This month in 1971 saw the release of Ram, the second solo album from Paul McCartney and the first to be released after the dissolution of The Beatles. And now, fifty years on, the album has been re-recorded, or rather ‘reimagined’, by a group of different artists, and has been given the blessing of McCartney himself. Ram On is a contemporary 50th anniversary ‘reimagining’ of the album, featuring three of the musicians who played on the original release – David Spinozza (guitar), Marvin Stamm (Flugel Horn on ‘Uncle Albert’) and Denny Seiwell (drums) – who all recreated their respective parts, alongside a whole new generation of performers, many of whom weren’t even conceived in 1971. The remake also includes contributions from people like Joey Santiago (The Pixies), Davey Johnstone (Elton John band) and Brian Wilson’s daughter Carnie – with Fernando Perdome working closely with Denny overseeing the project. The album comprises warm and sensitive re-recordings of all the original tracks on Ram, performed by artists clearly enthralled by the quality of the original album, plus also two non-album tracks from the sessions, Another Day / Oh Woman, Oh Why.
After playing on the album, Seiwell became a member of Wings, playing on Wildlife and Red Rose Speedway, several songs regarded as classics by McCartney’s fans, such as My Love and Live And Let Die, and gigged with them at major venues and events across the world, but left the band as they were about to leave to record Band On The Run in Africa. His time with Wings came to an end with a dispute over financial issues, happily since resolved.
At the time of the original album being recorded, though, McCartney was in the midst of litigation against his erstwhile estranged bandmates, and the album itself when released was met with derision by many critics, with Rolling Stone being especially critical. Lennon claimed some songs on the album contained personal jibes aimed at him and Yoko, notably Dear Boy and Too Many People, and even Ringo said, ‘There’s not one song on Ram. I just feel he’s wasted his time, he seems to be going strange. It’s like he’s not admitting he can write great songs.’ The British public disagreed and ensured Ram made it to Number One.
Denny Seiwell agreed to talk to Velvet Thunder from the States about the making of the original Ram album and what was behind the remaking of it, and I began by suggesting he must be sick of being asked about Ram after all these years. ‘No, not at all,’ he laughed, ‘it’s a great album and I’m so proud to have been a part of the making of it’.
VT: Did you play at all on Band on the Run?
DS: No. We’d rehearsed the album up on the farm in Scotland. There’s a tape of that somewhere in the universe, which was the original band of Paul and Linda, Henry (McCollough), Denny (Laine) and me. That tape of the rehearsal was just extraordinary. Paul used all the drum parts I’d made up in preparing for the album, and when he went down to record it, he just played my drum parts, so I feel like I had a part in it.
As an album, how easy was Ram to make?
It took about five months and it was easy for us as Paul did all the tracking dates. We recorded about twenty three songs. They weren’t hard days, though it was complicated music, but as session men, we really gave it our best shot. We never spent more than one day on a song, and that one day would be a couple hours learning a song, and five or six takes to get the right take for the recording, and then we’d be done with the tracking date. Paul would come in in the evening and start putting bass or vocals on the song, I didn’t even see him with a bass guitar during the sessions, he might play guitar or piano and sing a pilot vocal for us to learn the song, and as soon as we had our parts right, we’d start doing takes, but the session guys wouldn’t be there for the overdubs. It wasn’t that hard for us session guys; we just had to show up for work, listen to the song, come up with a great part to complement the song and get it on tape, then we were done. First time I heard the album was the first time I heard Paul playing bass! It wasn’t that hard of a process, though the material was really hard and we knew this was something special and we wanted to be very careful about what we came up with, but Paul gave us free rein. He didn’t say ‘I want you play something like this..’ there was none of that, he just let us go!
Some of the material on the album was quite complex so, as a drummer, how challenging was it to lay down drum parts for songs like Uncle Albert and Back Seat Of My Car?’
This was the only time Paul asked me to find something different, on the beginning of Uncle Albert, rather than play a regular drum rhythm. He asked for something more broken up which would reflect the vocal better, and leave more space for the vocal. I said ‘sure’, so I fooled around for a minute, came up with something, and he said, ‘that’s great, we’ll use that.’ It was no big deal, and this was the only time he asked for something different. I believe Paul hired us, the New York session players, because of what we do. We go to work every day and create stuff on the spot, and you get pretty good at it after you’ve done this for a little while. That’s what he was hoping for and it’s what he got with the Ram album.”
