Paul Pena, the blues musician best known for his role in the 1999 Academy Award-nominated documentary film Genghis Blues, passed away on October 1 at his apartment in San Francisco. He'd been through a long battle with pancreatitis and diabetes. Pena was 55.
According to his web site, during the the past eight years, Pena's health has been on the decline and his quality of life was greatly diminished by the nearly constant state of pain that he was in.
In addition to his blues, Pena, nearly blind from birth, was also noted for his interest in the art of Tuvan throat singing. Genghis Blues chronicles his trip to the Central Asian country of Tuva to take up the practice.
Pena was also known for penning the 1977 Steve Miller Band hit "Jet Airliner."
Pena was born of a Cape Verdean background in Hyannis, Mass. According to an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, "He proved to be a natural musician, singing and teaching himself several instruments. In the late '60s, he was in a band that opened for big-time acts including the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa. Blues artists ranging from T-Bone Walker to B.B. King to Bonnie Raitt recognized his talents, hiring him to play guitar in their bands."
Pena released a self-titled solo album in 1972, but its followup, New Train, became entangled in a legal dispute and was not released until 2000.