EXPIRED: 12/20/09 – James Gurley, 69, died 2 days shy of his 70th birthday and almost 40 years after his bandmate, Janis Joplin passed away from a drug overdose in 1970.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Gurley spent four years at Detroit’s Catholic Brothers of the Holy Cross, studying to be a priest, but he kept hearing local blues mucisians and, at the age of 19, took up the guitar and, without ever having a guitar lesson, learned to play by ear.
He and his wife Nancy moved to San Francisco in 1962 and started playing the rounds at the local coffee-house folk circuit. But eventually he hooked up with Chet Helms brought Gurley to meet Peter Albin and Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Shortly thereafter, he joined the band.
A few weeks after Janis Joplin joined the band, James moved out of the apartment he shared with Nancy and moved in with Janis. Janis broke it off after nancy confronted the two of them while they were in bed and – as was the way at the time – the three all became good friends. In 1966, the members of Big Brother, along with their wives and children, all moved into a single house in Lagunitas, California.
A year before Janis died of an overdose in 1970,Gurley’s wife died of a heroin overdose. Gurley was charged with murder for injecting the drugs, and spent two years fighting the charges before being sentenced to probation. Although he started another family, Gurley never professional success of the same magnitude again. The scene in San Francisco couldn’t be recreated.
But Gurley tried.
In 1981, he had a new wave band, Red Robin and The Worms. He’s has tried New Age, recording with drummer Muruga Booker and releasing a CD called “Pipe Dreams” in 2000. He basically stopped touring with Big Brother in 1997.
James Gurley passed away today of a heart attack.