How does a Beatle stay undercover in New York City? Paul McCartney grew a beard, dressed down in a GI coat and jeans looking every bit “like just another junkie.” He and Linda had decamped from London to escape the legal wranglings and vitriol that resulted from his suit against his bandmates in order to finally lay The Beatles to rest. Quietly and unobtrusively, they began the process of auditioning musicians for Paul’s second album sans The Beatles.
New York guitarist David Spinozza and drummer Denny Seiwell were both given low key auditions without the fan fare that recording with one of The Beatles one would expect. Both recall that working with McCartney was both efficient and creatively successful, but they were employed with what Seiwell referred to as “a hippy handshake” agreement.
The legal case of McCartney vs the other three Beatles (and Alan Klein of ABKCO) took a turn in Paul’s favor when a justice hearing the case agreed that The Beatles business holdings needed to be run by an receivership until a permanent fix was arranged. McCartney returned to America and his troupe decamped from NYC to LA to mix the Ram album. In Paul’s absence, John, George, and Ringo showed up at the McCartney’s London home in Lennon’s white Rolls Royce. Lennon proceeded to throw bricks through the windows.
As for his newly finished album, McCartney said, “I tried to avoid any Beatle cliches and just went to different places . . . songs became a little more episodic or something. I suppose I was just letting myself be free.” A strange, rambling promo disk (Brung to Ewe) baffled the press and radio stations it was sent to with sheep noises, in jokes, and nonsensical dialog. The album itself produced a surprise hit in the US as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey went to Number 1 on the charts. There were numerous thinly disguised digs taken at The Beatles in some of the songs and artwork, but Paul dismissed much of the speculation with, “Oh, I didn’t really think about it at the time.” To my ears, it sounds a bit like revisionist history, but only Paul knows for sure. Both camps took potshots at each other via the press and in private. “Well, he started it” finger pointing was indeed just as childish then as it sounds today.
With the success of Ram, Sir Paul began considering options for a touring band. He could see himself going the supergroup route, but ultimately asked himself., ”How do you start a band?” He settled on a tried and true method: “Start with nothing and you just learn and improve. The idea was to get a bunch of mates together. I wasn’t interested in putting it together professionally.” His first thought was to get Linda involved. He set about teaching her some rudimentary keyboard skills. She made slow progress but, “(Paul) had no patience. I had to learn it myself. The few things he’d show me, if I didn’t get it right, he’d get really angry so I said, ‘like, forget it’.” Some of his future sidemen would complain amongst themselves about Linda’s musicianship, but Paul felt it was a way to keep the family together and have a band at the same time. He wanted the camaraderie of a band, but there were no illusions about who was in charge. The new guys in the group also realized that if not for Linda, Paul might well be drinking himself to death in Scotland rather than making music. Linda grew into the role of bandmate and the subject never really surfaced again.
The Beatles feud carried on as John Lennon recorded a track called How do you Sleep? For his Imagine album. He later claimed it was “a moment’s anger” in response to McCartney’s lyrical tweaking of John and Yoko on Ram (Too Many People and 3 Legs), but the attack stung McCarney just the same.
McCartney set about to find a name for his new band. After rejecting subpar monikers like ‘Turpentine’ and ‘The Dazzlers’, a name came to Paul when Linda needed an emergency cesarean section to deliver daughter Stella. A shaken Paul found himself alone and “praying like mad” for his wife and child. An image of an angel’s wings came to mind. With Linda’s crisis past, McCartney had a new daughter, a new band name, and a new album to release (Wild Life).
The album received lukewarm acceptance at best. McCartney professed to be happy with it, but later concluded that some of it (Mumbo and Bib Bop) was a little “too playful.” In an effort to toughen up the band’s sound, he invited Henry McCullough to join them at High Park Farm. A member of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band that appeared at Woodstock, McCullough brought both rock ‘n roll cred and a sense of fun with him to Scotland. The next piece of the master plan formulated in McCartney’s mind was to take the band on the road.
The tour began on February 8, 1972 and Paul looks back with pride and describes it as, “A bunch of nutters on the road.” A transit van and a lorry of equipment set off to find civic halls or other similar small venues to play unannounced shows. These so called “guerrilla gigs” were literally day to day affairs: dig out the map, pick a location, book a hall on arrival, and play the gig. The band would get half of the gate and Paul enjoyed something he hadn’t done since 1962 – actually being paid straight out for a gig. By February 23, eleven dates had been played and the band was ready to get off the road. Paul’s little experiment helped them bond as a band and March would see them commence sessions for their next LP Red Rose Speedway.
From December of 1973 to December of 1976, Wings released four highly successful albums: Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound, and Wings over America – Live. Paul McCartney, ex-Beatle, had climbed from his deepest, darkest depression to back to the rarefied heights of success.
Fame being fickle, there would be troubles with some of his band members, but Sir Paul would soldier on. Linda’s death in 1998 at the age of fifty six was of course devastating. It took him a year to resurface after her passing, but no doubt his determination to carry on was inspired by her role in rescuing a sinking Paul thirty years earlier. If Linda hadn’t been there to kick start Paul’s musical therapy, McCartney’s story would no doubt have a much different ending.
Top Piece Video: Denny Laine discusses various things McCartney and Wings: