A Rock Legend With Stories to Tell

“Heavy Metal Humor”
Corky Laing’s half-century in the music industry began with his witnessing and participating in the 1960s British Invasion. Michael Heller

   Corky Laing, legendary rock ’n’ roll drummer and resident of Greenport, will return to the Bay Street Theatre on Saturday at 8 p.m. to perform “Heavy Metal Humor,” a one-man show that draws on his half-century as an entertainer.

    Mr. Laing, best known for his tenure in the group Mountain, performed his show, “The Best Seat in the House,” at Bay Street on May 18. His return engagement comes on the heels of two sold-out performances on Nantucket.

    His years with Mountain, and later West, Bruce, and Laing, the latter group featuring Leslie West of Mountain and Jack Bruce, who played in Cream with Eric Clapton in the late 1960s, are essential components of his experience. But the Montreal native, who has recorded or performed with such artists as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bo Diddley, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf, Gov’t Mule, and the Allman Brothers Band, has had many other experiences on which to draw. As both a witness to and participant in the early days of the British Invasion, Mr. Laing enjoys a rare insight.

    With the band Energy, he performed alongside many artists of rock’s pantheon, including the Rolling Stones and the Who, when all involved were barely out of their teens. His memory of these experiences is sharp: Asked for just one anecdote, he delivered a narrative, involving Keith Moon of the Who, that was as detailed as it was hilarious. Such stories will be abundant in “Heavy Metal Humor.”

    The show, Mr. Laing said last week, is about “the lifestyle of rock. The whole curve is wild and outrageous, and leads to a lot of very humorous predicaments and anecdotes and situations. You walk away laughing — not so much because I’m funny, but the situations are funny.”

    In these anecdotes, he said, “I preface everything with the fact that I met most of these hero rockers before they were even known anywhere. The show is based on everybody starting out as an unknown. In Montreal, the English rockers all came through to get their visas before they went to the big U.S.A. They all came through very meek and green, and Montreal was the first stop.”

    A Canadian act had to be on the bill, he explained, hence gigs opening for the very young Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, an American who found fame in England before returning to conquer America. “With Energy, I met these guys way before they hit the big time,” he said. “Here we were, three young teens playing with these bands, and it was their first time overseas. It was wonderful to meet these guys, to see the Stones’ first tour. The Stones weren’t the Stones we know yet, just these guys competing with the Beatles for popularity. They were nervous! It was a wonderful time — there was no ego at all. The Zombies, the Animals, the Stones, coming through Montreal. Nobody knew what it was going to turn out to be.”

    In a way, “Heavy Metal Humor” is a natural, logical progression for Mr. Laing. He has seen the world from behind a drum kit — the best seat in the house, after all — but he is much more than a rock drummer. “There are people in Finland that take hard rock very seriously,” he said with equal parts admiration and wonder. “It’s a lifestyle, so I was guest lecturer in the philosophy department in Helsinki, and in Manchester, and started this thing at the University of Western Ontario where one of the dean’s assistants asked me if I’d put together a course. It’s one of the top business schools and top music faculties, and they asked me to do a course one winter to show business people how to work with creative people and vice versa. I guess it comes from the fact that I still have a pulse after 50 years of living in the rock industry. I did some guest lecturing at McGill [University] in Montreal. It was a lot of fun.”

    There is also music: “I’ve got songs I was fortunate enough to write with a few bands,” Mr. Laing said. “I play them on guitar, and I have the drum set there — my all-consuming mistress — to help me out any time things start to go left.”

    Mountain, alas, is no more. Mr. West lost part of one leg to diabetes in 2011. Steve Knight, the keyboardist, died in January, and Felix Pappalardi, the band’s bass player and a producer of artists including Cream, was shot and killed by his wife in 1983. “You can’t glue that together,” Mr. Laing said of his band. “I prefer to celebrate it on stage the best I can. I’m the last drummer standing — or sitting.”

    The present and future can only feel the influence of these musical giants, and Mr. Laing feels the same loyalty to listeners as they toward him. “I believe if you’re very loyal to the people you’ve tried to communicate with, they’re more like friends,” he said. “That’s what counts these days. I’ve found that doing this show, the people I associate with that I consider my friends and family — ‘fans’ is a little superfluous — I feel very connected to them. My following, whomever and however many there are, is wonderful and loyal to me. They’ve been staying with me, and I’ve been staying with them. It’s pretty hard to maintain anybody’s interest these days. I’m thrilled to be able to do it.”

    Tickets for “Heavy Metal Humor” are $15 in advance or $25 on the day of the event. “I love the venue,” Mr. Laing said of Bay Street.