Denny Laine, the English musician and co-founder of both The Moody Blues and Wings, has died at the age of 79. Laine had been dealing with health complications after contracting COVID-19 in 2022 and interstitial lung disease.
The singer-songwriter, born October 29, 1944, took up guitar as a young child. His chief influences were Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. He also was fond of sharing how his sisters introduced him to artists like Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford, Jackie Wilson, and more.
While in middle and high school, he transitioned from playing the piano to wanting to lead a band, inspired by artists like Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
He eventually fulfilled that dream as a co-founder of the celebrated British rock group The Moody Blues, which he started in 1964 alongside singer Mike Pinder. Laine sang on the band’s first hit, a cover of “Go Now,” which topped the U.K. singles chart and reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Laine left the band following 1965’s The Magnificent Moodies.
Following the Moody Blues, Laine formed the Electric String Band and released some solo singles before Paul McCartney came calling in 1971. McCartney, whom Laine had known since the early 60s, invited Laine to join a new band McCartney was plotting with his wife, Linda. Over the next decade, Laine and the McCartneys were the core members of Wings’ lineup. Together, they created the band’s iconic 1973 album Band on the Run.
Laine wasn’t merely a hired member in Wings. He was a crucial collaborator for McCartney, a musician so talented that one of rock’s greatest songwriters relied on him during his evolution from Beatles member to solo star. Laine co-wrote “Mull Of Kintyre,” which sold more copies in the U.K. than anything by The Beatles.
“Mull” came to life during recording sessions by Wings in both the Virgin Islands and at Abbey Road, but were interrupted when Linda McCartney became pregnant with the couple’s son James. To complicate things even further during a difficult year for the band, both guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English left, but not until they had played on both sides of the upcoming release. The song became the most successful U.K. Wings release in the band’s history. The track is featured on the 1978 album London Town.
Regarding his relationship with McCartney, Laine explained their mojo in an interview with GuitarWorld from earlier in 2023. “Me and him had this kind of feel together musically. We slotted in well together. We could read each other, and that came from growing up on the same musical influences. Paul’s got a good sense of rhythm, and he doesn’t overplay, which I like.”
In that same feature, he reflected on being a member of one of rock’s most celebrated groups in Wings. He said, “I’m just a normal musician who doesn’t really think about the fame side of it. That always surprises me, the fame side of it…We don’t think of it in terms of how famous we were or how many people we influenced until we meet the fans. But it’s all about music for me.”
In an interview with MassLive, he explained how he met McCartney in the first place, that famed initial interaction that led to their working together a decade later. “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.”
Laine was an active participant in Band on the Run’s 50th anniversary celebrations earlier this year. In a feature with Billboard, Laine reflected on the joy of making that project and the importance of taking chances: “In order to move forward, you have to try new things. It’s like being a gambler. You gamble with things because it’s more exciting. It’s more appealing,” he said. “It’s not the normal, everyday 9-to-5 job; it’s more of a ‘Let’s try something new.’”
Laine is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Hines, who also shared a statement on his socials.
“My darling husband passed away peacefully early this morning. I was at his bedside, holding his hand as I played his favorite Christmas songs for him. He’s been singing Christmas songs the past few weeks and I continued to play Christmas songs while he’s been in ICU on a ventilator this past week. He fought every day. He was so strong and brave, never complained. All he wanted was to be home with me and his pet kitty, Charley, playing his gypsy guitar. Denny was so very thankful to all of you who sent him so much love, support and the many kind words during these past few months of his health crisis-it brought him to tears. I thank you all for sending both of us love and support.”