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The Summer of McCartney

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Locals reminisce about ex-Beatle, his family and band winging it on Junior’s FarmEditor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series.

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

It was the summer of 1974, and in Lebanon, Tenn., 28 miles east of Nashville, all the blab on the street was about Paul McCartney of Beatles fame, his wife Linda and their band Wings.

Of all the places in America, from Manhattan to Malibu, Paul picked a farmhouse pad between Lebanon and Gladeville to chill out with his mate, kiddos and band mates as they prepared for an upcoming tour and worked on some new tunes.

 

Paul and Linda McCartney and the other three members of Wings (Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton) pose with guitars on a fence during the summer of 1974 when they spent six weeks living a few miles outside of Lebanon.

McCartney and Wings were riding strong on their latest album, “Band on the Run,” which produced three No. 1 hits, the title track, “Jet” and “Helen Wheels.” 

How he and his family wound up in the green, green hills of Wilson County came through the musical and legal connections of the late Buddy Killen, then president of Tree Music Publishing in Nashville, a Music Row country music giant for decades.

Killen’s company’s copyright lawyer was none other than New Yorker Lee Eastman. His photographer daughter, Linda, was also Mrs. Paul McCartney. One of the hosses of the Tree songwriting stables was Curly Putman. And guess who had a white mansion on a hill with a swimming pool, fishing pond, horses and acres and acres of farmland where an international superstar could let his hair down, practice his music in peace and let the kids go giddy-up?  

So, once Killen persuaded Curly and Bernice Putman into leasing their home for six weeks, here came the Band on the Run ready for a summer in the Tennessee sun. The McCartney clan included Pop and Mum (Paul and Linda), who were both 32 years old, their three young daughters (Heather, Stella and Mary) and the boys in the band (Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton).

“I’ve got a farm in Scotland,” the former Beatle told members of the Nashville media. “You’re not the only people who have farms, you know. Back in Scotland, we’re country people in our own way.”

Indeed, among other properties, McCartney owns the 1,500-acre Peasmarsh Farm in East Sussex, England (one of his homes since the 1960s), and a $3 million country retreat in Mull of Kintyre, Scotland.

 The skinny on Paul McCartney and the members of Wings

The band of Paul McCartney and Wings, sometimes simply known as Wings, performed from 1971 to 1981. The group changed membership over the years, except for McCartney, his wife Linda and rhythm guitarist Denny Laine.

The band had 14 Top-10 hits and six No. 1 hits in the U.S. Their most successful album was 1973’s Band on the Run. During the summer of 1974, the other two members of the band were lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton.

 Where are they now?Listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the most successful musician and composer in popular music history, Paul McCartney, 67, is in the midst of a U.S. tour.

Linda McCartney died in 1998 at the age of 56 of breast cancer. She was married 29 years to Paul, and had a child, Heather, with her first husband, and three children, Mary, Stella and James, with Paul, who adopted Heather.

Wings member Laine is 64. McCulloch died at age 26 in 1979 of a heroin overdose, and Britton, 66, was last reported playing with a band in Spain.

As for McCartney’s children: Heather, 46, today is famed as a potter and designer.Mary, 39, is a professional photographer like her mom.

Stella, 37, is internationally famous as a fashion designer.

James, 31, is a musician, songwriter and sculptor.

So while the Putmans evacuated to Hawaii and various points West for half the summer, Wings pulled out their drumsticks and guitars and did some serious jamming in the Putman den. They also recorded some tunes on Music Row, including a little ditty called “Junior’s Farm,” a No. 3 hit in November 1974. It’s a safe bet the title was an homage to the Putman residence. (Wings also cut another hit in Nashville, “Sally G.” Perhaps Paul and the boys hit Printer’s Alley, then famed for its burlesque shows.)

Songsmith Putman, one of the legends of Music Row, recollects the transactions of that long ago summer of ’74 and his brush with a Beatle.

“Buddy (Killen) was trying to find a place for Paul and the band to stay. They wanted a place that had horses. Buddy went out looking, trying to find them something around the Nashville countryside. I rode with him some, and we looked and looked. Finally, he sweet-talked me and Bernice into leasing our place to them,” Putman said. “I was kind of nervous. You know how rock ’n’ roll bands were back then? They paid me pretty good for leasing it for six weeks. And they didn’t tear anything up.

