A CONVERSATION WITH DENNY LAINE
This interview with Denny Laine was conducted by the author at Mark Recording Studio in Clarence, New York, in the fall of 1989.
GEOFFREY: Tell me about the first time you recall working with the Beatles after forming the Moody Blues.
DENNY: We all used to meet in a club called the AdLib which was not really a rock place. It was a very expensive club. I got friendly with George and then John. The Moodys used to have parties they [the Beatles] attended. We were invited to do the tour, and eventually we signed to Brian Epstein's company. We used to do lots of NEMS dates at different places, but we did the Beatles tour because they invited us to close the first half.
GEOFFREY: What specific memories do you have of touring with the Beatles?
DENNY: You could tell that they'd been together a few years because they just bounced off one another like it was going out of style. We would be staying at some country hotel (those were the days we used to smash a few glasses and have a good laugh). The owners would expect us all to be nice boys, but we weren't quite as nice as they expected.
GEOFFREY: Surely the squeaky clean Beatles didn't encourage that sort of reputation, did they?
DENNY: I beg to differ. I can remember a few glasses being spilt! I'm not going to go any further than that. It was pretty harmless stuff, but of course it was blown out of proportion. Years later when the Who used to smash up hotel rooms or toilets and rip things out of the wall, that was a development of something everybody was doing.
GEOFFREY: How did your relationship with McCartney first develop?
DENNY: Well, Paul was probably the most outward going of the Beatles. He was always the one that tried to sell his songs and get to know people. Deep down the others were pretty friendly when you got to know them, but he was the most "commercially" friendly. He tried to get me to do [the song] "Those Were the Days" and I thought, yeah, that's a good one. We didn't get round to doing it, but I became his friend on a song-writing level, I suppose.
GEOFFREY: How was your friendship with Paul during those post-Moody years before Wings?
DENNY: I didn't really have much of a relationship with Paul. He was living in London and I was living in Putney. A lot of people who lived in London didn't mix with people who bought houses out of town. John Lennon was one of the people who moved to the area near me. I suppose I developed a relationship with him before even Paul in those days.
GEOFFREY: So were you dropping acid with John?
DENNY: Not literally with him, but we were all doing it at the same time. I can remember coming down off some acid and I bumped into him. I went over to his house and we went off somewhere. I don't know whether he'd just started tripping, but he was definitely stoned. We were both stoned. We went to the Alexandria Palace and naturally were surrounded by people. It was a real happening. They were all smoking banana skins — pretty much of a laugh in those days. Looking back, even more of a laugh. Anyway, somebody spat on John and it really didn't do him any favor psychologically. He just couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle it. So we left and went home. That's when we started to realize that drugs were dangerous. You tended to read more into a situation than was actually happening.
GEOFFREY: What was it like, working with Paul?
DENNY: We didn't have any personality problems because we were friends before. Musically, though, we pushed each other to the limit. We criticized each other about the lyrics or music to the point that we would come up with something good at the end of the day. We disciplined ourselves a lot to do it. Just like everybody else goes to work every day, we were doing the same thing.
GEOFFREY: It looks like so much fun to those of us on the outside.
DENNY: It was fun, but we spent a hell of a lot more time alone working than we did in the public eye having a ball.
GEOFFREY: Ever since the Beatles, Paul's needed someone to work with. I think possibly he had his best experience though with you. Could you sense he needed someone?
DENNY: Yes, he did, as we all do. He was used to being in a situation where he wrote with someone, even though we can all write on our own (as he proved with "Yesterday" and "Blackbird"). You go off on your own solo adventures, but you eventually come back to forming a group because that's where you get the most satisfaction.
GEOFFREY: When you first joined Wings, what were you all doing —just busking to get your feet wet?
DENNY: Paul had a little studio in the barn, a four-track set-up EMI had sent up for us to use.
GEOFFREY: Wild Life, of course, was the album that came out of all that. I remember the record company had to put a sticker on the cover of the album saying, "Wings Wildlife" because people didn't realize who the hell it was.
DENNY: We were keeping a low profile. We were a new band. Even though the public didn't think so, we felt we were. We weren't trying to push it. We were just starting out. Even after we were called "Wings" and people knew us, they were still calling us "Paul McCartney and Wings" because it was more of an attraction.
