Jet Black, the original drummer for enduring UK punk outfit The Stranglers, has died aged 84, it has been confirmed.
In a statement, his representative confirmed the musician had passed away “peacefully” on Tuesday 6 December at his country home in Wales. He leaves behind his wife Ava, and his two children Charlotte and Anthony.
Black’s death comes two years after The Stranglers’ keyboard player Dave Greenfield died at the age of 71 after testing positive for coronavirus. Greenfield had contracted the virus following a prolonged stay in hospital for heart problems.
Jet Black, who was born Brian Duffy, was a founding member of the Guildford group, playing on numerous hit singles including “Peaches,” “Golden Brown,” “Five Minutes,” “Strange Little Girl” and “No More Heroes,” in addition to the band’s legend-enshrining albums such as Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes, Black And White and The Raven.
He last performed with the band in 2015, announcing his retirement a few years later due to ill health.
In a statement online, his ex-bandmates described him as an “elder statesman” of British music.
Bassist and co-frontman JJ Burnel said: “After years of ill health, Jet has finally been released. He was a force of nature, an inspiration. The Stranglers would not have been if it wasn’t for him. The most erudite of men. A rebel with many causes.”
Sil Willcox, the band’s manager, added: “Jet Black was the real deal. Astute in business, a talented drummer and an obsessive perfectionist. I will cherish the times we planned, pranked, ate, drank and laughed on so many great nights together.”
The Stranglers formed in west Surrey in 1974 and went on to became an integral part of the riotous UK punk and new wave scenes.
Despite the indolent, youthful rage associated with the genre, Black – a semi-professional drummer in the late 1950s and early 1960s – was in fact by then a successful businessman in his mid-30s. He owned a fleet of ice cream vans and later an off-license called The Jackpot. In the early days, the Stranglers used one of the vans as a tour bus and his shop as their headquarters.
Speaking to the band’s official website in a 2010 interview, Black said he never doubted the decision to shift his focus away from business and back into music.
“Once I had made the decision, and then the commitment, I then pretty much burnt my bridges, there was no turning back,” he said. “I told myself that one way or another I was going to succeed. Now, there were many, many problems, but my thoughts were focused on how to solve them, not on questioning whether I had made the right decision.”
Supporting US punk stars the Ramones and Patti Smith at their earliest UK gigs, The Strangers’ musical virtuosity set them apart from the more DIY aesthetic of their peers.
After original frontman Hugh Cornwell left in 1990, the band continued touring and recording. According to Cornwell’s autobiography, when he phoned Black to announce his resignation, the drummer’s response was simply “OK, fine.”
In 2007, the band announced that Black was suffering with heart issues and he took a step back from performing, being temporarily replaced by his drum technician. He resumed his duties full-time for the band’s tours in 2010 and 2011, but the following year he was taken to hospital after falling ill just before he was due on stage in Oxford.
The musician, who had suffered respiratory issues since childhood, began to restrict his live work to the UK, although he vowed to “carry on until I’m incapable of doing it.”
Despite difficulties in performing towards the end of his career, he remained a fan favourite. Audiences would often chant his name as he took his place behind the kit, until he finally retired in 2015, relinquishing the drum stool to Jim Macaulay.
Black wrote several books chronicling his time in the band – most notably The Stranglers’ infamous 1980 arrest in Nice, France, where they had allegedly incited a riot.
An enthusiastic furniture designer, he also patented the Jet Black Power Bass Drum Pedal.
When asked how he would like be remembered by the band’s website 12 years ago, Black replied: “I guess if we are actually remembered, then that will do.”