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James Gurley (December 22, 1939 – December 20, 2009) was an American musician. He is best known as the guitar player of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a psychedelic/acid rock band from San Francisco.

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Early life

James Gurley was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 22, 1939. As a boy he sometimes worked with his father who was a stunt car driver. Occasionally this work entailed performing as a human hood ornament with a helmet as his father sped through a flaming plywood wall. The stunt was popular with crowds but not with James - particularly not the day he knocked out his two front teeth and singed his hair to the point where he had to shave his head completely.

At the age of nineteen James took up the guitar and began practicing long hours while listening to old Lightnin' Hopkins records. He never had a guitar lesson, preferring to learn by ear. He spent four years at Detroit's Catholic Brothers of the Holy Cross, studying to be a priest.

Years with Big Brother

In 1962, he moved to San Francisco with his wife Nancy and became part of the coffee-house circuit, playing in the folk and country blues tradition. For a time, he played with J.P. Pickens and the Progressive Bluegrass Boys.

In the summer of 1965, Chet Helms brought James to 1090 Page Street to meet Peter Albin and Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and shortly thereafter, he joined the band.

Relationship with Janis Joplin

A few weeks after Janis Joplin joined the band, James began having an affair with her. Once James and Janis became involved, he moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and moved in with Janis. According to Janis, that arrangement ended the day Nancy came barging through the front door of Janis's apartment. "What an embarrassing situation," Janis told Jim Langdon later. "His old lady comes marching into my bedroom with the kid and the dog and confronts us." James continued his affair with Janis for a while, but eventually returned to Nancy, who forgave both him and Janis, with whom she had a close friendship. In 1966, the members of Big Brother, along with their wives and children, all moved into a single house in Lagunitas, California.

After Big Brother

In 1970, James' wife Nancy died of a heroin overdose. James was charged with murder for injecting the drugs, and spent two years fighting the charges before being sentenced to probation. He remarried and had another child in 1972.

After he was involved in a number of independent projects. In 1981, he started a New Wave band, Red Robin and The Worms. He played bass with Robin Reed on vocals, Mitch McKendry aka Mitch Master on lead guitar, Jerome Jim Holt on Sax, and James's son Hongo Gurley (from first wife Nancy) on drums. He recorded with New Age drummer Muruga Booker and was actively involved in writing and recording solo work. In May 1997, he stopped touring with Big Brother to devote his full attention to these projects. The first offering was entitled "Pipe Dreams" and was released in January 2000.

James Gurley died on December 20, 2009 from a heart attack at his home in Palm Desert, California, just two days before his 70th birthday.

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