❉ Wings’ Denny Seiwell and Fernando Perdomo pay tribute to 50 years of ‘RAM’ this month.
“This record is a companion piece to Ram. At the very least, it’s great to hear these songs done with different light. A lot of the same parts, and any fan of Denny is going to fall in love with the record. It’s such a cool record: listen to the original, listen to this one.” – guitarist Fernando Perdomo.
“I was six years old when I first heard Ram, I remember it very well,” guitarist Fernando Perdomo says. “It was a mind blowing record, and it’s one of my favourites of all time. Making this record was something I’ve been training for my entire life.”
Perdomo’s agreed to take this time to talk about the impending release of Ram On, a colossal labour of love that doubles as both a celebration and remake of Ram, the Paul McCartney album that is now celebrating its golden anniversary. Perdomo, tenderly holding a guitar in clear view of our Zoom screen, is generous enough to play the opening strains of Too Many People, the stomping rocker that still makes regular appearances at the Beatle bassist’s setlists. “[Ram] is ageless,” Perdomo continues. “It’s aged better than most of the other ones. It’s easier to find somebody that hasn’t heard it, than to find somebody that doesn’t like it. And it’s a lot of people that we’ve talked to’s favourite album of all time. It’s just so cool: it never lost it’s ‘cool.”
Joining Perdomo is Denny Seiwell, the powerhouse percussionist who not only played on the original Ram, but subsequently went on to drum for McCartney in Wings. During his time with the group, Seiwell worked on everything from lovelorn ballads One More Kiss and My Love, to turbo charged rockers Hi Hi Hi and Live and Let Die. And he’s eager to point that years before 10cc, The Clash and The Police were churning reggae pieces, Wings were dipping their toes into the genre. “We were so deep into reggae,” Seiwell says, smiling at the many happy memories that are playing in his head. “Paul and Linda said, ‘How about a cover of Love Is Strange?’ What can we do to do it justice, and do something different with it. REGGAE!”
Seiwell is constantly asked about the jaunty backbeat he brought to Love Is Strange, and Wings – long considered faux-naif in the eyes of the British buying public- are beginning to enjoy something that could be pencilled as a cultural revival “Henry McCullough played drums on C’Moon,” Seiwell reveals. “He played one tenth that I could have played [chuckles]. We were over in Olympic Studios working on Red Rose Speedway, and we were going to work on that song later. We were taking a break really. Then, Paul started playing, and Henry starts going ‘Chi chi chi chi’. I would have played twice as much already, but he was playing this sparse part that I loved. I grabbed Paul’s right-handed bass, and started thumping on it, and I played it on the track. Paul, of course, overdubbed that part.”
Seiwell cuts an unassuming figure, seated as he by mementos of a lifetime spent making music. With his father’s drum at his side, and a penchant for quippery, the drummer shows himself more than able of tackling any lippy Liverpudlian bandleader. And then there’s Perdomo, clearly relishing the chance to collaborate with one of his childhood icons: “Denny’s such a versatile drummer: he can be Ringo; sparse; jazzy. He did some really interesting stuff on Ram- 3 Legs is very Levon Helm-like at times. What he did on Heart of The Country [smiles], with the brushes…He even drummed on a guitar for Dear Boy.”
It’s clear early on in the interview that Ram On was something much greater than a passion project for Perdomo. He whizzes through titles of McCartney albums, describes himself a “McCartney freak”, and offers us a tutorial about guitar cadences, chords and controls. “I’ll never forget the initial impact of Too Many People, especially because I was learning the guitar,” the guitarist says; “As a huge fan of bar solos… That song, the unhinged quality of the bar playing, blew my mind! I would stare at the picture of Paul with the Firebird, and just imagine him going to town on it. At first, that song was kind of a representation of everything I love about music, because even though it opens up into this huge rock sound, it has dynamic. It starts off with that guitar [plays opening riff], and it immediately throws you into a certain place, but when it opens up, it has that power, and goes back in. So, it’s a definite lesson in dynamics: it has so much vibe.”
He’s a good teacher, but Ram On essays his guitar skill with more texture, timbre and truth. Although he admires Todd Rudgren’s more complex approach to arranging music, Perdomo feels the immediacy of McCartney’s music, no matter how abstract it may sound, is what makes him such a viable stadium attraction more than fifty years after The Beatles thing ended. There’s a ten-year-old on our record, and she’s a huge fan of [Ram]. She sings backing vocals on two songs.
