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Chris Whitley

Chris Whitley was a Texas-based singer/songwriter who initially began his career as a bluesy roots rocker, but as his career progressed, he moved deeper into rock & roll and alternative rock. Though Whitley's albums usually received positive reviews, they rarely sold, and his tendency to rework his sound prevented him from developing a sizable cult following among singer/songwriter fans.

As a child, Whitley moved frequently through the Southeast, eventually moving with his mother to Mexico when his parents divorced when he was 11; they later settled in a log cabin in Vermont. At the age of 15, he began playing guitar, inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Winter, and Jimi Hendrix, eventually learning how to play slide guitar. He quit high school a year before graduation, moving to New York City, where he busked on the streets. One of his performances was witnessed by a listener who ran a travel agency, and decided that Whitley would be a success in Belgium and offered to send him to Europe. With nothing to lose, Whitley accepted the offer.

Once in Belgium, Whitley recorded a series of albums that flip-flopped between blues, rock, and funk. The records made him a minor success in Belgium, but he decided to return to New York anyway in 1990. He happened to meet producer Daniel Lanois later that year. Impressed by Whitley's songs, Lanois helped set up a deal with Columbia Records for the songwriter, and hosted his first album at a 19th century mansion in New Orleans (although it was Lanois' associate, Malcolm Burn, who produced the album). Released in the spring of 1991, Whitley's U.S. debut, Living with the Law, was an atmospheric set of blues and folk-rock that received glowing reviews and earned him a slot opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Though Living with the Law seemed to position Whitley for a breakthrough into a cult audience, he waited four years to deliver his second record, Din of Ecstasy. An attempt to connect with the hard-edged mainstream alternative rock audience that developed in the years following the release of Living with the Law, the grunge-flavored Din of Ecstasy -- which was released on Columbia's recently developed "alternative" subsidiary, WORK -- received mixed reviews and alienated his roots rock audience without winning him new fans. Two years later, Whitley released Terra Incognita, which combined elements of his first two records.

Dirt Floor followed on the Messenger label in 1998, restoring Whitley to a level of critical acclaim that rivaled his early work. Live at Martyrs' followed in the spring of 2000, and just a few months later, the spare studio effort Perfect Day appeared on the Valley imprint. Rocket House (2001) expanded on more soulful grooves and boasted eclectic collaborations with Bruce Hornsby, Blondie Chaplin, and Dave Matthews. It was also his first for Matthews' own imprint, ATO Records. A year later, Long Way Around: An Anthology 1991-2001 compiled his years at Columbia.

The stark, naked, and compelling Hotel Vast Horizon appeared in 2003 and was followed by two mail-order-only albums, Weed and War Crime Blues. The two casual albums were interim offerings between Hotel Vast Horizon and his next studio outing, 2005's Soft Dangerous Shores. Whitley toured for much of 2005, but by mid-October, he was forced to cancel his remaining dates due to complications from lung cancer. He died in his home on November 20, 2005. Whitley's final album, Dislocation Blues, a collaboration with Aussie blues guitarist Jeff Lang, was released in 2007. On Air, a 2003 solo concert featuring just Whitley and his guitar, appeared in 2008. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Soft Dangerous Shores

