The two newly released Paul McCartney & Wings box sets of Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway bring back wonderful memories for two of the former members of Wings featured in both of them – guitarist Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell, who both spoke to Billboard about them in separate phone interviews. Both sets feature remastered albums with additional outtakes, rare audio and video, plus a lengthy essay by Amanda Petrusich for Red Rose Speedway and David Fricke for Wild Life. A separate deluxe set combining both remastered sets and adding a Wings Over Europe disc and book, which was available only through the Paul McCartney website, has already sold out.
“I tell you I had tears in my eyes when I was looking at the books and the DVDs and everything,” Seiwell told Billboard. “It brought back some really fond memories of a major portion of my life that that opened the door to a whole new life,” Laine agreed. “They both sound really nice, but Red Rose really impressed me,” he said. “When I first put it on, I was really surprised. They did a great job.”
The remastered box sets sound brighter and clearer. Wild Life, the first Paul McCartney and Wings album, was originally released in Dec. 1971, about a year and a half after the Beatles’ public split, and followed Paul and Linda McCartney 1971’s album RAM. Wild Life peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 during an 18-week run. Red Rose Speedway, Wings’ follow-up to Wild Life, came out in spring 1973 and debuted at No. 1 in the U.S., buffeted by the success of the single “My Love,” which also hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Both men came to Wings under different circumstances. Laine knew McCartney from his days in the Moody Blues. While with the band, they had toured with the Beatles in 1965 in support of their big hit “Go Now.” “We’d known each other for quite a few years,” he said. “We (the Moody Blues) were opening for The Beatles on their second tour. I had (first) met them in Birmingham when I was in my own band, The Diplomats.” The association with the Beatles led to the Moodies being managed by Brian Epstein for a short time.
“Working with Paul was because I knew him,” Laine said. “It was very easy. We both grew up in the same music. We already knew each other. There was no having to get to know someone and I think that’s why he asked me. I’m sure that’s why he asked me because he knew me. He didn’t want to have someone that was going to be in awe of him.” His friendship with McCartney included attending a recording session for “Fool on the Hill.” “I just kept listening to the harmonies and stuff like that. A lot of the stuff they were doing they didn’t use on the final mix.”
On the other hand, it was Seiwell’s studio work that brought him to McCartney’s attention. “Well, it was jumping off the deep end because I was a successful session guy in New York and I was making good coin,” he said. “(But) here was an opportunity to play with the best-known musician on the planet. And I had such a great working experience with Paul during the RAM album.”
The shadow of the Beatles may have loomed over Wings in its early days, but for Denny Laine, who’d been leading his own Electric String Band solo group before he joined Wings, it wasn’t an issue. Laine was one of the opening acts at the Saville Theatre the night Jimi Hendrix played to an audience that included members of the Beatles. “I’d been doing my String Band thing and Paul and John and Peter Asher were in the audience at Saville Theatre for that. It was the Jimi Hendrix show and they saw me doing something different I think and that’s probably what inspired him as well to ask me because he had to do something different after the Beatles.”
“I’ll never forget Paul said, ‘Yeah, come on up to the house tomorrow and we’re going to go on tour,’” says Seiwell. “’What? So, you know, I throw a couple of t-shirts, couple of jeans in a bag and and head up to the house. Now we get up to the house and there’s a truck and a 12-passenger van in front of the house.” He said Paul then asked Seiwell why his wife, Monique, with whom Seiwell celebrated his 52nd anniversary in November, wasn’t there. “’Well, she’s at home. She’s not coming along,’” he told McCartney. “He says, ‘Oh, yes she is’ and so he picks up the phone and he calls Monique and he says, ‘Pack a bag and get up here as soon as you can’,” Seiwell recalls.
Laine says the start of Wings was a major career turn for McCartney, as Wings had to make its own mark. “He was sitting around waiting for all that financial and office stuff to be taken care of. I’d been through that myself with the The Moody Blues. I mean we all got ripped off in those days financially. Nobody knew where the money went. It like the Wild West. All we knew was that we had to go in another direction and that he didn’t want to obviously go out as a Beatle doing Beatles songs. That would have been suicide, in a way. Musical suicide and it wouldn’t have worked,” he said. “We wanted to do something as a band. We kind of got together having the same attitude as we had when we first started in bands and we just took it to that level.”
Seiwell said Ringo Starr’s work influenced him. “I felt like I had to do the kind of a job that Ringo would do. And from the time I just channeled Ringo knowing that the relationship between Paul and Ringo was just so incredible that I would think to myself, ‘What would Ringo play here?’ and then I would play it my way. When I met Paul first thing I did was go to the tom-tom to do some channeled Ringo and did some Ringo licks and stuff. And I think that’s what may have gotten me the job.”
Wings’ first gigs weren’t the luxurious atmosphere befitting a rock star. The band would drive up to a venue without any fanfare. “And so it was the wives, the kids, the dogs and Paul driving most of the time and we just set out and we’d find a place to play,” Seiwell recalls. “Go to a university, ask if we could put on a show that night. They said, ‘Well, I don’t know. The kids are having finals’ and then our two roadies would drag the kids from the student union out to the van and say, ‘I’ve got Paul McCartney out here’ and Paul would wave to them. They’d said, ‘Oh, yeah, you can play tonight.’”
“The whole point of that was to go out on the road and see what it was going to be like as a band and that’s why we did the university stuff because we weren’t pressured again,” says Denny Laine. “We’d turn up on the day we play and it was a good practice. You know, that’s really what it was. And eventually of course we got to be good as a band and that comes from working live, really. Not the studio work. It’s all about live, you know.”
