Henry McCullough, guitarist with Paul McCartney and Joe Cocker, critical after heart attack

Henry McCullough, whose searing first-take guitar solo was the centerpoint of Paul McCartney and Wings’ charttopping “My Love,” is in critical condition after suffering a heart attack.

Early reports courtesy of the BBC incorrectly reported that he had died.

McCullough, 69, played Woodstock while with Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, then later appeared on Wings’ 1973 Red Rose Speedway, home to “My Love.” During what became an 18-month stay with the band, he was part of Wings’ first touring lineup and appeared on McCartney’s James Bond film theme Live and Let Die, as well. The guitarist also released a solo album called Mind Your Own Business in the 1970s on Dark Horse, a record label founded by fellow Beatle George Harrison.

He was lead guitarist on the original 1970 soundtrack for Jesus Chris Superstar, and a snippet of conversation involving McCullough can also be heard on Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

[ONE TRACK MIND: Henry McCullough goes in-depth with us on memorable career moments like “My Love” with Wings, “Money” with Pink Floyd “With a Little Help” with Joe Cocker.]

Though McCullough battled personal demons for years, he was in the midst of a more recent comeback that included regular performances and a new studio effort.

Last year, he released the well-received solo album Unfinished Business, which featured his own haunting composition “Failed Christian” — a tune that was quickly snapped up and covered by Nick Lowe. There was also a cover of “Big Barn Bed,” a memorable deep cut from Red Rose Speedway. He reformulated the album-opening track as a torrid blues, adding a swaying vocal and a sizzling new riff.

In all, McCullough played on five Cocker/Grease Band records between 1969-75, appeared in between on the original recording of Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera and then on 1970′s The Last Puff by Spooky Tooth.

A year later, he was invited to join Paul McCartney’s Wings project. McCullough remained from 1972-73, a period that included the No. 2 hit “Live and Let Die,” Top 10 hit “Hi Hi Hi” and, most memorably, “My Love.” McCartney’s second post-Beatles charttopper became McCullough’s signature moment — when he insisted on playing the solo live in the studio.

“It was like playing a hand of cards, and having a royal flush,” McCullough told Something Else! Reviews in an interview last year. “Paul had this particular thing that he wanted me to play. That was the point of no return. I said: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I have to be left as the guitar player in the band. I want to have my own input, too.’ He says: ‘What are you going to do?’ I didn’t know. I simply said: ‘I’m going to change things.’ I was half terrified, half excited. I just started playing, and that’s how it turned out — just as you hear it.”

McCartney’s no-doubt stunned response, he later admitted was: “Fucking great.”

Like many of his peers, McCullough subsequently fought pitched battles against drugs and alcohol. An accident with a knife in the early 1980s severed tendons in his playing hand, nearly ending McCullough’s career — and sidelining him for a lengthy amount of time, as well.

“I have to reintroduce meself to people I may have upset in years gone by,” he told us in the same 2011 interview, chuckling. “After the accident, and because of my addiction to alcohol, I ended up having to busk about three miles from where I was born and raised. One minute I was playing the Royal Albert Hall and the next playing on the street for Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bottle of whiskey. I did it to get strength into my hand. I couldn’t hold the plectrum, so it was like starting new. Yet once you come out on the other side, you feel as happy as I do, and the past doesn’t matter anymore. Every part of it has made me the man I am today, every little bit.”

McCullough’s sister Rae Morrison confirmed to the BBC that he had suffered a heart attack on Monday, but that he was still under doctors’ care.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.