Wednesday, June 19, 2024

RIP James Chance

The following first appeared yesterday on the James Chance Official Website...

James Chance, the singer, saxophonist, bandleader and composer who in the late 1970s emerged from New York’s "No Wave" scene to embody the genre known as "punk funk," died today [June 18] at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in New York. 

His death was announced by his brother David Siegfried of Chicago, who did not specify a cause of death but noted that the musician's health had been in decline for several years

James Alan Siegfried was born April 20, 1953, in Milwaukee, Wis. He began playing piano under the tutelage of nuns at his Catholic elementary school and took up alto saxophone at age 18.

... He moved to New York in 1975 and began using the name James Chance. He formed a quartet called Flaming Youth before joining No Wave progenitors Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, featuring singer, guitarist, and lyricist Lydia Lunch. (Recordings by this lineup were issued by ZE Records in 1979 as an EP, Pre Teenage Jesus And The Jerks.) 

In 1977, after a period of study with saxophonist David Murray, James formed the first version of the Contortions with guitarists Jody Harris and Pat Place, bassist George Scott III (deceased), drummer Don Christiansen, and keyboards player/vocalist Adele Bertei. 

Reviewing a May 1978 performance by the Contortions at Artists Space in Lower Manhattan, Roy Trakin wrote in New York Rocker magazine: "Mr. Chance immediately established his personal space at the top of his performance by kicking out all those artist types sitting crosslegged within about a six-foot radius of his band, as he snarled and smirked with unmerciful obnoxiousness. The band, meanwhile, lay down a thick mixture of semi-syncopated, twisted swirls of sound, creating a tension of unfinished beats and incomplete rhythms." 

Initially, the naturally shy and introverted frontman became known as much for his on-stage aggression as for his music. 

In 1979, an altered Contortions lineup (minus Adele Bertei and with David Hofstra on bass) released the debut album Buy on ZE Records. In the same year, ZE released "Off White" by James White and the Blacks, and the musician would toggle between these two appellations for the remainder of his career. 

"James was the first artist I signed and provided the blueprint for future ZE Records," says label founder Michael Zilkha. “I was seeking a fusion of disco and punk, and James was too. Once he transformed the Contortions into the slower and slinkier James White and the Blacks, it paved the way for my other bands and a slew of contemporaries. James was serious and devoted to his craft and a brilliant and original musician. It was an honor to work with him, and I will miss him greatly."

The Contortions' breakup was accompanied by acrimony over issues of credit and compensation. But any hard feelings would dissipate with time and James' occasional reunions with the former members. 

Beginning in 2003, James reunited with original members of the Contortions to perform a series of engagements, including two performances at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival in Los Angeles. James later reunited with friends Deborah Harry and Chris Stein for several guest appearances with Blondie, and he continued to tour internationally with several groups, including the French "Le Contortions," until 2019. 

His final live performance is believed to have taken place in March 2019 in Utrecht, The Netherlands. 

Guitarist Pat Place of the Bush Tetras writes: "I'm so sad to hear of James’ passing. Working with him in the early days of the Contortions was a roller coaster ride of fun, creativity and insanity. His loss is a great one for the downtown community and the music world."

Although James Chance recorded prolifically over three decades, releasing 20 albums during his 40-year career, only the ZE and ROIR labels issued more than one album of his music. Other releases appeared on small independent labels such as Invisible (Live Aux Bains Douches, 1980), Enemy (Molotov Cocktail Lounge, 1996), and True Groove (The Flesh Is Weak, 2016). 

 From 1979, here's a live version of "Contort Yourself" ...



Anonymous said...

RIP to the wildest, a real one, skronk forever!

Eden Bee said...

aww I loved him.

XTC said...

Proper legend. His shit was so extreme it could barely be called music. More full frontal assault than performance art. Melt Yourself Down and let James show you how to do it.

JM said...

This is sad. He was great.

ScotRob said...

a Peppermint Lounge performance is one of the highlights of the great "Downtown 81" film

XTC said...

I read that he had been ailing for several years. Hoping he would pull through. True original, proper legend.

Urno Talbot said...

Sometimes he'd jump offstage, one time I had to punch him for hitting me. He was good to Anya.

Chris Flash said...

I met him at a 2016 gig at La Plaza that included Lydia Lunch and Missing Foundation. He kindly posed with a copy of The SHADOW, though he had never heard of us.