Chris Whitley

Christopher Becker Whitley (August 31, 1960[1] – November 20, 2005)[2] was an American blues/rock singer-songwriter and guitarist. During his 25-year career he released more than a dozen albums, had two songs in the top 50 of the Billboard mainstream rock charts and received two Independent Music Awards. Whitley's sound was drawn from the traditions of blues, jazz and rock and he recorded songs by artists from many genres. He died in 2005 of lung cancer at the age of 45.

Chris Whitley
Chris Whitley 1998
Chris Whitley in concert in Belgium, 1998
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Becker Whitley
BornAugust 31, 1960
Houston, Texas
DiedNovember 20, 2005 (aged 45)
Houston, Texas
GenresBlues rock, blues
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, resonator guitar, guitar, banjo, dobro, foot stomp
Years active1983–2005
LabelsColumbia, Work, Messenger, Valley Entertainment, ATO, Legacy, Sony

Early life

Whitley was born in Houston, Texas and learned to play guitar when he was fifteen.[3] His father was an art director and his mother was a sculptor. During his youth he lived in Dallas, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Mexico and Vermont. His parents "grew up on race radio in the South" and their musical tastes—including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix—influenced Whitley.[4]


During the early 1980s Whitley was busking on the streets of New York City and collaborating with musicians Marc Miller, Arto Lindsay and Michael Beinhorn.[4][5] He was given a plane ticket to Ghent, Belgium in 1981, and lived there for six years, recording several albums and playing with the bands Kuruki, 2 Belgen, Nacht Und Nebel, Alan Fawn, and A Noh Rodeo.[6]

Chris Whitley and Alan Geveart
Whitley with Alan Gevaert of Deus in the late 1990s in New York City

In 1988, producer Daniel Lanois heard Whitley perform at the Mondo Cane club in New York City and he helped Whitley obtain a recording contract with Columbia Records. In 1991 two of Whitley's songs charted on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts: "Big Sky Country" (#36) and "Living with the Law" (#28).[7]

In 2000, Whitley recorded his album Perfect Day, an album of cover songs, with Chris Wood and Billy Martin and followed up with the album Rocket House in 2001.

Whitley's song "Breaking Your Fall" from the album Hotel Vast Horizon (2003) won the 3rd Annual Independent Music Awards for Folk/Singer-Songwriter Song.[8] In 2004 he won The 4th Annual Independent Music Award for Blues/R&B Song for his composition "Her Furious Angels" from the album War Crime Blues.[9] Whitley was an inaugural member of The Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists[10] and collaborated with Jeff Lang on an album called Dislocation Blues in 2005.[11]


Whitley's style drew on an array of influences.[2] In 2001, The New York Times described him as "restless, moving into noise-rock and minimalist jazz evoking Chet Baker and Sonic Youth as much as Robert Johnson".[12] He recorded songs by Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan as well as Lou Reed, James Brown, J.J. Cale, The Clash, Nat King Cole, The Doors, Willie Dixon, The Flaming Lips, Jimi Hendrix, Howlin' Wolf, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, The Passions, Prince, The Stooges, and Sonny Boy Williamson II.[11]

Notable fans of Whitley's music include, ATO co-founder Dave Matthews,[13] blues guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Tom Petty, Jacob Golden, Myles Kennedy, Don Henley, Iggy Pop, Alanis Morissette, Sandi Thom, John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw, Joey DeGraw, Johnny A., Joe Bonamassa and Keith Richards.[14][15][16][17]

Whitley used various alternate tunings and often played slide guitar on a National resonator guitar and other musical equipment such as:[18]


In fall 2005, Whitley canceled his tour due to health issues. In November he was reported to be terminally ill with lung cancer and under the care of hospice. He died on November 20, 2005 in Houston, Texas at the age of 45.[2][13][19] After his death, musician John Mayer said, "[Whitley's] somewhat prostrated place in pop culture earned him a sidebar of an obituary, but to those who knew his work, it registers as one of the most under appreciated losses in all of music."[14] Whitley is survived by his brother Dan and his musician daughter, Trixie Whitley.[19]