GEOFFREY: What's ironic is that despite all the human shortcomings of your former wife, Jo Jo, she's certainly a far better singer than Linda McCartney, isn't she? She could have added a lot to Wings if only things could have been a bit looser. Certainly in terms of backup vocals anyway.
DENNY: That's true in a sense, but Jo didn't fit personality-wise. She was just too neurotic — maybe she wouldn't have been if she'd been accepted —whereas Linda was a far more together person.
GEOFFREY: She has certainly been a strong presence in Paul's life. Do you think it's fair to say she might have been a kind of mother figure to him though?
DENNY: Oh yes, I would say so, but there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of people have that relationship.
GEOFFREY: Did he generally defer to her if there was an argument? Who really wore the pants in the family, would you say?
DENNY: He did in some respects, but not in everything. In many ways her earthiness kept him grounded, I think.
GEOFFREY: So she didn't really want all the limos and all that then?
DENNY: No, not really, but there again, it was necessary. If you're going to expose yourself to that kind of an audience, you've got to live that life. You must have security. You've got to remember that Linda was from quite a wealthy family anyway and was used to all the trappings. She just wanted a little bit of a simpler life, I think.
GEOFFREY: So you think without Linda Paul would have been a bit more flash?
DENNY: Probably, yes, but Paul always wanted that simple side of life as well. So he found it with Linda, you might say.
GEOFFREY: I can't remember if it was you or Jo Jo that told me you guys were in Abbey Road, telling a dirty joke, when Linda walked into the room, and it was like, Oh, come now lads, Linda's here. You'd have to immediately curtail any so-called loose talk.
DENNY: Yes, but I mean that can happen with lots of people. It's not like she was that much of a prude. She really wasn't. It's an image that they projected and stuck to as well. Of course, there were lots of kids around too, you've got to remember that, so that was part of it as well.
GEOFFREY: So whereas Paul might be an old hippie in some ways, he's a very straight Liverpool dad too.
DENNY: Well, yes, but so am I. We all are to a point. I think because they were in the public eye they made a bit more of a point of it. In fact, in my opinion, too much of a point of it, but that's their prerogative.
GEOFFREY: You played quite a bit of bass with Wings, I've noticed.
DENNY: Some bass, a little keyboards. When I was doing harmonies though I couldn't very well be playing lead, so we would bring in a lead guitarist. Henry [McCullough] was a blues guitarist who could also turn his hand to other styles. He was very into Irish folk music. He was into show music. He was into all sorts of things. When he played the solo on "My Love," in the studio (with an orchestra), he did it live.
GEOFFREY: You mean he came up with that solo on the spot?
DENNY: Right off the top of his head. He was the kind of guy that fitted musically because he balanced out the sweet side of the band. But of course Henry was a bit of a case on the road. He liked to drink and he was never any good at time-keeping.
GEOFFREY: He wasn't too diplomatic either, was he?
DENNY: No. He was a bit of a rebel in that sense, but I don't mind that. I can remember Henry falling over one night doing a solo and not getting up for the rest of the set, which I actually thought was funny. But at the same time you rather think, Well, wait a minute, he was a bit of a loony.
GEOFFREY: How did you feel with your own background—being a pretty heavy, sort of rugged, rebel, gypsy guitarist — to be suddenly playing something like "Mary Had a Little Lamb?"
DENNY: Look, I don't take the business that seriously. If I was running the band, which I wasn't, I wouldn't have put it out as a single. I would have picked something a bit more in line with what I like in music.
GEOFFREY: The next Wings single [issued in December, 1972] was "Hi Hi Hi." What did you play on that?
DENNY: Henry and I both played lead. We had a dual guitar part. A lot of the Wings stuff was recorded like that.
GEOFFREY: Some people say that since you left, McCartney's been like a boat without an anchor, searching around for a place to hang his hat creatively.
DENNY: Well, personally I think it worked out really well with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
GEOFFREY: You were involved in the Stevie Wonder collaboration, weren't you?
