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Fallen Angel: The Life And Death Of Chris Whitley

The cult Texan singer took the blues to strange new places. But he never had a chance to conquer his demons.

A snapshot of Chris Whitley performing at a poky club in downtown Manhattan. He’s wearing the exact same clothes as earlier that afternoon when I’d interviewed him at a Greenwich Village coffee shop: white singlet, skin-tight jeans and tatty sneakers. He’d seemed to me a gentle, fragile soul, soft-spoken but also jittery and intense, chugging espressos and chain-soaking Marlboros. He was as wired on stage, but commanding too, holding the small audience transfixed, among them Bono and The Edge who had interrupted a recording session for the show. As his two-piece band laid down a taut rhythm, Whitley wrung hellfire out of a battered Dobro guitar, his voice weeping over the tumult. Right then he sounded like nothing so much as a doomed angel.

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