  1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Chris Whitley biography". Allmusic biography. 2010 Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Dansby, Andrew (Nov 23, 2005). "Singer-songwriter Chris Whitley dies at 45 Bluesman, rocker was always reinventing himself". Obituary for Chris Whitley. Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  3. ^ Irwin, Colin (29 November 2005). "Chris Whitley: Eclectic singer-songwriter". Comprehensive Obituary. The Independent. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Chris Whitley 1960 - 2005". Biography, Soft Dangerous Shores press release. Messenger Records. 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  5. ^ "A Noh Rodeo". The Belgian Pop and Rock Archive. SABAM. December 2001. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  6. ^ Biography, Allmusic
  7. ^ Billboard, Allmusic
  8. ^ Independent Music Awards - 3rd Annual Winners Archived 2012-03-01 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Independent Music Awards - 4th Annual Winners Archived July 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Independent Music Awards - Past Judges Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b The Chris Whitley Discography
  12. ^ Powers, Ann (July 12, 2001). "POP REVIEW; Blues With a Scratch". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  13. ^ a b "Singer/Songwriter Chris Whitley Dies". Billboard. Billboard Magazine news. 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  14. ^ a b Esquire magazine, February 28, 2006
  15. ^ Messenger Records Hotel Vast Horizon press release
  16. ^, Newsletter - 2001 Recap Archived 2008-12-27 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ ", News, February 2009". Archived from the original on 2012-01-28. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
  18. ^ Rodgers, Jeffrey Pepper (September 1998). "Gearbox Chris Whitley". Acoustic Guitar. String Letter Publishing, Inc. p. 48. Archived from the original on 2 March 2012.
  19. ^ a b Bambarger, Bradley (November 2005). "Chris Whitley (1960-2005)". Messenger Records. Retrieved 13 May 2014.

External links

Billy Martin (percussionist)

Billy Martin (born October 30, 1963) is an American jazz drummer, best known as a member of jazz-funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood.

Din of Ecstasy

Din of Ecstasy is the second studio album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It was released on Columbia Records in 1995.

It was produced primarily by John Custer and Chris Whitley. The album was recorded by Steve Melton (assisted by Danny Kadar and Kent Bruce) and mixed by Toby Wright at Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield, Alabama as well as Baby Monster, Sony Music Studios, and Electric Lady Studios in New York City.

Dirt Floor

Dirt Floor is the fourth studio album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley.

It was produced by Craig Street and recorded live direct to a two-track analog recorder using a single stereo ribbon microphone by Danny Kadar at Blue Moon Racing Shop (Whitley's father's barn) in Bellows Falls, Vermont.

This recording was also released by Classic Records in two audiophile formats. It was released in digital audio disk (DAD) 24-bit/96 kHz digital audio format playable with DVD hardware. Classic Records also released it in 180 gram vinyl audio format.

Dislocation Blues

Dislocation Blues is a collaboration between singer-songwriters and guitarists, Chris Whitley and Jeff Lang.

Jeff Lang produced, co-wrote, co-mixed, and played on the album. It was recorded live by Mick Wordley at Adelphia Studios in Melbourne, Australia. It was co-mixed by Lang and Wordley at Mixmasters in Adelaide, Australia.

Living with the Law (album)

Living with the Law is the debut album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It was released on July 2, 1991.

Malcolm Burn produced, mixed and played on the album. It was co-recorded by Burn and Mark Howard at Kingsway Studio (Daniel Lanois' home) in New Orleans.

Long Way Around (album)

Long Way Around - An Anthology: 1991-2001 is the eighth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his first compilation album and includes hits, album tracks, rarities, and unreleased demos from 1991-2001.

The compilation was produced by Danny Kadar and includes songs from Whitley's studio albums: Living with the Law (1991), Din of Ecstasy (1995), Terra Incognita (1997), Dirt Floor (1998), and Rocket House (2001) in their original, alternately mixed, or remixed form. Also included are four demos recorded live by David Kahne in 1992 at The Hit Factory in New York City after the Living with the Law tour. All of the material on this recording has been remastered from the original sources.

The album's title is taken from a song on Living with the Law.

Messenger Records

Messenger Records is an independent record label. Based out of New York City, USA, the label was started by Brandon Kessler during his time in college in 1996. The label currently releases albums by Anne McCue, Dan Bern, Chris Whitley, Johnny Society, and others.

The label also offers consulting services to independent artists, including advice on promotion, touring, and music production.

On Air (Chris Whitley album)

On Air is the fifteenth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist Chris Whitley and his second live album. The performance is a compilation of songs from a selection of Whitley's past albums (Living with the Law (1991), Terra Incognita (1997), Dirt Floor (1998), Perfect Day (2000), Rocket House (2001), Pigs Will Fly (soundtrack) (2003), and Hotel Vast Horizon (2003)) and three new covers.

It was produced by Radio Bremen and recorded for 'Sparkasse in concert' on September 8, 2003 at Radio Bremen Sendesaal in Bremen, Germany by the Radio Bremen recording crew.

Perfect Day (Chris Whitley album)

Perfect Day is the sixth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his fifth studio album.

It is a full-length release of cover versions of "love songs". The album was recorded a trio and is subtitled "Featuring Billy Martin and Chris Wood". Martin and Wood are the rhythm section of Medeski Martin & Wood.

