Kelley Looney, the bass player in Steve Earle’s band, has died at the age of 61. Looney’s passing was confirmed by Earle’s violin player, Eleanor Whitmore. Whitmore wrote in a heartbreaking Facebook post on November 4, “This one hurts a lot. Our dear friend & bandmate for the past decade has left this mortal coil. I don’t have a lot of words yet, but this picture makes me smile. Love to everyone that knew our sweet Kelley Looney.”
According to Looney’s Facebook page, he was based in his home city of Nashville, Tennessee, at the time of his death. Looney says on that page that he was still performing with Steve Earle & The Dukes. He describes himself as a “Music Making Sensation.” Looney had been with Steve Earle and The Dukes since 1996. He recorded on Earle’s efforts, “Copperhead Road,” “The Hard Way,” “Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator, I Feel Alright, El Corazón, Transcendental Blues, and Jerusalem.” In addition to touring with Earle, Looney had toured with Deana Carter.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Earle Once Said That He Would Consider Quitting Performing if He Lost Looney
Earle was scheduled to perform with his band in Washington D.C. on November 5, the day after Looney’s tragic death. In a 2014 interview, Earle said that he would stop playing if he ever lost Looney as a bass player. Earle went on to say that he felt as though Looney was the glue that held his band together.
2. During Earle’s Battle With Drugs, Looney Said He Never Noticed Any Changes in Earle’s Ability to Perform
In an October 2000 interview with Magnet Magazine, Looney was quoted as saying of Earle’s genius, “[Steve could always go] from a blues/rock thing to a more pop kind of thing to a bluegrass thing to an Irish ballad or upbeat thing. But he’s really honed—not redefined but honed—his takes on the different kinds of music he’s always dabbled in.”
While speaking about Earle’s well-documented drug problems, Looney said, “I never noticed that the dark days were that dark, because there was still a continuity going on there. He still went out and did his shows, and I always thought he did them well.” In the same interview, Looney bizarrely joked that Gatorade tasted “like boogers.”
3. Looney Has Said His Musical Tastes Included Motown, British Invasion & Led Zeppelin
On his official website, Looney says that his father had been a bass player who played with Eddy Arnold and Claude Thornhill. Looney described his musical tastes in his youth as the British Invasion, Motown, as well as Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Looney said that he got his first bass guitar for Christmas in 1973, a year earlier he received an electric guitar as a gift.
4. Looney Once Opened for Heart
Looney began his professional music career as a touring musician with Eddy Shaver, the pair met while they were in college together. Shaver passed away in December 2000 at the age of 38. From there, Looney played bass for Connie Smith at the Grand Ole Opry between 1982 and 1987. In the summer of 1987, Looney toured alongside Tom Kimmel in support of Heart. In 1988, Looney first began working with Steve Earle.
In 2014, Looney released his first solo album, “Black Sheep Blues.” On his website, Looney said that he wrote those songs that were featured on the album between the 1990s and 2012.
5. Looney’s Colleague Chris Masterson Said He Is a Better Man for Getting to Work With & Know Looney
Fellow musician, Keith Christopher, said-in part of Looney in a similarly heartbreaking Facebook post, “So much love for Kelley Looney, and as you know, he gave twice as much back.”
While Earle’s guitar player, Chris Masterson, said of Looney, “I’m gutted. I don’t even know what to say right now. RIP Kelley Looney. We’ve been in the same band for over a decade and shared so much life together. (Not to mention desserts). I’m a better musician and a better man for the time I got to spend with him. So much love to his family and his bandmates & friends. Hug the ones you love tonight. ?.” On Earle’s official website, it says that the most recent version of Earle’s band with Looney, Whitmore and Masterson, is “possibly [the] best” incarnation.