“Guys would set up the gear and we’d go look for some kind of a dumpy hotel to stay in that night, and it was great fun. Sometimes the room wasn’t big enough; we stayed in these these really funny little British hotels that we were all sitting on the bed in a room playing guitars and hanging out after the show,” says Seiwell. “I’ll never forget we were up north one night. And this night manager, this little bald fellow, came up to us and he had a little kids pail. And he said, ‘Does one of you people own that black and white dog?’ Paul goes, ‘Yeah. That’s my dog, Lucky.’ He says ‘Why?’ ‘Well, he’s running around the hallways and he shat in the hall. You’re gonna have to clean this up.’ So Paul went and cleaned it up. You know, it was magical.”
“I enjoyed the idea of going and playing live,” Laine says. “My beef was always with Wings that we never played live enough. If you end up spending more time in the studio than you do on the road, that’s not a good balance for me. Because I think when you’re in the studio, you need to come off the road and go in the studio and that’s when you’re applying your best. That’s when you’ve got the best attitude, best energy, all that stuff. So going on the road was fun from that point of view.”
Seiwell recalls an incident at one hotel. “I think at one of those places that we stayed Paul had a little beef with the owner over something. And somehow or another his elbow kind of hit the guy in the face. Don’t think he did it intentionally, but all of a sudden his oldest girl is running around saying, ‘Everybody get up, pack up. We got to get out of here. The cops are coming.’ And it was hilarious, But I really think that that’s where he got the term ‘band on the run’ from.”
One bit of history that the Red Rose box set corrects is that the album was originally supposed to be two discs including songs left over from the RAM sessions. “We had a lot of stuff, and at first we thought, ‘Well, we’ve got too much for one album, so we’ll make a double album, great,”’ McCartney says in the book in the set. “I thought it would be good to pull it down to the tracks that are the strongest, and make a single album instead of a double album.” Laine said one of his songs, “I Would Only Smile,” would have been one of those included. “That was the first time we used a producer, which was Glyn Johns. And for some reason that didn’t end up being a double album,” he says.
In addition to the remastered albums, the additional extras are quite interesting. For example, there’s The Bruce McMouse Show, a combination animation and live-action film included in the Red Rose Speedway box set which had not been released commercially before. The box includes both DVD and Blu-ray versions and is delightful. The film includes Wings songs both studio and live (from Wings Over Europe) in an animated story about mice living under the stage of a hall where Wings performs and uses the voices of both Paul and Linda McCartney for some of the animated characters. In the book that accompanies the remastered Red Rose Speedway, McCartney says he was unhappy with the final product. “I never thought (it) was as good as I wanted it to be because I’m wanting it to be as good as Disney. But to be that good you’ve gotta be Disney.”
But Seiwell was at least glad one part of his filming didn’t make the final cut. “When we were filming that, they had me standing on a stage and speaking into my hand as though an imaginary mouse was standing on it. And (there was) this big long conversation and I had no idea about acting, especially in that kind of a situation. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’d ever done. I’m glad they left it out of the film.”
As for present days plans, Laine will be touring the U.S. in January and through the spring performing songs from The Magnificent Moodies and Band on the Run albums as well as other songs. (See tour dates below.) He said he has an album in the can, but may record more after the tour.
Meanwhile, Seiwell’s jazz solo group, The Denny Seiwell Trio, released its second album, Boomerang, earlier this year. The disc contained a cover of the Wings tune “Live and Let Die.” “It turned out really great,” Seiwell said. “We got in just about every element of the song except the reggae and the ballad bits.” He sent McCartney a copy of the song at his request. “He just thought it was great. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘What a cool version, a nice way to treat the song.’”
Seiwell says he hopes to see McCartney when he comes through Southern California next year. “Last time he was at Dodger Stadium, he called us up and invited us down. He usually invites us when he’s around town. And a couple of months ago when he was here in L.A. finishing up his record Egypt Station, he gave us a ring and we went down to the studio and spent a couple of hours with him. He played a couple of new tracks before they were finished. We’re great friends today.” Denny Laine says he and McCartney attended some reggae shows a couple of years ago, and the two also still keep in touch.
Seiwell, along with Henry McCullough, left Wings in August of 1973. Laine stayed with Wings until April, 1981. But Seiwell says those links to McCartney never go away. “You know, once you play with a guy like Paul McCartney, it’s ingrained forever in your career,” Seiwell says. And even though it’s been 40 years since we worked together, it’s still part of my everyday life.”
(Below are Denny Laine’s upcoming tour dates with his Moody Wing Band performing the Band On The Run and The Magnificent Moodies albums plus other songs including “Time To Hide,” “Deliver Your Children,” “Mull of Kintyre” and “Boulevard de La Madeleine.” Gretsch Guitars and Godin Guitars are sponsoring Denny’s guitars for this tour. More information is available at Laine’s Facebook page.)
Jan 8 – One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
Jan 9 – City Winery, Boston, Mass
Jan 10 – The Kate, Old Saybrook, CT
Jan 11 – City Winery, NYC
Jan 12 – The Newton Theater, Newton, NJ
Jan 13 – City Winery, Washington, DC
Jan 15 – Hard Rock Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA
Jan 16 – Sportsman Tavern, Buffalo, NY
Jan 17 – Arcada Theater, St. Charles, Illinois
*Jan 18 – Evanston Rocks, Evanston, Illinois—solo storyteller acoustic show “Solo Songs and Stories”
Jan 19 – The Wildey Theater, Edwardsville, Illinois