The Glorious Corner: David Bowie Alumni Tour, “Rocketman”, Denny Lane, Peter Asher, and More

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Denny Lane
By G.H. Harding

APPLE TOWN — In 1964, multi-act shows were pretty common, perhaps owing to a vaudeville heritage.

“We were doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Fox Theater,’’ said Peter Asher, who was part of Peter & Gordon, and eventually went on to manage James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt after a stint as the first A&R head at the Beatles’ Apple Records.

It was there that he met Denny Laine, a co-founder of the Moody Blues and the songwriter of “Go Now,” was in America for the band’s first U.S. tour, in support of that single, which eventually became the centerpiece for the band’s first album, The Magnificent Moodies.

Peter Asher

“[The Moody Blues] were on the bill with us, Wilson Pickett and a bunch of other people,’’ said Asher in a phone call from his California home.

“I loved the record ‘Go Now,’ ’’ Asher said. “He’s a great singer and seemed like a really nice guy.’’

It was Asher who helped lead the fight to include Laine, who was one-and-done with the Moodies, when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,even though he wasn’t originally set to be enshrined.

“I still talk to him to this day,’’ said Laine, calling from a tour stop in Florida, remembering that first meeting. “He was very well connected.

“Although I’d known about him before, I’d never really worked with him, and we were never on the same bill,’’ he said. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know him more and worked with him on some other projects.”

“Peter helped me get back out there, and he helped me get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,’’ Laine said.

“I told [Hall of Fame officials] that it was a mistake leaving him off,’’ said Asher in that separate interview. “I can’t take direct responsibility, but did I tell people it was a mistake? Yes, I did.’’

“Obviously, it was great to be asked,’’ said Laine, acknowledging that his inclusion was an after-the-fact event. “I didn’t think I was going to be originally, but we weren’t that bothered about it.”

Up until their selection, current Moodies Justin Hayward, Graeme Edge and John Lodge, and past member Mike Pinder, all downplayed the hall, for the very same reason.

“We don’t have a Hall of Fame in England,’’ Laine said. “It was an American thing. But once they did get inducted, Peter Asher, Stevie Van Zandt and other people on the board refused to vote for them unless I got in there.’’

Turns out that despite years of snubs, the Moodies have a lot of fans on the Hall of Fame nominating committee (that does not include Asher, by the way; he’s just a regular voting member).

“A lot of people did like that [original] lineup of the Moodies,’’ Laine said. “Especially Paul Shaffer.” Shaffer is on the nominating committee. “He told me he learned to play piano playing that record [‘Go Now’].”

Laine’s current show features his Moody Wing Band doing The Magnificent Moodies and an album he cut with Paul McCartney as a member of Wings, a little thing called Band on the Run, as well as some other tunes over his long career both as a band member and as a solo artist.

It’s likely that he will do something from London Town, the Wings album engineered by Clevelander Tom Anderson, who died of an aggressive form of cancer in late April. That record was cut in large part on boats in the Virgin Islands.

Before his passing, Anderson sent an email recalling that project with a tongue-in-cheek piece of advice for Laine:

“Tell him to stay out of Sunfish skiffs under bright blue Caribbean skies, and invest in aloe,’’ Anderson wrote. Apparently, McCartney and Laine, being fair-skinned Englishmen, were prone to sunburn.

Laine laughed at the memory.

“I turned Paul and Linda [McCartney’s late wife] on to boats,’’ he said. “I had this big wooden boat and they gave me this plaque that said, ‘A boat is a hole in the water surrounded by wood that one continually pours money into.’ ’’

Right now, what Laine is pouring his heart – if not his money – into is music, and memories, many of them connected to the Moody Blues, even though he left after that first album.

“The problem with the Moodies at that time is we never saw too much of the money,’’ he said. “Most bands did get ripped off, as we all know.’’

To remedy that, the other Moodies wanted to go back out on the road to make some cash.

“We had a contract with Decca to make another album,’’ he said. “I said, ‘I think we should go in the studio,’ and they said, ‘We need to go on the road and earn some money.’

“They did and got Justin for that reason,’’ he said.

The Moody Blues did eventually make that album for Decca. Its title, Days of Future Passed, the record that cemented their legacy as a prog-rock pioneer.

Mike Garson

GARSON’S GIG — Mike Garson, David Bowie’s longest serving musician, is touring A Bowie Celebration, the David Bowie Alumni Tour across Australia with a cast of Bowie veterans.

“I’m very blessed to have four alumni,” says Garson, “I have Carmine Rojas on bass. He played on ‘Let’s Dance’. Mark Plati on guitar was on ‘Earthling’ and ‘Hours…,’ Gerry Leonard from ‘The Heathen’ album and who was the musical director for the Reality tour is on the other guitar and myself on piano. We have four amazing singers Bernard Fowler from the Rolling Stones, Corey Glover from Living Colour, Gaby Moreno and Joe Sumner, who is Sting’s son. It takes a village to sing David’s music.”

