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The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke has died

Andy Rourke, who played bass for British rock band The Smiths, has died. He's seen here in 2013 in New York City.
Craig Barritt
/
Getty Images for The Glenlivet
Andy Rourke, who played bass for British rock band The Smiths, has died. He's seen here in 2013 in New York City.

Andy Rourke, whose fluid bass playing helped The Smiths soar from their roots in Manchester, England, to become an influential and beloved indie rock band, has died at age 59.

Rourke had been ill with pancreatic cancer, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr said as he announced the news.

"Andy will always be remembered," Marr said via Instagram, "as a kind and beautiful soul by everyone who knew him, and as a supremely gifted musician by people who love music."

"He will never die as long as his music is heard," Smiths vocalist Morrissey said via his website. "He didn't ever know his own power, and nothing that he played had been played by someone else."

On The Smiths recordings in the 1980s, Marr said, "Andy reinvented what it is to be a bass guitar player."

Rourke performed a sort of alchemy on his bass parts, crafting propulsive lines that brimmed with melody — a sublime counterpart to Marr's jangling guitars and Morrissey's vocals. If you got lost trying to follow either of the latter, you could always count on the former to bring you home.

After The Smiths disbanded, Rourke worked on a range of projects, including stints playing with Marr and Morrissey during their solo careers. He also played with other artists, from Sinéad O'Connor and Badly Drawn Boy to New Order bassist Peter Hook.

Rourke spoke about the angst in The Smiths' music

The Smiths were only together from 1982 to 1987, recording four stellar albums — a breakneck pace that Rourke later attributed as a main reason the band couldn't stay together.

Recounting the band's origins, Rourke told MOJO magazine that he had taken lessons in classical guitar but later switched to bass after realizing that the bassist in an early band he was in with Marr could only play one song: "Don't Believe A Word," by Thin Lizzy.

"I just got really into it," Rourke said — and that included an appreciation for jazz and funk. "I started listening to Stanley Clarke and, dare I say, Level 42 — though not for very long. I was just pushing the boundaries, seeing where I could take it."

When he played with The Smiths, Rourke said, there was a natural tension between him and the drummer, Mike Joyce. For the first year, the two rarely spoke.

"It created quite a dynamic but aggressive sound. Even on the quiet ones there's some kind of angst there between us, so not talking much probably helped us. There was nothing contrived about it. We were dueling off each other," Rourke added.

As news of Rourke's death spread, Joyce tweeted, "Andy's left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate."

Marr mourns his longtime friend

"Andy and I met as schoolboys in 1975. We were best friends, going everywhere together," Marr said as he announced Rourke's death.

At age 15, Marr said, he moved in with Rourke. The two friends played together in a few bands in the Manchester area, before writing their musical legacy with Morrissey and Joyce in The Smiths.

"Andy and I spent all our time studying music, having fun, and working on becoming the best musicians we could possibly be," Marr said.

It was "an absolute privilege" to watch Rourke play bass, he said.

"Well done Andy. We'll miss you brother," Marr added.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.