Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chris Gaffney Has Cancer; Please Donate

[UPDATE: Chris Gaffney passed away on the morning of April 17. This really hurts. I used to be a music critic — in fact, I'm pretty sure I reviewed one of his albums back in the Nineties — but I drifted away from music for a few years. But when I heard the Hacienda Brothers, I instantly loved them and they helped me remember why I had once been so passionate about it. Now I realize that the two times I saw the Haciendas are all I'm going to get. That's hard to take. It takes me back to similar moments, like that awful instant I was informed of Stevie Ray Vaughan's death, or when I picked up the paper and read Albert Collins' obituary, and realized that those wonderful, glorious nights I reveled in their brilliance were gone forever. Yeah, I still have their albums, but anyone who lives here in the "Live Music Capital of the World" knows it just isn't the same.]

ORIGINAL POST: This is the first non-beer post I've ever made here. Actually, it sort of beer-related — I've certainly drunk plenty of beer while dancing to this guy's music.

Chris Gaffney is a very cool musician from Oakland, who has made both some wonderful solo albums and currently is in a killer outfit called the Hacienda Brothers, who play this really unique music that is a blend of 60s soul and honky-tonk country. They're quite popular in Austin: I've enjoyed them at the Continental Club, South by Southwest, and the Grand Emporium in Kansas City. You should really go out and buy his stuff now.

But before you do that, Chris could use your money in another way – he was recently diagnosed with liver cancer, and he needs cash for chemotherapy. Please, please, please go to and contribute to his medical expenses. You'll be doing your part to keep some great music playing in our world.

UPDATE: I completely overlooked this Austin event:

Austin benefit for Gaff at The Oaks
When: all day Sunday, May 25th.

All proceeds are going directly to Gaffney's expenses.

So far confirmed are Ponty Bone, Billy Bacon & Forbidden Pigs, Rosie Flores, Dave Insley & the Careless Smokers, Ted Roddy, & members of The Iguanas.

Any bands interested in supporting, please contact Steve@
The Oaks is located at 10206 FM 973 N. Austin, Texas 78653 (512) 278-8788

ANOTHER UPDATE: I meant to add this some time ago. It is written by a friend of mine who played on one of Gaffney's albums. This is reprinted by permission of The Rockdale Reporter.

So long, Gaff — not well-known, but well-loved

By Ken Esten Cooke
Reporter Publisher

 Are there honky tonks in heaven? If there are, Chris Gaffney will be booked to sing real soon.
 Chris, or “Gaff” as most of his friends called him, died last Thursday after a very aggressive form of liver cancer and complications from a fall during chemo treatments. It’s a shame he’s gone so soon, but anyone who ever got to see him isn’t likely to forget.
 He had one of those voices that sticks in your mind, not super-slick, but soulful, like a Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash. He sounded like a sand-papered Ray Price sometimes.
 He just never had those guys’ level of fame. But to hear him sing, especially a ballad, was to experience a bit of heartbreak.
 A quote in an article in the Orange County Register was dead-on: “In a lot of ways, he was the sort of guy who music critics dream of walking into a bar and finding their whole lives,” said Jim Washburn, a music critic who befriended Gaffney and saw him play scores of shows. “Someone who’s just there and is undiscovered and phenomenal.
 “It gets kind of grating when the decades pass and he’s still undiscovered, but that was also part of Chris’ charm,” Washburn said. “On any night, you could go into a bar in Orange County and see one of the best shows you’d ever seen in your life.”
 I was lucky to get to see quite a few of Gaff’s shows, though mostly years ago, before family and business obligations brought me back here. When I was in-between apartments after joining a new band, Gaff let me crash at his place for several weeks. And on nights when I wasn’t gigging, I’d tag along to his shows or follow him to the recording studio.
 The Arizona-born singer had an encyclopedic knowledge of music and soaked in all the nuances of famous voices. But he wasn’t a cheap impersonator. Gaff’s voice was honest and heartfelt.
 And he wasn’t a prima dona either. He worked manual labor jobs during the day and performed at night. And Gaff always had the attitude that he could go back to that and it wouldn’t damage his ego one bit.
 A band I was in had the chance to back up Gaffney on a short Southwest tour. Occasionally, he’d throw in an exaggerated Johnny Bush tremolo and look back at us with a wry smile.
 And he was funny. After one late night, I asked him the next day how his wife Julie reacted.
 “You know when you see a badger backed into its hole and think you’ll give it a kiss on its cute little furry nose?” he asked, with a subdued smile, drawing on a cig. “It was kind of like that.”
 But he also told me he was doing his dangdest to “make this one work.” He’d been to the altar twice before and slowed down on the touring at that time to try and make an honest go of this marriage.
 Gaff was also a huge sports fan and we’d talk about his favorite Oakland Raiders. We’d talk about boxing his Golden Glove days and he’d point himself out in the front rows of the televised “Fight Night at the Forum” in Los Angeles. Unlike most musicians, he always seemed just as excited to meet someone well-known from the sports world as from the music business.
 Fifty-seven is too early to be gone from this earth. But we’re not much in control of that.
 Now Gaff is in a better place now and he’ll add his smoky voice to the choir of angels.
 Rest in peace, brother. (See Gaffney sing 'What's Wrong with Right?' here.)