1. Fireroad (For Two)

2. Soft Dangerous Shores

3. As Day Is Long

4. Valley Of The Innocents

5. City Of Women

6. Times Square Machine (N.Y.C. February 1991)

7. Her Furious Angels

8. Last Million Miles

9. Medicine Wheel

10. End Game Holiday

11. Breath Of Shadows


Track List: War Crime Blues

1. Made From Dirt

2. Her Furious Angels

3. Ghost Dance

4. War Crime Blues

5. Invisible Day

6. I Can't Stand It

7. White Rider

8. Dead Cowboy Song

9. The Call Up

10. God Left Town

11. Nature Boy


Track List: Weed

1. Power Down

2. Living With The Law

3. Know You

4. Phone Call From Leavenworth

5. Cool Wooden Crosses

6. Big Sky Country

7. New Machine

8. Clear Blue Sky

9. Bordertown

10. Narcotic Prayer

11. Kick The Stones

12. Weightless

13. I Forget You Every Day

14. Make The Dirt Stick

15. Dust Radio

16. Can't Get Off (Instrumental)


Track List: Hotel Vast Horizon

1. New Lost World

2. Breaking Your Fall

3. Frontier

4. Hotel Vast Horizon

5. Blues For Andre

6. Assassin Song

7. Wide Open Return

8. Silhouette

9. Insurrection At Newtown

10. Free Interval


Track List: Rocket House

1. To Joy (Revolution Of The Innocents)

2. Radar

3. Chain

4. Say Goodbye

5. Solid Iron Heart

6. Rocket House

7. Serve You

8. Little Torch

9. From A Photograph

10. Vertical Desert

11. Something Shines


Track List: Perfect Day

1. Spanish Harlem Incident

2. Smokestack Lightning

3. China Gate

4. Drifting

5. She's Alright

6. Perfect Day

7. Wild Ox Moan

8. Crystal Ship

9. Spoonful

10. Stones In My Pathway

11. 4th Time Around


Track List: Terra Incognita

1. As Flat As The Earth (Exp)

2. Automatic

3. Clear Blue Sky (Original)

4. Weightless (Original)

5. Power Down (Original)

6. On Cue

7. Immortal Blues

8. Cool Wooden Crosses (Original)

9. Still Point

10. Gasket

11. One Long Day

12. Aerial

13. Alien


Track List: Living With The Law

1. Excerpt

2. Living With The Law

3. Big Sky Country

4. Kick The Stones

5. Make The Dirt Stick

6. Poison Girl

7. Dust Radio

8. Phone Call From Leavenworth

9. I Forget You Every Day

10. Long Way Around

11. Look What Love Has Done

12. Bordertown


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Top. Of the line weaver of musical tapestries
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Gone but never forgotten, one of the most important songwriters of our time. A huge talent, each record is unique and incredible. His Daughter Trixie and brother Dan are both amazingly talented as well.
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Chris Whitley and Jeff Buckley won me over the first time I heard them... such a loss...
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I was lucky to see Chris play a lot when in Austin. Amazing raw talent.
Scrapyard Lullaby and Indian Summer are great.
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Dirt Floor is definitely one of the rawest, most beautiful recordings I've ever heard. Definitely needs to be added.
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Heard Big Sky Country on WXPN when it was first released. Have been a fan of everything he's released since. Can't believe his passing in 2005 is that long ago. Huge loss to the music world but he left a nice legacy.-BB
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organic and sublime-no equals-one of a kind
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where is dirt floor?!? I love that ep
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this was the song that made me a fan forever! RIP Chris
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Heard Big Sky Country and have been hooked ever since.
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Living With the Law came out at a hard time in my life and it was a great comfort to me. Now I'm on my third copy and it still hits me just right. i also love Soft and Dangerous Shores and really everything else in between these two bookends.His daughter Trixie seems to have inherited a lot of his artistry.
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An original who took an authentic and traditional sound and created something authenticall y original. The key to Chris' music was his soulful voice which channeled the frisson-indu c i n g acousticity of his steel-inflec t e d dobro sound. I have to yet a bad Chris Whitley album from Living with the Law to Reiter's In. (Cee Rex)
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southernwind 4
poison girl.....gre a t ! so sad to lose such a great talent so young.
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His debut album will always be one of my most favorites. Never tire of this great collection of music and lyrics....
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since my first hearing of Living with the Law Chris became an artist that i followed avidly, always waiting for anything he produced. has any one here ever heard his Levi's commercial? worth finding.

