Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Chris Whitley dead at 45

A slight diversion here. Perhaps some of you have heard of Chris Whitley, a guitarist and blues-rock songwriter probably best known for "Living with the Law" a song and album from the early '90's. He died Sunday, of lung cancer, at the age of 45. The announcement from his label is here.

If you haven't heard him, you've missed out. Living with the Law is a good place to start, followed, I think, by Dirt Floor, then Rocket House. Just simply an overwhelming artist who played his National steel guitar with an ancient blues ache.

He was a heavy smoker who apparently was diagnosed with the terminal illness only very recently. I can attest to the heavy smoking part. When I saw him play a few year's back at Joe's Pub in New York, in between songs, he asked the audience for a smoke. No one had one, so he simply strode offstage, leaving the audience looking uncomfortably looking at one another. He came back about a minute later. That was also the show where he threatened to shoot the board operator, explaining: "I've got a .45 in my case."

He had a notorious drug problem, and something seemed to be up this summer when he cancelled a string of shows (including one I intended to go to in Hoboken).

What terrible news. What a terrible loss.

UPDATE: Reuters reports that a new album entitled "Reiter In" is in the can. Whitley was a hell of a productive guy over the last few years. When the new album is released, it will mark five records over the last two years of his life. I wonder if he knew something was up.

LATER: A really fine interview with Whitley, from 1995. He says things about Living with the Law, and the strength of the songs on that album as acoustic numbers, that I tend to agree with.

LATEST: Aw, hell, this is a great story about the rise, fall and semi-righting of the Whitley ship. Fine writing.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:49 AM

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