Gary James' Interview With Photographer And Author
In early 1975, Paul and Linda McCartney and their band Wings traveled to the famous Sea Saint Studio in New Orleans to record their album "Venus And Mars". Waiting in the wings, so to speak, was Louisiana native John Taylor. John waited outside the studio and got to meet and photograph Paul and Linda McCartney during the time they recorded at Allen Toussaint's Sea Saint Studio. His photographs are the subject of the book Wings Over New Orleans. Unseen Photos Of Paul And Linda McCartney, 1975. (Pelican Publishing Co. www.pelicanpub.com.) John shared his up close and personal memories of Paul and Linda McCartney with us.
Q - John, how fortunate you were to photograph Paul McCartney and get his autograph. As I understand it, he doesn't do that today for fans.
A - Him and Ringo quit a long time ago because, well, Ringo said he would spend a lot of his time signing stuff for people and he's see it on eBay the next day. (laughs) So he said, "I've signed enough. I quit."
Q - He (Paul) and his new wife flew into Syracuse, N.Y. on his private jet to visit a trucking firm his father-in-law owns. There was no advance publicity. He ate lunch with the workers, but no photos were allowed to be taken and he signed no autographs. Then he flew out of town.
A - Wow! Yeah, well, I'll tell you what, I often tell people, what happened with me and him would never happen again. It just wouldn't happen again. Not that he wasn't famous back then, but he was just forming Wings. He was getting that together. In fact, when he got to New Orleans he added Joe English. Joe English came to audition at that studio.
Q - Did you know that Joe English is from Rochester, New York?
A - I didn't know that. I thought he was from Alabama.
Q - I can't say this enough John, it's incredible that nine years after The Beatles stopped touring, you had access to one of the most famous men that's ever walked the earth.
A - I know. Last year he came to New Orleans for a concert. He was talking about New Orleans and he said, "For Mardi Gras, Linda and I were dressed like clowns on a balcony. I don't know how everybody knew who I was." Well, I was downstairs. (laughs) Everybody who passed I said, "The clown up there is Paul McCartney. (laughs)
Q - You're the guy!
A - I was the only person. I sunk in my seat when he started talking about that. (laughs) He knew me from the studio and I was downstairs. We were kind of playing pitch and catch. He was on the balcony. When I found out he was coming to New Orleans to record an album, I was like, "I got to find out where he's gonna be." I just thought I'd be able to catch a glimpse of him due to security guards and all that kind of stuff. So, I went to Sea Saint Studios. This was right around the corner from the girl I was dating at the time. So, I pulled into their parking lot and there was no cars there. The parking lot only holds about five cars. I was gonna go knock on the door. The people who worked there used to park next door. So, I was gonna go knock on the door and ask them "When is Paul McCartney coming?" or "Is this the studio he's coming to? I'd like to know when he's gonna arrive." I chickened out from that because I was twenty-one and I just felt like they would look at me like I was some kind of fool, a little groupie.
Q - Right.
A - And so I decided to not do that. I started my car and was getting ready to pull out and a car parked right alongside of me. I glanced over and I couldn't believe it. It was Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney in a car! He was driving. I looked at it and went, "Oh, my God!" It was just an unbelievable thing. He kind of waves to me and I just shut the engine off and I got out of the car and he got out of the car. I couldn't believe this, you know? I'm shaking Paul McCartney's hand. I just thought I would catch a glimpse of him. There was no security. No news people. Nobody. Just me and Paul and Linda and he's just talking to me. That went on for months. He knew my name. "Hey, John. How are you today?" I'd say "How's the album coming?" We had small conversations like that. I wasn't his best friend. I didn't get to know him in a personal way, but he knew who I was. He knew my girlfriend's name. They'd see us, I guess 50, 60 times 'cause we were there every day.
Q - Once you shook his hand, once you got his autograph, once you had your photos, what were you expecting would happen? Did you expect him to invite you into the studio to hear him recording or "John, would you like to go out to dinner with me?"
A - No, no. I didn't think anything like that. He would take a break from doing the album and had come out and talk to us for fifteen, twenty minutes. I knew that they were working in the studio. I'm a musician myself. Usually when you're working on an album you can't have any disturbances. You're being charged by the hour. He might've been getting it for free just 'cause of who he was, so he would have publicity for that studio. But no, I wasn't expecting anything like that. I thought in the back of my mind this will never happen again in my life.
Q - You were right about that.