Anonymous said...

This was one of the best articles written about Chris. You're feeling it in the heart like so many others.
Godspeed Chris Gaffney. You won't be replaced anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

32 Years a friend. Scattered memories.

The Metro Cafe. The Phantom Herd. Packed in to a small bar and when Chis began to sing I knew it was magic. What I didn't know is , he would be one of the most special people I would ever know.

A restaurant in Newport Beach. Upstairs eating dinner. Asked who was playing downstairs that night. Was told it was a private party and someone named Chris Gaffney was playing. I sent a note saying , "come and have dinner with us". He did and ate all my lobster and then escorted us down to what was a prom he was playing for. At one point during a long guitar solo he stepped off the stage,and drug me onto the dance floor. He whispered in my ear, "if I had known you then I would have taken you to prom",and returned to the stage.

One afternoon in Huntington Beach the phone rang and it was Chris. He asked if he could come by and use my violin , because he felt like learning to play. While I cleaned my jacuzzi in the back yard on what was a warm summer day he did just that.

One afternoon the phone rang and Chis said lets go to the beach. We walked to the corner store bought a six pack and leaned against the wall at 7th st. and drank and talked until the beach patrol politely poured out the beer and asked us to move along. lol.

One day I got yet another call from a stranded Gaff asking for a ride. I picked him up in Newport and we began talking about how it must be difficult for him to go places and not be bugged. He asked that I drop him off at a small bar and I said , well thank goodness theres a few small bars left in town. Hence the song, about honky tonks in town.

Another call , stranded with no way to get to a gig. I drove him to Perqs and he laughingly let me carry his quitar in to the club. He seemed to get a kick out of it.

I broke my foot while listening to Jimmy Reed and had to be taken to the hospital. Some how he heard of this and at 7 in the am showed up at my house to see if I was ok. He was angry that the right person had not picked me up from the hospital and for the one and only time I heard Chris tell someone off. Then he quietly left.

One afternoon he called and said lets go somewhere. He took me to his high school and as we leaned against the gym wall he told me about his high school years.

Every Christmas eve day for years we would go to the mall and do our last minute shopping together.

After I had a bad break up I left a phone message on my answering machine that said, If your a man and not Ed McMahan hang up now. When I listened to my messages and heard that low chuckle and him say, "come hear me play" I was coaxed out of my bad mood and on the road to recovery with a night of wonderful songs and witty remarks.

So years go by and I remembered that night at the Metro, and the magic moment that was to be the first of many.

The last time I saw Chris I was at the airport and heard his name being paged over the loud speaker. I went to the gate paging him and they told me he had missed his flight and that one was full so he had to get on another, which happened to be mine. I got on the plane and saved the seat next to me and just as the door was closing he appeared accordian in tow. I had left a message at the gate that paged him saying , I said go to gate such and such. He was smiling as he walked up the aisle and sat down. We didn't say much until the bloody marys sat in front of us and then as I reached over and stirred his , he said,"since when did you go from my being my friend to my mother". We talked quietly until I got off the plane and he continued on to his destination.

I kissed him on the cheek and as I hugged him I thought he seemed so frail. He slapped me on the butt as I walked away and I laughed not looking back.

In March I had 2 dreams. There was a phone ringing and I picked it up and it there was a lot of static. I said hello, and I heard a distant voice say hello it's Chris. He said I just wanted to let you know I was missing you and I tried to book a show near you so you could come , but I could only get as close as Texas. I hadn't spoken to Chris in a while and I got on the Hacienda Brothers web site and was not surprised to see the only tour dates were 4 and they were all in Texas. The next night I drempt again of a phone call and it was very hard to hear because of the static , but I heard his voice say, our connection is getting worse , I can barely hear you. I said don't worry I will see you again someday.

I could go on and on about Chris and his music but anyone who saw him knows how magical he was on stage. What I hope from this ,{sorry long} , personal diary of the times I got to share with this man ,is how special he was in this world.

Condolences to Julie, Greg, Erica, and Helen. I cannot imagine how you must feel.