Denny Laine is an important figure in the history of British rock, first as a founding member of The Moody Blues and later as a key member of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band Wings. He also led some innovative solo projects and was briefly in Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a band led by the former Cream drummer. Laine talked to The Weekender in advance of his sold-out Aug. 30 performance at the Packard Campus Theater in Culpeper.
How did you get started with the Moody Blues?
I had my own band in Birmingham. One night, we did a show with The Beatles. Our drummer at the time was Bev Bevan. We had a band called Denny Laine and The Diplomats. We were quite a big name in Birmingham at that time, but they didn’t want to turn professional. Bev was the only one who was willing to turn professional. So when the Moody Blues came and asked me to join them, they’d heard that I was getting restless and wanted to become a professional. They came back from Germany and asked me to join. We put the band together. We were like a little blues band and we got discovered and taken to London. So that was the beginning of everything. And then the first big tour we had with Chuck Berry, that helped our popularity. We had “Go Now” out and we went up the charts. That was our first sign of success.
The song “Go Now” has followed you throughout your career.
It has. I actually met Bessie Banks, you know. She was the original artist. Once you’ve got something like that as a part of you, a success story, then everybody remembers you. The thing about that song is that The Beatles loved it. They were big fans of that song. It was all about having your own sound. If you remember a lot of those bands in the early days, they were Beatles-influenced by those hits that came out at the time. We purposely went to get a different sound as a lot of other bands did: The Animals, The Yardbirds. We were kind of more a bluesy style, and they liked that.
It’s funny how a lot of British bands were influenced by American music back then, but became the British Invasion and brought it back here.
A lot of that music wasn’t available to Americans because they all lived in their own little pockets. They weren’t listening to that music. We listened to everything and what we felt like learning, we learned. When we came to America, we reintroduced that to Americans.
There was quite a creative explosion in music in the U.K. at that time.
Everybody came down to London because that’s where all the business was. We all became pretty friendly because of those days. We were all working the same venues. I worked with Rod Stewart quite a bit, and Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton. We became friends because of those clubs. Everybody would meet up in the clubs after gigs. We used to have parties; everybody would go to those parties. That’s the way everybody got to know each other. Friendly competition, really.
You were in Ginger Baker’s Air Force for a short time.
Yes, but it was a great experience because I knew those guys as well. A lot of these people are friends of mine. So I just went into that because Ginger wanted to do it, and I’d known Ginger and Jack Bruce from the Chuck Berry tour. They actually opened on that tour. So I’d known them that long. Then that came around, he asked me and I said yeah, let’s do it. He got a little bit sick after a while—his health went and he had to put it on hold. It was during that period that Paul called me.
You joined Wings at the beginning with the “Wild Life” album.
Denny Seiwell had decided to join Paul and put the band together because Denny Seiwell was on the “Ram” album. So Paul already had a drummer, so I went up to Scotland and joined them. We started to put some songs together and that led up to the “Wild Life” album.” We got Henry McCullough and he was from Joe Cocker’s band. It was really the first recordings we did together as a band at that time. It was very raw in the early days. We didn’t try to overdo the production. We did it like a live band, but then we went out and played those songs to students out around the country at different universities. We’d just turn up at a university and ask them to give us a show. In that way, we rehearsed to be a live band. That’s what we wanted in those days. We needed to play live in front of an audience without too much scrutiny from the press.
By the time “Band on the Run” was recorded it was just you, Paul and Linda [McCartney].
At that time, we had already rehearsed it with Henry and Denny [Seiwell]. Then we went to Lagos. I don’t know what the politics were involved there, but they just didn’t turn up. So it left it to me and Paul to put the music down. He played drums and I played guitar and we just put the tracks down in a rough form and then added all the rest of it later. It gave us a chance to do an album together, really. We had to, we were stuck with it.
What music will you be playing at your show in Culpeper?
It’s a mixture. I do have a band where I go out and do the “Band on the Run” album and I also do the first Moody Blues album as a band. On the solo thing, I tend to tell the stories of how the songs were written. The point is, I can do that because most of those songs were written on guitar anyway. It’s a stripped-down version of the records—basically have a chat with the audience at the same time. It’s something that people like. People feel connected when they hear just a solo artist up there doing something that he’s connected with and then the stories behind it. That’s what I’m doing.