The Smiths were one of the most distinctive, tempestuous rock bands of the 1980s, and bassist Andy Rourke was an important part of holding it together while he could. In a band with a frontman and guitarist — Morrissey and Johnny Marr — often at each other’s throats, Rourke’s melodic, lively basslines, paired with the drumming of Mike Joyce, gave the Smiths one of rock’s more distinct rhythm sections beneath all the melodrama.
Rourke, who died Friday at 59 from pancreatic cancer, was beloved in Manchester, U.K.’s rock scene and had a lasting impact both within the Smiths’ mythology and in U.K. rock beyond it. Though he beefed with his bandmates over royalties, he contributed to Morrissey’s solo catalog and more recently joined Marr onstage at Madison Square Garden in September.
“When someone dies, out come the usual blandishments … as if their death is there to be used,” Morrissey wrote Friday. “I’m not prepared to do this with Andy. I just hope…wherever Andy has gone … that he’s OK. He will never die as long as his music is heard. He didn’t ever know his own power, and nothing that he played had been played by someone else. His distinction was so terrific and unconventional and he proved it could be done. He was also very, very funny and very happy, and post-Smiths, he kept a steady identity — never any manufactured moves. I suppose, at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that.”
Marr, announcing Rourke’s death, wrote on Instagram that “Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans.” In his tribute, Marr said “I was present at every one of Andy’s bass takes on every Smiths session. Sometimes I was there as the producer and sometimes just as his proud mate and cheerleader. Watching him play those dazzling baselines was an absolute privilege and genuinely something to behold. But one time which always comes to mind was when I sat next to him at the mixing desk watching him play his bass on the song ‘The Queen Is Dead.’ It was so impressive that I said to myself ‘I’ll never forget this moment.’”
Marr’s son Sonny added that “Andy Rourke was an incredible person; clever, kind and deeply funny. He and my dad were brothers and seeing them stand together in these last months was a profoundly moving experience.”
The Smiths’ drummer Mike Joyce wrote of Rourke: “Not only the most talented bass player I’ve ever had the privilege to play with but the sweetest, funniest lad I’ve ever met. Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate.” The band’s longtime producer Stephen Street added that “Andy was a superb musician and a lovely guy.”
Outside the band, his peers remembered both Rourke’s musicality and his personal kindness.
“I have great memories of him playing with Johnny Marr and myself on the Red Wedge tour,” said U.K. folk singer Billy Bragg. “He was a lovely guy and an amazing bass player.”
Belle and Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch lamented that this was “Such a sad day, a quarter part of the greatest band of all time. A bloody legend!” Even pop singer Rick Astley had kind words about Rourke: “Very sad news about Andy Rourke. I met Andy with Mike Joyce in LA in the 80s. Such lovely guys, made time to chat to a kid from Newton-le-Willows, Heroes! R.I.P.”
Tim Burgess, lead singer of the Charlatans, described Rourke as “an inspirational musician with a style that made so many of us pick up a bass guitar; and the driving force for Manchester Versus Cancer,” while the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown said that “One of the highlights of my music life was Andy playing on my ‘The World Is Yours’ album and accompanying me onstage on a UK tour and my first show in MOSCOW.”
For fellow rock bassists, Rourke’s playing remains aspirational, a core part of one of the era’s most beloved bands. Suede’s bassist Mat Osman remembered Rourke as “A total one-off — a rare bassist whose sound you could recognise straight away.”