Trixie Whitley follows in dad’s musical footsteps 

At 23, Trixie Whitley — the whiskey-throated singer in Daniel Lanois’ new blues-reggae outfit Black Dub, which plays San Francisco on Sunday — might seem like one of rock’s freshest faces.

In reality, she started professionally playing drums, then bass, at age 10, then hit the road with a European theater company at 11.

“So by the time I was 15, I was sick of it,” she says. “I just wanted to be a normal teenager, so around that age I just stopped everything for a while.”

But as the daughter of the late Chris Whitley, an acclaimed singer-songwriter-guitarist who died in 2005, normalcy eluded her.

Born in her mother’s hometown of Ghent, Belgium, Whitley wound up singing and playing percussion on her father’s albums, then dividing her time between Europe and her dad’s residence, New York, when her parents split up.

A year after she swore off show business, she relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she still lives, and jumped back into it. While working as a waitress, she gave up drums, taught herself to play the keyboard and started working on original songs that eventually surfaced on her debut EP, “The Engine.”

“That’s when I realized that I just could not live without music,” Whitley says.

The apple did not fall far from the tree — Whitley tears it up with roadhouse fervor on Black Dub’s self-titled bow, on the punkier “Ring the Alarm” or the straightforward-ska “Silverado.”

She even put her first solo album on hold to tour with Lanois, Daryl Johnson and her drumming hero, Brian Blade.

Lanois essentially discovered her father, and she met him once when she was only 2. But nearly two decades passed with no contact.

Accidentally, the Black Dub seed was sown three years ago when Whitley’s mother dragged her to see Lanois in a Belgian concert.

Backstage, she handed him “The Engine,” she says, “and a few weeks later he called me, saying he had a project in mind that included a lot of vocals and harmonies. So I went to Boston, we recorded a song I’d just written, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ and it just clicked immediately.”

Officially, Chris Whitley succumbed to lung cancer at 45. His daughter, in whose arms he died, believes it was the industry — and all its attendant addictions — that stole his life.

“Now I know that there’s another way to be inspired,” she says. “You don’t have to destroy your entire life to be creative and productive. So that’s the road that I’m on right now. I want to see if I can do this without dying way too young.”


Black Dub

The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $27

(415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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