Published Dec 28, 2009Best known for his work in Big Brother and the Holding Company, guitarist James Gurley died from a heart attack on December 20. He was two days away from his 70th birthday.
Gurley was partly responsible for some of Janis Joplin's biggest hits with Big Brother and the Holding Company, including "Ball and Chain," "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime." He was also one of the most prominent guitarists to emerge from San Francisco's mid-'60s psychedelic scene.
A number of Gurley's peers spoke about the late guitarist's inimitable style, with Barry Meltin of Country Joe and the Fish saying, "I would say all of my guitar-playing contemporaries strived to have their own sound, but I think James was a huge influence on all of us because he wasn't afraid to break the boundaries of conventional music. What one thinks of that genre of music is that place that it takes you to where the beat is just assumed and the whole thing is transported to another place, and James is the guy who started that."
Gurley's Big Brother band-mate, bassist Peter Albin, added, "Some of the innovations were the result of the fact he came from kind of a progressive bluegrass school of music where weirdness was encouraged."
Gurley's former band-mates are planning a memorial service for some time in January. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret, and two sons.