DENNY: I was to begin with, but not with "Ebony and Ivory." I left just before that. When Paul was writing it though, I was saying, "I really like that." I've encouraged Paul to do several things he probably wasn't that happy with himself. "Get on the Right Thing" was one he never really thought was finished. He did it in New York during the Ram sessions. He never wanted to use it on anything. He didn't think the lead vocals were any good. He just laid the vocal down at the end of the day and really didn't know all of the words. I used to say, "But it's great. I love it. If you change the vocal though, it won't be as strong." And eventually he put it on Red Rose Speedway.
GEOFFREY: It's been said that Henry left because he got sick and tired of Paul telling him what to play.
DENNY: There's a certain amount of that involved, but then, when anybody's in a band together, you've got to decide what you're going to do. You can't have complete freedom when the rest of the band is knuckling down to another approach. I think eventually Henry called Paul or the office and said, "I'm not going to be making this next thing." Henry was a bit of a problem. He wouldn't want to do certain things because he was too into one style. It was hard work to get him to do things, but once he did them he was fine. That's where I'm a little bit more open than Henry.
GEOFFREY: You once said that being in Wings was a twenty-four-hour-a-day gig.
DENNY: It was hard work. We'd have the odd month off, but we were always trying to dream up what we'd be doing next, continually thinking up new ideas for promotion or whatever.
GEOFFREY: By the time Band on the Run rolled around you really were quite intimately involved in writing with Paul, weren't you?
DENNY: Actually, I only wrote one song on that album, "No Words."
GEOFFREY: Still, musically, it's really a bona fide McCartney/ Laine album, isn't it? Of course it's called Wings, but it's really just the two of you, right?
DENNY: Well, yes. Then Linda would be taught her little bits and come up with her harmonies afterwards. We took the album back to London and added the clarinets and the strings. People like Bryan Ferry would often drop by the studio.
GEOFFREY: How did you feel when Band on the Run went through the roof the way it did?
DENNY: All it meant to me was that I made a bit more money and everybody was giving us gold albums. The fact that it got recognized as it did proved to me we didn't really need anybody else. But even so, I thought, well, now we've got to tour, we've got to go back out on the road. One thing I really did want to do in Wings was tour more, which was actually a big reason I left.
GEOFFREY: Why do you think Paul didn't want to go on tour so much?
DENNY: I don't know. Perhaps he was a bit tired of having to go to all the trouble of putting it together [or of] the pain he would get from too many people for too long of a time, always prodding him, questioning him.
GEOFFREY: Let's discuss Venus and Mars. What did you sing on that?
DENNY: "Spirits of Ancient Egypt," but I didn't write it.
GEOFFREY: What can you remember about recording the album?
DENNY: We did it at Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans because it was in that area where they've got that great music, that Cajun sound. We were jamming in the different clubs. I remember we had a wrap party on the river, and this young photographer we hired had all his fucking film stolen. The poor guy was devastated. Once the bed tracks were finished we went to L.A. to do some of the overdubs. I remember Tom Scott putting the clarinet part on "Listen to What the Man Said" in one live take, just leaning over the control board. Jose Feliciano and Mickey Dolenz were hanging out with us, and even Rod Stewart came by. Then for the launch we had this big party on board the Queen Mary. It seemed everyone in show business was there —Dean Martin, Carl Maiden, Cher, The Jacksons, Joni Mitchell, all these people we'd brought from New Orleans, and even Dylan.
GEOFFREY: You know, it's curious — during that whole Wings period John Lennon never once came around.
DENNY: No, he didn't, but then John was like that. When Paul tried to talk to him he would say things like, "Not tonight, man, we're sleeping." You can't just come around though and knock people up in the middle of the night and expect to come in.
GEOFFREY: Tell me about the "Wings Over America" tour, because that was basically the first of the great mega tours. What was that like?
DENNY: You've got to remember that people like Zeppelin were doing it too, as were the Who. They had people make their equipment, and the Who had the lighting company, Showco, who really developed all the laser things. We had them build all our equipment—a tailor-made set-up. We paid over the top to get the best. We had our own stage built. We weren't just going to places and setting up on the stages they supplied. We took everything with us. We took seventy people on the road to build everything on the day of the gig. We certainly had the most up-to-date laser show, the most up-to-date sound, everything. We had a real cross-section of people in the audience, too. It wasn't just the heads, the dope smokers, it was all sorts — Beatles' fans, Moody Blues fans maybe, and of course the kids. I was as surprised as anyone that we actually had a whole set of fans that were never into the Beatles or the Moody Blues.
