Denny Laine, Longtime Member of Paul McCartney’s Wings and Moody Blues Cofounder, Dies at 79

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Denny Laine, the British singer-guitarist best known for his work with Paul McCartney & Wings and the Moody Blues, has died after a long battle with interstitial lung disease, according to a social media post from his wife. He was 79.

Born Brian Frederick Hines on Oct. 29, 1944, in Birmingham, the same musically fertile city in the British Midlands that spawned such bands as the Move and Electric Light Orchestra (whose drummer Bev Bevan had been a member of his band Denny Laine and the Diplomats), Laine was barely out of his teens when he joined a new local act led by Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder.

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In a 2018 interview with the Austin Chronicle, he recalled the birth of the Moody Blues: “We started out a little bit like bands in London – the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, all those people, Jeff Beck. We were all into the blues. The Moody Blues and the Spencer Davis Group were the only blues bands that came from Birmingham to London and started being a part of that scene. So we were listening to old blues and eventually got a hit with ‘Go Now,’ which is basically a gospel style song.”

Sporting Laine’s soulful lead vocal, the Moody Blues’ 1964 remake of “Go Now,” first recorded by American R&B singer Bessie Banks earlier that year for producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, catapulted the Moody Blues to stardom, topping the U.K. singles chart and reaching No. 10 in the U.S. Besides fronting the group, Laine had a large hand in composing original material for the Moodys’ debut Decca album, produced by Denny Cordell.

The band followed up its early success with high-profile tours opening for the Beatles and Chuck Berry, but Laine thought the road work would slow the group’s momentum.

“I wanted to go back into the studio and record another album,” he said in a 2019 interview with the MassLive web site, “but they wanted to continue to tour instead. I thought that was a big mistake. And, that without another albums we would fade away into obscurity. It wasn’t that we had a falling out, just that I was young and headstrong and stuck to my guns.”

Laine stayed on until late 1966; following his split with the Moody Blues, they achieved even greater fame with the addition of new members Justin Hayward and John Lodge. He soon founded the Electric String Band, a short-lived rock-with-strings unit that may have had an impact on fellow Brummies and ELO co-founders Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne. He was partnered in a 1969-71 stint with Balls with ex-Move guitarist Trevor Burton; the pair also served time in Ginger Baker’s Air Force, the former Cream and Blind Faith drummer’s fusion big band.

His most enduring and rewarding musical association came in Wings, which McCartney founded in 1971 after issuing two solo albums.

Laine recalled in 2019, “We knew The Beatles because The Moodys were one of the opening acts on their second tour. I knew George [Harrison] very well, he was a close neighbor, and I became friends with Paul, who had seen me performing as an opening act for Jimi Hendrix at the Saville Theatre. And because he was impressed with seeing me trying to do something different onstage with my Electric String Band, and because we became friends, that inspired him to call me because he wanted to do something new and different…..and Wings was formed.”

Playing behind McCartney and his wife Linda, and over the course of time alongside guitarists Henry McCullough, Jimmy McCulloch and Laurence Juber, Laine was a constant in Wings from its 1971 inception to its disbanding in 1981. He appeared on all seven of the group’s studio albums — all of which reached the American top 10, and four of which (“Red Rose Speedway,” “Band on the Run,” “Venus and Mars” and “Wings at the Speed of Sound”) consecutively hit No. 1 in 1973-76. He also was heard on the chart-topping 1976 live set “Wings Over America.” To date, “Band on the Run” remains McCartney’s bestselling work outside of the Beatles catalog.

Laine’s finest hour came as co-writer, with McCartney, of the 1977 single “Mull of Kintyre,” which became the only Wings 45 to reach No. 1 in the U.K., selling more than 2 million copies.

He told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2017, “He had an idea for a song. I went around to have breakfast with [the McCartneys] up in Scotland….I heard the chorus and I said, ‘That’s a potentially hit song.’ So the next day we went and finished it off. We sat down and wrote the lyrics and put it together. Then we brought in the Campbeltown Pipe Band and they were all excited. It was the first time they’d ever been in a studio and it was fun. We recorded the pipes and drums outside so we got the echoes off the mountains. It came out at Christmas and it was a big hit [in England].”

By 1981, Laine’s relationship with McCartney grew strained, with the latter’s bust for marijuana possession in Japan casting the band’s future touring revenue into doubt. He split from the band,that spring, though he later reunited with Juber and drummers Denny Seiwell and Steve Holley sporadically in the late ‘90s and the new millennium.

Laine shared in two Grammy Awards (out of four nominations) received by Wings, for best pop vocal performance by a duo or group (for the title track of “Band on the Run,” the group’s second U.S. No. 1 single) and best rock instrumental performance (for “Rockestra Theme,” from the group’s final album “Back to the Egg”).

After recording with McCartney on his solo albums “Tug of War” (1982) and “Pipes of Peace” (1983) and contributing to the writing of “Rainclouds,” the B side of McCartney’s No. 1 single “Ebony and Ivory,” Laine became a hard-working rock journeyman. Over the course of his career, he issued a dozen solo albums, including one, 1996’s “Wings at the Speed of Denny Laine,” featuring covers of Wings songs. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, he toured with World Classic Rockers, a rotating unit of veteran players fronted by former Steppenwolf bassist Nick St. Nicholas. In the ’10s and ‘20s, he toured regularly fronting his own bands, frequently performing the “Band on the Run” album in its entirety.

In 2018, Laine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Moody Blues.

He married Elizabeth Mele this past July, and earlier this year announced that he was working on a new album, although its status remains unclear.

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