It was produced by Craig Street. The album was recorded live to half-inch two-track recorder by Danny Kopelson at 33​1⁄3 Recording in Brooklyn, New York.

This recording was also released in the Super Audio CD (SACD) format.

Pigs Will Fly (soundtrack)

(Music from and inspired by the film) Pigs Will Fly is the soundtrack for the German film, Pigs Will Fly (2002) directed by Eoin Moore. The soundtrack is a collaboration between musicians Warner Poland and Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt and features singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley.

The soundtrack was produced, recorded, and, mixed by Warner Poland and Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt. It was recorded at Monobeat Studio in Berlin, Germany.

Additional recording was done at The Himalaya Lounge in Berlin, Germany.

Reiter In

Reiter In is the thirteenth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his eleventh studio album and the last he made before his death (five months later, at 45) in November 2005.

The album was recorded as a band effort and is billed as "Chris Whitley & The Bastard Club".

Kenny Siegal (of Johnny Society) produced, co-wrote, and played on the album. It was recorded all analog and live on a two-inch tape Sony MCI JH24 tape deck through a Trident board at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York. It was mixed by John Holbrook.

Rob Wasserman

Rob Wasserman (April 1, 1952 – June 29, 2016) was an American composer and bass player. A Grammy Award and NEA grant winner, he played and recorded with a wide variety of musicians including Bob Weir, Bruce Cockburn, Elvis Costello, Ani di Franco, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Stéphane Grappelli, Rickie Lee Jones, Van Morrison, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, Pete Seeger, Jules Shear, Brian Wilson, Chris Whitley, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Laurie Anderson, Stephen Perkins, Banyan, Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and Ratdog.He is best known for his own work on the trilogy of albums, Solo, Duets, and Trios.

Rocket House

Rocket House is the seventh album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his sixth studio album.

It was produced by Tony Mangurian and recorded primarily at Soho Music Studios in New York City. It was mixed by Tony Mangurian and Danny Madorsky at Greene St. Recording.

Additional recording was done at Little Henri Studio in New York City, Dok Noord in Ghent, Belgium, and by Scott Campbell in Los Angeles, California.

Soft Dangerous Shores

Soft Dangerous Shores is the twelfth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his tenth studio album.

Malcolm Burn produced, mixed, and played on the album. It was recorded by Burn in Kingston, New York.

Terra Incognita (Chris Whitley album)

Terra Incognita is the third studio album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley.

It was produced primarily by Chris Whitley, Toby Wright, Mark Howard, and Dougie Bowne. The album was recorded primarily by Mark Howard (assisted by Wayne Lorenz) at Boulevard Teatro in Oxnard, California. It was mixed primarily by Toby Wright (assisted by John Seymour) at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.

Additional recording was done by Dinky Dawson at the Best Western Highway Inn in Salem, Oregon ("As Flat as the Earth (exp)"), by Chris Whitley at the Sheffield Holiday Inn in Sheffield, Alabama ("Immortal Blues"), and by Toby Wright at Electric Lady Studios in New York City ("Alien").

Additional production and mixing on "Automatic" was done by Michael Barbiero at River Sound in New York City.

The album's title was inspired by Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic.

Toby Wright

Toby Wright is a record producer and mixing engineer who has worked with artists such as Alice in Chains, Metallica, Sevendust and Korn. He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Trixie Whitley

Trixie Whitley (born June 24, 1987 in Ghent, Belgium) is a Belgian American multi-instrumentalist. As the daughter of singer-songwriter Chris Whitley, she began her musical career playing with her father, and recording on several of his albums. Whitley has released three solo EPs, is a member of Black Dub, and was the vocalist on their self-titled debut album.

War Crime Blues

War Crime Blues is the eleventh album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his ninth studio album.

It was produced by Whitley. The album was recorded by Edgar M. Röthig at Helicopter Studio in Dresden, Germany.

Additional recording was done by Susann Bürger under Albert Bridge in Dresden, Germany ("Invisible Day") and by Chris Whitley at the Nadaud Hotel in Paris, France ("The Call Up").

"Her Furious Angels" won Best Blues/R&B Song at the 4th Annual Independent Music Awards.

Weed (album)

Weed is the tenth album by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Whitley. It is his eighth studio album.

The album is Whitley's acoustic re-recording of a selection of songs he wrote from 1986-1996 for his three recordings on Columbia / Work Records: Living with the Law (1991), Din of Ecstasy (1995), and Terra Incognita (1997).

It was produced and recorded by Chris Whitley live to a two-track MD in Susann Bürger's bathroom / Sebnitzer Straße and Space House / Katharinenstraße in Dresden, Germany.

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