GEOFFREY: Tell me briefly how Joe English left.
DENNY: Again, the same story as Denny Seiwell. He was an American. He'd made some money, bought a house and got his Porsche. He'd had enough of whatever it is that pisses off people at that level.
GEOFFREY: Other than the unfortunate fact that Paul kept getting busted for possession of marijuana on a semi-regular basis, you guys weren't really a big doping band, were you?
DENNY: No. We never used to get stoned on gigs at all, never. We were too concerned about doing what we'd rehearsed and making it right. We didn't want to come across like a stoned-out band. After all, there were kids, grandparents and all sorts of people in our audiences. We only smoked as a social thing or in the studio to come up with new ideas. But we never got into "H" or anything like that.
GEOFFREY: Wings had a reputation of being a bubblegum band at the time. Were you all aware of it?
DENNY: Yes. We always tried to get a heavier image all the way along the line. That's one of the reasons I wasn't one hundred percent satisfied with my years in Wings, because it wasn't the more bluesy-orientated music or rock that I was influenced by. I was always trying to give it a little bit more of an edge. It actually went there for a while too.
GEOFFREY: With the "Wings Over America" tour especially.
DENNY: That just proved to me that once we had a group together long enough and we were touring, we would come across heavier than in the studio. Paul also had a raunchy side to him too. He was into lots of different things. In fact, he was into so many different things that sometimes I don't think he really knew who he was [or] what direction he was going in musically.
GEOFFREY: You've said that when McCartney composes, he writes compulsively. How did you and he actually collaborate? What went on during that process?
DENNY: Somebody would come up with an idea for a tune and then the other would say, "I like that bit, but I don't like that." Then we'd iron that out and generally there wouldn't be enough words. Or maybe the tune was a little bit too low, or perhaps it wasn't the right kind of song for an acoustic guitar. Anyway, we would come out at the end of the day with a solution, a song that we both knew, with the lyrics, guitar, and piano bits all vaguely together.
GEOFFREY: You seem to have gotten everyone in Wings the job, didn't you?
DENNY: No. I didn't get Denny Seiwell the job. Nor Joe. Steve was my neighbor. He used to write songs. He was a drummer, but really he was a writer. His mother was a terrific jazz singer and he was just a friend. I liked his music. He'd play piano and write songs. He was working with Elton John on and off and a guy called Brian Chapman. He wasn't really the kind of rock drummer I was looking for, but he knew how to play and how to do sessions. He played on a solo album for me that was partly stuff I'd done with Wings and several other songs [Japanese Tears]. For Steve's Wings audition we went along to So ho Square which is where our office is [MPL]. We had a theater downstairs which we had built in the basement. He and Laurence just joined in and we all had a good old play. Just prior I'd done a Dave Essex show, a weekly series he had. David was an old friend and admirer of mine. Anyway, Laurence's brother happened to be the conductor of the studio band and Laurence was the guitar player. So he came up to me and said, "The guitar solo on 'Go Now,' do you want me to do this or that? Who played it on the record anyway?" And I said, "I did." So he copied my guitar solo and played it on the show.
GEOFFREY: Tell me a bit about the creation of "Mull of Kintyre."
DENNY: Originally, Paul came to me with this verse, and I said, "I love that." And he went, "Oh really?" He hadn't got any great ideas to do anything with it. I said, "I love that and that would be fantastic with the Campbeltown Pipe Band maybe." I injected my enthusiasm and his eyebrows went up. Well, Paul's not really a big drinker, but he does like his Scotch and Coke, so we got through a bottle during the course of this one afternoon, sitting on the wall outside the cottage [in Scotland]. I threw in most of the lyrics which Paul finished off later. Then we got the pipe band in. But because we'd recorded it in a certain key they couldn't come in on the first verse, so we brought them in as a feature, which really gave the tune a lift. That was the bit of magic for that song.
GEOFFREY: Wasn't that single supposed to be what they call a "double A-side?" "Girls School," I believe, was on the flip side.
