'I'm just having more fun': Ex-Wings drummer Denny Seiwell on leaving rock for jazz

The upcoming reissue of Paul McCartney’s second solo effort Ram had us thinking about drummer Denny Seiwell, who joined McCartney’s band for that project then became a cornerstone of the original lineup of Wings.

Seiwell, you might recall, was serving as the house drummer at the legendary Half Note jazz club in New York City when McCartney called to audition him for the Ram sessions. He would play an integral role as part of Wings on 1971’s Wild Life and 1973’s Red Rose Speedway — a period that included the hit singles “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “My Love” and “Live and Let Die,” along with three tours.

“Working with Paul, we had such a good working experience and an artistic endeavor that he asked me to come — to leave my position as a sessions drummer in New York — and move to England and form the band Wings with him. And we put Wings together,” Seiwell tells John J. Moser, of The Morning Call.

But ongoing legal difficulties as McCartney worked to extricate himself from the Beatles meant that money was tight, and a nearly penniless Seiwell eventually left on the eve of Wings’ celebrated recording Band on the Run. It was only years later, Seiwell says, that he contacted McCartney to smooth over his abrupt departure — and the former Beatle offered to compensate him as part a promised-but-never-fulfilled financial arrangement: “He did make good with all of the guys from the past,” Seiwell says. “Many, many, many years later — let’s put it that way.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Henry McCullough talks about his time with Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band — and how addiction almost cost him everything.]

Seiwell went on to a successful career as a sessions drummer, working with James Brown and Billy Joel, among others. He also did TV and film work, including Disney’s “Atlantis.” These days, Seiwell has returned to his jazz roots, leading a trio featuring guitarist John Chiodini and organ player Joe Bagg. Their debut, last year’s Reckless Abandon includes several swinging updates of McCartney’s songs, including “Bip Bop,” “Dear Friend” and “Coming Up.”

“It was always a dream of mine to have an organ trio; I just liked that sound,” he tells the Morning Call. “And now that I’m retired from the mainstream recording … I’m just having more fun and I’m going back to my roots in jazz.”

The deluxe, remastered re-issue of Ram is due May 22, just in time to commemorative its 40th anniversary. Extras include a new documentary narrated by McCartney called “Ramming” about the making of the album, as well as original music videos for the songs “Heart Of The Country” and “3 Legs.”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Paul McCartney. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

PAUL McCARTNEY – KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012): This is not just a love letter to a lost era of songmaking, but one of the most evocative, deeply ardent records that McCartney has ever issued. Working in a higher vocal range that remains largely untouched by age, or his rugged third-act touring schedule, the ex-Beatle stirs up a spectacular range of emotions: The hushed, crepuscular melancholy of Peter van Steeden’s “Home (When Shadows Fall)” is matched only by the stirring resolve found on Haywood Henry’s “Get Yourself Another Fool” from this now thrice-married soon-to-be-70-year-old. McCartney’s trembling rapture throughout Irving Berlin’s “Always” finds a balancing moment in his impish hat-tipping joy during Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Thcu-Ate The Positive.”

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BAND ON THE RUN (1973; 2010 reissue): A terrific reissue that reveals this anew as the most personal of McCartney recordings — though, even now, the album’s unifying theme of escape is more subtle (and thus more commercial) than the blunt confessional style of his former partner John Lennon. McCartney, instead, uses broader storytelling brushstrokes — skillfully weaving his own desire to break free of the Beatles with the age-old myths of ne’er-do-wells, hitchhikers and outsiders. No McCartney effort yet has taken so many chances, nor so successfully blended his interests in the melodic, the orchestral, the rocking and the episodic. In keeping, of the Beatles solo recordings, Band on the Run always sounded the most to me like something the old band might have put together.

PAUL McCARTNEY – McCARTNEY (1970)/McCARTNEY II (1980; 2011 reissues): Taken together, these albums show a willingness to strip down what had become a varnished sound. After all, Paul was coming off huge productions in the form of 1969’s Abbey Road with the Beatles and 1979’s Back to the Egg with Wings. But there is a broad disparity, more pronounced than ever, in how these recordings have aged. McCartney comes off as more organic, a simpler expression — like someone trying to work out his own sound. McCartney II was, truth be told, fatally hobbled from the first by Paul’s own poor mechanics with the synthesizers he chose to experiment with throughout.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BACK TO THE EGG (1979): It’s time to go back and reevaluate Paul McCartney and Wings’ unjustly ignored Back to the Egg. Released in May 1979, the album showcased a rebuilt Wings lineup, with lead guitarist Laurence Juber working in sharp counterpoint to Denny Laine. Also on board was co-producer Chris Thomas, a former assistant to George Martin for the Beatles’ White Album who brought an edgier style to much of the project — in keeping with his concurrent work with the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders. McCartney’s stated goal, back then, was to make a raw-boned rock record. And he largely succeeded, putting a bright charge into his sound after the soft-rock fluff of 1978’s London Town.

Something Else!

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.