McCartney talks drugs, Dylan downplays the '60s in record exec's trove of rock star interviews

(CBS News) NEW YORK - What would you give to be able to sit down with your favorite singers and get the real story behind their success and what inspired them? One man did just that, and he has given his trove of recorded interviews to the Library of Congress that so everyone can hear them.

After four decades in the music business, Joe Smith -- the man who signed Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison and the Eagles, among others -- wanted to have some conversations.

"The idea was to put on tape the voices and feelings of some of the greatest musicians and music figures over the years," said Smith, "as many as I could get to."

Music mogul donates audio interviews with icons

As president of Capitol Records, he got 200 of the biggest names, such as Paul McCartney, to talk to him -- really talk.

"And "Sgt. Pepper" owes a lot to, um, drugs ... to pot and stuff," said McCartney in one of the interviews. "That was us kind of getting into that. And it was rather innocent compared to what you talk about these days it was very innocent. It was never seriously heavy stuff."

Asked how hard was it to get his subjects to talk, Smith said: "I was an insider, I was a part of the business."

Smith got raw candor from rock and roll pioneers like Bo Diddley talking about his own death:

"I'm worried about when my booty kick off," he said from the interview. "Will anybody notice? Will anybody notice? That's something to talk about. Will anybody notice when Bo Diddley cease to exist? And if I stay here, I got to get old. And if I get hold, I got to die."

Then, imagine the hardest working man in show business, James Brown, letting his vulnerable side show.

Smith (in the audio interview) : When did you feel that you really had it made? That you were going to make it on your own?

Brown: I ain't never got it made.

Smith: No?

Brown: No one has it made.

Smith was asked what his favorite moment from everything he is giving to the Library of Congress.

"That was a key moment asking Bob Dylan about the '60s, and he said the '60s weren't all that important," he replied.

"You know, I'm not really a nostalgic person," said Dylan from the audio interview. "I just don't buy into the '60s thing, like a lot of people seem to do."

Joe Smith spent his career creating some of the biggest stars our culture's ever known -- those whose enormous talents left room for little else.

"But to make room, out goes gratitude, out goes any sense of civility, you know, they are different," said Smith. "They're not like you and me."

And because Joe Smith wants to share what our icons told him, we now get to hear their real voices.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.