Everybody comes to shows to hear the hits, but from the musician’s perspective, they need to keep creating lest they lose their edge as an artist. It’s a tricky balance to strike, though it’s one Denny Laine has done so successfully throughout the five-plus decades in the industry as he looks to showcase all his wares at Jammin’ Java this Sunday.
Laine grew up in the United Kingdom post-World War II, and for him and youths all over England, music was a working class job that helped bring in money for the family. Laine’s siblings were a cornucopia of artistic talent — from sisters who danced to brothers who played the trumpet and piano. It was these kids from factory towns in Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and, in Laine’s case, Birmingham who would help shape rock n’ roll throughout the 1960s and ‘70s and music as a whole for years to come.
It started with Laine serving as the frontman for the Moody Blues in 1964 where he helped steer the group to its first big hit in “Go Now.” After a few years, Laine split from the band and formed the Electric String Band – a stylistic precursor to the Electric Light Orchestra – before joining Balls and Ginger Baker’s Air Force for short stints. Throughout this time, Laine was keeping himself busy releasing songs as a solo artist and tinkering with different sounds in each of the projects he became a part of.
“Everything was experimental. I was influenced by jazz, folk, rock n’ roll and blues guitarists, but you’ve also got to make it your own,” Laine said. “You want to learn as much as you can from people. I’ve been fortunate to meet some great musicians in people who’ve taken me in different directions.”
One critical connection Laine had was a natural chumminess with Paul McCartney. Famous from his days a Beatle, McCartney was looking for a new journey to embark on after the hit group dissolved. McCartney witnessed one of Laine’s shows as a member of the Electric String Band, and propositioned him to join his newest venture in 1971 — Wings.
Laine, McCartney and McCartney’s then-wife Linda would form the core of the band’s 10-year run. While the two jibed on a personal level, there were some adjustments for Laine. The Beatles were primarily a studio band, while Laine preferred to play live shows, so acclimating to McCartney’s marathon studio sessions became a must. The Birmingham native caught on though, and was influenced by McCartney’s “prolific” songwriting ability as a result.
Once the band disintegrated in the early 1980s, Laine resumed his primary solo career, which he still continues to this day. For him, it’s been about finding that balance between live performances and working on songs in the studio — to take the energy from the fans on the road and bring it to the studio, and then use that inertia to create new songs and keep building on his success.
Laine’s been pleased to see a rise in tribute bands that pay homage to an era that he helped spawn. However, he’s wary about getting caught up relying on old hits, since it can stagnate his own creative process and weaken his music overall.
“No good living in the past too much, because then you just get stale, but the remastered stuff makes the music come alive again,” Laine added, noting how even when he plays old songs he’ll alter the arrangements to give them a different feel. “There’s a market for tribute bands, they just keep the music alive…It’s interesting to see how they are carrying on a lot of things that we were pioneers of.”
So grab another blank sheet and a pencil, because Laine’s ready to write a new track.
Denny Laine will be playing at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E, Vienna) this Sunday at 7 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit jamminjava.com.