Denny Laine is well-versed in the art of adaptation.
He was a founding member of the Moody Blues in the '60s and Paul McCartney's post-Beatles band Wings in the '70s. More recently, he's worked with the Cryers and his Denny Laine Band. Indeed, Laine has weathered the unpredictable music industry's destabilizing tides to remain an active songwriting and touring force in the digital era. Many of his peers chose or were forced into retirement years or even decades ago.
Unlike some of his classic-rock-era peers, who favor playing new material and reject playing old hits to appease crowds, Laine is comfortable looking back at his best-known work before discussing or playing his newer music.
He's indulging his nostalgia more than usual these days by preparing a live show re-creating the Moody Blues' first album, The Magnificent Moodies. Steven Van Zandt approached Laine with the idea. "[Steve] grew up listening to that album, as Paul Shaffer did," Laine says. "I've been learning the songs recently. It's kind of nostalgic for me. I spoke to some of the Moody Blues recently about maybe coming out and guesting on it. We'll see what happens, but it's something I'm looking forward to for sure.”
He's also been revisiting Wings' recordings lately while he plans a Band on the Run summer tour with former members.
Relearning the songs and listening to remasters of his classic albums such as The Magnificent Moodies, Band on the Run, and Venus and Mars brings back a flood of memories, and he's more than willing to share stories of some old friends: Dylan, Clapton, Hendrix.
"We were all very much influenced by each other; it was friendly competition," he says of his guitar group peers. "In those days, we all moved to London because that's where all the business ties were. So I knew the Beatles. We had parties. Brian Jones was a big friend of mine. And we toured with the Stones too... and the Beatles [on] the second Beatles British tour. So we obviously were influenced by each other, and I know for a fact that Paul was a big fan of the Moodies. I used to hang out with Paul a lot in London. We'd go and see people like Hendrix and José Feliciano and whoever came to London. Or I'd go out with John [Lennon] sometimes and go and see the Byrds or the Lovin' Spoonful and Dylan. I went with Paul to see Dylan at his hotel room and hang out."
Laine and McCartney had been friendly rivals in the '60s, but once the Moodies and Beatles dissolved, they became collaborators. Laine is the only person besides John Lennon and Linda McCartney to have maintained a decade-long songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney, though the relationship presented unique challenges since its inception.
Next to no planning went into the first Wings tour, for example. Fearing a press frenzy following McCartney's post-Beatles venture, the band simply showed up on college campuses unannounced and negotiated terms on the fly.
"Paul had a lot pressure on him to follow the Beatles," Laine remembers, "and we did as a band, and we didn't want the press involved at that time because we knew we would get all the obvious slamming. It's just a rough band, and we've got Linda in the band; she's not a musician. We knew that was coming.
"So we decided to jump in a van just like the old days and pretend we were just a band from wherever starting up. And we would turn up at colleges because obviously you had the campus there with all the people living there. So you had a readymade audience. Our roadie would go and say, 'We've got Paul McCartney in the van.' They'd say, ‘No, you haven't.’ It was a good way of getting the band in shape, basically, and to get used to playing live. And we had some fun staying in cheap hotels, under the radar."
Toward the end of the band's ten-year tenure, McCartney grew disillusioned with touring. Laine cites this disagreement as the major cause of the band's dissolution.
Decades later, his passion for touring and playing live continues to burn brightly. He leads not one, but two active touring bands: the Denny Laine Band on the West Coast, and the Cryers with Wings drummer Steve Holley on the East Coast. They run through his current material alongside reworked versions of Wings and Moody Blues songs.
"I don't try to be a tribute band. I don't try to copy the records exactly. It's not that we change them that much, but we add a new slant to them."
He also has an album due out this summer, an environmental-themed musical in the works, and a promotional vinyl single set to release April 22, Record Store Day.
Ever the savvy, chameleonic musician, he understands how the function of vinyl has changed since he recorded his first records in the '60s.
"Record Store Day kind of was the birth of the vinyl album again. And that's where the music business is today. People are using records now as advertising tools rather than expecting to sell a lot of records. That's why people play live a lot more, so that they can actually make a living."
Laine no longer has to worry about the aspect of survival within the music industry, and with so many upcoming projects and a storied legacy, he could easily coast on his past accomplishments. But much like he did when Wings ended, Laine wants to keep going.
"I'm going to be busy. I can't stop. It's what I do. I mean, what else am I going to do? I don't like not working. Traveling around, coming down to Florida for a few days, it's fun! You go on the road, you get inspired to write other stuff. That's the way it is. You have a lot of fun doing it."
Denny Laine and the Cryers with Steve Holley, The Jim Camacho Band and Humbert
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $20 to $50 via ticketmaster.com.
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