and if you love his music as much as i, do yourself a favor and check out his daughter, Trixie. she's currently continuing the family tradition, working with Daniel Lanois in 'Black Dub'.
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I've always loved "Kick the Stones" which I first heard and owned on the 'Thelma and Louise' soundtrack, but never pursued his work. Thanks Pandora for playing another song from this first album--which I know I'm going to get and maybe more. Too bad he's gone from us.
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Google 'Scrapyard Lullaby' sometime... Or youtube....
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I discovered this guy when Living with the Law came out, about '90, or '91, I was blessed enough to work at a music store for a couple of years.
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Chris Whitley's music grabs you by the lapels and never lets go.
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I caught Chris Whitley on tour with Tom Petty. I was sitting *way* too far away, but was immediately caught by his music. I picked up Living with the Law the next day, and every album I can find since then. He and Gillian Welch make up my Deserted Island music list...
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I can hear the Hendrix influence in his voice on "Breaking Your Fall". I didn't know he had passed. I'm sorry he didn't get the recognition I think he deserved in his short life.
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never heard of him until now and love his music and style. will def. continue to listen and follow.
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Dirt Floor . . .
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Discovered Chris Whitley in '90 or '91 when he appeared on Conan O'Brien. Immediately get Living with the Law and practically wore it out. Followed as much as I could, thank god for the internet. His music definitely touches a place deep in my soul. Saddened to hear of his passing, but I listen to his music and it always seems new. A freah alternative to radio and commercial music. We miss you Chris!
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I am lucky to share a name with such a great talent.
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I saw Chris Whitely in Austin at the Backroom back in 1991 or 92, Just him and his reso! What a blessing for me to witness greatness, RAW.
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I love me a good Texan man!!
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Even 10 years after finding "Living With The Law" at our local library, every song on it has new meaning each time I hear it. A true modern blues man, missed and treasured. Chris, I look forward to jamming with you when my time comes.
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Phenomenal talent. Great road trip music.
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I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who fell in love with this man's music and eccentric delivery.
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i've just had the pleasure and am very happy about it !!
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Like the late great Mark Sandman, Chris Whitley was unique, enormously talented & missed by those who appreciated his superb guitar, lyrics and voice....the r e will never be another like either of these two great musicians. May they rest in peace!
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I saw him 'live' as well, great artist - but when i saw him he looked like a heroine addict, such talent...
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I miss this guy. He did his own thing, new sound album to album, but always that undercurrent of addiction and sex.
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frances.lemo i n e
There's nothing left to say about him; HOWEVER, can you PLEASE CHANGE THE PHOTO OF HIM. IT WAS TAKEN 20 YEARS AGO OR SO. hE LOOKS LIKE A MODEL.
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well said colombo, you were even luckier to see him live, wich i did at martyrs in chicago. he stood 10' from and i couldnt get the nerve to talk to him. there was just something about him. something i will always regret.
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colombowalke r
Chris Whitley isn't for everyone. But for those of us lucky enough to appreciate him, you keep coming back, you never get tired of it, and there is something new every time you listen.
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Liven with the law is a masterpiece, period. Ive allways wondered where the inspiration for that came from, guess ill never kow.
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Living With The Law is the best singer/songw r i t e r record ever. My favorite anyway. Print it. May Chris's music live forever.
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I saw Chris Whitley circa 1995, at a coffee house called the Elvis Room in NH, during a blizzard. I was in a horrible place in my life, too screwed up to appreciate anything. A local friend of CW asked him, as favor, to come play this tiny little room, as a side trip off his tour with Warren Zevon. Looking unsure of everything CW took the stage, and changed music for me. One chain smoking man, his 2 packs of cigarettes, and 2 acoustic guitars still rank as one of the best shows ever. Still awed.
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Din of Ecstasy found its way into my head shortly after its release. And has stayed with me ever since.
Peace in your rest Mr. Whitley.
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Weed and Dirt Floor are both fantastic albums - accoustic, plain, raw, just a boy and his guitar recording to single track. Dirt Floor is all new songs, and Weed is alomst like a "greatest hits" of previously released things but re-recorded with... you guessed it... just the boy and his guitar.
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Wow, I had no idea he had passed away, RIP.
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bruce.armstr o n g
I didn't know he had died. What a loss.
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I was shocked to hear of his passing. He was an eclectic and exceptional talent. Only saw him once, at a free show at the Boulder Theater. Very low key but, he just exuded that troubled loner James Dean cool.
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Look what love has done, hauntingly simple. I like his fusion of blues. I've only heard two or three of Chris Whitley songs, he's not too complicated, so far.
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Living With The Law had to be one--if not--THE most played tape I owned. The April '92 show at the Newport in Columbus was incredible.

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