It was 37 years ago tonight (May 3rd, 1976) that Paul McCartney kicked off his one-and-only North American tour with Wings, dubbed Wings Over America, in Fort Worth, Texas. The tour, which featured the classic fourth lineup of Wings, marked McCartney's return to the U.S. concert stage for the first time since the Beatles' final tour during the summer of 1966.
Since 1972, McCartney and Wings had recorded and toured extensively throughout the U.K., Europe, and Australia with various lineups of the group, which included wife Linda on keyboards and Moody Blues co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Denny Laine. It took the worldwide success of Wings' Number One albums Red Rose Speedway, Band On The Run, Venus And Mars -- and his then-most recent release Wings At The Speed Of Sound -- along with nine Top Ten hits, including the soon-to-be Number One "Silly Love Songs," to bring the act to America.
By the time Wings hit the U.S., the group included drummer Joe English and 22-year-old guitar virtuoso Jimmy McCulloch, as well as a four-piece horn section. Throughout the two-and-a-half hour show, McCartney moved around the stage playing bass, acoustic guitar, and both grand and electric pianos.
The 21-city tour opened on May 3rd in Fort Worth at the Tarrant County Convention Center, and continued for 31 shows across the country, closing on June 23rd at The Forum in Los Angeles, with Ringo Starr appearing onstage at the end of the show to mug for the audience and present McCartney with flowers.
Reviews for the tour, which featured state-of-the-art sound and a cutting-edge laser light show, were glowing, with The Dallas Morning News declaring after the tour's opening night that, "It was a far superior concert to any show the Beatles ever did and so much better than any previous concert by (George) Harrison, (Ringo) Starr, and (John) Lennon, (that) they should not even be in the same category."
McCartney told us that late wife Linda weathered the critical beatings from the rock press for the sole reason that she loved the music: "It's a cheap shot to criticize her. It was real easy, 'cause she was taking the place of either John, George, or Ringo. And, obviously, being a musician who was just learning, she obviously couldn't compare with those guys. And y'know, the other thing is, you gotta remember this was before 'girl power,' and there were not many women holding down such an important position in a band, so it took a lot of courage to do it."
Denny Laine admitted that by the end of the tour, the group was used to the arenas and unanimous praise: "As the tour went on, we were used to it then. But the very first night was an amazing experience."
McCartney included only five Beatles songs in his 30-song setlist, performing "Lady Madonna," "The Long And Winding Road," "I've Just Seen A Face," "Blackbird," and "Yesterday."
Bill King, publisher of Beatlefan magazine, says that the inclusion of the few Beatles songs -- especially "Yesterday" -- pushed emotional buttons that up till that point weren't felt at your average rock concert: "It was nostalgia, it was a chance to finally see a Beatle doing a Beatles song live in concert -- which many of us had not had. Already, even at that age -- and most of us who were original fans were still in our 20's when he toured in '76. But already, even at that relatively young age, we had nostalgia. And it was an emotional moment for a lot of people to see him doing that song. It was a song they had never expected to see him do live."
Beatlefan contributor Tom Frangione explained that the tour was initially set to kick off on Fort Worth on April 8th, but extenuating circumstances forced McCartney to push the tour back nearly a month: "The word was that Jimmy McCulloch had broken a couple of fingers; point of fact, Paul needed some time off because (his father) James Sr. had passed away. Everything had to be just -- everything had to be just right for that."
Among the Wings hits performed were "Jet," "Live And Let Die," "My Love," "Listen To What The Man Said," "Let 'Em In," "Silly Love Songs," "Band On The Run," and "Hi, Hi, Hi."
The group also dug into their catalogue, playing album tracks such as "Let Me Roll It," "Magneto And Titanium Man," "Call Me Back Again," "Bluebird," "Picasso's Last Words," "Time To Hide," and "Letting Go."
Among the celebrities catching the tour on various stops were Ringo Starr, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana Ross, Robbie Robertson, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Micky Dolenz, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Frampton, Elton John, Cher, Harry Nilsson, and the Beach Boys' Carl and Dennis Wilson.
McCartney was featured on the cover of the May 31st issue of Time in a specially commissioned Peter Max illustration, with the headline "McCartney Comes Back."
One McCartney fan who left the concert unsatisfied was Eric Carmen, who attended Wings' May 10th concert at Cleveland's Richfield Coliseum, and says that he was unimpressed with the setlist, as well as hearing the other band members taking vocal turns: "It was so awful and such a letdown that I was literally stunned. I mean, I sat in the audience wanting to just be blown away. And he can do whatever he wants up there! But I mean, he did things that all I can think of is, 'It must have been so long since Paul actually played and there was an audience listening as opposed to screaming.'"
McCartney edited the tapes from the U.S. shows later that fall, and in December released a three-record live set titled Wings Over America, which eventually peaked at Number One. An edited live version of McCartney's 1970 track "Maybe I'm Amazed," lifted from the by-then chart-topping Wings Over America, made it to Number 10 in early 1977.
Robert Rodriguez, author of the groundbreaking, Revolver - How The Beatles Reimagined Rock 'N' Roll and his two critically acclaimed Beatles FAQ books, recalled, says that 1976 will always hold a special spot in fans' hearts: "That year leading into the tour, it was sort of like the second coming of the Beatles anyway -- 'cause here's Paul coming to America on a grand scale, and that same summer you have (the Beatles' compilation) Rock N' Roll Music out and 'Got To Get You Into My Life' riding in the Top 10 of the charts -- so it was a really amazing year to have that sort of 'Beatle buzz' going. It wasn't the only year of the '70s that was like this, for sure. But what an amazing experience to have captured and put on record because, y'know, for the people that didn't get to see the concert that are kicking themselves for the rest of their lives, y'know, that album is a really nice souvenir."
The Wings Over America tour was documented for both the small and big screen. On March 16th, 1979, CBS aired the Wings Over The World special, which included performances from New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
The movie Rockshow premiered on November 26th, 1980 at New York City's Ziegfried Theatre.
Wings Over The World will be given its first commercial release on May 28th as part of the Wings Over America "Deluxe Reissue" box set and Rockshow will be made available on DVD and Blu-ray on June 10th.
McCartney and Wings' next road trek, the 1979/1980 tour, was cut short by McCartney's infamous pot bust at Tokyo's Narita Airport, resulting in the band's Japan dates and future shows being canceled.
McCartney -- without Wings, which had officially disbanded in April 1981 -- kicked off his second North American tour over 13 years after his solo U.S. debut on November 23rd, 1989 at The Forum in Los Angeles.