John Martyn, 60, the maverick singer-songwriter who spent most of his career battling against drugs and alcoholism, has died.
He was widely regarded as one of the most soulful and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation, and was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours.
In 2003, he had to have his right leg amputated below the knee after a cyst the size of a golf ball burst (although Martyn told some reporters he lost the limb after crashing his car into a stray cow).
“It only affected me getting in and out of bed, cars and theatres,” he told the Daily Mirror shortly after the operation.
“I wasn’t too pleased about it, but whatever happens to your bod, happens. I’d have died if they hadn’t cut the leg off. My blood would have been poisoned.”
The singer, who took to performing in a wheelchair, told Q Magazine he had no regrets.
“If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting,” he said. “I’d probably be a great deal richer but I’d have had far less fun and I’d be making really dull music.”
The magazine, which described his 1973 Solid Air album as “the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug,” named it as the 67th best British album of all time in 2000.
His music, an amalgam of folk, blues and funk, has been cited as an influence by artists as varied as U2, Portishead and Eric Clapton.
Over a 40-year career he released 20 studio albums and worked with artists such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, and Phil Collins.
Born Iain David McGeachy September 11, 1948, in New Malden, Surrey, England, he moved to Scotland to live with his grandmother, after his parents – both opera singers – divorced when he was five.
He signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records in 1967 and released his first album, London Conversation, the following year.
By 1970 Martyn had developed a wholly original and idiosyncratic sound, comprising an acoustic guitar run through a fuzzbox, phase-shifter, and Echoplex.
It was first heard on Stormbringer, the 1970 album he made with his then-wife, Beverley Kutner. She also appeared on The Road to Ruin, which came out later the same year.
Martyn’s marriage to Beverley finally broke down at the end of the 1970s and, according to his official Web site, he “hit the self-destruct button.” He described it as “a very dark period in my life,” which became the inspiration for his Grace And Danger album.
“I was in a dreadful emotional state over that record. I was hardly in control of my own actions. The reason they finally released it was because I freaked: Please get it out. I don’t give a damn about how sad it makes you feel – it’s what I’m about: the direct communication of emotion,” he said at the time.
Phil Collins played drums and sang backing vocals on Grace And Danger and subsequently played drums on and produced Martyn’s next album, Glorious Fool, in 1981.
He had left Island earlier in the year and recorded Glorious Fool and Well Kept Secret for WEA, although he returned to Island to record Sapphire (1984), Piece By Piece (1986) and the live Foundations (1987), before the label dropped him in 1988.
In 2001, Martyn appeared on the track “Deliver Me” by Faithless keyboard player and DJ Sister Bliss.
In July 2006, the documentary “Johnny Too Bad” was screened by the BBC. The program documented the period surrounding the operation to amputate his right leg below the knee and the writing and recording of On The Cobbles (2004), an album described by Peter Marsh on the BBC Music Web site as “the strongest, most consistent set he’s come up with in years.”
Martyn regularly performed in Scotland – a place he considered home – and appeared in concert at last year’s Celtic Connections festival.
On 4 February 2008, he received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. The award was presented by Phil Collins.
The BBC Web site says of Martyn, “His heartfelt performances have either suggested or fully demonstrated an idiosyncratic genius.”