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Denny Laine: The Lost Interview

A Chat With the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck on May 31, 2012


The recent passing of Denny Laine found me thinking about the time when I was fortunate enough to interview him, spending some time with Denny before one of his solo shows at a club that doesn't exist anymore: Mexicali Blues in Teaneck, NJ. Having not heard the interview myself in many years - probably since it was recorded and broadcast 11 years ago - I was struck by a few things I'd forgotten.


Denny Laine Poses with Evan Toth at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck, NJ
Denny Laine with Evan Toth at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck, NJ

This was actually my second time meeting Denny! This interview, I remember very well. However, our first meeting - read below - had slipped from my memory, but now, of course, I recall it in full detail.


I was also shocked to see that I actually explained to Denny what Spotify was! This isn't to say Denny was not in tune with the music industry, it's simply that Spotify - at the time - was brand new and the concept of an artist streaming their catalog had yet to become a mainstream idea. Spotify became available in the US in July 2011 and our chat took place only 10 months later.


As I read I'm glad that we covered so much ground in a relatively quick interview, however, I wish I could have asked him a million more questions. As I devoured my Wings albums in my youth, I always looked forward to his contributions; some of his songs were my favorites and he and Paul were.a great - and underappreciated - musical and writing team. Don't ask me why, but I always had the feeling that we might connect again someday, but unfortunately that wasn't to be.


So, here's one from the archives. Rest in peace, Denny.


Evan Toth:

I'm honored to be sitting here with the legendary Denny Laine here at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey. Thanks for joining us today, Denny.


Denny Laine:

Well, it's very nice to be here. I'm really looking forward to this gig, a great venue. It's a trio thing and it's just a great night for me.


Evan Toth:

Well, that's great. I am a big Wings fan. Big McCartney fan. I was always a Paul fan, of course. But growing up, when I would listen to the Wings records, your songs would jump out at me, it was like a breath of fresh air. I was really in love with your particular tracks. In fact, on London Town I loved “Deliver the Children” and just everything you did. Your contributions to that group, in my opinion, are just innumerable.


Denny Laine:

Well, I'm always very flattered to hear that, obviously. I do my own thing, but I work well with Paul. He has the same kind of background as me in the kind of music we loved, which was folk, and rock and roll, and the old stuff.


But I was always a writer, but a reluctant writer, and he brought a lot of that stuff out in me, see, and allowed me to do it, really. Whereas I didn't go into that thing really to be a writer, but he kind of made me. Since then I've become more and more of a writer.

That's what I'm doing tonight, really. I'm doing my versions of those songs with a trio. Now, nobody's expecting to sound like the records. It's not a cover band. It's not a tribute band. But a song's a song, right?


A copy of Denny Laine's "Holly Days" album on vinyl.

Evan Toth:

Absolutely.


Denny Laine:

That's what I like to be able to do with songs, is do them differently. And so, it's always good to hear. Thanks. I really appreciate that. Because it encourages me as a writer. I have had a hit with “Say You Don't Mind” with Colin Blunstone. I know that people like some of the stuff I do, so this is really good for me to go out and play it more.


Evan Toth:

Having performed “Go Now”, it's such a beautiful song, you clearly had some kind of inkling towards being a writer or being at least with those guys, with the Moody Blues. How much of a writer were you with them?


Denny Laine:

That's what I was getting at. The Moody Blues were really a blues band that played originals. Not original music, but original R&B that nobody else was playing at the time. Meaning that we got a hold of a lot of obscure stuff. That's the way we kind of got our sound. But it came from America, as everything does. I mean, the early days in Birmingham when I was a kid, we grew up listening to Radio Luxembourg, which was the American Forces Network in Germany. So we were basically influenced by that stuff. Then we took it, made it our own, and brought it back to America. I believe that's the way it worked.


It encouraged a lot of American kids to get into the music we were into. Basically, it was a lot of old blues stuff. It was a lot of very R&B stuff that we loved. We had to play a lot of the songs of the day, but we also threw in the extra, these little obscure songs, and then eventually started to write.The first album, which is called The Magnificent Moodies, I co-wrote most of the songs with Mike Pinder. Of course, they went on to their thing and they ended up being writers, too. Of course, the Beatles encouraged everybody to write their own, too.


