With his caustic wit and literate intensity, Warren Zevon stood apart from his friends and peers in the West Coast rock community, many of whom were signed to Elektra/Asylum. The classically trained, Chicago-born pianist cut his self-titled Asylum debut album in 1976, with his good friend Jackson Browne producing. Warren Zevon was an unqualified masterpiece, with songs like “The French Inhaler” and “Carmelita” exploring the dark, drug-fueled underbelly of the El Lay scene (ably represented on the album by such guests as Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Bonnie Raitt). The album’s splenetic edge kept it from mainstream commercial success, though three of its songs were later covered by labelmate Linda Ronstadt, including her 1977 Top 40 hit, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.”
Zevon’s popular breakthrough deservedly came with 1978’s Excitable Boy. The album – again helmed by Browne – made it to the top 10 on the Billboard 200 and earned RIAA platinum status on the strength of brilliantly macabre and sardonic rock ‘n’ roll tales like “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” and the all-time classic “Werewolves of London.” 1980’s Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School followed, further displaying Zevon’s tender heart and barbed humor on classics like “Jeannie Needs A Shooter” (co-written by longtime fan Bruce Springsteen) and “Gorilla, You’re A Desperado,” famously penned as a playful swipe at his pals, The Eagles, four of whom appear on the album.
Stand In The Fire, a ferocious live document, was followed by 1982’s The Envoy, the last album of Zevon’s long relationship with Asylum. Though it underperformed in its time, the powerfully cathartic collection eventually came to be appreciated as a lost classic and one of the finest of Zevon’s career.
Zevon, who had long battled alcoholism, then took a five-year hiatus from which he returned sober and reenergized, releasing a new series of acclaimed albums. In 2002, he was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma. However, he refused treatment and set to work on what would be his final album, 2003’s Grammy Award-winning The Wind. Warren Zevon died at his home in Los Angeles on September 7, 2003; he was 56.