Whether you knew him as the guitarist with Wings, the teenage prodigy with Thunderclap Newman, an associate of Pete Townshend or anything else in his all-too-short career, he was a singular British talent. Today, on the anniversary of his death at the tragically early age of 26, we’re remembering Jimmy McCulloch.
Jimmy was born in Dumbarton, in the Scottish Lowlands, on June 4, 1953, just a year after David Byrne, the future frontman of Talking Heads was born there before his relocation to America. It’s often forgotten these days what a unique career McCulloch had from an incredibly early age, which had him making his mark as a guitarist on a national scale before he even reached 14 years old.
Having been in his first band, the Jaygars, with his older brother Jack, when Jimmy was a mere 11) he progressed with Jack to the group later One In A Million. They released two singles, supported The Who and played at the famous 14-Hour Technicolour Dream event at Alexandra Palace in London — two months before his 14th birthday.
In 1969, McCulloch joined Thunderclap Newman, whose Andy Newman (nicknamed ‘Thunderclap’) and John ‘Speedy’ Keen were friends of Townshend’s. The Who frontman produced their superbly evocative single ‘Something In The Air,’ and pop history was made, as the single raced to No. 1 in the UK. Pete played bass under the playful pseudonym Bijou Drains, and the song remains Townshend’s only UK chart-topper as producer or artist.
Thunderclap Newman was relatively short-lived, splitting in 1971 after the album ‘Hollywood Dream.’ But they gave McCulloch a valuable springboard as a guitarist and writer, and in the early 1970s, he was an in-demand session player for the likes of John Mayall. He fronted his own group, then joined established Scottish rockers Stone The Crows, among many other prestigious gigs.
It was, of course, Jimmy’s tenure in Wings that gave him the biggest global recognition. Recruited by Paul McCartney to play on the Susie and the Red Stripes project for his wife Linda (which produced the single ‘Seaside Woman’), he became an official member of Wings in 1974 and appeared on the ‘Junior’s Farm’ single, a top-three hit in the US that made the UK top 20. Not included on an album at the time, it’s now set to be one of the tracks on the bonus CD of the forthcoming ‘Venus and Mars’ reissue.
McCulloch was on that 1975 album, contributing the song ‘Medicine Jar’ and then ‘Wino Junko’ to the follow-up set released the next year, ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound.’ By 1977, the restless McCulloch was off again, leaving Wings for the reformed Small Faces, then Wild Horses with former Small Face Kenney Jones, Ally Bain and Brian Robertson, just after the latter had left Thin Lizzy.
Jimmy died of a drug-related heart attack in north London 35 years ago on this date. Remembering how much he packed into his short career, we can only wonder what else he would have achieved if he hadn’t been taken so early.
“He was always a little dangerous,” Paul McCartney was quoted as saying about the fresh-faced, hard-living guitarist. “In the end, he was just too dangerous for his own good.”