BY DAVID HINCKLEY
When Corky Laing brings his 50th-anniversary show to My Father’s Place on March 27, he’ll be talking about his rock ‘n’ roll life as well as playing his rock ‘n’ roll music.
Since Laing is best known as the drummer behind Leslie West in the seminal 1970s hard rock band Mountain, that means he’s bringing the likes of “Mississippi Queen” and “Nantucket Sleighride” back to a place he fondly remembers playing half a century ago.
But whatever your memories of the music Laing has helped deliver in Mountain, and other bands, it’s the stories that fill out the full picture of a rock ‘n’ roll life.
Take the first time he met Keith Moon, the late drummer for The Who and one of rock’s true wild men.
As a teenager growing up in Montreal, Laing played in a local band called Energy that, like most local bands, played popular hits at Sweet Sixteens, Bar Mitzvahs and the like.
When the 1960s British Invasion arrived, many British bands came to North America through Canada, so they’d play a gig in Montreal. Because Canadian law mandated that shows must have a Canadian artist on the bill, Energy opened for acts like Cream and The Who.
“As usual, The Who ended their set by smashing their instruments,” recalls Laing. “Everything was strewn everywhere. When the place emptied out, I was walking under the stage and I saw a jacket that looked just like the one Keith Moon had been wearing.
“I looked around, there was nobody there, and I thought wow, he must have just thrown this away. So I picked it up, walked back and told the guys, hey, look, I just scored Keith Moon’s jacket.
“They were saying oh, no, you can’t do that, when there’s this noise in the hallway. It’s Keith Moon, and he’s yelling that he forgot his jacket and how he’s gotta find it because his grandmother made it for him.
“So, being a polite Canadian, I go out to the hall. He’s pushing by, saying ‘No, no autographs, I have to find my jacket.’
“I tell him, ‘I have your jacket.’ I pull it out and give it to him. And he comes up right in front of me, in my face, and I’m thinking okay, I’m dead.
“And he gives me a kiss. Right on the mouth. No tongue. He tells me about his grandmother and says, ‘You found my jacket. And you didn’t steal it. I’ll never forget this.’”
That’s not the end of the story.
“And me still being the polite Canadian,” says Laing, “I tell him, ‘Well, I was going to steal it.’ I don’t know why I said that. He looks at me again. And he says, ‘But you didn’t,’ and gives me another kiss.”
The coda is that Laing and Moon did later become good friends. The fraternity of drummers and all that.
Laing’s own drumming, with Mountain, or with West, Bruce, and Laing, has been imitated and lifted for decades. His solo on Mountain’s “Long Red” is one of the 10 most sampled drum riffs in hip-hop.
Not a bad legacy for someone whose first drum gig came totally by accident.
He was a 10-year-old, a kid earning a little money cleaning stages at a Montreal club when the club booked the Ink Spots, one of the most popular vocal harmony groups ever.
A musicians’ strike left the Ink Spots without a band, so somebody thought it would be cute to have this white kid do a little brushing on the snare drum.
“They had a guitar and they mostly did harmonies anyway,” says Laing. “But I was a ham. I had triplet older brothers and I never got any attention. So I did it and people liked it.”
From there he moved to Energy, where he met Felix Pappalardi, with whom he and West formed Mountain.
“I privileged to play with Leslie,” says Laing. “He was such a great guitarist he didn’t need a drummer. I was like a percussionist for him.”
Maybe, maybe not. In any event, Mountain became a pioneer hard rock band, later paid homage by the likes of Eddie Van Halen and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi.
“In the ‘50s, if you were in a band, it was like a summer job,” says Laing. “In the ‘60s, suddenly it could be a career.”
It has been for Laing, who has been playing Mountain songs for 50 years. So long, he says, that at one point he sort of forgot them.
“A couple of years ago, Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule was playing the Beacon on New Year’s Eve,” says Laing. “Warren’s a good friend. He started Gov’t Mule because he wanted a Mountain-like band. Anyway, I went by to say hello and he invited me to join them on stage for ‘Nantucket Sleighride.’
“Then he asked me if we originally played it in 6/8 or 7/8 time, and I realized I didn’t know the answer. Warren said to me, ‘You don’t remember the song, do you?’ and he was right.
“I played it all the time. But over the years I’d changed so many little things that it didn’t sound like the original anymore. Warren told me if I could learn it again by New Year’s Eve, I could join them.
“I did. But I realized I’d gotten away from the sound people knew. Mountain was a really tight band. So now when I play the songs, I try to play them as closely as possible to how people remember them.”
And that’s why the show that comes to My Father’s Place is officially called Corky Laing’s Mountain 50th anniversary Mississippi Queen Cowbell Tour.
That covers it, with one little catch. “Just try,” says Laing, “to fit that on a poster.”
Not that veteran Island rock fans will need a poster for Corky Laing. He’s been here before.
“Fifty years ago we played My Father’s Place when it was out on the East End,” he said. “And I had played here before that. My band was at the Cabana Beach Club, all dressed in Robin Hood outfits when the Rascals were playing The Barge.
“We’ve played places like Carnegie Hall. But when we started this tour, I said let’s do an intimate sort of concert. Let’s play music rooms, places with a nice sound system.
“My Father’s Place is really a cool little club now. It has that old-time feeling, where you just decide hey, let’s go out to a show tonight.”
And remember rock ‘n’ roll.
[Corky Laing’s Mountain 50th Anniversary Mississippi Queen Cowbell Tour, March 27 at 8 p.m. at My Father’s Place, 1221 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn. Tickets $40. Call 516-413-3535. www.myfathersplace.com.]