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Once in a lifetime: Man who hung out with McCartney, band excited to see ex-Beatle's Knoxville show

In June 1974, Dan Ealey boldly drove out to the Middle Tennessee farm where McCartney, wife Linda and bandmates had settled in for rehearsals and music-making.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In 1974, a bold Beatles fan talked his way into meeting Paul McCartney on a Tennessee farm. He ended up spending several weeks hanging out with the former Beatle's band and occasionally meeting McCartney as they rehearsed new music.

Tonight, Dan Ealey will get to see McCartney once again, this time as a guest of the band when the former Beatle plays Thompson-Boling Arena.

To Ealey, McCartney is like Beethoven. In music, both have the same stature, he said.

"When I met Paul (in 1974) I said to my friends, Who can you meet in your life that will be remembered a thousand years from now?" Ealey told WBIR on Tuesday.

"I'm certain that Paul will be one of them."

Credit: Dan Ealey
Dan Ealey will be holding this poster tonight when he sees Paul McCartney play at Thompson-Boling Arena. That's a photo of him with Paul at the farm in 1974.

Ealey, 67, a musician and private detective in Cookeville, is a music super-fan, especially when it comes to McCartney and the Beatles.

He's collected thousands of albums and singles; he's got a couple of Hofner basses signed by McCartney, and he has gathered other noteworthy items including a tea set once owned by Brian Epstein, the late Beatles manager.

He also has a story that few others can tell -- about going to the Wilson County, Tenn., farm of songwriter Curly Putman in June 1974, spending days hanging out with Wings musicians Denny Laine and Geoff Britton and actually giving McCartney a bass as a spur-of-the-moment gift.

Ealey was 19 in June 1974. He'd fallen in love with the Beatles 10 years before as a result of their historic TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Credit: Dan Ealey
Dan Ealey is looking forward to seeing Paul McCartney on Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

He'd spotted an item in The Tennessean newspaper reporting that McCartney might be coming to the state in '74. The Liverpool native and the Beatles had split four years before. He was enjoying worldwide success with his recent album, "Band on the Run". Many more hits were to come.

Ealey heard McCartney and his wife, Linda, might have taken up residence at a secluded home in Wilson County west of Nashville. He had a few clues as to where the musician might be, so he set out in his Ford Torino station wagon on the hunt.

He spotted a man in overalls along a rural roadside near Lebanon, Tenn. Ealey thought the man likely wouldn't have a clue, but it was at least worth asking him.

Did the man know anything about a former Beatle being in the area? Ealey inquired.

You mean those guys from England? the man replied.

Credit: Dan Ealey
McCartney on Junior's Farm in 1974.

And just like that, Ealey's adventure began. The young man found the place, which turned out to be Putman's gated spread of about 133 acres, including a main house, guest house and pond. Putman would later recall that he and his family ended up taking a trip to Hawaii, thanks to his famous guests.

McCartney ended up memorializing the farm in his single that year called "Junior's Farm". He's expected to perform the song tonight with his band as part of his Knoxville set.

While at the farm that June, Ealey met and befriended Laine, a guitarist and veteran of the Moody Blues, and Britton, the drummer. He got to see McCartney. He was suddenly in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ealey made a point from then on of going out to the Putman farm every day. Sometimes he manned the gate; sometimes he just hung out, chatting and socializing with McCartney's team.

Credit: Dan Ealey
Ealey's personalized license plate.

He still has about two hours of recordings he made while the band rehearsed Wings numbers. That happened because he decided to take his tape recorder out one day to the farm.

He often brought gifts, like the time he presented McCartney with an embroidered shirt he found in Cookeville and the time he abruptly turned over his Rickenbacker bass as a present for McCartney.

Ealey said one day he brought the new bass over to the farm to show it off. Laine saw it, played it and declared McCartney would likely love it.

"Well, then, give it to him!" Ealey blurted.

McCartney kept it a couple of weeks but ultimately returned it, gratified but telling the young man he really should have it for himself. 

Credit: Live Nation
The advertisement for McCartney's show May 31 in Knoxville.

"You know, it would be silly for me to keep this bass," he recalled McCartney telling him.

McCartney did, however, keep and wear the colorful, embroidered shirt. A thrilled Ealey spotted him wearing it one day while using binoculars on the property.

Ealey said McCartney also made a point of making him feel welcome. While celebrating his 32nd birthday on the farm -- June 18, 1974 -- McCartney introduced Ealey to music legend Roy Orbison, who'd been invited to the party.

Another time, Ealey brought his friend Billy Dyer to the farm on the off chance they might get to see McCartney. Sure enough, the musician drove up and when he spotted Ealey, he remarked, "How ya' doing, Dan?

An astonished Dyer whispered to Ealey, "Paul McCartney knows your name!"

Credit: WBIR
Ealey shows off his Rickenbacker bass.

After about six weeks at the farm, it was time for McCartney and the band to move on. They had music to record and plans to make.

He'd never dream of doing it today, but back in the 1970s Ealey decided to sell that Rickenbacker bass -- just because. When you're 19 you don't always think of life from a long-term perspective.

Of course, he soon regretted what he'd done. It took him years before he finally was able to get the bass back. He keeps it safe at home now -- one of his great treasures.

After McCartney announced this winter plans to play Knoxville, the Cookeville man hoped he could get McCartney to sign the old bass for him.

Credit: Dan Ealey
Dan Ealey and Denny Laine in 1974 on the farm.

That doesn't appear likely to happen now, but through connections he's made to people close to McCartney, he is getting two tickets to see McCartney at Thompson-Boling Arena.

He and Dyer plan to be there, hopefully, close enough that McCartney will spot them from the stage. Ealey has seen McCartney in concert before, but Tuesday night will be special.

He thinks he is the first person to hear the early version of Wings play live in America -- because of their rehearsals all those years ago down on Junior's Farm. He still counts himself as friends with Laine and Britton, trading occasional communications with them.

What if he could speak to McCartney today?

"People ask me, Do you think Paul still remembers you? Many people say I'm sure he still does because I was there all the time.

"You know, I gave him the bass, I gave him the shirt. I would just want to know how much he remembers about me being at the farm, if he remembers introducing me to Roy Orbison."

Maybe, just maybe, he'll get to have that conversation someday.

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