Both men clearly admire the songwriting bassist in both a personal and professional light, yet also clearly acknowledge how much his caché has risen since Ram’s release in 1971. “People were listening with their eyes, and with resentment in their hearts,” Seiwell admits. “They thought, ‘PAUL BROKE UP THE BEATLES.’ All this crap: Ram was looked over. They wanted it to fail for what happened. There’s no failure in Paul, he’s going to trick you into it. If you hear any song he’s written for the third, fourth time, then it’s in your D.N.A. That’s the secret. With Wild Life, five of the eight tracks were first takes; we did it in a weekend! Paul wanted to give the world a fresh, honest look at a new band. ‘Here’s a brand new band!’ He wanted us, just like John, Paul, George& Ringo, he wanted the world to know each official member of Wings as members of Wings.”
“Some of my favourite albums of all time were destroyed by the press at the time,” Perdomo sighs; “..especially Rolling Stone. The problem is that the bar was set so high, that anything didn’t immediately grab them like The Beatles… They just buried. The thing about Paul is he was always over analysed, because he was ‘The Genius’. He was being creative, which sometimes can be a sin. They were just expecting a certain bubble gum element to him. He came out with a debut album that was very challenging at times- it ends with a drum solo! He had instrumentals like Momma Miss America, and Hot As Sun. ..You listen to Ariane Grande, or One Direction, and it’s twelve of the same songs. The thing that’s interesting about Ram is that there’s at least six or seven different genres represented. And some that had not been invented yet.”
He’s referring of course to the third offering (Ram On), a strangely melancholic number that showcased the ukulele in a fashion that was startlingly new. It’s just one of the many offerings heard on a startling, frequently breathtaking, record. Ram, for this writer, is McCartney’s most accomplished work, both within and without The Beatles orbit. Beautifully produced, and written with riotous, rip-roaring precision, the songs diverse as they are, demonstrate the Beatle as his most cunning, canny and chameleon-like. As for the overall atmosphere, Ram posits itself as the missing link between the artfully jagged Rubber Soul, and the tender, thoughtful poems that made up much of London Town. From the pummelling Smile Away, to the textured Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, the album boasts a confidence that emanates as much from the dream like lyrics, as it does from the crisp, cinematic sound design. “The sessions were brilliant, “ Seiwell says.”It was just one guitar player – David Spinozza or Hugh McCracken – and me in the studio; I never heard Paul play the bass parts until the record was done. He would just play the song on the guitar or the piano, he’d sing us the song, so we’d have something to work with. We’d do our parts, and move on..We did like one song a day, and everyday we’d come into work, we’d look forward to another song, ‘cause they were all so great. We’d listen to the song played by the master himself, and say, ‘We’d better come up with some good parts, because it’s going to be around for fifty years.’ And here we are!”
By happy coincidence, Seiwell had managed to procure the drum set that The Beatles had used for their Shea Stadium concert. Eager to impress his new boss, Seiwell showed McCartney his drums, only for the erstwhile Beatle to perform “a double take.” Joining Perdomo for Ram On, Seiwell notes that he’s had fifty years to improve his contributions. He’s chuckling, but he gets more serious, especially when he realises how lucky he is to be here to celebrate. Linda McCartney, the very woman who steered her husband from alcoholic dependency to a solo career, isn’t around any more, nor is Hugh McCracken-lest we forget Henry McCullough, the mercurial Ulster guitarist who joined Wings in time for 1972’s Give Ireland Back To The Irish. “2003 was the first time I saw Henry McCullough since Wings,” Seiwell recalls.” We’re about to do a Beatlefest in Liverpool, and Henry shows up at the hotel. He’s got a gift for me: a bodhrán [Irish drum]. So, anyway we were in the Court Theatre, where The Beatles performed, and Henry and I are onstage, and we start playing My Love. We get to that guitar solo, and Linda’s gone, but Henry’s played the solo better than he did ever. Tears were streaming down our faces, it was a really memorable moment.”
More happily, Seiwell was able to reunite with two of the original session players from the original Ram days. Perdomo found trumpet player Marvin Stamm over Google, and re-connected him with Seiwell after a lapse of forty years. “It’s a dream come true,” Perdomo says. “What’s interesting is that, obviously Linda and Hugh McCracken have passed on, but we still have Dave Spinozza, so it was incredible to work with him, because I’m a huge fan of his entire career. I actually love his solo records, especially the first one.”
