Chris Whitley, 1960-2005

By Prasad, Anil | Guitar Player, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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Chris Whitley, 1960-2005


Prasad, Anil, Guitar Player


Revered singer/songwriter Chris Whitley died on November 20, 2005 in Houston, Texas, at age 45 after a battle with lung cancer. Whitley was best known for his masterful steel-string guitar playing, and his raw, brooding, and powerful take on the blues.

He first made his mark with his 1991 debut, Living With The Law, an adventurous blues-rock record full of rich colors and delicate atmospheres. His 1995 follow-up, Din of Ecstasy, was a darker and eloquently dissonant effort steeped in distorted guitar. He released his more groove-oriented third major label album, Terra Incognita, in 1997, prior to declaring his disinterest in designing music for the mainstream.

Whitley went on to work exclusively within the independent realm, where he possessed complete control of his art. Notable efforts stemming from that move include his first indie release, 1998's Dirt Floor (a stripped-down country blues and ballads effort), and 2001's Rocket House (an innovative disc that incorporated electronica, turntable scratching, and trip-hop beats into his trademark sound). His most recent CD, 2005's Soft Dangerous Shores, was one of his most adventurous, infusing cinematic soundscapes, ambient washes, and charged rhythms into his moody blues approach.

"I feel like what I'm doing is supposed to be important," said Whitley in November 2004. "Otherwise, why am I doing it? But that's not the pop culture way at all.

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