Growing up a Beatles fan, Rusty Anderson had a recurring dream that the Fab Four would one day show up with their instruments at his La Habra home looking to jam with the then 7 year old. Decades later, Anderson finds himself sharing the stage around the world as as lead guitarist for Paul McCartney’s band, which he joined in 2001.
Anderson shared that unexpected journey Thursday night, Feb. 22, at Riverside City College’s Coil School of Arts with an audience of music students, local musicians and fans. “When I was five I flipped out over the Beatles, which is weird because I play with one now,” he said in the school’s 450-seat concert hall.
On a spare stage with just a red guitar, an amplifier, a music stand and a microphone, Anderson also performed a few songs for the audience. He played an instrumental version of a piece by 19th century French composer Claude Debussy and sang one of his own songs called “Effortless.”
Anderson began playing music at a young age and got his first guitar at 8. He found music to be an escape, especially after his older brother died when Anderson was 5. “It was kind of magical and positive and emotional and positive and fantastic,” he said. When he was 14, he formed his own band with friends called Eulogy which gained a Southern California following — playing about 85 to 95 high schools in one year, he said.
Eulogy continued to have some success in the 1970s and 1980s, playing shows with Van Halen and a gig in Riverside with The Police.
The band eventually broke up and Anderson started teaching guitar and working as a studio session player. He went played on songs by artists such as Elton John, Sinead O’ Connor, the Bangles and Ricky Martin. He even played guitar on Martin’s big hit, “Living La Vida Loca.” Through his studio work, Anderson got to know David Kahne, a producer and record executive, who casually mentioned he was producing McCartney’s next record and might need some guitar playing.
A few months later, Anderson was in a studio with McCarney. Within half an hour they were playing music. He said he felt an instant connection with McCartney, whom he said puts people at ease despite his iconic reputation. “You find that magical timing — there’s nothing like it,” Anderson said. “It’s really a communication. Instead of words it’s with tones and the instrument.”
After two weeks in the studio, Anderson had a surreal flashback to his childhood dreams when McCartney casually relayed to him “Oh, hey, I had a dream about you, mate.” Anderson laughed at the memory, responding to McCartney that he had been in his dreams as well. He ended up on McCartney’s album “Driving Rain,” and was invited to join the band. His first show was a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The show also featured David Bowie, the Who and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. “After doing that, I felt I could do anything,” Anderson said. He marveled at the fact that he’s now been in McCartney’s band 17 years — which he joked was like 200 years in rock’n’roll years. Anderson played in places he never thought he would be at, like Red Square in Moscow, two Super Bowls and the Coliseum in Rome. Responding to audience questions, Anderson offered tips on dealing with writer’s block, talked about what inspired him and his approach to songwriting.
He said there isn’t one path to learning and called himself a mediocre student at first who studied different types of guitar playing on and off. But, for him, the pursuit is about the joy of playing. “It’s something you do because it’s something you’re passionate about,” Rusty said.