCartney continued to play a variety of instruments throughout his career. On 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which just received a deluxe reissue treatment as part of the McCartney Archive Collection, he can be heard laying down the beat on the funky “Rough Ride.”
“I have a kit which is based on Ringo’s. I figure I can’t go far wrong with a kit like his,” McCartney, 74, tells PEOPLE. “So it’s lovely, I love it. I always like a chance to get on the kit. I’ve done it since the early days of the Beatles.”
It was a talent developed out of equal parts curiosity and necessity in the early 1960s, when the nascent band were playing a club residency in the seedy red light district of Hamburg, Germany. “There’d be these kits lying around from the other bands. I’d occasionally get down and practice on ‘em and see if I could figure ‘em out. But one of the nights, one of the guys we used to work with, Tony Sheridan, his drummer hadn’t turned up. So I drummed with him. It was terrifying, but it gave me a love of drumming.”
In the summer of 1960, long before Starr joined the fold, drummers were hard to come by, as kits were prohibitively expensive. Gigs at the time were equally scarce, so when early manager Allan Williams offered them a booking at a Liverpool strip club he co-owned, they went for it.
“At that point it was just the three of us—just John, George and me. That was nucleus of the band. But that meant there were three guitars and no drums.” McCartney subbed in behind the skins, but it required some DIY ingenuity. “They didn’t really have any good mic-ing, so I got a brush, an old broom, and just tied the microphone to the end of it and just stuck it in between my legs. Believe me, trying to hold that broom and drum at the same time was not that easy, but we made it through. It was a gig backing this stripper called Janine. She was a girl from London, and we got an eyeful at the end. [Laughs] Those were the days, my friend.”