Record Review

October 31, 2018

Drummer Man: Denny Seiwell

The Denny Seiwell Trio with (L-R) John Chodinai, Denny Seiwell and Joe Bagg at the Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles

On his new album, Boomerang, “Live and Let Die” gets a jazzy makeover at the hands of a former Wing-man

Since 1973, Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” has been a concert showstopper. The James Bond film theme (a Top 10 hit in the US) is a staple of McCartney’s set lists, and performances are invariably accompanied with arena rock special effects — lasers (at least in the ’70s), explosive flash pots, and so on.

But the Denny Seiwell Trio takes the song in a completely different direction. The jazz combo’s rendition, as featured on their new album, Boomerang, has a delicate guitar intro that abruptly becomes more upbeat when the mood switches to what Seiwell calls “a swing motion, a shuffle if you will,” that sees guitar and organ trading melodic lines before they spiral off into trippy lounge weirdness, all neatly held together by the powerful, propulsive drums. It’s classic rock that’s been spun into something more surreal.

But if anyone’s earned the right to rework one of McCartney’s best-known numbers, it’s Seiwell — after all, he played drums on the original single. It was while working as a session drummer in New York City in 1970 that he was tapped by McCartney to play on the ex-Beatle’s Ram album, then asked to come to England and join the band he was in the process of forming, Wings. “I figured we have to include one McCartney song on the album because I like to pay tribute to him for pulling me out of the herd, as it were,” Seiwell explains. “And I wanted to pay tribute to him by doing the track that I’m best known for.” McCartney returned the favor, giving Seiwell’s recording the thumbs-up when his former drummer played it for him. “Paul just thought it was a great version, a great way to do it. So I said, ‘Why don’t you use it as your walk on/walk off music out on tour next time?” Seiwell laughs.

While he’s had a successful post-McCartney career, Seiwell looks back with pride at his years with McCartney. “When he left the Beatles, I was the first guy he called to make music with, so I’ve got my little spot in history there,” he says. “And no matter how you look at it, it does nothing but help your career.”

The idiosyncratic Ram (this writer’s favorite McCartney album) was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. But with Wings, Paul wanted a band that would succeed on its own merits, not just coast on his own past glories. During Seiwell’s time with the band he played on the Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway albums, as well as the hit singles “Another Day” and “Hi, Hi, Hi.” Wings’ live shows relied on those songs — not Beatles classics.


“We [musicians] were there with Paul at the best and the worst times in history,” says Seiwell. “The best times, because we were in the fast lane. We lived as a family, we went out and we did things that were unbelievable, like going on tour without booking gigs or hotels in advance, just making stuff up on the fly. So it was great that way.

“And then there was the legal thing that was going with the Beatles’ breakup. And that really made it twice as hard for us to just get in trenches and become a new band. His hands were tied financially. So we all suffered. And that’s one of the main reasons I ended up leaving; I couldn’t justify staying in this situation that wasn’t working out. After about three years I just said ‘Ah, I don’t know man….’ I’ve got regrets about that. There was a time after I left that there was a sour taste in my mouth. But I worked all of that stuff out, and I worked it out with Paul, and we’re great friends today. I’m sorry it went down the way it did, but I felt it was time to move on.”

Seiwell quit the band at the same time as Wings guitarist Henry McCulloch. “Henry and I decided to put a band together and carry on since we loved playing with each other and he was like a real soulmate of mine,” Seiwell says. Among other projects, the two ended up providing overdubs for the live recordings on Janis Joplin’s posthumous Farewell Song, sessions that brought tears to McCulloch’s eyes (“Henry had a scene with Janis after Woodstock; they had a lost weekend together”). He and McCulloch later released an album of Beatles covers, Shabby Road. And there was plenty of session work: Art Garfunkel, Happy Days, Liza Minnelli, Thirtysomething, the films Dinosaur and Waterworld, among others.

In 2011, Seiwell decided to get himself in front of the public in his own group. “A friend of mine opened a restaurant here in Woodland Hills [California] where I live,” Seiwell says. “And he said, ‘Hey, do you want to bring some jazz in, on Wednesday nights, to see how it goes?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, okay.’” Seiwell invited various friends to join him on different nights, and one evening the lineup featured guitarist John Chiodini and organist Joe Bagg. “And it was magic,” says Seiwell. “I thought, ‘I love this.’”

Seiwell suggested the three musicians decamp to his home studio, where the Trio’s first album, Reckless Abandon, was laid down in three quick sessions, “just like the good old days, with everybody playing live.” The album included a nod to McCartney with a cover of “Dear Friend,” from Wild Life. “It was like something took over with all of us,” Seiwell says of the song’s recording. “We did one take on it. We just stopped at the end and looked at each other and went, ‘What was that?’ And that’s the take that’s on the record.”

With each of the Trio’s members other commitments, it took a few years before they were able to reconvene for Boomerang. “This album was recorded in about 12 hours of studio time as far as the basic tracks,” says Seiwell. “We didn’t do more than three or four takes on any of these songs. We don’t fool around!”

The album’s 12 tracks are evenly split between originals and covers, “just tunes that we all loved.” The standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily” is the obligatory ballad. “We always have to come up with a beautiful ballad,” says Seiwell. “I think the sleeper on this album is a track called ‘Curumim’ by Caesar Carmago Mariano. Oh my God, it’s such a beautiful, beautiful classical piece. And we’d been playing that for a little while, so we didn’t have to work as hard to get a version together to record. I’m glad we caught the spontaneity when we were in the studio and got all of these songs done quickly without having to work on them. You hear work. But you feel play. I just made that up!

“What I like about this trio is, rather than the old standard jazz format of okay, this guy takes a solo, then he plays two solos, then the next guy takes two solos — it’s nothing like that,” he continues. “With this trio, John will play a line, and then Joe will play the next line, and they trade off on all of these lines, and pretty soon we catch ourselves playing phrases together. I don’t know of any other jazz groups that do this. It’s not a bunch of long soloing by any one artist; we all solo, but they’re all brief little things and they make sense and they’re memorable. And I think people can actually go away singing a melody from the jazz record, which is unheard of. This swings, it’s energetic, it’s in your face. And I believe that more than a jazz audience will enjoy this.”

The Trio played a date in August at the Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles, and Seiwell hopes to schedule more live shows.

Follow the trio at, and @dennystrio on twitter.


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