Howie Casey was born in Liverpool, and delved into rock and roll at the same time as our legendary lads. If you’re asked on a quiz show which band had the first LP released who hails from the city, it isn’t the Beatles. It would be Howie Casey and the Seniors. Besides Sir Paul, Howie would play sax for the likes of Ringo, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, The Who, and Marc Bolan. His signature sax riffs would punctuate many a Macca tune, and his sax provided the air that Wings would soar across the globe on.
Producer Tony Visconti led Casey to Paul McCartney to play on the classic 1973 album, Band on the Run. Howie would join Wings for the 66-show Wings Over the World Tour in 1975-1976. Casey would remain with Wings until McCartney’s Japanese tour was canceled at the beginning of 1980. Casey stopped in to talk with Beatles Magazine about his storied career, and his times with the cute Beatle.
Beatles Magazine: What comes to your mind when we mention Howie Casey and the Seniors?
Howie Casey: The band first started out as Derry and the Seniors in 1958 and we changed the name to Howie Casey and the Seniors when Freddie Starr joined around 1961. I have very fond memories of my band The Seniors we had a lot of fun together playing all the venues around the Liverpool, Manchester and the North West of England before we got the recording contract with Fontana Records. The two front singers, Derry Wilkie, and Freddie Starr were great showmen,as you probably know Freddie went on to become one of the best comedians this country has produced. The rest of the band, Brian ‘Griff’ Griffiths on guitar at 17 was a great talent, he showed people like John Lennon, and George Harrison how to play certain licks they couldn’t figure out. Phil ‘Spread’ Whitehead on bass was solid as a rock, and on drums Frank Wibberly was for me the best drummer around at that time. Paul told me in later years, he and John used to come to our gigs they loved the band. We played The Cavern on a regular basis at lunchtime and evening sessions, sometimes if Frank our drummer wasn’t able to make a lunchtime gig, I’d call on either Johnny Hutchinson or Ringo Starr to step in for him. We also played The Iron Door, The Casbah, Tower Ballroom, The Holyoake, Blair Hall, Wilson Hall, The Rialto, basically all the gigs available at that time.
BM: The Seniors were the first band from Liverpool to have an ‘LP’, can you tell us about that record?
Howie Casey: We got the contract with Fontana through Freddie, he had been offered a solo recording deal but wanted the band as well. So Fontana said okay but we’d have to do an audition. So we all went down to London in our old van and did the audition, they liked what they heard and we got the contract on the proviso we wrote Twist songs, for, Twist at the Top. That was the in dance craze. Basically what we did was write rock songs and insert the word ‘twist’ instead of ‘rock’. We went back to London and recorded the whole album plus extra material in an afternoon, totally live no drop-ins or overdubs. It does show on the album, but we were naive and were just chuffed to have recorded. Our record was played on Radio Luxembourg and other stations, and we got a London based agent who booked us round London and the South and of course we still gigged up North.
BM: Tony Visconti was producing Marc Bolan, and guided you to work with Paul McCartney. How did that come about, and which records did you play on?
Howie Casey: By the time I worked with Tony Visconti, I had moved to London. He booked me to play on some tracks, he had a small studio in his house. I think I played on some of Mary Hopkin’s tracks, and later for Marc Bolan (T. Rex ), most notably 20th Century Boy. On that Tony said “Howie I’d like you to freak out on your sax at the end of the track” which I did lots of harmonics etc. I can’t remember all the tracks I worked on, but I played on the album, ‘Tanx‘ I also got to tour With Marc a few times. I was doing quite a lot of session work and playing with lots of different bands, when I got a call from MPL (Paul’s office), asking would I be available to do some tracks on ‘Wings’ new album, ‘Band on the Run‘. I sure was! That came through Tony’s recommendation, and I’ll always be grateful to him.
BM: What was it like going on tour with Wings, and having an former Beatle as your front-man?
Howie Casey: After playing on ‘Band on the Run‘, where I played on ‘Jet’, ‘Bluebird’, and ‘Mrs Vanderbilt’, I just carried on doing my gigs and sessions. Paul and ‘Wings’ had done another album, ‘Venus and Mars‘ over in America, and I thought ” Oh well that’s the end of that”. Then I got a call from Alan Crowder at MPL saying Paul has asked if I would be interested in playing on their next world tour; “Yup I’ll have some of that” I said. Working with Paul, we both went back a long way and we hadn’t seen one another since the old days in Liverpool, and Hamburg. That was no problem we got along very well, indeed, lots of common ground.
The Tour was terrific to be on, we were looked after so well, the music and partying was great a brilliant outfit to be with. The other members of the band were so easy to get on with, real nice people. I also played on ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound‘, ‘Wings Over America‘ ‘Back to the Egg‘ the ‘Rockestra‘ sessions, and ‘Rock for Kampuchea‘.
BM: What artists inspired you early on, and what led you to the sax?
Howie Casey: Back in the 50’s I was listening to people like Little Richard, who for my money had the best voice in R&R and of course his great sax players like Lee Allan, Herb Hardesty. My favourite sax man was Plas Johnson, he played the original ‘Pink Panther’ theme; fabulous sound. Ray Charles was another favourite and his wonderful sax man David ‘Fathead’ Newman. Etta James was a knockout singer as well, there were so many great people around at that time, brilliant musicians and singers that influenced us all in those days.