At the time of recording Ram, Paul was in the midst of litigation against his erstwhile band colleagues, which divided opinion amongst fans and critics alike. Did this have any impact on his focus whilst recording the album?
No, he was totally focused on the record. He kept us totally sheltered from what was going on elsewhere, and we were so busy because, in those days, session men like (Hugh) McCracken, (David) Spinozza and I, we were running from date to date, going from one session to another, sometimes three to five a day. So, I kinda knew there was this thing with the Beatles break-up, but I wasn’t up-to-the-moment with it, shall we say, and he never brought it into the studio with him when we were making the record, so it really had no effect on me one way or the other. It was just another session, except the songs were so good, and I was playing with a Beatle!
Had you realised you were going to be playing with a Beatle when you went along to the original audition?
Oh no! I met Paul at a clandestine audition, in this weird building over on the west side, when he was looking to hear some drummers. But when I walked in, I had no idea I was gonna be meeting a Beatle, especially Paul McCartney. He was in the room with Linda. I walked in and he said, ‘there are some drums there, you mind playing something for us?’ He said they were in New York to make a record and were currently looking at some drummers, so I said ‘sure’ (laughs). I played for about fifteen minutes, some rock n’ roll and some shuffles, and some Ringo impersonations, shall we say, (another laugh, then a pause). I think I had a good attitude, which they liked, and I played well. We had a little fun, and I walked out of there thinking ‘I just met a Beatle, what a great day this is’. I immediately forgot about it because I thought, he’s looking for a drummer and there are so many great drummers in this town, and a few days later I get the call. ‘Hello, this is Paul’. ‘Paul who ?’ ‘You know, the guy you played for the other day, I’d like to hire you to play on the record we’re gonna make’. So I said ‘gimme a moment to look at my book, see if I’m available,’ while at the same time I was throwing stuff in the air! I said ‘sure’, I got the dates and then we started in on Ram. We’ve been together since then, apart from the twenty years we didn’t talk! (laughs again)
What was it about your drumming that persuaded Paul to ask you to join Wings?
When he called me he said – and this is British, so don’t blame me – he said I was a ‘shit hot drummer’! I think he recognised I didn’t come from the mindset of being just a standard rock n’ roll drummer, I had a jazz background and I was accomplished in Latin music and other stuff. He appreciated this and I think he noticed it in my playing when we first met, and I called on all these various styles on Ram because it required so much more than just being a rock n’ roll drummer. My dad had drummed with Tommy Dorsey, and I grew up listening to Big Bands. He’d sit me by the stage when I was three and I’d watch the band play, so I started early.
Was it the case that you played on Ram using the same drumkit Ringo used when The Beatles played Shea Stadium?
Yes! The museum of famous people in New York had gone out of business, and some of their displays were auctioned off, and one of these was the Shea Stadium kit Ringo played, so my friend from the pro-drum went along and bought the kit, and sold it to me for three hundred bucks, minus the snare drum. The first day of the sessions, I set the drums up with The Beatles head on the front, and my father’s snare drum. Paul walks in, says ‘hey man, you ready to go?’ and then he does a double-take. ‘Are those your drums?’ He’d seen The Beatles drumkit in the booth, so it was just a really nice way to start the session.”
Mentioning Ram, it’s now fifty years old and has been ‘reimagined’ for a new generation, but why should a fan listen to this when the original album is available? What’s being offered to the fan with this new release?
I hate that this word’s come along, ‘reimagined’, but Ram, the original album, affected so many generations of people. I run into people all the time who tell me Ram is their favourite record, not just their favourite McCartney solo record. Two or three generations of musicians were affected by Ram. What happened was, a young friend, Fernando Perdomo, said ‘all these people I know from my generation want to pay tribute to a record which meant so much to them. and helped to shape their musical careers as well’. So, this was done out of love. Everybody on this album has such a connection with the original record, and everybody involved knew their parts, so when they got the opportunity to appear on the record, and pay tribute to an all-time favourite album, it was nothing but a delight for them to do this. It was all done during the Lockdown. We put the drum tracks down, then the guitar and bass tracks, and started sending it out all over the world. We wanted to stay true to form and capture the spirit and the vibe of the original record, so when it came to vocals, my job was to pick the vocal which came closest to the vocal Paul put on the original, not an exact copy, but as long as we had the spirit, that was fine. Sometimes we’d work with a vocalist, give them notes, change things slightly to get what we wanted, but other than this we left them to it. I only went to the studio two or three days when it was just me and Fernando in the studio. It was all done remotely and turned out just beautiful. I haven’t even met any of these people yet!
