He may be one of the world's most famous musicians, but when Paul McCartney walked through the modest blue front door at the Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard on Sunday, he was just another excited, awestruck Motown fan.
"He loved Studio A," reports the museum's chief curator, Lina Stephens. Stephens gave the former Beatle a private tour, along with his band and his fiancee Nancy Shevell, slipping them in at 3 p.m., just before McCartney's 4 p.m. soundcheck at Comerica Park.
Casual in a Hawaiian-style shirt, jeans and athletic shoes, McCartney, 69, was low-key and friendly.
"Every piano he came to, he'd say, 'I know I'm not supposed to touch this,' but he touched it anyway," Stephens says.
Asked if he'd like to be on his own or have a guided tour, he opted for the tour. He, Shevell and the band walked through every room of the museum. Stephens reports that he was very surprised to see a photo of himself in an exhibit upstairs, pictured with several of Berry Gordy's children.
But McCartney was most eager to see Studio A, the small space in the back of the Hitsville house where you can feel the ghosts of all those sweaty, classic sessions where so many Motown hits were recorded.
"He loved the film we show, he loved going upstairs (to see the restoration of Berry Gordy's early '60s apartment), but he said, 'OK, let's get to the studio, let's get to the studio,' " she says, laughing.
Once in Studio A, dubbed "the Snakepit" by Motown's studio band, the Funk Brothers, McCartney was amazed to see how small it was, considering the music that came out of there. "Talking to his band, he compared the control room in Studio A to Abbey Road (studio)'s," Stephens said.
When Stephens got to the part of the tour where she demonstrates how Motown producers used a middle hallway as an echo chamber, the musicians snapped their fingers and clapped to test it.
While enjoying Stephens' stories, McCartney was prompted to tell some of his own.