Denny Laine looks back on the Moodys, McCartney, and Britain’s music scene
One day, shortly after the Beatles broke up, Denny Laine got a phone call.
It was Paul McCartney. He wanted to start a new band.
“He said, ‘Do you want to do something? Get on a plane, we’re in Scotland,’ ” recalls Laine.
Laine got on that plane. He helped form the crux of Wings, with Paul and Linda McCartney.
A cofounding member of the Moody Blues — Laine sang lead on the band’s early hit “Go Now” — he and McCartney knew each other from the British music scene, but Laine says it was a London show, in which his Electric String Band shared a bill with Jimi Hendrix, that caused McCartney to ring him up.
“I think that’s what tipped the balance for me,” says the Birmingham, England, native in a recent phone interview from his New Jersey home.
After leaving the Moody Blues in 1966, Laine formed the Electric String Orchestra, then played in Ginger Baker’s Air Force, among other stints, before his decade in Wings.
Since departing Wings in 1981, Laine, 74, has “kept a low profile” but stayed busy, releasing a dozen solo albums.
He had quite the 2018: He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April with the Moody Blues (“When you are finally inducted into it, you do really feel part of the club.”). And recently McCartney reissued “Wild Life,” “Red Rose Speedway,” and “Wings 1971-73.”
We caught up with the two-time Grammy winner as he and his Moody Wing Band head to City Winery on Wednesday to play Wings’ triple-platinum album “Band on the Run” and the Moody Blues’ debut album, “The Magnificent Moodies,” along with other songs.
Q. How did the Moody Blues form?
A. We’re all from Birmingham. Two of the guys who formed the Moodys [Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder] came back from [gigging in] Germany, and wanted to put a band together to go back to Germany. There was a lot of work out there at the time, so they asked me to get a band together with them. [Later] we went to London, and it all started happening from there.
Q. And you started on ukulele, right?
A. [Laughs] Yeah. You know, because there was one in the house. I progressed from [ukulele to] guitar, and then playing skiffle and stuff like that. I was into gypsy jazz music and blues and all that stuff.
Q. Your first band was Denny Laine and the Diplomats. What’s the story behind “Denny Laine”? How did you pick that name?
A. In those days, a lot of people changed their names. It wasn’t Brian Frederick Hines and the Diplomats because that wouldn’t have worked. I had to make a name up, and it came from one of my sisters; she was a fan of Frankie Laine. The “Denny” thing, in those days, everyone had a backyard, and a den to hang out. I think I got that nickname there.
Q. You said the Moody Blues and the Beatles met in London. Were you guys friends?
A. We had a few parties. We used to see whatever American band was in town — Dylan. Jimi Hendrix. [And] also a lot of the London bands — the Stones, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart. That was a time everyone got to know each other.
Q. I heard there were some epic parties that the Moody Blues used to have.
A. [Laughs] When everyone was in town, yeah, of course. Usually lasted two or three days; we had a big house out in the country, and we just had an open invitation. Everyone in the music business must’ve been there. We had a few of those parties. And also, George Harrison was a neighbor, so I used to go around his place quite a bit..
Q. Why did you leave the Moody Blues?
A. Because I wanted to do something new. [Their next album] turned out to be “Days of Future Passed.” So I probably did them a big favor [laughs]. So they went ahead and did that album, and they got successful, which I was very pleased about, obviously. Because I left, I didn’t want them to go down. I wanted to do something different, that’s all.
Q. Did you feel pressure being in Wings? Did you feel like people wanted another Beatles?
A. No, it didn’t bother me. Part of it was: You’re not a Beatle to me; you’re a band member. Although the Beatles were big to the world, within the business, we’re all very, very equal. We all grew up the same. So I didn’t feel that pressure.
Q. What was Paul like as a person?
A. I always got along great with him. We never argued. We went in there to get something done, and we got it done. That was it. He’s a pretty easygoing person. But he’s a perfectionist, as we all are. You have to be. It’s a competitive business we’re in. And he’s also a workaholic in a sense. I think [wife] Linda helped him a lot with that. They went up to Scotland and kept out of the public eye as much as possible. Tried to live a simple life outside of fame.
Q. What are some highlights that stand out from your time with Wings?
A. The minute we started doing arenas it was amazing. We proved to the world we could get up there at that level. That was the best thing in the world. The other thing, of course, was making albums. My main one, I suppose, is “Band on the Run” because it was just me and Paul.
Q. Right, so how did it happen to be just you and Paul? I read he got robbed in Lagos?
A. He got robbed. And there’s more to the story. Two of the people in the band [drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough] decided they didn’t want to go to Lagos [Nigeria, where the album was recorded]. Walked away. It was me and Paul in the studio putting backing tracks down.
Q. And why Lagos?
A. We [went] places where EMI had studios — it was like going on holiday. We had Geoff Emerick with us, a Beatles engineer. Prior to going to Lagos, we’d already rehearsed with the band — and those tapes got stolen.
Q. So was he hurt in this robbery? What happened?
A. No. He was walking from my house to his house. These guys are driving around, they jumped out of the car and threatened him and Linda. And they took everything they got on them and let them go. He was lucky, he could’ve been . . . you know. So it was scary.
Q. You left Wings shortly after Paul was arrested for pot in Japan.
A. Yeah, that kind of did it for me, for that band, that lineup. Because it meant we couldn’t tour again for while. Because you have that problem once you do get arrested for something. And I had a solo album I wanted to promote at the time, so I just drifted off, and that was it. Rumors went around that we all fell out, but we didn’t really.
Q. Do you still talk to Paul? Are you still friends?
DENNY LAINE AND THE MOODY WING BAND
At City Winery, Boston, Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $20-$28, www.citywinery.com/boston