‘He’s suffered some significant brain damage': A tragic update on ailing ex-Wings guitarist Henry McCullough

Guitarist Henry McCullough is unlikely to make a meaningful recovery after suffering a heart attack last November, says Denny Seiwell, his former bandmate with Paul McCartney and Wings in the early 1970s.

“Unfortunately, we just got some bad news on Henry’s condition,” Seiwell tells us in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “By the time the ambulance got there, because the lack of oxygen from that period of the heart attack through first treatment, he’s suffered some significant brain damage.”

Friends and family — including the guitarist’s long-time partner Josie — continue to pray for some sort of miracle for McCullough, in Wings from 1971-73 and also a former member of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band and Spooky Tooth. [Monday, February 4, 2013 update: A benefit concert is also in the works.]

“Josie is very hopeful,” Seiwell says, “but some of the doctors — according to friends — don’t think that he’s going to have much of a recovery. He’s going to need constant care the rest of his life.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: In a talk just before the release of 2011’s ‘Unfinished Business,’ Henry McCullough recalled his time as a member of the first Wings lineup to mount a tour.]

McCullough joined Wings having already participated in an iconic performance at Woodstock with Cocker. Together through August 1973, Wings produced the album Red Rose Speedway, which topped the charts in both the U.S. and England, as well as three Top 10 hits — including “Hi, Hi, Hi,” “My Love” (featuring McCullough’s now-iconic first-take guitar solo) and “Live and Let Die.”

But McCullough quit the band during the rehearsals for what would become Band on the Run, citing issues with artistic control. Seiwell — an in-demand sessions player who would appear on albums by everyone from Billy Joe and Art Garfunkel to James Brown and the Band’s Rick Danko — soon followed.

Seiwell and McCullough stayed in touch over the years, even forming a studio band together that appeared on albums by Janis Joplin, Juice Newton, Andy Fairweather Low and others. Just last March, Seiwell and McCullough used a joint appearance at the annual Beatlefest as an excuse to return to the studio. The result was Shabby Road, a limited-edition set of very fun renditions of Fab Four tracks offered at the show and through Seiwell’s web site.

“I was quite proud of the record, when it was all said and done,” Seiwell says. “It’s a really good record — but it’s probably going to be Henry’s last record, unfortunately.”

In the chaotic aftermath of McCullough’s heart attack, his condition was initially so grave that a BBC report erroneously stated that the guitarist had died. Instead, McCullough has apparently stabilized, but has not made significant progress in some time.

“Absolutely tragic,” Seiwell says. “I love Henry. He and I were very close.”

In all, McCullough played on five Cocker/Grease Band records between 1969-75. He was also part of the original 1970 studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, was featured during a snippet of conversation on Pink Floyd’s “Money,” and was on 1970’s The Last Puff by Spooky Tooth, as well.

In 2011, McCullough 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.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.