Chris Whitley

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Chris Whitley
Chris Whitley in concert in Belgium, 1998
Chris Whitley in concert in Belgium, 1998
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Becker Whitley
Born(1960-08-31)August 31, 1960
Houston, Texas
DiedNovember 20, 2005(2005-11-20) (aged 45)
Houston, Texas
GenresBlues rock, blues
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Instrument(s)Vocals, resonator guitar, guitar, banjo, dobro, foot stomp
Years active1983–2005
LabelsColumbia, Work, Messenger, Valley Entertainment, ATO, Legacy, Sony

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.

Early life[edit]

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]

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" (number 36) and "Living with the Law" (number 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.[citation needed]

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, John Mellencamp, 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, Keith Richards and Darling Burns.[14][15][16][17]

Whitley used various alternate tunings and, among other musical instruments, often played slide guitar on a National resonator guitar.[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 underappreciated 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.[dead link]
  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. ^ "The Musician's Atlas - The Ultimate Music Industry Contact Database". Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  9. ^ "Independent Music Awards - 4th Annual Winners". Archived from the original on 2 July 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  10. ^ "Independent Music Awards - Past Judges". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b "Chris Whitley Discography". Archived from the original on 6 December 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  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 Mayer, John (28 February 2006). "Notes from John Mayer". Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  15. ^ "Messenger Records -". Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  16. ^ ", Newsletter - 2001 Recap". Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  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.

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