Friday, October 14, 2005

That big old jet airliner just carried him way too far away.

Paul Pena, the man who penned "Jet Airliner" for Steve Miller, is dead. No I hadn't heard of him either. Spawning an army of lite rock air guitarists is legacy enough for any man, but Pena's story is fairly amazing:

Almost completely blind since birth and plagued by illnesses most of his life, he proved to be a natural musician, singing and teaching himself several instruments. In the late 1960's, he was in a band that opened for big-time acts including the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa. Blues artists ranging from T-Bone Walker to B. B. King to Bonnie Raitt recognized his talents, hiring him to play guitar in their bands.

In 1971 Mr. Pena moved to San Francisco, where he played many gigs, frequently opening for Jerry Garcia's and Merle Saunders' bands. Mr. Pena became interested in throat singing when he heard a Tuvan broadcast on his shortwave radio in 1984. Later he found a Tuvan record, playing it countless times until he learned how to throat sing, which involves producing several distinct vocal-cord sounds simultaneously. In 1993 he demonstrated his technique to Kongar-ol Ondar, one of the foremost throat singers in the world. Mr. Ondar was impressed with Pena, nicknaming him Earthquake and inviting him to Tuva to participate in the annual competition.

His 1995 journey to Tuva, where he won awards in the contest and charmed local residents who were delighted with this foreigner who had mastered their art form, is recounted in Genghis Blues.

Genghis Blues was a documentary Pena made about his Tuvan experiences, and it was nominated for an Oscar in 1999. Keep on keepin' on....


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