PALM DESERT, Calif., Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Guitarist James Gurley, known for his work with Big Brother & the Holding Company, died in Palm Desert, Calif., at the age of 69, the band confirmed.
Big Brother singer-guitarist Sam Andrew remembered Gurley as a "pioneer" whose electric guitar talents were vital to the psychedelic rock band's successes, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
"James was the spirit and the essence of the band in its early days," Andrew said on Big Brother's Web site. "James was the most unusual person I ever met, a pioneer, a real original."
Country Joe & the Fish guitarist Barry Melton once dubbed Gurley as a groundbreaking individual in the world of psychedelic rock, comparable to the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin.
"The music is kind of out there in space, and James Gurley was the first man in space! He's the Yuri Gagarin of psychedelic guitar," Melton said in a 1997 Los Angeles Times interview.
Big Brother disbanded in 1968 after lead singer Janis Joplin left the band for a solo career. A new incarnation of the band later reunited for several years starting in 1969 and toured together in 1987.
The Times said Gurley, who died Sunday of a heart attack, is survived by his wife, Margaret; and his sons, Django and Hongo.