STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
A co-founding member of the Moody Blues in the early 60’s and Paul McCartney’s Wings the following decade, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Denny Laine has had a front row seat during pop music’s most fertile period.
Laine experienced his first taste of success in 1964, singing lead vocals on the Moody Blues’ first hit “Go Now.” Following the release of a handful of moderately received follow-up singles, Laine departed the group in 1966 to pursue a solo career.
“I was happy with the Moody Blues, but it turned into just work on the road and not enough studio time,” recalls Laine from his East Coast base in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I thought we should just write and stay off the road until we had an album. They didn’t want to do that. So I said, ‘I’ll stay here and I’m going to do that.’”
After forming his “Electric String Band,” Laine remembers opening for Jimi Hendrix at London’s Saville Theatre in 1967, where he crossed paths with friend and fellow musician Paul McCartney.
“I hadn’t seen Paul for quite a few years,” recalls Laine. “He, John Lennon and Peter Asher came to the show at the Saville Theater, which Brian Epstein owned at the time, and they put me on to close the first half for Jimi Hendrix. It went really well, so I think that gave Paul some kind of an idea that I was trying to do something different beyond the Moody Blues stuff.”
Armed with a pair of successful solo albums, “McCartney” (1970) and “Ram” (1971), McCartney, wife Linda, Denny Laine and session drummer Denny Seiwell formed “Wings.” Laine instantly became an invaluable member of the band, providing lead and rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals, keyboards, bass guitar and woodwinds.
“Paul and I knew each other from way back when,” says Laine. “We both grew up with the same musical influences and we just had a good musical feel together. He knew he could go out there and do Beatles songs and that’s what his problem was. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He was going through a lot of business problems at the time and was looking for musicians that were friends that he could work with, and that’s why he called me.”
“We consciously decided not to do Beatles or Moody Blues songs,” adds Laine. “We didn’t want to record anything that we had already done, so we experimented. We were just trying to stick to original material and deal with the press as it came, ‘cause obviously there was a lot of criticism to start with. It takes a band a couple of years to get good and you really have to tour a lot to get good, so we were at that stage. I wasn’t writing so much then. He got me into writing a little bit later. Paul was the writer. At the same time, I knew his approach to writing and it just came pretty easy to me.”
“I’ve actually been asked to write a book about those days, because I’m one of the few people, I think, that was in town at that time,” says Laine. “I would go and see all these different artists that came from America with Paul a lot. We saw Hendrix for the first time. We went to see Dylan together. We’d hang around the music scene in London. That’s really why I think I qualify as a person that could write a book about that period — just as an observer of the people I met and grew up with. It was a really good time all around and you develop friendships that you keep.”
Enjoying the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed period of his career, Laine’s tenure with Wings lasted a decade. He appeared on the albums “Wildlife” (1971), “Red Rose
Speedway” (1973, “Band on the Run” (1973), “Venus and Mars” (1975), “Wings at the Speed of Sound” (1976), “Wings Over America” (Live album) (1976), “London Town” (1978), “Back to the Egg” (1979) and “Concerts for the People of Kampuchea” (1981). Laine co-wrote and sang lead vocals on the songs “No Words” and “Picasso’s Last Words.” He co-wrote the UK’s number one single at the time, “Mull of Kintyre.”
Following McCartney’s 1980 arrest in Japan for marijuana possession, touring was indefinitely halted. Fueling McCartney’s decision was the assassination of John Lennon the same year. Wing’s permanently disbanded in 1981.
“When Wings ran it’s course and Paul had the problem in Japan, we couldn’t go out and tour so much, it was an opposite thing,” recalls Laine. “This time I didn’t want to spend anymore time in the studio. I had an album of my own to promote, and suddenly we couldn’t tour for a couple of years. We didn’t have a falling out. These are people that I grew-up with. There are no hard feelings there. You just go off and do it.”
Amassing a deep history as a solo artist dating back to his 1973 debut album “Ahh…..Laine,” Laine continued to release his own records as well as collaborative efforts with a variety of artists.
A couple of years back, he launched a live concert tribute to the classic Paul McCartney and Wings biggest selling album “Band on the Run,” which continues to be a fan favorite. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the historic “Wings Over America” concert tour, which brought the group to Philadelphia’s Spectrum for a pair of shows.
“I was asked to do two night’s at one venue and, instead of doing the same show both nights, I decided I wanted to do the “Band on the Run” album,” recalls Laine. “It went well so we kept doing it. We start the show off with it and then continue the second half with my other material.”
“I think people love the album because it was just very basic and easy to understand,” adds Laine. “We weren’t trying to be clever. It had a flow like a lot of concept albums, but it had story line to it. It’s as good as anything out there, and it deserves its place. To this day, it’s very significant for me as an album.”
Laine, who turns 72 later this year, is putting the finishing touches on his first studio release in years.
“I still like to put new music out for sure, but I don’t like living off the past,” says Laine. “I’ve got an album in the can called “Body of Dreams,” which is going to be released as soon as I can get everything ready.”
“I don’t like the idea of retiring. I don’t think that’s an option,” adds Laine. “What would I do? I love to play music, and I’m playing with great players. I love playing music live. I’ve always been in the entertainment business. You do it ‘til you drop, that’s what I say!”