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Backstage with Ron Onesti: Denny Laine leaves us with the “Blues” and gets his “Wings”

At the risk of my entertainment column turning into the obituary section, we lost another Rock icon this week.  Founding member of The Moody Blues and Paul McCartney’s WINGS, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Denny Laine.  He was 79.

He had a small frame, but was big on talent.  He contributed much to the development of those two major bands offering songwriting, vocals, guitar, keyboards and percussion.  He was a Grammy Award winner and had a successful solo career, also working with ELO, Led Zeppelin and others.  He wrote one of the best-selling songs in British history, 1977’s “Mull of Kintyre.”

I first met Denny as he was part of my very FIRST SHOW at The Arcada, in June of 2005!  I was managing the Beatles tribute band, “American English”.  Being a Paul McCartney & WINGS fan myself, I often wondered what it would be like to attend a “BEATLES-WINGS” concert.  What a night THAT would be!

So with the help of Eric Michaels of American English, we contacted all the former members of WINGS (excluding Paul and Linda McCartney).  Denny responded and came in to be a part of that historic show!

American English began the night in those 1964, thin-tie costumes.  Then the WINGS came out.  It was epic!  The evening finished with all on stage and the crowd erupting into an all-out dance to the tune of “Twist and Shout”.  Like I said, EPIC!

Over the years, he played The Arcada numerous times, always spending generous time with his adoring fans.  He was just a good person who loved playing music, and hated getting old.

As I was working on a concept for reality tv called, “The Backstage Kitchen”, he and “Badfinger” frontman Joey Molland joined me backstage before a co-bill show.  The premise of the show was a make-shift kitchen built backstage and entertainers joining me to create their favorite recipes as the full theatre watched on the big screen.  After the dish was completed, they immediately picked up their guitars and started their show.

It was one of my all-time favorite experiences!  Both guys were eye-to-eye with me, both British and both fabulous individuals.  I thought we could make Yorkshire Pudding, a British staple.  As the crowd watched us three “stooges” try to whip up this traditional English dish on the big screen, we fumbled and joked for twenty minutes.  It wound up pretty good!  Denny said it was just like his “Mum’s”!  Then they looked at each other and spit out the sample!  Let’s just say British faire is not my specialty!

Just a few months ago, we opened our “Legends Stage” at our new restaurant in St. Charles, “Rock ‘N Ravioli”.  It was a solo, “Songs ‘N Stories” night, and Denny was our very first performer there.  It was a wonderful evening of history with a comedic twist, embraced by songs of a generation.

I was so fortunate to have shared many great moments and conversations with Denny.  One of his innermost demons was the lack of true support given to him over the years by his former bandmate, Paul McCartney.  He said they stayed in touch, but the reality was that he felt forgotten by the Beatle.

A couple of summers ago, Denny called me and said he was going to be in town to see the Paul McCartney show at Ravinia.  He had “backstage” from Paul and he invited ME!  How cool was THAT going to be?

I picked him up at his hotel and we drove together.  He was like a giddy little kid.  He had his head held up high as we entered the venue and true WINGS fans began to notice him.  He was really eating the attention up!  All along, he was saying how nice it was going to be to see Paul again.  He was all set to let bygones be bygones.  They had definitely drifted apart but in recent years Paul did respond to an email or two.  But actually, Denny had been hoping for some type of acknowledgement from Paul that would help his waning career.  This trip was going to make things better for Denny.  At least that was what he had hoped.

“Backstage” turned out to be seats about two hundred feet from the stage, surrounded by “regular” people, not as exclusive as he had thought it would be.  As Paul spoke from the stage about the WINGS, no mention was made of his former bandmate in the audience.  After the show, Paul was whisked away and left Denny to just leave like the rest of the fans.  He was a little embarrassed, and a lot disappointed.

I’ll never forget the look on his face.

Denny was a true building block in the wall of Rock and Roll.  As iconic of a musician he was, he was an even larger-than-life human being.  Even Sir Paul referenced Denny’s sense of humor in his response about Denny’s passing.

The Moody Blues’ first hit was “Go Now” in 1964, with Denny doing the Lead Vocals.  Now, some sixty years later, it is time for Denny Laine to “Go Now”.  But his smile and music will live on, and he will forever be a member of that “Band on the Run”.