An Homage to Henry McCullough
Listen to a track from Sam R Gibson's latest album 'Seeking The Assassin', written in tribute to the late, great Portstewart guitarist
I recently released an album in which two rock icons are the subjects of songs – Elvis Presley and Portstewart’s Henry McCullough. I first saw Henry perform at the Whitla Hall, Belfast in 1968, where with Eire Apparent, he shared the bill with Jimi Hendrix. A year later, and 'Henry's Guitar' would have it, he was 'the one and only Irish guitar hero to grace the hallowed stage at old Woodstock', as part of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band.
McCullough was highly rated by rock's elite and in 1971 Paul McCartney invited him to join Wings, with his solo on 'My Love' is regarded as a one of the genre's finest. 'He could make that Gibson guitar cry,' I wrote in tribute, 'and If you listen up to songs like 'My Love'/You’ll hear how Henry made Wings truly fly.'
There came a parting of the ways with McCartney and during a Q&A following a gig I attended in Holywood, many years later, Henry was asked whether it was true that he had told Paul to 'piss off'. Henry replied that this report was inaccurate; he had in fact requested that the great man 'eff off'! Thankfully there was to be a reconciliation with the ex-Beatle.
I saw Henry play many times with his superb live band featuring Donegal’s pedal steel maestro, Percy Robinson, who plays on Seeking The Assassin and whose brother Billy brilliantly produced the album. I am also sure Henry would have approved of the melodic lead lines on 'Henry’s Guitar', courtesy of the multi-talented Peadar Coll.
Last October I walked the Camino de Santiago with Billy Robinson and we spoke fondly of Henry, who had tragically suffered a major heart attack in 2012, which has left him in a critical condition.
Somewhere along the way lyrics began to come to me: 'Henry’s guitar’s silent in the corner / If only we could sing him back somehow /Gather round me now all ye failed Christians/ And pray away the trouble from his brow'. And a tribute to a wonderful musician was born.