In the Spotlight with Denny Laine
Courtesy of Ron Pullman
In the heat of Wings’ 1976 Wings Over the World tour, Denny Laine positions himself center stage at Seattle’s massive Kingdome stadium and pauses to take stock of the rambunctious audience encircling the band. Just before the house lights dim in preparation for the last number of the set, he squints his eyes and looks afar as if surveying the energy of every wild spectator in the sold-out venue.
With a swift tap of the foot, bandmate Paul McCartney leads with the opening riffs as the rest of the members follow suit—Jimmy McCullough on lead guitar, Linda McCartney on keyboards, Joe English on drums, and Laine on his double-necked rhythm guitar. Together, they jam out to the title track of their unrivaled LP, Band on the Run, released just three years prior to a smashing reception from fans and critics alike. Through the course of the night, Laine and his bandmates navigate through four more tracks from the Grammy Award-winning record, among them “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me),” and “Bluebird.”
More than four decades later, Laine revisits Wings’ revolutionary record in its entirety through a series of dates peppered along the eastern United States.
“It’s a good show,” Laine comments on the highly-anticipated concerts, during which he is slated to perform the complete and unabridged album. “People like it because it brings back memories for them, and I enjoy it because it’s close to my heart. I can remember it like it was yesterday.”
While successful upon release, the making of Band on the Run was met with its share of unusual obstacles—from the thefts of the group’s working tapes while recording in Lagos, Nigeria to the last-minute personnel changes, leaving Laine and the McCartneys to form Wings’ nucleus at their most vulnerable time.
“It came about as one of those special, strange ways of recording, because we had nothing to go by,” the musician remarks. “It was that challenge that made the album. [Paul] and I had the same feel. He got on the drums and I got on guitar, and what it did was it gave us this atmosphere of two guys who came from the same background and who grew up with the same influences, musically. We just had a small team of people that knew each other really well.”
Laine's partnership with the McCartneys would last for a decade and result in some of the seventies' and eighties' most beloved tracks.
Of that partnership, he states, “Paul was kind of like a bigger brother and we just went for it. In those days, I actually spent a lot of time in their family, because much of [the work] was done at home or in Scotland. We’d even go abroad and write. We would come together on a lot of things very focused and challenged.”
Touring proved to be a focal point during Wings’ lifespan and an element the band would ultimately come to pioneer. The extensive time spent on the world’s stage enabled the group to experiment with technology never before explored by musicians, ranging from the use of lasers and fog to flying monitors.
“We built up to it like anything else,” Laine speaks on their elaborate and ahead-of-their-time gigs. “We did tours in England, shows here and there, and then we built up a repertoire that we could take on the road. At that point, we had enough albums under our belt to tour our set with a mixture of songs. And we obviously put more effort into being theatrical and more than just a band playing on stage. That was one of the most revolutionary things at the time. Anything that anybody hadn’t done, we did.”
In retrospect, Laine admits the massive Wings tours allowed him to develop as an artist and performer, though he prefers headlining the more intimate concert settings today.
“I love doing small venues,” he says. “I do like the spectacular stadiums, but I’ve done all that and now I’m kind of enjoying doing the places where musicians come in who totally appreciate your music and come up to you and talk. I can’t do that arena setting anymore.”
After wrapping up dates in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, Laine is expected to return to California to complete work on his forthcoming single, “Meant To Be” and accompanying B-side, “Over The Horizon,” in association with 6-time Grammy award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer, Jimmy Hoyson.
“We recorded the band live in the studio, like they did back in the 60s, and it was just amazing to watch it,” Laine’s current manager and fellow musician, Ron Pullman, weighs in. “True, true excellence.”
“There are other people doing it these days,” Laine interjects, “but it became more my way of trying to re-capture the live sound. You’re still moving forward [as a musician,] but everybody’s come full-circle. What we’re doing has become fashionable again.”
Pullman and Laine are currently involved in a flurry of simultaneous projects, among them an environmental rock opera/ballet to be presented as a full production in Buffalo, NY come September. Additionally, the two are in negotiations for the publication of a book chronicling Laine’s life in the London music scene leading up to his time in Wings.
Commenting on the endeavor, the guitarist says, “[Over the years,] a lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you gonna write a book?’ ‘Well, what about Paul? What about Paul? What about Paul?’ But the book would be about— you know—my life. [The publishing company] came to me with an offer to focus on my career up until I joined Wings. And that includes The Beatles, the Stones, all my friends, everybody that I grew up with.”
With a slew of fresh projects on the horizon, the future looks enterprising for the acclaimed rocker. Says Laine, “It’s gonna be all this new material from me all at once, and that’s good. I want to do that. I don’t want to look like I’m living in the past.”
Credits: Denny Laine, Ron Pullman, Toby Ludwig
© Veronika Tacheva, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.