Paul the accordionist?

Tunes - Norwegian music magazine

The latest issue of the Norwegian music magazine Tunes has a great Beatles cover, and an article about Norwegian Beatles fans who have met The Beatles or members of the group. The article has been written by Nils V. Gjerstad. One of the more interesting stories is accompanied by a photo of Paul McCartney with an accordion.

Paul McCartney carrying an accordion

The fan photo was snapped on the 13th of August 1968 by a 18 year old Beatles fan Egil Gjerde, and speculation is that this might be the accordion from “Rocky Raccoon” on The Beatles (White Album). The song was recorded August 15th. The accordion player on Roccy Raccoon has never been documented, maybe this is the one!

A closer look at the instrument

Here’s Henry Doktorski’s description of Rocky Raccoon (taken from his article on The Beatles and the Free-Reed Instruments:

Rocky Raccoon

The harmonica and accordion appeared in the song Rocky Raccoon from the double white album titled The Beatles (Apple: November 22, 1968) and helped give the song it’s cowboy flavor: it is set in the American wild west of the 19th century. Other factors which contribute to its bawdy saloon atmosphere are 1) Paul McCartney’s half-spoken sprechgesang introduction in a mock cowboy dialect and 2) an extensive honky-tonk piano solo.

The song tells the story about a young boy — Rocky Raccoon — who loses his girlfriend to another suitor who called himself Dan. Rocky decides to get back at his rival and shoot him. However, as Daniel was the better marksman, he drew first and wounded Rocky who collapsed in a corner.

The harmonica appeared in this song briefly at the end of the first verse and more extensively during the third verse:

Now she and her man who called himself Dan
Were in the next room at the hoe down
Rocky burst in and grinning a grin
He said Danny boy this is a showdown.

The accordion (with a distinctive musette sound) appeared during the verse:

Now the doctor came in, stinking of gin
And proceeded to lie on the table
He said “Rocky, you met your match.”
And Rocky said, “Doc, it’s only a scratch
And I’ll be better. I’ll be better doc as soon as I am able.”

The accordion sounds like a 12-bass instrument and it is played badly, as if the performer was as drunk as the doctor stinking of gin. (Actually, the Beatles made it a point NEVER to perform while under the influence as the music suffered, but once John Lennon accidentally ingested some LSD before a Sgt. Pepper’s recording session and consequently had to stop for the rest of the night.) Endnote 14

Considering the high quality of all the other performances on the album — and the sloppiness of the accordion part — it is possible that Paul McCartney (the actual composer of Rocky Raccoon), intended the accordion to represent the drunk doctor and therefore deliberately had the instrument played badly. However, I doubt if this “word painting” was intentionally planned. I suspect that Paul or John simply had difficulty controlling the bellows and coordinating the right and left hands.

John borrowed the accordion to run through some parts of “All You Need Is Love” with some of the players in the studio during a recording session. It was recorded on June 14th 1967.

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