Ralph Carney, Multi-instrumentalist and Tom Waits Collaborator, Dies at 61
The innovative multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney, known best for his collaborations with Tom Waits, died this morning. Early reports suggest his passing was a result of injuries sustained in an accident. He was 61.
“Our family and friends are all devastated,” his nephew, the Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney wrote in a statement. “He was an immensely talented musician, deeply thoughtful and funny. He will be missed by many. He inspired me. Without him I never would have listened to the music I do or even considered playing it ... We are all heartbroken. I’ll miss you Ralph.”
Carney reportedly died peacefully in a Portland hospital, surrounded by family.
The musician, who was easily recognized by his enormous sideburns, primarily played sax and clarinet. But he also dabbled with a variety of other instruments, especially rare ones. His music career began in Akron, Ohio, where he grew up, in the '70s. There he was a founding member of the new wave band Tin Huey. By the '80s, he became closely associated with Tom Waits, playing on Waits' Rain Dogs, Frank's Wild Years and Mule Variations.
Throughout his career, Carney released seven solo records, beginning with 1987's Happiness Finally Came to Them, while his most recent album was his 2012 Dave Coulter collaboration, Secret Language.
Carney was also a prolific sessions musician, and performed or recorded with many artists including the B-52s, the Kronos Quartet, Elvis Costello, Galaxie 500, Waitresses, Jonathan Richman, St. Vincent, Yo La Tengo, Bill Laswell and his nephew's band, the Black Keys. The two worked together in 2014 to create a theme song for Netflix's Bojack Horseman.
Carney was also a member of Oranj Symphonette and fronted Carneyball Johnson. In recent years, he has released self-recorded music to Facebook and Bandcamp, and primarily played gigs at local restaurants.
A documentary film by Laura Torell titled This Is! Ralph Carney, named after his 2003 album, has been in the works for years, focusing on the musician's long and genre-spanning career.
In 2016, Carney declared that "Lament for Charleston," inspired by the June 17, 2015 shooting at a Charleston church, was among the best songs he'd ever written. “I was watching the news and when they arraigned the guy, the victims’ families were there, and they were all like, ‘I forgive you,’” Carney told KQED. “I just lost it. I was crying, and I was thinking about John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama.’”
Check out the videos below for just a small sampling of Carney's diverse body of work.
Ralph Carney, "Lament for Charleston"
Tin Huey, "I'm a Believer"
Tom Waits, "Clap Hands"
The B-52s, "Mesopotamia"
Grant Lee Buffalo, "All That I Have"
Elvis Costello, "King of America"
St. Vincent, "Digital Witness"
Thank You, Friends: Big Star's 'Third' Live
BoJack Horseman, Theme Song
Carneyball Johnson, "Blue Pepper"
Stan Ridgway, "The Drowning"
Drive-by Truckers, "It's Great To Be Alive"
Chuck Prophet, "Automatic Blues"
Jonathan Richman, Not So Much To Be Loved as to Love"
The Waitresses, "I Know What Boys Like"
This Is! Ralph Carney: Death Don't Come Easy, Trailer