James Gurley, the brilliant lead guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the psychedelic rock band that propelled Janis Joplin to fame, has died in California two days before his 70th birthday.
Surviving members of Big Brother said Mr. Gurley died Sunday in a Palm Springs hospital after suffering a heart attack, Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Big Brother and the Holding Company first formed in 1965. In 1966, a little known singer from Port Arthur, Texas named Janis Joplin joined the band. With Joplin’s powerful, bluesy voice in front of Gurley’s trippy guitar, the band became a national hit.
Gurley and Joplin had a short affair a few weeks after joining the band, but the affair was quickly squashed by Gurley’s wife, Nancy.
In 1970, Gurley was charged with Nancy’s murder after she died of a heroin overdose. He was accused of injecting the drugs into her. He was eventually cleared of all charges, Examiner.com reports.
"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," Melton said Thursday.
"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."
Doing things like using an electric vibrator as a slide on his guitar, and picking up amplifiers and shaking them during performances, Gurley created a loud, esoteric sound that was the driving force behind Joplin's voice on such classic songs as "Ball and Chain," " Piece of My Heart " and "Summertime."
"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," said Peter Albin, the group's bass player .
One of the few rock guitarists to use finger picks rather than a flat pick, Gurley had taught himself to play by listening to old Lightnin' Hopkins blues records as a teenager.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and sons Hongo and Django.
Band members plan to hold a memorial sometime next month in San Francisco , Associated Press reports.