BM: Did you know any of the Beatles growing up in Liverpool?
Howie Casey: I first met up with ‘The Beatles’ or ‘The Silver Beatles’ as they were known, at the Larry Parnes auditions at ‘The Wyvern Club’ organized by Alan Williams. Then after that in 1960, ‘The Seniors’ got the gig in Hamburg, Germany at ‘The Kaiserkeller Club’. We’d been there for a while doing great business when Alan wrote to me saying he was sending over ‘The Beatles’ to play in a small bar just up the road from were we were. I wasn’t too happy about this having seen them at the Parnes auditions and we weren’t impressed. We thought they would mess up the scene. As it turned out, when we heard them playing at ‘The Indra’ they’d come on an absolute storm. We all became great friends, we showed them the best cheap places to eat and drink. Many times when they finished their gig they would come to ‘The Kaiserkeller’ and get up and jam with us. Back in Liverpool we played lots gigs on the same bill as them. The manager of the club decided that instead of us playing 45 minutes and breaking for 15 minutes he would take Stuart Sutcliffe from ‘The Beatles’ and split ‘The Seniors’ into two bands so as there were no breaks in the live music. We weren’t best pleased and neither were ‘The Beatles’, but we were dealing with gangsters and you didn’t argue, or else. So the band was split into a 4 piece and a 3 piece. The quartet was Jeff Wallington on drums, Stan Foster on piano, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, Derry Wilkie on vocals, and me on sax. The trio was Brian ‘Griff’ Griffiths on guitar/ bass, Billy Hughes on guitar/ vocals, and a good German drummer who’s name escapes me. I often wondered if losing Stuart at that time, and Paul having to play bass lines on his guitar, if had influenced him to take up bass as his main instrument.
BM: Do any memories stand out while recording Rockestra Theme, with Paul McCartney, and so many legendary musicians?
Howie Casey: The ‘ Rockestra‘ recording sessions were pretty amazing, all those big names from the Rock industry getting to play together, there weren’t any huge ego’s on show, no ‘prima donnas’ , or tantrums, I think a few were a little nervous if the truth be known, after all they’d come to play with ‘the Man’, Paul McCartney. Of course I felt okay about it I was playing with ‘Wings’ and had worked with a lot of those people. But it was an honour to be there.
BM: Tommy and Quadrophenia are two classic albums by the Who that you played on. Do any memories stand out from the studio when you played on those tracks?
Howie Casey: I played on both the albums ‘Tommy‘ and ‘Quadrophenia‘ I got the call because I’d played on a couple of John Entwistle albums, and also done some stuff for Pete Townsend. All I remember is two tracks I did ‘Eyesight for the Blind’ and ‘Acid Queen’, other tracks if I did any I can’t remember. Because I’d done those sessions when they decided to use a horn section on tour, I got the call and put a three piece section together. It went very well although Roger Daltrey took some convincing, on the first rehearsal when he walked in he looked us on our riser behind John’s amps and said ” What are they for?” -Charming!!
BM: When Paul McCartney was busted for pot, and the 1980 tour was canceled, what went through your mind?
Howie Casey: When we arrived in Japan for the tour, the Horn section of Tony Dorsey, Thaddeus Richard, Steve Howard, and myself all got together in my hotel room, to have a drink and I handed out cigars I’d bought at duty free. We’d just lit up and were having a laugh when Alan Crowder walked in I offered him a drink and a cigar, which he turned down, which was very unusual for Alan, I said,” What’s the matter Al”? He said ” Paul’s in jail”, and we all thought he was taking the mickey as usual, but he wasn’t laughing. Then he told us what had happened. We were shocked, but said, hey it’s okay the powers that be will sort this out. It didn’t happen like that, we were told to be ready to leave if they could get Paul out. There was a possible seven year sentence if not, so either way we were going home, no tour! To say the least we were pissed off, we’d just negotiated a better deal for ourselves, so this was a big blow for us. Plus the whole crew were stunned, Linda and the rest of the band were in pieces. Of course, Paul did get out and we were told get packed and off to the airport. Paul was brought to the plane and put into the cheap seats with the rest of us, and off we flew. He was of course moved up to first class once the plane took off. The drag was, I think, was that it heralded the end of that line up of ‘Wings‘. A damn shame, as that was one tight band. Thing is we were told dope was easily available in Japan anyway. So there was no need to put in the luggage. Just forgetfulness? Maybe!!
BM: Can you tell us about the record, Twist at the Top, and where fans can get a copy?
Howie Casey: To be honest I don’t know were you can get a copy of ‘Twist at the Top‘ I think it’s a record collectors item, I don’t have an original copy myself.
BM: Where are you currently playing, and where can fans catch up with you? Any other news?
Howie Casey: These days I still play even at my age, which will be 81 in July this year, I have a 12 piece band called ‘Beatles with Wings‘ obviously you can see what type of music we play. Also, I’ve been playing with some old friends in a group called ‘Chas and Dave‘, and the odd session now and again, plus ‘Solo’ and ‘Duo’ gigs.
By Bob Wilson