People become musicians or artists for various reasons; some are pushed into it by parents aspirations, some develop an aptitude early on through experimentation and others, well, they just love being creative. The common thread within this cloth is a love of performing and sharing these talents with friends, family and although some may deny it; an audience.
A vast audience holds the allure of travel, fame, fortune or once in a lifetime experiences; most never make it there, some capture it once and others such as guitarist Denny Laine have had multiple successes in their career and are still forces today.
“I like being in one band but it just so happens that I’ve been in two famous bands,” he said prior to a recent performance at McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park, NJ. “I’ve been in a few bands that would school us and then I had my own band; The Diplomats we were called and a friend of mine, Bev Bevan was on drums and he went on to be in ELO. I mean it’s who you know; two of The Moody Blues came back from Germany and tried to put a band together to go back to there to work and I ended up going with them because I wanted to turn professional and my band didn’t want to turn professional. So one thing led to another and then The Moody Blues after a period time were just going out and gigging every night and I wanted to go back in the studio so I went out and did my own thing. Then Paul McCartney saw me doing that and I joined up with him; so it was kind of a progression. You don’t go looking for this stuff, it sort of comes to you; do you know what I mean? That’s the way it’s been and then the Moody Blues went on to be huge and even more so and then the same with Wings becoming a whole other thing after The Beatles; so it’s who you know. I knew Paul from the Moody Blues days; I actually met him when I was in The Diplomats. What happens is, if you come from a crowd of people who all know each other and you work together on the road doing different gigs and different things; we would double with different bands like The Who or The Yardbirds or bands like that and you become friendly with them. So if somebody needs a sub or another guy to join the band they’ll just pick their friends; that’s what happened with Ronnie Wood and The Stones. So it’s really who you know; you know what I’m saying?”
The McLoone’s gig was of the solo acoustic variety and a nice change of pace for Laine from the “Electric” world he’s been such a huge part of for the majority of his musical journey.
“You know it’s kind of become popular lately, a lot of people are doing it. They are doing it, telling their stories, I think it started with the “Unplugged” thing; in between sets I would do some acoustic songs on stage anyway even with the band. Then it got to the point where the band that I’m using now, which we call The Moody Wing Band; they have other jobs, they go off and do other things. So that I can keep working I decided to do some solo shows and it’s going very well. People like the stories and it’s a completely different approach for me, I have more freedom and I can make things up as I go along (laughs).”
“I can pick and choose, the audience may even come up with a suggestion for a song and I’ll do that where as a band ties it down to a strict thing or a set. With the band I do the first Moody Blues album or I’ll do “Band On the Run” and then a few other songs and that’s kind of a set thing. With the acoustic thing I can do whatever I want, I do a lot of songs from my solo albums, I do stuff from them as well and I can pick and choose as I go and that’s the big difference.”
“To me, Paul was just a mate. I mean, obviously we can’t get away from the fact of how big The Beatles were; we toured with him with The Moody Blues so I knew him very well and he was like a big brother to me in some ways. People ask me all the time; what was it like working with Paul McCartney? I say well; what’s it like working with anybody? You either get on with each other or you don’t. He and I had a close knit friendship from the beginning even before I was working with him so it was easy really; that’s the only word I can use there, it was easy.”
An original member of The Moodies and a decade spent in the nucleus of Wings are perhaps Laine’s two most well-known efforts but he was also a member of Ginger Baker’s Air Force; what was it like spending time with Baker who was rumored to be outspoken at times?
“Depends on how you approach him,” he said with a chuckle. “Ginger was like a lot of people; if you’re talking about something interesting he’s the best person in the world but if you start asking him how old he is then, well… He was a good guy, he had a good heart and he was a great band leader; he knows how to put it all together.”
Laine has played both the role of leader and “Wing” man; so which does he prefer?
“I like to be in charge; with my own band I might be in charge but I’ve still got other people, everybody contributes equally but because it’s my name up there I have to have the final say. When I was working with Paul I was more like the side man; I had a lot of influence but I do prefer to run my own thing which is why I went solo again. I was the guitar player and lead singer in The Moody Blues and I wasn’t that in Wings. So eventually it got around to the point where I wanted to do my own thing again and always when I’m in control is when I’m the happiest. I think that’s pretty natural really but I’m still quite a good team member if I have to be.”
Certain bands achieve continuous success and at times what’s old is new again and with the recent release of a “Wings 1971-73” box set, a whole new generation of fans is being exposed to some of the greatest rock music ever created.
“That’s just the normal progression for Paul; isn’t it? That’s what he was doing for years with the Beatles and Wings is re-releasing. I mean; who knew that we were going to be continually successful to the point where young kids are coming to the gigs these days? I was doing a gig recently at “Beatlefest” and there were all young people down in front, they were all kids. They want to hear this music again and because of remastering everybody is doing it these days. I think it all started with the mixes; the DJs started it with their versions of the mixes. So we decided to remaster it and do another version of what we did already and it’s good because we get to learn the songs again and you forget what was on there. Actually it’s a really good experience; we did it with “The Moody Blues” album and they put all that stuff in a box set and put that out. You don’t even realize how good it was at the time until you listen to it years later but that’s what it’s all about and Paul has pretty much more or less done everything except for maybe four albums. That’s just the way of the world now, everybody’s doing it.”
“What goes around comes around,” is another popular cliché and Laine feels it’s quite appropriate for today’s music as it mixes with technology.
“To me it’s just a big circle, I mean look, we’ve got vinyl coming out all the time now; everybody wants to play and sound like the old bands. They want to use all the old equipment, mix analog with digital; it’s a good thing in a way the way that it’s come full circle. There’s nothing wrong with technology, technology to me is just a toy you use, we’re all part of that; I mean Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues invented the synthesizer. He and Roland got together and instead of using recorded tapes they went into digital and that’s really the way it happened. We’ve been responsible for all of the stuff to come out because we were the first to have it presented to us by these big companies. So we use whatever tools are out there but you have to be careful that you don’t overdo it and so many people do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with technology at all; the thing is there’s a lot of a great live bands out there again now. There’s a lot of talented kids out there but I think what’s happening now is they’re all writing their own material and you never used to have that. You used to do everybody else’s material and then write your own and now everybody is writing their own stuff so I think it’s a good thing. Although I don’t know about this downloading stuff where people steal everybody’s music and nobody gets paid; that’s the stuff I don’t like. That has to be straightened out; you can’t re-issue DVDs; so why should you be able to do it with music? A lot of musicians who can’t work aren’t making any money any longer.”
Solo or full band, Laine is a workhorse who likes to keep busy. What does he have planned for the future?
“I have got an album in the can; I’ve had it in the can for a while but I am going to start going back in the studio again just to balance things out. I don’t like living in the past too much, you’re out there doing all the stuff you’ve been doing for years but I do “The Moody Blues” album and I do “Band On the Run” album at the shows but I want to come out with new material and always did. So that’s really all it is, I want to come out with new recordings but tour wise I’m doing solo stuff and the band thing so I’m pretty busy at the moment. I don’t have much time to go in the studio just yet but I am planning on it.”