As venues get filled with thousands of fans and each person's voice sings along with legendary musician Paul McCartney during his current North American Tour, there's no doubt that all eyes will be focused on The Beatle and every move he makes.
While everyone knows McCartney's music, his past and his present — there are others with him on stage who have stories of their own. Among his band, which includes Paul Wickens on keyboards, Brian Ray on guitar and Abe Laboriel on drums, is guitarist Rusty Anderson, who has had an interesting musical life in its own right.
A member of McCartney's band for the last eight years, Anderson was a member of the band Ednaswap (they wrote the original song "Torn" which Natalie Imbruglia turned into a hit), has been a studio musician with numerous artists (Gwen Stefani, Elton John, Regina Spektor, Sinead O'Connor, among others) and has worked to establish a solo career (his second album, Born on Earth, will be released on Aug. 3).
Anderson was doing a variety of session work when a friend of his, producer David Kahne, asked him to contribute some guitar work for an album McCartney was working on. "A couple of months after he asked me, I walked into the studio and we started working on that record," Anderson says from his California home. "Now, it's been almost a decade. It just turned into a band situation."
Anderson says he's content wearing so many hats as a guitarist, singer, producer and songwriter, but he also loves touring around the world.
"I feel really lucky to spend my life playing music, not to mention being able to play with Paul and putting my own music out there," Anderson says. "I do pinch myself from time to time. That's the craziest thing — getting used to flying around the world and playing gigs and playing big shows. I never expected it. When I was a kid, I sort of focused on music as a career, but it's come to this and that's the most mind-blowing part — that I have a comfort with it."
When he's not on the road with McCartney, he's working on his solo career and trying to find time to play a show or two of his own. At times, McCartney doesn't give much notice about an upcoming show, but Anderson won't complain about it. It's also relaxed on stage.
"There was just a certain chemistry that was there right away," Anderson says. "Everyone knows how to represent the songs and check their own personality without hopefully screwing up these sort of gospel arrangements — not gospel music, but like it's gospel.
"I'm probably more comfortable playing music in the studio or on the stage than I am walking or talking. It's a great way to communicate. It exists, but you can't see it. You can hear it, but you can't touch it. Because of that artistic element, it commands your attention and focus in a way that's beyond thinking."
Anderson says he finds brief moments to take it all in when he's on stage, but for the most part, he tries to be "in the moment" and do his job building momentum throughout the night.
His solo music has its own guitar-driven characteristics, and he admits he's picked up plenty of things from the people he's performed with over the years. If McCartney were to stop touring, Anderson says he'd perform more with his solo band while welcoming any other opportunities that may come his way.
"I gave up trying to plan things a long time ago," he says. "When people ask for career advice, I don't even know what to say other than 'Follow your muse and be true to your passion.' It's a crazy world and you never know what's coming your way. I just follow the river and let it flow down."