DENNY: Yes. But that was more of a rock song. You see, in England people just love nostalgic songs. They particularly adore this kind of Scottish-era, "God Save the Queen" type of thing. It became a kind of national anthem for Scotland in a sense. In actual fact people from all over the world used to visit Kintyre, thinking it was this fantastic place. The name stuck and they now call the whole area the Mull of Kintyre. Of course it never existed before, so we've made some kind of mark in history. Paul definitely wrote the chorus, which is the selling point, so you can't say I was responsible for that. But he had the idea and it was really just an idea.
GEOFFREY: What if Paul went off in a direction that you instinctively felt was wrong?
DENNY: Oh, I would rebel if it was something I didn't really like.
GEOFFREY: That's something very few people would dare do with Paul McCartney to this day, isn't it?
DENNY: I think anybody who works closely with him, George Martin as well, should say, "Look, that's all right, but don't you think this should happen?"
GEOFFREY: How does he take to that?
DENNY: He's like any artist. First he thinks, "Well, wait a minute, who are you to tell me?" But it's like life. If you've got something better to say, I'll listen. But if you haven't, shut up.
GEOFFREY: Denny, why did you leave Wings?
DENNY: I left because Paul got busted in Japan and we'd been waiting five years to get there. That was the biggest upset of the lot.
GEOFFREY: You didn't get paid for the tour?
DENNY: Not really, but then again, I would have made the money up in other ways. That wasn't the reason I left.
GEOFFREY: How do you look back on Wings?
DENNY: Well, I'm very happy I did it. I certainly made some bread and saw a lot of the world. I'm very regretful, though, that I don't have an on-going friendship with Paul and Linda anymore. That's all. But I think if I were to make the effort to go and see them, things would be different. It's down to me. But it's also down to Paul to kind of let me know. He has been in touch with me through other people, I'm told, saying that we should get together. It just hasn't come about. Maybe I'll go and see him on this tour . I don't know.
GEOFFREY: How do you think Paul will be remembered?
DENNY: Like Beethoven. Yes. He'll be remembered in that same league. And also there will be films and recordings of McCartney which there obviously aren't of Beethoven. It will be the same kind of thing. He'll be remembered as one of the biggest influences in the world for his lifetime.
GEOFFREY: Considering your songwriting relationship with Paul, did you ever feel you were in any way competing against John Lennon?
DENNY: No, not at all. That didn't ever come into it. I never thought about what the public might be thinking. We were doing something that was me and Paul. I wasn't a substitute for John to him. I was just another step in a different direction. I put a few raw edges on some of the things he was coming up with. And some of the ideas I had he would help put them into more form. For example, I would write a song and think, well, it's all right, but I'm not that keen on the melody. And he would say, "I'd like it better if we do this to it, if we change that a little bit there." I would be surprised that the song would turn out that good. So I was happy to have that influence as well. We were teaching each other, learning together, but at the same time we weren't in competition with each other or anyone else for that matter.
GEOFFREY: And you didn't leave because of Jo Jo?
DENNY: That contributed to it. You know, I was at the point where we were going through bad times as a family anyway. She was running around and I was running around—living separate lives virtually. It was a way of saving my marriage. The point was though, it had gone too far. Right? That wouldn't save the bloody marriage, leaving the band. I didn't physically leave right then. I came back. In fact, I went to France to meet him [Paul] and I started working on my own solo career. What was I going to do for two years? The band couldn't tour. It would have meant going back into the studio. One day I was really pissed off and Paul kept calling up to say, "Let's get back to work." I said, "Tell him I'm not coming in today."
GEOFFREY: That was for Tug of War, wasn't it?
DENNY: Then it was, "If he doesn't come in, we'll forget it." He was getting pissed off. I said, "Well, forget it, then." I didn't actually talk to him. I just didn't feel like carrying on. But by that token, I'd been there before over silly things and hadn't felt like doing anything. I know if I had called him I could have carried on. I just didn't. It's as simple as that.
GEOFFREY: You never had any words with him about it?
DENNY: We never had any words about it, but I knew from other sources that he was pissed off about certain things that had been said. Within the context of my book it wouldn't have mattered, but there you go. So as a result I haven't seen a hair on his head since.
GEOFFREY: How do you feel about Paul's music since Wings broke up?
