Bill Chinnock, 59

Maine rock 'n' roll icon Bill Chinnock dies at 59

Reader Comments (below) By DAVID HENCH, Staff Writer

Friday, March 9, 2007

Bill Chinnock, a lifelong rock 'n' roller who was an icon of the Maine music scene, died Wednesday at his home in Yarmouth at age 59.

Chinnock's high-energy rock and passionate blues spanned five decades. He cut his teeth as a performer on the Jersey shore with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, played the club scene in New York City and created country albums in Nashville. But he remained devoted to his adopted state of Maine.

"Truthfully, he was one of the best singers I've ever played with, just a great voice," said John Kumnick, a Kennebunk bass player who joined Chinnock's band in New York City in 1982 and played with him on and off since then. "He knew how to connect with people."

Chinnock started playing clubs in Maine in the early 1970s and moved here full time in 1974. His shows drew throngs of dedicated fans and won respect from critics for their energy, showcasing his musical and songwriting talents.

One reviewer said Chinnock was "all energy. When he wails the blues, he does it with the conviction of a lifelong indigent."

In recent years Chinnock struggled with Lyme disease, a chronic condition that ultimately attacked his immune system and left him in severe pain. He took his own life Wednesday, friends said.

Chinnock was a self-taught innovator who, besides mastering the guitar and the harmonica, also made films and dabbled in computer graphics. He had his own studio and also worked as a producer. His sister, Caroline Payne of Yarmouth, recalled an older brother who used to playfully give her noogies and who took care of their parents as they aged. "He was such an incredibly talented person, and a great brother, a beautiful brother," she said. "He was a funny, wonderful, entertaining guy." She remembers growing up in the Jersey shore music scene when Springsteen used to be the opening act for her brother's band. It was a heady time. The band practiced in the basement while her mother cooked up plates of food for the musicians. Eventually, Chinnock left his band and his place was taken by Springsteen. The band went on to superstardom as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Payne said her brother was never envious of the band's record-breaking success. "I never saw him have any of that," she said. "I never saw any frustration in him, any jealousy like that. He thought Bruce Springsteen was phenomenal." What was unfortunate, she said, was that her brother's music would sometimes be described as a Springsteen imitation, even though he was genuine and original. "He was a tough taskmaster," said Steve Fazio, a sax player who was with Chinnock when he signed briefly with Atlantic Records in 1980. "He had this perfectionist streak in him, which is probably why didn't make it nationally real big. He stuck to his soul. He didn't sell out and get glitzy like the record companies wanted." But he had the pipes, Fazio recalled. "He was filling in for Michael McDonald with the Doobie Brothers when Michael couldn't make it," Fazio said. Chinnock was not confined to a given musical style, playing blues, boogie, rock and country. "I thought his best was blues, but he was very versatile," his sister said. Chinnock married into one of the seminal country music families in Maine when he married Dick Curless' daughter, Terry. The couple have been estranged for months, but Chinnock was close to the elder Curless and they often played together. "He was a real inspiration to my brother," Caroline Payne said. Chinnock, who also had a home and studio in Fairfield, came down with Lyme disease eight years ago, she said. "It just took a bad course for him, branched into other areas and it really took him," she said. "I think he suffered a lot of pain. It affected his nerves." Despite the pain, he continued playing throughout his struggle with the disease. "He fought a courageous battle," his sister said. Their mother, who had lived with Chinnock and with whom he was very close, died about 10 days ago. Kumnick said he talked to Chinnock last week. Chinnock complained of pain, and he wasn't one to complain. "Physically, I always thought he was very strong, and he had a tremendous amount of energy. Lyme changed that. It became a very pervasive thing in his life the last six or seven years," Kumnick said. The nature of his friend's death is puzzling, he said. "It really seemed the opposite of the Bill that I know," he said. "I don't know if 'indomitable' is the word, but he was always up, always energetic, always doing something." Chinnock's wife also suffered from a milder form of the condition years ago, but she recovered. Chinnock made 13 albums and in 1987 won an Emmy for his song, "Somewhere in the Night." A duet he later recorded with Roberta Flack became a theme song for the soap opera "Guiding Light." His albums include "Blues," "Badlands," "Alive at the Loft," "Dime Store Heroes," "Livin' in the Promised Land" and "Out on the Borderline." In addition to performing at venues in Maine and around the country, Chinnock wrote music for films and television. Chinnock is survived by his 9-year-old son William in Bangor and his 32-year-old son John, who lives in New Jersey and plays rhythm guitar. Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: