Hall of Fame guitarist Denny Laine bringing ‘Songs & Stories’ show to PA
WILKES-BARRE — If you asked most people to name a rhythm guitarist that played in a band with Paul McCartney for 10 years, the name that would undoubtedly fly off most tongues would be “John Lennon.” And though there is good reason why Lennon’s name is the first to come to mind, McCartney also spent a decade playing alongside another rhythm guitarist who left a lasting impression on the landscape of rock music — Denny Laine.
While Laine might not necessarily be a household name, he has certainly played in his fair share of bands that are.
After serving as a founding member of the English rock group The Moody Blues, who he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with just last year, Laine enjoyed his biggest successes in the music industry as a member of Paul McCartney and Wings from 1971 to 1981. In the latter, he was a part of the core trio (which also included McCartney and his then-wife Linda Louise McCartney) that endured the group’s many different configurations; together, the three would create 12 singles that charted in the Top 10. As if that weren’t impressive enough, in between playing in The Moody Blues and Wings, Laine also spent a year (1970) playing in Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a jazz-rock fusion supergroup led by Ginger Baker — a man who many consider to be the best rock drummer of all time.
Though most of his career was spent sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in rock music, Laine is currently out on his intimate “Songs & Stories” tour, which sees him performing as a solo act; he goes out armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar. At 8 p.m. Friday, Laine will be bringing this show to a regional stage, when he plays at Wilkes-Barre’s F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
“I have always kind of dabbled at (playing solo), I used to do it between sets when I was doing band gigs,” Laine said. “It went down well, people liked it. So, I decided that, since my band — the Moody Wing Band — are very busy with other projects, that I would do this a little bit more. It is going well.
“It is basically just songs that I have been connected to either through Wings, The Moody Blues or my solo projects,” he added. “It is all that, and then I just tell a few stories.”
Laine mentioned that “it has been great to see the audience reaction” at his shows, because the crowds have really been getting into his performances. After being “semi-retired” for many years after Wings disbanded, Laine said that his relationship with the fans has evolved a lot recently, as he has been getting on the road much more nowadays.
“I think people have come to that point in their lives — especially the ’70s and ’60s fans — where they are at the age where they want to sit down and hear the stories,” he said. “They are more appreciative, somehow, than they were before. They are happy that you are still around and still doing it.
“I think they kind of feel like they are part of a club — we all do,” added Laine. “We all came up with this music together. Because of that, I think there is a lot more attention to what I am doing now than there would have been before.”
Of course, his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 has also helped give him a boost with audiences.
“That absolutely brought it all out,” Laine said. “When people see you out there doing it again — or when they see your face — they get excited.
“We are just a bunch of English guys — we never really expected to be in the Hall of Fame,” he added. “We don’t have one of those in England, but America is much more, shall I say, grateful? I don’t know if the word is grateful, but America shows its appreciation by doing that, and that is a good thing.”
Even after playing on an electric guitar for most of his career, Laine said that he is extremely comfortable playing on an acoustic. After learning to play guitar on an acoustic when he was just 12, Laine was initially drawn to jazz and folk music, which allowed him to explore the instrument quite a bit.
“I write most of my songs usually on an acoustic guitar,” said Laine. “So, I am used to acoustic guitars very much, especially old gypsy jazz guitars; I always carry one of them around with me.”
Laine mentioned that it has been nice hitting the stage without a backing band, because it reduces the “clutter and noise” in the background. That allows fans to hear every note he plays, which he considers to be very important. It also allows him to be more flexible with his songs.
“You do tend to play more in some ways, when it is just you on guitar,” Laine said. “You tend to not play it safe, you try to feel it out a bit more somehow because you don’t have the other instruments to rely on.
“You can also change the songs around to whatever arrangement you want; they don’t have to be full arrangements,” he added. “They are different versions of songs that people will know, but they will hear them in their raw state, and that is really how all songs start.”
Being on stage alone is intimidating for Laine, especially after spending so many years playing alongside some of rock’s biggest superstars. He welcomes the challenge of it, though, saying that it is thrilling in its own right.
“When you are up there with those guys, it is kind of easy in a way,” he said. “It’s like, you can’t not play well with Ginger Baker playing drums, and you can’t not play well with Paul McCartney playing bass. It is just the way it is because they are so good on their instruments.
“(Playing solo) is absolutely always intense, because I have to be at my best,” Laine added.
For more information or tickets to Laine’s show, call 570-826-1100.