Friday, 14 May 2021

ORIGINAL DRUMMER FROM "RAM" DENNY SEIWELL: " I JUST MET A BEATLE. THAT’S AMAZING’

In October 1970, drummer Denny Seiwell was a sought-after New York City session musician who split his time between studios and jazz clubs. Like a lot of local session men, he used an answering service to set up his gigs. One day, the service called to give him good news and bad news: A session he was supposed to attend had been canceled, but Barry Kornfeld, a friend and folky guitarist, wanted him to do a demo. Normally, Seiwell was too busy to do demos, but because of the cancelation, he had an open slot, and he hadn’t seen Kornfeld in a while. He agreed to go.



 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"They gave me the address, and I said, ‘Jeez, is there a studio there?’” Seiwell says. “It didn’t sound right. I went to the address, and it was a brownstone, way over on the West side, on 43rd Street or something. And it didn’t look like it had electricity. Like they were going to renovate the building or something. I walk up the steps to the lobby there, and there’s a guy. I said, ‘Is there a studio here?’ And he pointed to the basement. And here it is, this dingy, dirt-floor basement, a ratty set of drums sitting in the middle of it, and Paul and Linda sitting on a folding chair over in the corner. That was it. It was very bizarre.”

“Paul and Linda” were, of course, the McCartneys, among the most recognizable couples in the Western world. The demo Seiwell was expecting had turned out to be an audition for an ex-Beatle and his bride. “Musically, we hit it off,” Seiwell says. “We had fun together. I was relaxed, and he was relaxed, and we just had a groove. And I walked out of there saying, ‘Damn, I just met a Beatle. That’s amazing.’ And I thought, ‘I’ll never get to do it.’”

But he did. Seiwell passed the audition, and a few days later, McCartney called him and told him he wanted to book him for a series of recording sessions that would be starting soon. He said yes. Seiwell would go on to be a founding member of Wings, McCartney’s post-Beatles band, and would play on the first two Wings albums, Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, as well as on Bond-theme-song single “Live and Let Die.” But the highlight of his collaborations with McCartney—and one of the highlights of McCartney’s career—was the record they laid down together in late 1970, along with Linda and guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken: Ram. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ram, which was shared with the world on May 17, 1971, will turn 50 on Monday. This week, Seiwell saluted it with the release of Ram On, a track-by-track tribute album that the original drummer—joined by Spinozza and a host of Ram admirers from the music world—played on and coproduced. The impulse to piece together a Ram remake during a pandemic is a manifestation of the special place in the McCartney catalog carved out by his second post-Beatles LP, the only album ever credited to “Paul and Linda McCartney.” A year after recording Abbey Road, McCartney drew on his undiminished melodicism, musicianship, and versatile voice to set the barbed hooks that result in unskippable songs. 

Listening to Ram is like retracing Seiwell’s footsteps on the day he met McCartney. It’s a trip to an unassuming, unpretentious place that doesn’t sound or look like what anyone expected, where we can share a room with Paul and Linda during a day in the life of two country dreamers who had set their troubles aside. And like its drummer’s audition, it’s a little bit bizarre.

When Seiwell met McCartney, Let It Be had been out for five months, and McCartney was six months removed from releasing his self-titled first solo album and sending a promotional press release that was widely interpreted as an announcement of the Beatles’ breakup. McCartney was estranged from his former bandmates, and although Lennon had quietly left the band first, McCartney bore the brunt of the blame in the press for precipitating the split. “I was in the middle of this horrendous Beatles breakup, and it was like being in quicksand,” McCartney recalled in Ramming, a mini-documentary that accompanied the 2012 release of a Ram deluxe edition. “And the lightbulb went off one day when we realized that we could just run away.”

He and Linda decamped to Campbeltown on Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula, where McCartney had purchased High Park Farm in 1966. As the Beatles’ bonds broke down, McCartney had dealt with depression exacerbated by drinking, but he’d pulled himself out of his funk by working on his solo songs in Scotland.

The McCartneys spent the summer of 1970 in Scotland, where they worked on songs for a more polished—but not too polished—second album, when they weren’t busy riding horses, shearing sheep, and playing with their young children. “I have some really great memories of just sitting around in the summer, in the garden, and the kids would be playing around, the sun would be shining, I’d have my guitar,” McCartney said in Ramming. “So it was kind of a great time for me, full of golden memories now, looking back at it.” In a different 2012 interview, McCartney remembered that “with some songs, I would go out into the fields if it was a nice day with my guitar.”

 As Paul also said, “I think the songs—some of them, anyway—reflected our lifestyle at the time.” It’s a record that evokes a time, place, and mood, like Exile on Main Street with a Scottish farm subbing in for a French villa and hugs instead of hard drugs. That connection comes through not just in the pastoral stylings of “Heart of the Country” and “3 Legs” or the loved-up domestic bliss of “Ram On,” “Eat at Home,” and “Long Haired Lady,” but also in the sound. Paul asked Linda to contribute to the album and be in the band he was planning to form, despite her lack of training. She received songwriting credits on six of Ram’s 12 songs, and her homespun harmonies made the album a family affair that sounded different from the Beatles. A more practiced vocalist might have sung certain “Long Haired Lady” lines more smoothly and sweetly than Linda did, but a more typical intonation also might have made it less fun to sing along.

Recording with his wife was one way to ensure that his new bandmates wouldn’t all turn on him the way the old ones did. It was also in keeping with McCartney’s lo-fi approach to his first album (as well as Wild Life, his first one with Wings). McCartney could have assembled a supergroup to record Ram, like Lennon’s “Dirty Mac” lineup at the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, but as he said in 2001, “I was looking for a new band rather than the Blind Faith thing.” 

When Seiwell and Wings founding guitarist Denny Laine (who completed the Wild Life lineup) visited the McCartneys in Scotland in 1971, after Ram was released, Seiwell says, “We wrecked a few rental cars on the way up there. It wasn’t an actual road, it was a lane with hidden boulders here and there.” After they arrived, he recalls, “We would just hang out and laugh and talk about his farm and the animals and the horses.” When it was time to jam, the quartet would enter “Rude Studio,” a modest recording space set up inside a barn. “It was all very casual, very loose,” Seiwell says. So was the Wings University Tour in 1972, a back-to-basics road trip in which the group showed up unannounced at various venues and offered to play impromptu, low-priced performances for small student crowds.

“We were all on the same level. … He hired us for what we do. And I think he had enough trust and faith in us that he would get the best performances out of us if he just let us use our musical abilities”Seiwell said. Only once did McCartney request that Seiwell do something differently, asking whether he could use a less standard, rhythmic beat to complement the vocal at the beginning of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Even in that case, Seiwell says, “He didn’t … show me what to play. He allowed me to come up with a part that worked for the song.”

 

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