Jet Black, drummer with British punk and new wave pioneers the Stranglers, has died at the age of 84.
A leading light of the mid ‘70s to early ‘80s musical movement, Black retired from performing in 2015 as a result of ill health, then retired completely three years later. His real name was Brian John Duffy.
“As the ‘elder statesmen’ of the group, Jet was already a successful businessman in the Guildford area when the Stranglers formed in 1974,” the Stranglers said in an official statement on Thursday. “Jet owned a fleet of ice cream vans – one of which, as many fans will fondly remember, was used to tour the U.K. in the early years. Jet also owned a [package liquor store], the upstairs apartment of which doubled as Stranglers H.Q. in the early days.”
Black never regretted abandoning his business career to go into music. “Once I had made the decision, and then the commitment, I then pretty much burnt my bridges. There was no turning back,” Black told the Stranglers’ website in 2010. “I told myself that one way or another I was going to succeed. Now, there were many, many problems, but my thoughts were focused on how to solve them – not on questioning whether I had made the right decision.”
Lifelong lung issues ultimately contributed to Black’s retirement, but not before he helped define the Stranglers’ approach. “Despite difficulties in performing towards the end of his career, Jet’s charismatic charm resonated with fans who would endlessly chant his name as he took his place at the drums” the band statement noted. “As a drummer in jazz bands during the ’60s, Jet’s playing style helped shape the Stranglers’ unique sound.”
Bassist and vocalist J.J. Burnell argued that “the Stranglers would not have been if it wasn’t for him.” He called Black “the most erudite of men” and a “rebel with many causes.” Guitarist and vocalist Baz Warne remembered how Black “took me under his wing over two decades ago and I never really came out from under it. I’m so very sad he’s gone.”
Warne said he last spoke to Black just three weeks ago, and “he was laughing and wanting to hear all the news, still interested and involved. It’s been my privilege to have known and worked with him, and to have called him a friend, and I’ll miss him until the end of my days.”
Stranglers manager Sil Wilcox also described Black as “the real deal, astute in business, a talented drummer and an obsessive perfectionist. These are only a few of the talents of the man whom I was privileged to have as my mentor and my dear friend.”
Black admitted to having had one unrealized ambition, which was to “do a collaborative thing with a brass band, just because the whole idea sounds nuts.” In the end, however, he stood proud of the Stranglers’ legacy: “Whether they like us or hate us, they can’t say we never succeeded.”
Black passed on Tuesday at home in Wales. He leaves wife Ava and two children, Charlotte and Anthony.
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