And it wasn’t just younger musicians involved, was it?
No. I also wanted some of my ace friends involved, people I love and respect, so I asked Davy Johnstone, from Elton John’s band, to put a solo on one of the songs, which he did and it’s brilliant. I also asked Joey Santiago, from The Pixies, to do a guitar part, and he said, ‘love to, man.’ When we did Another Day, I wondered if Spinozza was still around to put his parts on, and he said he’d love to. He even used the same guitar to do his parts as he did on the original album! Marvin Stamm played the Flugel Horn as well.
So, do you believe Ram On has captured the spirit of the original album?
I do, yes. I’m way too close to it, being producer and drummer, but I’m hearing it from the reviews coming in, and I’m pretty sure we’ve captured the spirit of it. When something’s made with love and respect, it doesn’t get much better than this. And everything’s done ‘live’ on the album, there are no synths, no fake instruments.
Would Ram have been made had Linda not been behind Paul?
She put a boot up Paul’s butt and said, ‘we can’t just sit around on the farm and pass the time, you’re a musician, we gotta get to work and make an album’. But I never saw Linda do anything other than walk into the studio with Paul and the kids, sit in the control room and make tea. Ram was her debut into singing. She grew up in New York into rock n’ roll with all that Alan Freed background, and she had everything except the experience to do it, and Paul gave her the experience, and with him guiding and directing her, how could she go wrong? So she was an integral part of the band which made Ram, and also Wings.
When Ram was first released, it was met with some very critical reviews from the music press, so how satisfying is it now the album has been favourably reassessed and a new generation has appreciated the quality of the album?
Well, I just look at it this way. If a critic or a reviewer was to give nothing but good reviews, he’d lose his job, so they have to say something negative, and I believe most of the critics slagged Ram because they had it in for McCartney because they believed he’d broken up The Beatles, even though John had left first. It was a shame the way the media handled the album’s release, but it didn’t take long for the beauty of the record to become apparent and prove them all wrong.
In the US media, Rolling Stone were particularly critical of the album!
Who reads Rolling Stone? (laughs) A lot of times, people listen with their eyes, rather than their ears, and they were vengeful towards Paul. It had nothing to do with the music. I never understood it from that publication, it was so unnecessary.
The fact of a new generation wanting to contribute to remaking Ram surely shows the critics were wrong in their assessment.
Yeah, exactly, and it didn’t take fifty years either. It only took a few years after being on the charts constantly. Today, I can get in my car, turn on a local station and you know what I’ll hear? Another Day or My Love or Live And Let Die. Uncle Albert’s always on the radio as well, so Ram’s really made its mark on the world in which we live in, and I’m just so proud to be a part of the legacy. When we decided to do this, we contacted Paul and told him, and he approved, told us to go ahead and have fun. Everyone on the album, knowing they were gonna be reviewed by Paul McCartney, gave it their best shot.
I concluded what had been a very enjoyable talk by stating, despite everything Denny’d done since, he’s still known as the guy who played on Ram and with Wings. Has this been a good or bad thing for his career?
It’s been a good thing! My claim to fame is I was the first drummer Paul McCartney asked to make music with after The Beatles. The last drummer he’d played with before that was a guy named Ringo! I used to be a jazz drummer until I played with a Beatle, and it really screws up your jazz career (laughs). After leaving Wings, I wanted to get away from bands and some of the madness that goes with them, and get back to being a legitimate session guy, playing in a 120 piece orchestra that does movie soundtracks where I’m just one of eight guys playing percussion, and I did this for a lot of years, with some jazz on the side – but when you play with one Beatle, that’s what you’re known for. People don’t know about my fun projects with James Brown and Billy Joel and Rick Danko, but they know I played on Ram and that’s the one they talk about. In a career spanning fifty years, I’ve played on 200-plus albums, but if I had to pick the most cherished one, it’d be Ram.