Denny Laine Interview,
Playing Music Box
Denny Laine is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist and original singer of the Moody Blues. After a few years, Laine decided to quit the Moodies and went on to form two other bands, The Electric String Band and Balls, without much success.
However, things changed in 1971 when he joined Paul and Linda McCartney to form Wings and they went on to have multi-platinum albums and number one singles. After a decade in the band, Laine left and went on to release several solo records over the next thirty years.
Today, Denny Laine will be appearing at the Music Box Supper Club on May 10th along with his Moody Wings Band. This show will feature the entire Band On The Run and The Magnificent Moodies albums and a few other hits.
Denny called us from his home in Florida to discuss his career and his upcoming appearance at The Music Box.
GD: Hey Denny, how has the tour been going so far?
DL: I’ve had a few days off and we’re getting ready to start up again. But it’s been going great, it’s been going really well. People really like to hear those two albums and it’s going really well.
GD: That was my next question, What made you decide to play Band On The Run and The Magnificent Moodies in their entirety on this tour?
DL: Well, mainly because those are the two albums that I’m mostly associated with. I did the one with Paul and the other with the Moody Blues. I wanted to see how it goes down with an audience and it goes down really well. It’s not the only show I do. I do a songs and stories show where it’s just me with a guitar. I do both shows.
GD: I've seen you before, but I haven’t seen the two albums played back to back. You got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in Cleveland last year. What was that experience like?
DL: Obviously, it was great to see everybody again. I did know Justin (Heyward) and John (Lodge) a little bit. I’ve worked with the Moodies when I first got my string band together. Justin and John were very, very nice and to see Mike (Pinder) and Graham (Edge) was great because I haven’t seen them in years. It’s a shame Ray (Thomas) couldn’t do it because he passed away. I was in touch with him, right up until he passed away. But his wife was there but it was a nostalgic experience as well. Loads of my friends were there like Paul Shaffer and Steven Van Zandt, and a lot of people that I met for the first time. It was a great night. We don’t know much about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in England, but it’s a good accolade and it’s good for the soul. It’s nice to have an award once in a while. (laughs)
GD: For the career you had, you are more than deserving!
GD: I went to the induction ceremony and wondered why you didn’t perform “Go Now” with the band?
DL: Oh, you were? Nah, they wouldn’t play it because they wouldn’t have known it! I mean, that wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t have been them that made that decision, it would have been the society that made the decision on what they were going to play. It’s more appropriate that they did their thing. But who cares, really? But it was nice to be there and to be a part of it.
GD: Looking back on your career, who were some of your musical influences growing up?
DL: I’ve told this story a million times, but it all goes back to the early Gypsy Jazz, which I was a big fan of. People like Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. I was brought up on that kind of music and different crooners of the day. Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford because my sisters had a lot of records. One of my sisters turned me on to Jackie Wilson because she’d been to America. I grew up around great music. I didn’t go see a lot of people, I didn’t have a chance to do that. I was very, very influenced by many different styles of music.
We had a piano in the house, everybody had a piano in the house during the war before I came along, to entertain themselves to keep their spirits up. I kinda went from there to bands because people had bands in school. Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee, those were my next set of influences.
GD: Of course! What made you decide to pick up a guitar and do you play any other instruments? You mentioned you had a piano in the house.
DL: I do! I do a lot of writing on the piano. I’m not really a pianist, but I can write songs using the piano. I play guitar and piano. I do fiddle around with a few other things. In the studio, when you’re experimenting, you try different things like the mandolin and the harmonica for sure! I play bass a little bit, it’s just four strings on a guitar. Who can’t play that?
GD: Do you remember the first artist you saw in concert?
DL: Umm, I think the first person I saw, I must have been sixteen and I saw Ella Fitzgerald and the Oscar Peterson Trio which totally blew me away. That was because someone I was working with at the time was a big fan and they took me along. I loved all that stuff. Then the next big thing was Chuck Berry, working with him because we toured with him. That’s when “Go Now” went to number one, touring with him. We weren’t that well off, so we didn’t go to shows. The only people I would see was people who I was working with. Duane Eddie and people like that. There were a lot of people that we actually did open for who came to Birmingham. We opened for The Beatles actually! My band did when they first came to Birmingham. That’s really when it all started.
GD: You did? You were right there with all the bands on the cutting edge in ‘63 and ‘64.
DL: That’s right, we were. Well, we weren’t one of the top bands in Birmingham at the time. The drummer was Bev Bevins from ELO. We were all pretty up there, we were all doing quite well. We opened for The Yardbirds because we played the Marquee Club. The Jeff Beck Group and all the Brian Epstein acts.
GD: How did you end up meeting Graham Edge to form the Moody Blues?
DL: Well he wasn’t the first one. I met Ray (Thomas) and Mike (Pinder) they’d just come back from Germany, through a friend of mine. My band didn’t want to turn professional, so I went to London to see what I could do next because that’s where all the business was. We were playing a Blues club and got discovered. Then we moved our music to song-writing and more progressive music.