A - I had no intention whatsoever of doing a book. I didn't take the pictures for that reason. The pictures were taken with an Instamatic. It was the only thing I could afford at the time. There were no cameras on phones. I had the pictures and after he left, after they finished the album, I probably shared them for maybe the first year. I said, "Look, look! I met Paul McCartney!" Then the pictures sat in my drawer. I didn't talk about it. Nothing. Unless I ran into a real Beatle fan. I said "I met Paul McCartney." Most people don't even believe it. I've got the pictures to prove it. (laughs) What happened was, I was on the internet on Facebook, and a guy had a site called The Beatles And Me. I joined these kind of things just to keep up with the news. He said, "I want to know if anybody ever met one of The Beatles or seen 'em in concert." So, I shot him a picture of me and Paul. I wasn't expecting no kind of big reaction, but he reacted like, "Oh, my God! How did you get so close to him?" That's the first time I thought, wow! Maybe I should share these pictures with somebody. I didn't realize anybody had any interest. I said, "Where are you?" He said, "Liverpool, England." So he's a musician in Liverpool, England. After he'd seen a few of my pictures he got an idea to do a book. He has a book out and you can get it through that site, The Beatles And Me. He featured me in the middle of that book. It was his idea; he said "I'd like to do another book with all your pictures and your stories." He just thought it was fascinating. That's the first time I realized, you know, this is something kind of rare. I should share it. So that's where I started getting the people's stories to make it interesting. Let me contact some of the people that were there and get their side of the story just so it's not all me. He's still pushing that first book. So, I had my stuff ready. Pelican Publishing is in Louisiana. I ran across an old book and it had Pelican Publishing in it. So, I thought I'm going to present that to them. And so I did. A couple of months later they called me up and said, "This is the editor-in-chief. We want to do your book." I got knots in my stomach like you wouldn't believe. I'm thinking I can't do a book. I'm not an author, but I turned out to be. (laughs)
Q - The pictures of you and Paul were taken by your girlfriend?
A - Probably.
Q - How is it that you were able to come down to that studio every day for three months? You were working at that time, weren't you?
A - I was a car salesman. Sometimes you'd have the evening shift. You go to morning meetings. You'd work from 3 in the afternoon to 10 PM when they'd close. Actually my father worked there. He was getting really mad. He said, "You can't make any money hanging around a Beatle." (Laughs) "You need to stay here and sell cars." I would go to the meeting and shoot to the studios. That's all I was doing. I knew how rare that was. I said, "Daddy, you don't understand. This is not going to happen again." I didn't care. I was pretty broke hanging around with Paul there instead of selling cars. (Laughs)
Q - I guess the dream would have been if Paul offered you a job.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Was it announced that he was going to come to that particular studio to record?
A - Yeah. They didn't make a real big deal out of it. My girlfriend's mother is the one that told me. She said, "Paul McCartney is coming to New Orleans to do an album." I don't know how they announced it. I was expecting they would have crowds and crowds of people, but the first day was just me and him and Linda. A day or two later there was the guys. They came and it was the three of us for a week or two. Then it got up to ten people. I think the most it got up to was thirty people. Something like that. It never did get like a huge, huge crowd. One of the most famous people in the world, a Beatle.
Q - What would've happened if all four Beatles had shown up there?
A - Well, you know, John was supposed to show up. He was gonna come down and I think at the last minute Yoko talked him out of it or he just went back with Yoko. Something like that. I heard the story from somebody. They said John was supposed to come visit. Paul said, "I'm here in New Orleans. Why don't you come down?" Maybe when he broke up with Yoko. I think they got back together and they changed their plans. But I did see George in November. I was thrilled to death just to see a Beatle. I didn't think I would be hanging with one with my arm around his wife. (Laughs) How many people can say that?
Q - I saw a Beatle.
A - Which one?
Q - John Lennon.
A - Oh, you did. He's the only one I didn't see. I see Ringo every time he comes near. I've seen George. I've seen Paul. I met Sean (Lennon), John and Yoko's son, and his girlfriend, the Maybelline model. Beautiful, and good musicians too.
Q - Were the people hanging around the studio also hanging around the hotel where Paul and Linda were staying? Do you know?
A - No, they didn't. Whatever hotel they had they rented the whole floor. I don't think that was common knowledge where he was.
Q - Someone could've followed him.
A - Yeah, but it wasn't really that big of a deal for some reason. They didn't do it. That's why it wasn't a really big crowd.
Q - Someone in the studio could've called the police to tell the people outside to move on.
A - No. There were very gracious about the fans. He would come and talk to them and pose for all those pictures. Look at some of those candid pictures. They were very, very gracious with us. Never was he like in a bad mood or anything like, "Get away. I'm too good." He was just like a regular guy. Way more regular than you would expect from somebody that famous. He wasn't arrogant in any kind of way. He was just a happy go lucky type of guy. Very energetic. Always moving.
Q - Did you see The Beatles when they played New Orleans in the '60s?
A - It was five dollars a ticket and I was just a little kid, ten, eleven years old and my parents had a whole slew of kids. We had like six of us and five dollars was outrageous. (Laughs) Can you believe that? I would've loved seeing them.
Q - In 1966, members of the audience would hold up photos of The Beatles from a few years back and John said, "We're not those people anymore."
A - They definitely weren't. I was thinking about this the other day. What I really loved was that image which they really wasn't. If I had known all the personal stuff about them, I wouldn't have been as big of a fan. That image of The Beatles in their suits, Brian Epstein really cleaned them up good.
Q - I'm glad to hear that someone appreciates the contribution of Brian Epstein.
A - That squeaky clean look, like choir boys having a blast. It was the perfect image. Of course it wasn't how they were.
Q - This Sea Saint Studio is now a hair salon?
A - Yeah.
Q - What happened?
A - Hurricane Katrina. That studio I think got eight or ten feet of water. It destroyed it.
Q - No insurance?
A - I don't know. It was co-owned by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Seahorn. I just think they kind of gave it up. And Marshall died a few years back. They should've carried on. They should've remodeled. It's a piece of history. I don't think the people that get their hair cut know the history of the place. They may. I'm just assuming.
Q - They should put up a plaque outside the building.
A - (Laughs) Yeah. I thought it would be interesting when I rode past it and I saw it was a hair studio. I said, "I need to end the book with that. What a piece of history!"