Mike last toured Australia with David Bowie in 2004. He said had David not had the heart attack around then, he had planned to return to Australia. “In 2004 David had talked to me about wanting to tour only in Australia and New Zealand for four months and nowhere else but it wasn’t to be,” he said.

His heart attack in Germany in June that same year brought his touring career to a sudden halt.

In putting together A Bowie Celebration, the David Bowie Alumni Tour Garson had to consider all of the different styles of Bowie that evolved from the initial guitar, bass and drums rock band that was Ziggy Stardust. “That’s how the Spiders of Mars were,” he says. “It became piano-centric in a way so a lot of this is built around the piano on this tour. We do ‘Aladdin Sane’ and we do ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate’ but it is filled out with great guitar, bass and drums. The piano is the cream on the cake”.

The masterpiece Aladdin Sane is an important part of the show. “Every night I have to dig in because we didn’t play that song very often,” Mike says. “We did it in 73, 74, three or four times in the 90’s and then that was it. It is a difficult solo. I have to be in the right headspace. It’s a different improvisation every night in the spirit of how David liked things to happen.”

In the 70’s the Bowie style was evolving so quickly that most of the band couldn’t keep up. “The first two years from 72 to 74, David fired five different bands,” he says. “I was the only one he kept because I was able to change styles with him. He was such a chameleon in moving so fast. My training was in classical, jazz, rock, avant garde and fusion. He wanted to unleash all that. In a certain way, the jazz, the classical on the top of the rock separated him from Dylan or Jagger.”

Mike had to evolve from album to album. “I’ve played on 20 albums of David’s and they are all different. When you listen to my piano playing on Young Americans, songs like ‘Can You Hear Me’ or ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’, I am playing very simple Gospel. It is very easy to access piano playing. When you take a song like ‘Aladdin Sane’ or ‘Sweet Thing’ it is left-field. On Pin Ups you’ll have a song like ‘See Emily Play’ which took another direction. He was the casting director who knew whoever he hired, he never micro-managed. He just trusted you would create the right part. He had a trust but he had the gift of the casting director because everyone he ever used was perfect for that project”.

The 90’s weren’t as kind to Bowie as other decades. Many felt he lost his way but Mike says he was just ahead of his time (again). “Black Tie White Noise, Outside, Earthling, I think those albums are underrated. I think in some ways he got even better. His voice was richer, the songwriting was great. He is best known for 73/74 but that probably has something to do with the time. With Dylan it was late 60’s, when things connect with the environment. When you listen to Outside, I thought it was 20 years ahead of its time and now some people are starting to get it. David was a visionary. Like Michelangelo he just saw things, felt things, heard things that us mortals didn’t quite know.”

By the time Reality was released in 2003, David Bowie was back aligned with musical styles and public tastes. “It was wonderful precision on his part,” Mike says. “My thoughts are on ‘Loneliest Guy’ and ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ which is our opening number on this tour, with Bernard Fowler. We recorded ‘Disco King’ with a whole different arrangement on ‘Black Tie White Noise’. It was never released. We recorded it again with a whole other arrangement on ‘Earthling’, it was never released. The band had done another version for ‘Reality’ but David wasn’t happy with it and finally said let’s do it with piano and voice and that’s the one that stuck.”

“Dreams That Never Were”

SHORT TAKES — Micky Dolenz will play Fox 11’s Good Day LA on June 28 – in conjunction with several LA shows … Terrific article in latest Hollywood Reporter on Paramount’s Rocketman’s Taron Egerton … who essays Elton in the biopic. Check it out: … Seattle-based author Greg Messel has written just a sensational book on Robert Kennedy and the aftermath of his assassination on June 6 (51 years this June). For those who can remember, the U.S. in 1968 was mired in The Vietnam War; we couldn’t fully commit to it, but we were there and the majority of deaths were 18 and 19 year olds. Says Greg: “This is a very personal book. I remembered the passionate political feelings I had as a young man in 1968. I had friends leaving for Vietnam and not coming back. It seemed I commonly heard stories about the latest guy I went to school with who was killed in the war. I remember the night I was glued to the television coverage of the California Primary. I turned it off just after Robert F. Kennedy’s victory speech and didn’t find out about the assassination attempt until the next morning.” Sunbreaks Publishing releases it and from what I’ve been privy to, it’s a great read … Also, The Improper’s Keith Girard has The Heidelberg Conundrum out and it’s a sci-fi romp that’s just great. Here’s that Amazon link for his book: … We were privileged to have seen Bill Frisel last week at the Blue Note in NYC. Beautiful, nuanced performance … with a crisped, two-man band. His version of John Lennon’s ‘”In My Life” was sensational. Very superior show. Thanks Peter Abraham.

Bill Frisell

 NAMES IN THE NEWS — Beth Wernick (Happy Bday!); Tom & Lisa Cuddy; John Boulos; Don Wardell; London Records; Scott Shannon; Wolfman Jack; Cindy Adams; Claudia Cohen; Richard Johnson; Rosanna Scotto; Donald Berman; Jane Rosenthal; Andrew Saffir; and, CHIP.

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