Spinozza returns to perform the fiery arpeggios he played on the original Another Day (same guitar too, we’re told), but otherwise the performers aren’t among the most established in showbusiness. And in an ever changing world, in which we’re living, what should make us give in and buy this particular record? “It’s not a typical tribute record for two reasons,” Perdomo explains. “One, three of the original members are on it. And two, I feel that a lot of tribute records are done as money grabs, so they’ll be like, ‘Who can get from the charts so we can sell some records?’ Our approach was to find people who love the record, famous or not, and Denny only agreed to do this if he got final say on who sings what, or who plays what. The choices were not made based on clout, friendship, or the ability to sell records. It was whoever sang the song with the most passion.Sure, there’s not a lot of names on the record that are recognisable, but we’re hoping people will discover new artists from this record, because as a record, it works better than most tribute albums. It’s not jarring sometimes. The Art of McCartney record, there were some really good versions, but then there was stuff that was a little too far off from where the original song came from heartwise.”
Perdomo’s modus operandi was simple: As a means of staying truthful to the idiosyncratic feel of the original, he needed singers who could match the vigour of the McCartney vocals, without compromising their own identities. “For Long Haired Lady, we had Rob Bonfiglio do all the guitars. He plays with Brian Wilson, and his wife is Carnie Wilson, and they sang together on the song.Part of what I did on this record is choose people based on what I knew about them, and I knew Rob was going to kill it on that song.”
“Let’s also give a Brentley Gore a plug, because Back Seat of My Car is not an easy vocal,” Seiwell chips in. “I was glad it went back to Nashville. Get this-he gets a positive Covid test the night before he’s allowed to go into the studio to record a track. He gets up the next morning before he gets sick, and does all the vocals. Then he got through Covid.”
And what of Monkberry Moon Delight, the excoriating blues number that showcased McCartney’s voice at its most jagged, jumped up and urgent?
Perdomo nods his head: “I told Timmy Sean, “If you see any blood on the microphone, stop.Man, that is a hard song to sing at full voice, but he’s got that voice. He did a cover of Lavatory Lil’ that he put out before McCartney III was out. He’s got it.”
The same, it seems, could be said of Dead Rock West, tasked with performing the deliciously naughty Eat At Home, as it could be said of Adrian Bourgeois, who can be heard on Beautiful Boy, a tune McCartney originally penned as his way of applauding his children and his marriage. And then there’s Too Many People, an angular, anarchic recording that’s every bit as angry sounding as the original. “A lot of the songs were written in Scotland,” Seiwell says. “ All of this angst was in his writing. When [Paul] came into the Ram sessions, I believe it was a very impressive time in his life as well. The Beatles are wrapping it up, and he had to come to terms with [the split]. Thank God Linda put her foot up his boot, and said, ‘Come on man: You’re a musician and a writer. Let’s go make an album.’”
Perdomo, meanwhile, rattles through a tasty selection of McCartney albums, that ranges from the ambient The Fireman series, to the piercing, pastoral standards that makes up much of Kisses From The Bottom, before pencilling the first Wings album, Wild Life, as a particular favourite: “People love bashing Bip Bop and Mumbo, but it’s an experience. You put it on, and there’s no make up on. It’s a band being a band, which is not what they [the press] wanted in Paul.”
2021, however, shows that there’s no shortage of McCartney, and Ram On, splendid as it is, only adds to the growing legacy. And Perdomo,still eager to praise the album that inspired him to chase the musical path that has led us to this interview, is gracious enough to let the drummer have the final word. “Another important reason our record will sell, and become a collectible,” Seiwell beams; “It’s that it’s another generation enjoying Paul’s work. It’s two generations, actually, and a couple of us old farts too. But having the younger generation,and the fact that Ram meant so much to them, and them being able to play the original parts with the passion that they do, it’s a beautiful tribute.”
❉ ‘Ram On: The 50th Anniversary Tribute to Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram’ is released on 14 May 2021 via Spirit of Unicorn Music.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng is the author of ‘U2: Every Album, Every Song’ which is out now and available from Sonicbond Publishing, RRP £14.99 (ISBN 1789520789). Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.