DENNY: Well, I don't really see Paul as a solo artist. I've always seen him as a band member. I've always thought he contributes more when he's working with someone. Now that he's got a band together I think probably it's done him a lot of good. In between that time he's kept a low profile musically as well. I wasn't that wild about Tug of War.
GEOFFREY: How long were you and Paul together?
DENNY: Over ten years. The only reason it didn't last any longer was because of the group. We'd gone through so many different line-ups. He got busted in Japan and the band just went back into the studio. We couldn't do any big tours because you have to wait for visas. So I drifted away. We didn't fall out at that time. I haven't seen him since, but we haven't really fallen out. Unfortunately, the press got hold of some bad stuff. I was doing a book and somebody got hold of the things I said about Paul and took them out of context. It looked like I was having a go at Paul, which I wasn't. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased about that. Since then I've heard through various mutual friends that he doesn't hold any real grudge and I certainly don't have any bad feelings about it all.
GEOFFREY: Would you ever consider going back and playing with him?
DENNY: If he asked me to. I wouldn't push the idea, but if he wanted to do something I would.
GEOFFREY: Do you like his new work?
DENNY: Yes. I enjoyed the new album [Flowers in the Dirt]. I like the band he's got now as well.
GEOFFREY: Was Wings a real high point for you?
DENNY: Yes, but I've always had a solo thing going too. Actually, I like to do things a little bit lower key than Wings. It's because of the audience contact, playing smaller places, which I've enjoyed doing while not being with Wings. But you can't have both.
GEOFFREY: Do you think you were ever Paul McCartney's best friend?
DENNY: I don't know. I felt we were friends. Whether I was his best friend ...
GEOFFREY: Well, there wasn't anyone else who was around anymore, was there?
DENNY: No. But I mean he had his brother, he had his family.
GEOFFREY: Was he very close with Mike?
DENNY: Yes. But in an elder brother sort of way. I mean he certainly wouldn't spoil Mike, but he'd still buy him a car once in a while or help him out. I don't think they were the best of friends all the time. There's a competition there, but then you get that in a lot of families.
GEOFFREY: Personally, I think Mike is extremely talented and his McGear allbum was brilliant. I always look on that LP like a Wings album.
DENNY: Yes. Well, we all played on it. Paul was very much the main man there, the producer.
GEOFFREY: I don't quite understand why it didn't do anything.
DENNY: I know. That's always upset me as well. Let's put it this way: if Paul had pushed that like he did his own albums, it would have been big, and it deserved to be. Frankly, I was a little bit disappointed that Paul didn't get behind that. I think he mainly left it to Mike. We all know that Mike hasn't got his kind of money and couldn't have promoted it properly.
GEOFFREY: It's funny how he never drew Mike into the family business.
DENNY: Mike might not have wanted to, you know. There's that brotherly rivalry there.
GEOFFREY: Did Paul ever talk to you about his attitude towards the Beatles?
DENNY: We never really discussed the Beatles, ever. Once in a while, though, he might say something like, "It's kind of hard after being in a band like I was in."
GEOFFREY: How would you sum up John Lennon as a person?
DENNY: John wasn't complicated with me. We tended to cling to each other in those days because lots of people around were frightened to talk to us and didn't know how to approach us. I was with John Lennon when Mike Pinder came around with their [The Moody Blues'] new album, Days of Future Past. We sat around and listened to that all day. George would come around with "Ticket to Ride," their new single, and play it just to get friends' opinions.
GEOFFREY: There's been a lot of controversy over the years (certainly in the tabloids in Great Britain) about your marriage to Jo Jo and how it didn't really mix with the business side of your life. You met Jo Jo in France, right?
DENNY: She was a Paul McCartney fan from the time she was in school. She's a friend of a guy called Phillip Constantine who worked for Decca in Paris. Anyway, she stayed with me from then on. I think Paul and Linda always resented the fact that she was initially a fan. They held that against her. I was determined, however, not to let that interfere.
GEOFFREY: In a way it sounds like they were a bit unfair to her.
DENNY: Well, maybe they were. Jo didn't get on well with them. On the other hand, she wasn't part of the group so she didn't get to spend enough time around us. That's not good for a family relationship either. We all know that music interferes with people's private lives. It always has, it always will.
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