How Paul McCartney Reluctantly Became the Bassist for The Beatles

There’s no denying that Paul McCartney is the most famous bassist in a band ever. Many bassists go unrecognized, but Paul McCartney changed that by being a pivotal member of The Beatles. However, the “Let it Be” singer initially didn’t want to be the bassist and only took on the role when no one else could fill the slot. 

Stu Sutcliffe was the original bass guitarist for The Beatles

Paul McCartney plays his bass with The Beatles during rehearsals for 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' on ABC in 1964
Paul McCartney | David Redfern/Redferns

Stuart “Stu” Sutcliffe was the original bassist for The Beatles. While his time with the band wasn’t long, he did have a lasting impact as he is credited with coming up with the name “Beetles,” along with John Lennon. 

In an interview with Reverb, Paul McCartney said Sutcliffe initially wanted to go to art school, and he won a painting competition that awarded him 75 quid. The Beatles convinced him to buy a bass guitar with that money, and he eventually became the bassist since none of the others could afford to play bass nor wanted to. 

“Stu was suddenly there just because he could afford the bass, and none of us could,” McCartney explained. “None of us wanted to be the bass player. It wasn’t the number one job. Nobody wanted to play bass, they wanted to be up front. The bass player was normally a fat guy who stood at the back. In our minds, it was the fat guy in the group nearly always played the bass, and he stood at the back. None of us wanted that. We wanted to be up front, singing, looking good. That was what we wanted, to pull the birds. There’s no other reason, basically.”

Paul McCartney became the bassist for The Beatles after Sutcliffe left the band

While The Beatles were performing in Hamburg, Sutcliffe met a girl and decided to stay and commit to going to art school. The Beatles were left with no bassist, and George Harrison and John Lennon both turned to Paul McCartney to fill the role. While Macca wasn’t thrilled about taking on the bass role, he understood that he needed to do it. 

“So it was like oh-oh, we haven’t got a bass player. And everyone sort of turned round and looked at me. I was a bit lumbered with it, really. It was like, well, it better be you then. I don’t think you could have caught John doing it—I don’t think he would have done it. ‘No, you’re kidding. I’ve got a nice new Rickenbacker.’”

“I didn’t have a guitar, see, so I couldn’t really say, ‘But I want to be a guitarist.’ They’d say, ‘Well get a f****** guitar then—that might be a start!’ As I say, I’d been playing piano, which was on the stage, and that was quite good for me, gave me a lot of piano practice. I couldn’t really play but I learned. So I was quite glad to get back in the front line.”

McCartney became proud of playing bass after teaching Elvis Presley

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While Paul McCartney initially had a pessimistic attitude toward playing bass for The Beatles, he enjoyed the role over time. He loved his control over the band because they couldn’t do much without him. The peak of his pride came when he met Elvis and began teaching him how to play bass guitar. 

“You asked about meeting Elvis, and when we met him, he was trying to learn bass,” McCartney told Reverb. “So I was like, ‘You’re trying to learn bass are you… son? Sit down, let me show you a few things.’ So I was very proud of being the bass player. But as it went on and got into that melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest.”