Shawn Smith Of Brad, Satchel And Pigeonhed Has Died

Shawn Smith, the singer who made his name with Brad, Satchel and Pigeonhed, has passed away.

Shawn Smith Of Brad, Satchel And Pigeonhed Has Died
Phil Alexander
Sachyn Mital

Shawn Smith: 1965-2019

Shawn Smith, the singer who made his name with Brad, Satchel and Pigeonhed, has passed away. No cause of death has as yet been revealed, but the news was confirmed by fellow musicians – namely Mike Inez, The Posies' Ken Stringfellow, and The Twilight Singers.

Born in Spokane, Washington, in 1965, Shawn sang from an early age and mastered assorted instruments in his teenage years, but came to wider attention in 1992 when he formed Brad with guitarist Stone Gossard (then enjoying his first flush of success with Pearl Jam), bassist Jeremy Toback and drummer Regan Hagar (previously a member of influential folk heroes Malfunkshun).

Brad’s debut album, Shame, was recorded in 20 days and was released in April 1993. It was instantly critically acclaimed due to its loose-limbed, soulful sensibilities – Shawn’s lithe vocal delivery animating opener Buttercup and the neo-funk of 20th Century.

Shawn openly acknowledged the artists that had influenced him the most: Stevie Wonder, Steven Tyler and his hero Prince to whom he listened constantly. Another key influence was singer Andrew Wood, whom Shawn had first seen fronting Malfunkshun prior to his joining Mother Love Bone. Shawn shared a rehearsal space with the latter band and watched Andrew work at close quarters, crediting the singer as having a marked effect on his own way of writing prior to Andrew’s death in March 1990 following a heroin overdose.

When it came to making his own music, Shawn initially attempt to establish himself as a solo artist, before joining a few bands in the late-’80s just as grunge began to explode from Seattle outwards. It was this outpouring that propelled his own musical efforts forward, his association with Stone and his appearance on Brad’s debut presenting him with a genuinely internal audience.

In the same year as Shame hit the racks, Shawn also released the self-titled debut by Pigeonhed – his collaboration with producer and musician Steve Fisk. Again, the album was defined by his vocal contribution and his use of melody. The same is true of Satchel, the band he and Regan had formed prior to Brad and to which they returned when the latter were unable to tour due to Stone’s commitments with Pearl Jam.

While Shawn recorded infrequently throughout the ’90s with all three of the aforementioned bands, his first solo album, Let It All Begin, was released as that decade came to a close. It was masterful set that flew largely under the radar. A second studio set, Shield Of Thorns, followed in 2003 and featured two tracks – Leaving California and Wrapped In My Memory – which would be used in an episode of TV show The Sopranos.

Despite his considerable talent and the fact that he was viewed by his fellow Seattle musicians as one of the city’s finest singers, Shawn seemed comfortable with a modest level of fame, recording and touring as he saw fit. The singer principally used Bandcamp to sell his music to fans directly, issuing a vast number of singles via the platform, as well as compiling a series of demos and home recordings into a series of releases he named Skeleton Keys and which ran to seven volumes.

In May 2017 he toured the UK, playing a string of club shows that were once again well received. His set included material from throughout his impressive catalogue as well as a brace of Prince covers (Sometimes It Snows In April and Purple Rain) as well as Mother Love Bone’s Crown Of Thorns.

A year on from those British dates and Shawn joined the surviving members of Mother Love Bone onstage at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre on May 5, 2018, at a benefit gig designed to raise money for local healthcare charity SMASH. It was the second time the band had reconvened – the first being in 2010 when Shawn again guested – and saw them deliver a 15-song set, with Shawn again reprising Crown Of Thorns alongside Stargazer.

The date of Shawn’s death – April 5 – is particularly poignant for the Seattle musical community and his fans around the world. At Kerrang! we were – and remain – firm champions of the man and his music. We will miss that incredible voice, and we would like to extend our condolences to his family, friends and collaborators.

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