December 7, 2023

Musician with Moody Blues and Wings was McCartney’s right-hand man

December 7, 2023 — 12.51pm
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DENNY LAINE: 1944 -2023

Denny Laine, who has died aged 79, was a singer and guitarist with the Moody Blues before spending the 1970s with Wings, Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles outfit; he featured prominently on two chart-toppers, singing lead vocals on the Moodys’ first big hit, Go Now!, and went on to co-write Wings’ Mull of Kintyre, which outsold all The Beatles’ singles.

“Paul and I sat with a bottle of whisky one afternoon outside a cottage in the hills of Kintyre and wrote the song,” Laine told the Beatles Bible website. “Paul had written the chorus and we wrote the rest of it together.”

English singer-songwriter and former Wings and Moody Blues guitarist, 1981.Credit: Getty

He was born Brian Frederick Hines on October 29, 1944 in the Channel Islands, but grew up in Tyseley, Birmingham; his father was a former boxer. The family had Romani roots, and young Brian took up the guitar, inspired by the celebrated gypsy player Django Reinhardt, and claimed to have given his first solo performance aged 12.

He attended Yardley Grammar School but, inspired by Buddy Holly, he was more interested in a musical career, and in his teens he joined a local band, Johnny Dean and the Dominators. After a year he persuaded another group, the Diplomats, to become Denny Laine and the Diplomats; the band included drummer Bev Bevan, later of the Move and the Electric Light Orchestra.

Denny Laine is in the foreground as Moody Blues perform live at Holborn Viaduct station in London, 1964.Credit: Getty

He hit on the name Denny, he said, from the nickname given to him by childhood friends who used to share the den in his garden, while his surname was a tribute to the singer Cleo Laine.

While the band built a following, Laine had a day job in the electrical section of the Rackhams department store in town. They were turned down by EMI and Pye, though in July 1963 they supported The Beatles at the Plaza Ballroom, Old Hill.

Laine began rehearsing on the side with another band, the Soul Preachers, who soon changed their name to the M & B Five, hoping to gain sponsorship from the local Mitchell and Butlers brewery. They evolved into the Moody Blues, and progress was rapid: though their first single failed to chart, when Laine heard Bessie Banks singing Go Now, written by her husband Larry and Milton Bennett, he told the band they had to record it.


With an exclamation mark added to the title, the single went to No 1 in the UK in January 1965, with Laine on guitar and vocals. But a follow-up hit proved elusive, and he quit to form a new outfit, the Electric String Band. That was short-lived, and though he next secured a sizeable advance from Warner Bros to form a new group, Balls, they too failed to roll.

Along the way he tried his hand as a solo artist, and though his song Say You Don’t Mind saw no chart action, it was later a hit for the former Zombies singer Colin Blunstone.

Laine had a brief stint with the new supergroup formed by Cream’s ex-drummer, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which included Steve Winwood on vocals; they played the Royal Albert Hall, and at Wembley Stadium to mark the start of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Then in 1971, he recalled, he took a phone call from Paul McCartney, who asked him to join his new band (this later recollection seems to disprove his earlier claims that he had “co-founded” Wings). In August that year they recorded in a week the album Wild Life, which just missed the Top 10 in the UK and failed to move the critics.

Linda McCartney, Paul McCartney and Denny Laine of Wings recording in London,1973.Credit: Getty

The 1973 follow-up, Red Rose Speedway, fared much better, and Band on the Run – recorded as a three-piece, by the McCartneys and Laine, and released at the end of the year – hit paydirt, and remains Paul’s most successful post-Beatles album. As well as contributing guitar and vocals, Laine co-wrote the track No Words.

In 1972, meanwhile, backstage at a Wings gig, he met an American model and groupie, Jo-Jo LaPatrie, who claimed to have lost her virginity to Jimi Hendrix in his dressing room aged 16. They threw themselves with gusto into the rock’n’roll lifestyle.

Jo-Jo Laine lived it up as the wife of Wings guitarist Denny.Credit: Source unknown

Mull of Kintyre – a paean to the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland where the McCartneys owned a farm – was released in 1977, a stately riposte, perhaps, to punk, which was just getting into its stride. It held the record for the biggest-selling UK single until Do They Know it’s Christmas? in 1984 – though McCartney never saw it as a hit, and was won over by the local pipers who played on it, he recalled.

“When we finished recording it, all the pipers said, ‘Aye, it’s got to be a single, that.’ I thought it was a little too specialised, but they kept saying, ‘Oh, the exiled Scots all over the world, it’ll be a big single for them.’ I still thought, ‘Yeah, well, but there’s maybe not enough exiled Scots,’ but they kept telling me, after a few drinks.”

In 1978 Wings released their fifth album, London Town, which featured five songs co-written by Laine. That year he and Jo-Jo were married, and bought Yew Corner in Sussex, the inspiration for Pooh Corner; the repository of childhood daydreams became notorious for its wild parties.

There were inevitable tensions in Wings, exacerbated by the fact that Jo-Jo and Linda did not hit it off. The wheels finally came off the juggernaut when McCartney was arrested and held for nine days in Tokyo in January 1980 after being arrested at the airport with half a pound of marijuana in his suitcase as Wings prepared to embark on a lucrative tour of the country.

Laine was furious: his extravagance meant that his money troubles were mounting, and McCartney refused to compensate the band members for lost earnings due to the tour cancellation; there were a few half-hearted sessions, but the leader’s passion for Wings had drained away.

Laine undertook a solo tour, which featured Jo-Jo on maracas, then in 1981 he was summoned to Montserrat to play on sessions for what would become McCartney’s solo album Tug of War. But when he returned home he heard that he had been all but replaced at the ex-Beatle’s right hand by Eric Stewart, formerly of 10cc, though he did play on the 1983 follow-up, Pipes of Peace.

Laine continued to record solo albums and tour, though there were cancellations due to poor ticket sales, and in 1986 he was taken to court by the Inland Revenue, owing £55,000. He denied that he had ever been extravagant, insisting: “I have never had a new car. All my Ferraris and Rolls-Royces have been second-hand.”

Denny Laine, December 1980.Credit: Getty

He had, though, spent £40,000 sponsoring a racing driver, David Coyne, written off a £32,000 yacht in the South of France and stumped up a huge settlement to Jo-Jo when they divorced in 1982; he had also, strapped for cash, sold his songwriting royalties back to Wings. (Jo-Jo, meanwhile, went on to become one of the Marquess of Bath‘s “wifelets” on his estate at Longleat for a few years. In 2006 she died after falling downstairs.)

Laine and McCartney did not reconnect for two decades, their estrangement exacerbated by Laine’s willingness to dissect the McCartneys’ relationship for reporters. They finally met again after Linda’s death, when they attended a UB40 concert together. Laine, who moved to the US for a time, continued working, his last LP, The Blue Musician, appearing in 2008.

Denny Laine – who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Moody Blues – is survived by his wife Elizabeth, “Lizzie”, who he married earlier this year, by his two daughters with Jo-Jo, Laine and Heidi Jo Hines, who both followed in their father’s musical footsteps, and by three children from other relationships.

The Telegraph, London

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