I’m super bummed to hear Hattiesburg-born musician Eric Blackwell died of a heart attack Monday night, May 10, 2021. Eric was a talented dude and he played guitar, bass, and drums in a lot of great bands over the years but his time as the lead singer of Before I Hang is what resonated the most with me. Their album Mississippi is a true Southern Punk Rock classic.
Before I Hang ruled the Mississippi Pine Belt, and when they came to Oxford, they scared the piss out of Ole Miss! I put the band on the cover of The Local Voice #40 (November 1, 2007) with Eric up front and center. When he came to town, he said, “Dude, my face is all over the place!” and I could only reply, “Yeah, that’s the point!”
Eric always took care of us (The Cooters) when we were in his area, even when he was living in Jackson and no longer in their band. Man, I miss those wild shows, late nights, and hell, even hanging out in Guitar Center, where he worked for a spell, talking guitars and equipment.
Before I Hang didn’t stop after Eric left the band. They moved on with the great Lee Hurst at the helm. Lee picked up the torch and didn’t skip a beat, but took the band into a new era, full of more exciting, in-your-face music, and definitely more wild shows. I know Eric was proud they soldiered on. He told me so.
Eric had different music ideas to explore with the Hillbilly Hellcats, The Troubledors, Dark Star Coven, Maggot Sandwich, and others. But as he sang it in the classic Before I Hang song, “Well it would be a fucking shame, if there were no Before I Hang! No winners in this game… it would be, a RocknRoll tragedy! Tragedy!” To this day, Before I Hang is still going strong and is Mississippi’s longest running Punk Rock band.
Despite some falling out with members of Before I Hang when he left in 2008, Eric stayed close with bassist Joel Rivers, who officiated Eric’s wedding to Katherine Phelps. Joel and Eric remained good friends over the years.
“I considered him my best friend, and this has been devastating to me,” Joel told me on Wednesday night. “We talked almost weekly.”
“I just spent two hours on the phone with him not this last weekend, but the one before, talking about writing music together again, and coming down to see him with my new gal he’s never met,” Joel continued. “I’m still having trouble believing it’s true.”
Drummer John Littlejohn was equally as stunned.
“I’m damn near at a loss for words at this point,” lamented Littlejohn. “Anyone that knows us knows we had some miles of good and bad road.”
“We had been on the good foot with each other for years now and had spoken at length numerous times, most recently just a month or two back,” John continued. “I can’t tell you how many laughs we’ve had over the years cause there were a shitload of them and right now that eclipses anything negative that ever transpired between us.”
“This is just nuts. I don’t know what else to say. Still stunned.”
Sadly, in one of Eric’s final posts online (April 28, 2021) he said, “You can laugh at, make fun of me or whatever. I felt the urge to call my band mates tonight and tell them how much they meant to me.”
“I guess this post isn’t just aimed at our ‘band’ family,” he continued, “but at this point, when I think about or speak to folks that I care about, it’s important I feel to be able to tell them that you love em. I guess I’m getting old….I dont care. Love folks ya’ll.”
Eric asked me last year to dig up some old Before I Hang material from my archives, and I’m disappointed I couldn’t do it in a timely manner. There’s probably a lot more than just these photos from 2007, but here’s a start.
RIP Eric Duncan Blackwell. Condolences to his family and friends.