John Peel, legendary BBC radio DJ and a patron saint of modern British music, has died of a heart attack. He was 65.
According to the BBC, Peel, who is widely credited with exposing British audiences to punk, hip-hop and reggae music, suffered the heart attack while on a "working holiday" Tuesday (October 26) with his wife in Cuzco, Peru.
Peel was born in Heswall, near Liverpool, in 1939, and after a stint in the British military, began his radio career in 1962 at WRR in Dallas. Over the next three years he moved to radio stations in Oklahoma City and Los Angeles before returning to Britain in 1967. He joined the BBC's Radio 1 when it was launched that year, and at a time when most DJs were spinning records by Motown acts, Peel began playing recordings by experimental bands like the Quicksilver Messenger Service on his late-night program, "Top Gear."
He kept a constant ear to music's underground, playing records by then unknown British acts like the Sex Pistols, the Smiths and the Fall. He is also credited with jumpstarting the careers of artists like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Marc Bolan. In the early '80s, he began spinning records by hip-hop acts like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and Eric B. & Rakim, and continued to break newer "indie" artists (Mudhoney, Pavement and Pulp) in the 1990s.
Peel is perhaps best known for his "Peel Sessions," which he began in 1992 as a way for bands to record exclusive tracks for his radio program in the BBC studios. Almost every important act — both American and British — of the past dozen years has recorded a Peel Session, from Nirvana and PJ Harvey to Blur and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In 2000, he completed broadcasting his "Peelenium," a collection of four songs from each year of the twentieth century, designed as a tribute to the ever-changing pop song. In recent years, Peel was a champion of such acts as Franz Ferdinand, the White Stripes and the Strokes, and was always accepting demos from unsigned bands.
After announcing the news of Peel's death on Radio 1, the station played his favorite song, "Teenage Kicks," by Northern Irish punk band the Undertones. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and four children.