I already knew Paul. I knew the Beatles. We'd done the second British tour with the Beatles, the Moodies, and he was always trying to push songs on me, even in those days. Not necessarily his own songs. He tried to get us to do “Those Were the Days”, which Mary Hopkins ended up with.


Evan Toth:

Oh, no kidding.


Denny Laine:

Oh, yeah. He was always like the songwriter guy who was always around saying, "I've got a song for you."


He's very, very prolific, but I'm not so much. But since I've done my own thing over the years and done what? Eight or nine albums, I suppose. Compilations. But I've done a few solo albums, and I've written everything and learned to play a lot of the instruments as a result of being with Paul. Because that's what I did with Wings. I became a multi-instrumentalist. I started to develop myself. So, yeah, I've become more of a songwriter now. It's bad.


Evan Toth:

All of your contributions continue to live on with a lot of the reissues of, say, Band on the Run and stuff like that. You're still very much a part of that scene and that sound. Are you familiar with Spotify, the online streaming music service?


Denny Laine:

No, I'm not.


Evan Toth:

It's kind of like, imagine you had a iTunes and you've downloaded every song in the world, but it's just there immediately to stream. Your music, many of your albums, or they're sort of weird compilations, are available. I was just looking last night. It's really great, because when I was a little younger, even just in the nineties, and I would think about you and I would say, "Gee, I wonder what Denny's doing now, and I wonder where he is?" Pre-internet, it was difficult to research.


Denny Laine:

Yeah, yeah. You couldn't find it. You couldn't do anything.


Evan Toth:

Now here you are in my own backyard and all of your music is available. It's like too much to handle! How do you feel about your stuff or your involvement in everything that you've done and its resonance today? What are some reactions from audience members or people that you meet?


Denny Laine:

Well, obviously, the good thing is that it is available, and I don't have to do much to make it available. See, it's all done for me now. Whereas in the old days, we made our own management teams, everything was us, really, using the big company as the sort of captain of the ship. But we did most, we brought our own people in. Well, now the internet, of course, has made everything available and it's brought back stuff that I never thought would see the light of day now, you see. But, of course, stuff that wasn't, shall we say, popular or known, is being more well-received now, and that makes me feel better. It's not a matter of confidence. I felt pretty confident when I was doing this stuff. But when you go on to other things, you forget about what you've done before somehow.


Unless you can go out and play it live, which is what I try to do. But a lot of the stuff I go out and play live is small sets, and I do a few hits and whatever. But now I'm doing some of those songs, that's what I'm saying. With it being on the internet and being out there in such a big way, like history repeating itself, that's great for me, see. The fact that Paul puts out stuff that's already been out and had huge success, but reissues it and does whatever he does, everybody's still helping each other. Now, great. But at the same time, I don't want to be living in the past. Right?


Evan Toth:

Sure.


Denny Laine:

It's great that that's out there. But I've got a new album, it's called Valley of Dreams, and that's again, another era. In fact, I started it three years ago.


Evan Toth:

Wow. It takes a long time.


An autograph from Denny Laine

Denny Laine:

No, I did it a few months there and a couple of months a year later, and then it's been sitting on the shelf for about six months. But that's a new era thing for me. It's a whole new direction. It's not that different to what I've done before, but it's, hey, it's coming out. And now that's the next thing I want to try and go with.


Evan Toth:

I heard a rumor that you're currently writing a book about some experiences?


Denny Laine:

That's a difficult one.


Evan Toth:

Yeah.


Denny Laine:

Because writing a book, you've got to dig deep. You've got to really like ... and a lot of the stuff, I don't remember. I mean, it's normal.


Evan Toth:

Sure.


Denny Laine:

Even if I had the best memory in the world. I mean, you can't write it all down, because there's so much. So what you do is you write down what you remember and that's what I'm doing. I've been doing it for a while, and obviously, whatever I write, I'm going to run by Paul, because it's only fair that I do that. But, yeah, it's a book, but it's nowhere near finished. I mean, there's just so much stuff to compile into a small space.