“We had a reception in our home that first night. Paul was a very-down-to-earth guy and friendly. We sat around, and then we went back and played the guitar a little bit together. Paul was very interested in country music. He was very nice. I thought he was just a regular guy.

“Our son Troy had a motorbike, and before we left I told him, ‘You better put that bike away,’ but when we got back, well, they had found it. Paul rode it all around Wilson County. He liked is so much, he bought one in town, and later he hauled his bike back to New York.

“The band practiced in a room in our house, our den. They were preparing for their shows as they were getting ready to tour. During that time Buddy took them around Nashville, and he had a recording studio where they cut an album while they were here. One of the songs was ‘Junior’s Farm,’ which a lot of people think he wrote based on my place and since I’m Claude Putman Jr.”

To no avail, Curly attempted to pull a few strings and set up Paul and Wings for an appearance on a Nashville TV show. “I tried to get them on Hee Haw. They liked the show and watched it, but it never happened.”

The tunesmith said that when Paul first arrived, he glanced about the hillside mansion and remarked, “Quite a pad.” And that’s exactly what he penned on a note to the Putman’s before the McCartney family departed.

Curly’s wife Bernice also found Paul and Linda to be unassuming and just as normal as the folks next door.

“They were nice. They were just real friendly and like everybody else,” remembered Bernice of the folks from England who commandeered her home for half a summer. “They asked for certain things to be stocked in the house: five gallons of Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, cases of oranges to make orange juice, Johnny Walker Red and Ovaltine.

“Paul found one of Troy’s straw cowboy hat, and he wore it around. Later, Linda sent us photographs of the farm that she had printed into an appointment calendar and on the cover was a picture of Paul wearing that cowboy hat.

“To be who he was and where he was, Paul was so nice. He was very impressed with Curly and his songwriting and ‘Green Green Grass of Home.’

“I know that every day or so they got a case of oranges and squeezed fresh orange juice. Linda (as famous a vegetarian as she was a rock ’n’ roll photographer) made all kinds of vegetable dishes. They swam down here in our lake, and they rode horses. They were like hippies in a way. Paul and Linda really loved one another. Linda was very sweet and real protective of him. 

“The day they left, they really didn’t want to leave. They asked if they could stay a couple of days longer, and we had to tell them we were ready to get back in our house. They enjoyed it here. Their kids wrote on the walls with crayons in the upstairs bedrooms, so we had some rooms repainted, but there was nothing torn up at all,” Bernice said.

“Some years later, Nashville songwriter Dennis Morgan went to an event in England, and Paul was there, and when he heard Dennis was from Nashville, he asked straightaway, ‘How is Curly Putman?’ and Dennis told him he was doing fine.”

The Putman’s youngest son, Troy, was 12, when the hoopla hit his hillside home. He said he didn’t really understand the magnitude of McCartney’s fame at the time, but he does hold on to a few clear memories of meeting the musician and his family.

“That evening they arrived, it was kinda late, and I remember Paul carrying one of the babies, Stella. She was just a toddler. All the introductions were made, and it was kind of regular visiting and getting to know each other. Basically, they moved in and we moved out,” Troy said.

“During the visiting part, I do remember me and my Mom and Paul and Linda went back and Dad had a study room where there was a Martin gut-string guitar. I was sort of amazed because he turned the guitar upside down, because he was left-handed, and started playing a version of ‘Band on the Run.’ Linda had a hand on his shoulder kinda standing over him and she piped in with the chorus.

“We stayed in Nashville for a short time before they left, and one day my Dad and I came out, and we had a two-car garage, and they used that room as sort of a rehearsal room where they had musical instruments like guitars, amplifiers and a drum set. Paul called us in and wanted to play a song he had written while there, ‘Sally G.’ He gave us a short rendition of it.

“Paul and Linda had a daughter, Heather, who was about the same age as me, and we ended up riding horses on the farm.”

Meanwhile, Paul found an affinity for Troy’s small motorcycle and was seen by many motoring it all around Lebanon. 

“I had a little XR75, a small off-road motorcycle that had no taillights and no headlights. I put it up in a side shed beside the garage. They must have found it, because they got it out and there were published pictures of Paul riding it. Linda was an accomplished photographer, and she documented quite a bit of that. They had that bike out a lot,” said Troy, who received a few gifts from Wings before they left: a signed album, a set of drum sticks and some canastas.

Next week: More Lebanon residents share tales about their encounters with Paul and Linda McCartney and Wings.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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