Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist James Gurley died of a heart attack on Sunday at a Palm Springs, Calif. hospital. Gurley, 69, was a key creative force in the San Francisco-based psychedelic rock outfit that propelled Janis Joplin to stardom in the late 1960s.
On news of his former bandmate's passing, co-founder Sam Andrew wrote on Big Brother's official website, "For me and many people, James was the real 1960s, the real exemplar of that counterculture, the forerunner. Peter Albin, Chet Helms and I founded Big Brother and the Holding Company, but James was the spirit and the essence of the band in its early days. He showed us the way as a Zen master would show us the way, without sermons, without lectures, with as little talk but as much humor as possible."
Born in Detroit, Gurley picked up the guitar when he was 19. Inspired by the blues, he cited Lightnin' Hopkins as one of his early influences. At the age of 23, he moved to San Francisco to become a part of the city's folk scene and by the summer of 1965, he joined forces with Albin and Andrew.
In June of 1966, Joplin joined the group, which emerged from the same Bay Area scene that launched the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. BBHC released its eponymous debut album to acclaim in the summer of 1967 and after its landmark performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the disc had modest chart success.
A year later, the group -- by now signed to Columbia Records -- released the psychedelic rock classic 'Cheap Thrills,' which topped the album chart in October 1968. Despite the enormous hit, 'Piece of My Heart,' the band's days were numbered, with Joplin quitting the group for a solo career. While Big Brother reconvened in 1969, Janis proved irreplaceable and after two additional albums they gave up on the band in 1972.
In 1987, the group returned to the touring circuit, with Gurley retiring from the group in 1996. In 2000, he released a solo album 'Pipe Dreams.'