Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Chris Whitley's debut album, 1991's Living With The Law, is one of my favorite albums ever. It is definitely safe to say that I've never been so blown away by and artist or an album upon first listen.  I mean, I don't remember exactly when I first hear Dylan or The Beatles. 

In 1991, I had tickets to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on the tour for Into The Great Wide Open. Chris Whitley was the opening act.  I had never heard of him, which was weird: Petty tended to have fairly well known openers (I'd seen 'til Tuesday, The Replacements and Lenny Kravitz open for him by that point). One day while going into one of the many used CD stores on Long Island that I used to frequent, I was paying for some stuff, and I saw the store's promo copy on the counter for (maybe) six bucks.  I decided to give it a try, since I had tickets to see him with Petty.  I have no other way to put this: I was blown away by the album.  It's an overused expression but it's accurate.  I played it for everyone I knew who liked music. My brother loved it, and years later, wrote a play named after one of the songs on the album.  And after that album, a drought.  He released the "Poison Girl" EP (with live versions of songs and one new song) and collaborated with Rob Wasserman and Les Claypool on "Home Is Where You Get Across" from Wasserman's Trios album.

It took four years before he followed up with the much more raw Din Of Ecstasy.  Some people preferred it: I didn't mind the raw production and heavy sound, but the songs just didn't stick with me. But over the years, he had a lot of awesome albums. I loved 1997's Terra Incognita (his third and final album on Columbia), 2000's album of covers, Perfect Day, was breathtaking. Rocket House, released on Dave Matthews' ATO Records label in 2001, was a more electronic album (he used to be in early proto-techno-industrial bands when he lived in Europe).  His final album, a 2006 collaboration with a guy named Jeff Lang called Dislocation Blues, was incredible. I got to interview him twice, and it was... sad. You could see the guy was haunted.  One time, the interview included him playing a few songs on his guitar.  It was him, me and my friend in a tiny room. I didn't know where to look, what to look at.  It was pretty amazing.

He died in November of 2005, from lung cancer. What a sad loss to the music world, and it really is too bad that more people didn't know about his incredible body of work.  Do yourself a favor, and check this guy out.

  • The Classic Album: 1991's Living With The Law
  • Other Great Ones: 1997's Terra Incognita, 2000's Perfect Day, 2001's Rocket House, 2003's Hotel Vast Horizon, 2006's Dislocation Blues
  • The Collection: Long Way Around 1991-2001 released in 2002 covers his first decade (and skips Perfect Day)
  • Look For: A documentary on Chris, Dust Radio, is supposedly in post-production, although the film's website hasn't been updated since February. 

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