Larry Henley, the singer whose raucous falsetto on “Bread and Butter” gave the Newbeats their biggest pop hit in the 1960s and who later co-wrote “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a ballad that has become all but inescapable at weddings, sports shows, piano bars and presidential galas, died Dec. 18 in Nashville. He was 77.
The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, which inducted Mr. Henley in 2012, announced the death. The cause was Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain disorder, said his attorney and business manager, Charles Andrews.
Mr. Henley was born in Texas and after a short-lived stab at an acting career began to focus on breaking into rock music. He joined up with the singing brothers Marc and Dean Mathis to form the Newbeats in 1964, and they had a smash that year with “Bread and Butter,” a rollicking nonsense song distinguished mostly by Mr. Henley’s piercing falsetto.
The song — which features the lyrics “I like bread and butter, I like toast and jam, that’s what my baby feeds me, I’m her loving man” — climbed to No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts. It continued to resonate through commercials, notably for Sunbeam Bread , and its use in films as varied as “9 1/2 Weeks” (1986) and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004).
With Nashville-based Hickory Records, the Newbeats continued to chart with songs including “Everything’s Alright” and “Break Away (From That Boy).” The group toured Australia and New Zealand with Roy Orbison and the Rolling Stones — Mr. Henley said he and Rolling Stone Brian Jones cut their arms and bonded as “blood brothers” during the trip.
The Newbeats’ singing style gradually wore thin, and the members went their separate ways in the early 1970s. Mr. Henley continued a solo career while deepening an interest in songwriting. He co-wrote “Till I Get It Right,” which became a No. 1 country hit for Tammy Wynette in 1973, and “Lizzie and the Rainman,” which Tanya Tucker propelled to No. 1 in 1975.
His other credits as a co-author included “He’s a Heartache,” which helped establish Janie Fricke as a country star in the early 1980s, and “Why Don’t We Go Somewhere and Love?,” which was recorded by singers including Kenny Rogers and Sandy Posey .
By far, his best-known song was “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which he said began as a poem written about one of his many ex-wives.
Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
You’re everything I wish I could be
I could fly higher than an eagle
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
“It’s a man reaching out for a woman — praise a woman rarely gets from a man,” he once told the Associated Press. “It’s something a man should have said long ago.”
He said the words spun around in his mind for about 15 years before one day, vacationing on a yacht off Corpus Christi, Tex., in June 1981, he turned the poem into a song. It took maybe 15 minutes. Jeff Silbar, one of his collaborators, set it to music.
Silbar told the publication Songwriter Universe that he saw the title on Mr. Henley’s legal pad. “I loved this concept, especially since at the time I was learning to fly an airplane and become a pilot,” Silbar said. “I wanted to write a song with that title.”
The songwriters thought it would have universal appeal but found it hard to get major acts to record it. They pressed on for a year until Roger Whittaker sang a version.
“My publisher called me, very excited, and said, ‘Larry, guess what! Roger Whittaker is cutting your song!’ ” he later told the New Zealand publication Elsewhere. “And I said, ‘Great . . . who’s Roger Whittaker?’ ”
But it was Bette Midler’s version , from the soundtrack of the 1988 film “Beaches,” that became a No. 1 pop hit and won the 1989 Grammy Award for song of the year. Over time, it became a contemporary standard used both at public events and in more intimate settings, often in the context of an apology set to music.
Larry Joel Henley was born in Arp, Tex., on June 30, 1937, and raised in Odessa, Tex. He was married and divorced four times. Survivors include four children; a sister; and many grandchildren, his attorney said.
“I always called myself a singer, even though I’d had successes as a songwriter,” Mr. Henley told Elsewhere in 1993. “But people would come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you the guy that sang “Bread and Butter”?’
“I got that all my life, but after I wrote that one song somebody stopped me in the street and said, ‘Aren’t you the guy who wrote “Wind Beneath My Wings”?’ ”