GD: You had success right out of the gate with “Go Now.” You said you toured with Chuck Berry, was that here in the States?
DL: Nah, that was in England. He was huge in England as was Elvis. Elvis always wanted to tour in Europe but never did. Chuck Berry was everybody’s influence. We used to back up people like Sonny Boy Williamson and people who came over from America.
GD: After a few years of being in the band, why did you decide to leave the group?
DL: Well, we owed an album to Decca and they didn’t want to go in the studio at the time. They wanted to stay out on the road and make some money. Like every other band, we got ripped off. We got the fame, but we didn’t get the money. That’s a famous line by Muddy Waters by the way, “The managers got the money and we’ve got the fame.” (laughs) I wanted to go in the studio and do this album and they didn’t. I figured I would write some songs on my own and put out my own album, which I did. They ended up doing that album and it became in their favor. It was a big album, Days of Future Passed. They were obliged to go and do that record for Decca.
GD: You ended up opening up for Jimi Hendrix when you were in the Electric String Band, what was that experience like?
DL: I actually saw Jimi Hendrix in London with Paul (McCartney). We were all pretty good friends with all of those bands, especially The Animals. It was Eric Burdon who suggested Justin Heyward for the Moody Blues. Anyway, I saw Jimi and I kinda knew him afterwards, because I knew his band members. I knew Noell (Reading) and I knew Mitch (Mitchell). I knew that crowd. It was all part of the London scene.
So we did the show, well we cancelled the first show because my bass player was sick and it was very intriguing stuff. So the second show that I did, Paul was in the audience along with John (Lennon) and Peter Asher and they were pretty impressed because it went down really well. Jimi was impressed because he paid me a compliment. That led to Paul calling me up a few months later after Ginger Baker. So he called me and asked if I wanted to get something together. I said, absolutely why not?
GD: Wow, and then Wings took off.
DL: It took a little while. We wanted to be good enough to go out and play.
GD: When you got big in the ‘70s and toured the world, do you have any memories of playing in Cleveland in those days?
DL: (laughs) I don’t think so. I hate to say, “No I don’t remember” because you’ve reminded me of a few things. I do remember a lot of things but it’s a whirlwind of different venues and different cities. Half the time, you didn’t know where you were. All the shows went really well and all of the audiences were great.
GD: Do you have a favorite song from that era?
DL: Not really. I always remember the songs that I wrote. One of the favorite songs from our time together was the one I wrote and Paul helped me finish which is “No Words” which is on Band on the Run. A lot of people say they like that song too. The things that I wrote would be some of my favorites and things that I wrote with Mike Pinder as well.
GD: I love the riff on “Let Me Roll It,” did you come up with it?
DL: No, that was Paul.
GD: Speaking of Band on the Run, it has a very famous album cover. Did Clive Arrowsmith come up with the concept or did Linda McCartney?
DL: I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t imagine that Clive would have come up with that idea. I mean, he’s a top photographer. The idea would have from the name of the album so that would be Paul and Linda who came up with that idea, I would think.
GD: The Zombies finally got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, what did you think of Colin Blunstone’s version of “Say You Don’t Mind?”
DL: Yeah I did! I like Colin’s voice. I had no idea he was going to do it. He took the idea from the string part and just made it him and the strings, like “Eleanor Rigby.” He didn’t the words exactly right, but that’s because he probably couldn’t understand my accent. He did a great version. I like the fact that he changed it around. The strings were actually written by John Paul Jones because he was a session guy at the time and he played on it too.
GD: Now that you have a vote for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is there a particular artist or group that you would like to see get inducted?
DL: Well, it’s funny you should say that because I saw Colin and Rod and the Zombies the next day and I said hello to them. I don’t know who is and who isn’t in the Hall of Fame. We don’t keep up with that. If I had a list of people who aren’t in there, I could pick out some. There are a lot of great bands.
GD: Yes, like Jethro Tull and Bad Company. Neither one of those bands are in, surprisingly.
DL: Definitely, I would pick both of them. Especially Bad Company, I’m a big fan of them. I know Paul Rodgers quite well. I imagine Traffic and Spencer Davis are in there, right?
GD: Traffic is in, but I don’t believe Spencer Davis is in, believe it or not.
DL: Well, they should be! They were one of the main influences in the day.
GD: So you will be playing in Cleveland in a few weeks, what can fans expect from your show?
DL: I do have other songs. Some of the songs on other Wings albums I do. We add a few other songs. My band also sings some of the songs. It’s not a tribute band, note for note. It’s a tribute to those two albums. It’s a good night. The people know the songs so it works!
GD: Denny, thank you so much for your time. I really do appreciate speaking with you and I’m looking forward to seeing you in May.
DL: Great man, thank you very much and I’ll see you there. Cheers!
Be sure to catch Hall Of Famer, Denny Laine and the Moody Wings Band at the Music Box Supper Club on May 10th. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.