Wingman Denny Laine in Your Ears at Bay Street

A former wing-man plays in Sag Harbor
Denny Laine, who will play at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday, was a key member of the Moody Blues and then Wings before going out on his own in the 1980s.

It is subjective, of course, but rock ’n’ roll fans can measure the genre’s high-water mark spanning more than 15 years, from the Beatles’ touchdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 55 years ago this month, through the untimely demise of Led Zeppelin as an active band in 1980. 

In a discipline littered with casualties, not too many of rock ’n’ roll’s road warriors make it from start to finish. Paul McCartney is one who has: A global phenomenon from age 21, he celebrated, at 76, the release of his latest album, “Egypt Station,” with an epic performance at Grand Central Station on Sept. 7 last year. 

Another rock ’n’ roll veteran, one whose voice adorns an enduring hit from the mid-1960s and who performed alongside Mr. McCartney throughout the ’70s, will deliver a solo performance on Saturday at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. 

Though his name is not as familiar as his former band mate’s, Denny Laine is among the most vital of rock ’n’ roll’s myriad personalities. As vocalist and guitarist of the Moody Blues, it is Mr. Laine singing the plaintive “Go Now,” a number-one hit in England that reached top-10 status in America and sent the band on tour supporting Mr. McCartney’s Beatles. 

He left the Moodys in 1966 and formed the Electric String Band, which opened for Jimi Hendrix at London’s Saville Theatre in June 1967. In the audience at that epic performance, which opened with a rendition of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a song that had been released just two days earlier, was Mr. McCartney. 

But by 1971, “penniless and sleeping on an old mattress in the back room of his manager Tony Secunda’s office,” according to Tom Doyle’s “Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s,” Mr. Laine “was about to get the call that would reroute the next ten years of his life.” 

Devastated by the Beatles’ breakup, Paul McCartney was rebuilding his life and career. On his post-Beatles debut, he played every instrument; for his next LP, “Ram,” he hired a handful of musicians. Where the former album is an at-turns brilliant and whimsical collection of meticulously crafted but somewhat lifeless recordings, the latter simply sounds like a band. Mr. McCartney, who clearly loved being a Beatle, apparently craved another collective. 

Enter Mr. Laine. He, Mr. McCartney, and the late Linda McCartney were the three constants in Wings, a band in which lead guitarists and drummers would come and go. The band started humbly, rehearsing at the McCartneys’ spartan hideaway. 

“We started off quietly in Scotland,” Mr. Laine remembered last week. “We didn’t want the press chasing us, criticizing. We started the way a normal band would: We just played until we got better, and went into the studio. It built from there. As we got better, we put another album out. That’s what I was happy about, more than anything.” Mr. McCartney “couldn’t follow the Beatles, and I couldn’t follow the Moodys. We had to do something different. It worked out, really.” 

It worked out and then some. As a quartet, Wings took flight with “Wild Life,” an underrated collection that saw Mr. McCartney working through the grief of his breakup with John Lennon and exploring new sounds and styles. Singles including the protest song “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and the suggestive rocker “Hi Hi Hi,” both banned by some radio stations, followed. The veteran musicians also took a novel approach to building an audience, turning up unannounced at universities for impromptu gigs and asking nominal admission fees. 

Adding a fifth member, Wings hit its stride, the hits pouring from Mr. McCartney’s pen as they had with the Beatles. But when the second guitarist and drummer quit on the eve of a flight to Lagos, Nigeria, the McCartneysand Mr. Laine were left to record “Band on the Run,” a brilliant work that recalled the Beatles’ finale, “Abbey Road.” 

Once again a quintet in 1974, Wings built on that success. But for all its pop hits — “Listen to What the Man Said,” “Silly Love Songs,” and “With a Little Luck,” to name a few, Wings could rock with the best of them. Listen to “Rock Show,” “Jet,” “Live and Let Die,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Call Me Back Again,” “Getting Closer,” “Rockestra Theme,” or, perhaps above all, “Beware My Love” from 1976’s “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” and marvel not just at the exceptional songwriting but also the musicianship, Mr. Laine’s guitars very much included. “Wings Over America,” a three-disc document of the band’s 1976 American tour, demonstrates just how solid they were. 

“It was a tight band, there’s no getting away from that,” Mr. Laine said. “It’s what it’s all about. You have to be playing live to get tight. All those months on the road, that’s what that tour did for us.” 

But Mr. Laine contributed more than guitars and the occasional turn on bass. In a sense, he was charged with filling Lennon’s outsized role as Mr. McCartney’s creative partner. They co-wrote tracks including the huge hit “Mull of Kintyre,” the lovely rocker “No Words” from “Band on the Run,” and several tracks on 1978’s “London Town.” That’s Mr. Laine singing his own mournful “Time to Hide” on “Wings at the Speed of Sound” and “Again and Again and Again” on 1979’s “Back to the Egg.” 

“The more people compliment me on my songs, the better I feel,” he said. 

He is also the lead vocalist on several songs Mr. McCartney wrote for the band, contributing a memorable performance on “The Note You Never Wrote,” a standout track on “Speed of Sound.” “Paul wanted to have others singing, so he wrote for them,” he said. “It was about being a group more than just ‘Paul McCartney and Wings.’ ”

But all things must pass, as another ex-Beatle sang, and in January 1980 the latest iteration of Wings was derailed on arrival in Japan, a tour canceled after a customs agent discovered a stash of marijuana in Mr. McCartney’s suitcase. “If it hadn’t been for Japan, we would have gone other places,” Mr. Laine said. “That’s the shame about it.”

Mr. McCartney was further shaken by Lennon’s murder in December of that year, keeping a low profile for some time afterward. The core members of Wings briefly persevered, traveling to Montserrat in the West Indies to record new music, but the 1982 masterpiece “Tug of War” and the following year’s uneven “Pipes of Peace,” which feature cameo appearances by Ringo Starr, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Stanley Clarke, were credited solely to Mr. McCartney. 

“We decided we wanted to do something with guests,” Mr. Laine said. “It was great to play with different people and have a whole other outlook, but I started drifting away, and then wanted to do my own thing.”

Mr. Laine, who between his tenure with the Moody Blues and Wings had learned flamenco guitar from Gypsies in Andalusia, Spain, has indeed done his own thing since then (check 2008’s “The Blue Musician,” an alluring exploration of the guitar, for one example). 

“You’re always learning, always seeing people playing,” he said. “You have to keep yourself in shape. It’s all down to your influences. Mine are broad — Gypsy jazz, classical, folk, reggae. You get your style. My style is my own, and that’s good enough. You don’t have to be the best guitar player in the world, but that’s where writing comes in as well, and Wings was all about writing.” 

Mr. Laine will perform songs from across his long career at Bay Street. “I do most of the stuff I did with Wings,” he said. “I like to do solo stuff because of that. You can go off the way you want to go, and talk about what you want to talk about and play what you want to play. I’m very much involved with the audience at a solo show.” 

Tickets for Denny Laine, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, are $35 in advance and $45 on the day of the show. They are available at baystreet.org, at the box office from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until showtime on Saturday, or by calling 631-725-9500.