Lawrence Joel “Larry” Henley (June 30, 1937 – December 18, 2014) was an American singer and songwriter, best known for co-writing (with Jeff Silbar) the 1989 hit record “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Henley was born in Arp, Texas on June 30, 1937, the son of country singer ‘Kewpi’ (Helen) Timms, and grew up in Odessa, Texas. As a teenager, Larry was a fan of Roy Orbison, who lived 20 miles away and played at local VFW’s. He had originally planned on an acting career before becoming a singer and songwriter, but when rock’n’roll became more popular in the mid-1950s he moved to Southern California.
Henley won a talent contest in San Diego, which got him a job as an opening act for the R&B revue The Johnny Otis Show. Disillusionment and lack of money drove him to the oil fields of Louisiana. He toiled as a wire line serviceman in New Iberia and performed in local clubs at the weekend in pursuit of his dream of stardom. Whilst visiting relatives in Shreveport, his brother-in-law told the Diamond Head Lounge’s house band, The Dean and Mark Combo, that Larry was a ‘famous singer.’ After being coerced onstage he was invited that night to join the band, and also offered a contract by an agent from Mercury Records who happened to be in the crowd. Suitably impressed, brothers Marc and Dean Mathis invited Larry to join them and billed as the Dean & Marc Combo Featuring the Golden Voice of Larry Henley toured throughout the South.
In the early 1960s Larry decided to try his luck in Nashville, where he linked up with Wesley Rose and Hickory Records and recorded his first singles. At this time he hadn’t started songwriting and was usually recording songs published by Acuff-Rose writers including Earl Sinks (Little Lips (Tell Big Lies)), Boudleaux & Felice Bryant (Just As Much As Ever), Joe Melson (His Girl) and Mickey Newbury (Eastham Prison Farm). The Mathis brothers also moved to Nashville and teamed up again with Larry to form a vocal trio called the Newbeats. Henley became the lead singer of pop group the Newbeats, formed in 1964, singing in a distinctive falsetto. The group had two hits that charted in the top 20 of Billboard magazine, with one of them, “Bread and Butter,” reaching No. 2 on the Billboard charts and selling over a million copies. They toured Australia and New Zealand with Roy Orbison, Ray Columbus and the Invaders and the Rolling Stones on the “Big Beat ’65” tour. The group’s last single was released in 1974. Henley had a solo album, Piece a Cake, released in 1975.
By the 1970s, Henley stopped touring with the Newbeats, and living in Nashville he hung out with legends like Roger Miller and Shel Silverstein, whose mastery of the word proved to be infectious. With encouragement from accomplished songwriters Mickey Newbury and Don Gant, Henley began to develop his songwriting skills. Henley co-wrote with Red Lane “‘Til I Get It Right” for Tammy Wynette, a 1973 #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles, later covered by Barbra Streisand and Kenny Rogers. Other #1 country hits were his songs “Is It Still Over?” (performed by Randy Travis), “Lizzie and the Rainman” (performed by Tanya Tucker), and “He’s a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)” (performed by Janie Fricke). Other songs included “Shotgun rider” for Delbert McClinton; “You’re Welcome to Tonight” by Lynn Anderson and Gary Morris; and “The World Needs a Melody” by The Carter Family with Johnny Cash. Henley was a friend of Bobby Goldsboro and it was because of Henley’s urging that Goldsboro sang the song “Honey.”
The song “Wind Beneath My Wings” (written by Henley and Jeff Silbar) was a U.S. #1 hit for Bette Midler and has since totaled around 6 million radio air plays. The song earned Henley and Silbar the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for 1989, and Bette Midler the Record of the Year award. The song was originally recorded by Roger Whittaker in 1982 and has since been covered by numerous artists. “Wind Beneath My Wings” was part of the soundtrack for Beaches (1988). Henley was a 2012 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. “Bread and Butter” has been used in Sunbeam Bread advertisements and multiple films, while “Love Is on the Air” written by Henley with Jim Hurt and Johnny Slate, performed by Lou Rawls was used in The Cannonball Run. On December 18, 2014, Henley died of Lewy Body Dementia in Nashville, Tennessee, at age 77. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. His interment was held at Kelsey Cemetery in Gilmer, Texas.
My collection includes the following work by Larry Henley:
Wind Beneath My Wings