And it's draining. That's all I'm saying. You know what I mean? Going back and trying, oh, you're worn out at the end of writing all this stuff down. But I have got a few hundred pages towards it.


Evan Toth:

Can you share maybe from the last 30 or 40 years a particular experience that really resonates with you, or something that you really remember as being like, "Wow, something I'll never forget." I mean, all the things that you've seen in your life.


Denny Laine:

Well, yeah. Where do you start?


Evan Toth:

Yeah. It's an unfair question.


Denny Laine:

No, it's not. It's just that with everything that you get involved in, there are certain things that stand out. The whole thing about the Moodies was getting our first #1 on the Chuck Berry tour, which was a huge high.


Evan Toth:

What tune was that?


Denny Laine:

“Go Now” was the first #1. Well, that was the first #1. I mean, “Nights in White Satin” came after me. That wasn't me. But it was certainly helped by the fact that we'd already had a #1. That was in England. That was on the Chuck Berry tour, because we were playing it live, and because we were getting a lot of radio and all the rest of it, it went to #1. The best promotion you can have for a record is playing it live on a tour, a nationwide tour.


Having said that, a lot of things like joining Wings with Paul or meeting Linda and Denny Seiwell, and then getting Henry, my friend, in and starting that little thing. That was kind of a daunting thing. It was a challenge. I like a challenge, but I didn't expect it to be anything like that. I thought it might just be like, "Oh, we're getting together with Paul to do an album." I never knew it would turn into a whole band thing. Especially, a new-


Evan Toth:

I see those pictures of you guys at the Rude Studio there, and it just looks like, I can't even fathom, I can't even imagine what the dynamics must've been like and how you guys put all that stuff together.


Denny Laine:

Well, it was very simple. We went to Scotland. He bought some land there, and he fixed up a couple of the homes there so that people could visit and get together. Basically, we were away from everyone and the public eye and everything. I mean, we were just friends getting together and playing, like guys do. Like the bands do.


A copy of Denny Laine's In Flight album on vinyl featuring Paul McCartney

Evan Toth:

Sure.


Denny Laine:

And it developed into something. We enjoyed it. And then that's it, really. But the point is that I wasn't intimidated by Paul, whereas a lot of people would be. Because I knew him, and that's what made it easy for him. I think his problem was he didn't know where to go after the Beatles. Because, who do you work with now when you're so famous? Who's not going to be intimidated? Who's going to just take you for who you are? Blah, blah, blah.


That kind of came naturally and developed into a band without us really knowing it. Of course, when that started getting successful, there's a lot of stories that came out of that. It was like a momentum thing. It just took off. I didn't have time to think about it, really.


Evan Toth:

Well, I could sit here and talk to you all night. I know you have a big night ahead of you, and I know you have a lot of other people here that want to say hello and meet you. I want to say this is actually not the first time we've met.


Denny Laine:

Oh, yeah.


Evan Toth:

I met you at a Beatlefest sometime in '98 or something like that. You were very, very wonderful. I waited in line, and you gave me your autograph. The woman I was dating at the time, when we left and I said, "Man, we just met Denny Laine." And she said, "He was wearing such cool socks."


Denny Laine:

Yeah, man!


Evan Toth:

...they were like argyle or something.


Denny Laine:

Oh, God.


Evan Toth:

But I'll always have that memory.


Denny Laine:

Yes, that's what you're talking about. Memories.


Evan Toth:

Yeah, yeah.


Denny Laine:

All right. Well that's good to know.


Evan Toth:

I really appreciate you sitting down with me. I'm a big fan, and you're an integral part of that sound. Paul couldn't have done it without you all those years. God bless you, and thanks for the wonderful music.


Denny Laine:

Hey, he's helped me. He helped me, too. People listen to me now and they say, "I can hear the Wings stuff there." So that all comes full circle.


A picture of Denny Laine from a poster in Wings' Greatest on vinyl

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