Warren William Zevon is born on January 24, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois to William Zevon and Beverly Cope. William was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, whose original surname was Zivotovsky. He worked as a bookie who handled volume bets and dice games for the notorious Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen. He worked for years in the Cohen crime family, in which he was known as "Stumpy" Zevon. Warren's mother was from a Mormon family and of English descent.
At the age of 13, Zevon was an occasional visitor to the home of Igor Stravinsky, the Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He briefly studied modern classical music alongside future conductor and musicologist Robert Craft. Craft famously continued to work with Stravinsky.
Warren forms a duo with Violet Santangelo (a.k.a. Laura Kenyon) called Lyme & Cabelle. They released the 7" single Follow Me b/w Like The Seasons in the US through White Whale Record Co. Warren also co-writes the single Outside Chance for fellow White Whale alumn The Turtles. These sessions, along with unreleased demos, are made available in 2003 on The First Sessions CD.
Warren's debut album, Wanted Dead Or Alive is released in Germany with a US release to follow in 1970. The album was partially produced by Kim Fowley, who left the project, claiming Zevon to be difficult. Zevon simply stated he parted ways with Fowley due to a "sudden attack of taste". She Quit Me was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy, renamed He Quit Me and performed by Lesley Miller.
Warren tours with the Everly Brothers, serving as band leader, musical coordinator and keyboardist. As Warren's career stalled and his frustration increased, he moved to Spain in summer 1975 and sang Country and Western songs in an Irish bar called The Dubliner Bar. Attempting to get him to come home, Jackson Browne writes Warren a postcard. Warren returns in September, rooming with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Work begins on the self titled Warren Zevon album.
Warren's self titled album, Warren Zevon, is released on May 18, 1976. Rolling Stone Record Guide hailed the album as a masterpiece. The album settles in the charts at #189. The tracks Poor Poor Pitiful Me, Mohammed's Radio, Carmelita and Hasten Down The Wind all found a larger audience by way of covers by Linda Ronstadt.
Excitable Boy is released on January 18, 1878, six days before Warren's 31st birthday. The album finally gives Warren the success he desired. The album is a bona fide hit, reaching #8 on the Billboard album chart. The classic single Werewolves Of London also becomes a hit, reaching #21. The song becomes Warren's signature track.
Released on February 15, 1980, Warren follows up his hit album Excitable Boy with Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School. The album did not continue the level of succeess as its predecessor, but still reached #20 on the Billboard album chart. Stand In The Fire, a live album recorded at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles was released in December. David Letterman praised the album serveral times on air; Warren, however, had little recollection.
Warren makes the cover of the March 19, 1981 edition of Rolling Stone magazine. A multi-page article by Paul Nelson chronicles Warren's career, specifically focusing on his battle with alcoholism and drugs.
The Envoy was released on July 16, 1982 and while it was not the commerical success of his previous two albums, it was praised by critics. The title track was inspired by Philip Habib, who had been President Jimmy Carter’s envoy to the Middle East. Habib sent Warren a letter of appreciation on State Department stationery. That same month, Warren made his first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Warren performed two songs and unusual for a musical guest, had a long interview segment with Letterman. Warren would become a favorite guest of Letterman's, appearing numerous times over the years. At the end of the year, Warren's label, Asylum, ended their partnership with him. Warren found out in the "Random Notes" column in Rolling Stone.
Warren becomes involved in the R.E.M. side-project Hindu Love Gods. The band played three concerts in Athens, Georgia in 1984. Warren joined them for the second show performing Werewolves Of London and two new songs, Boom Boom Mancini and Trouble Waiting To Happen. Warren recorded two tracks with the band at this time, Gonna Have A Good Time Tonight and Narrator, which were released on a single in 1986.
A Quiet Normal Life: The Best Of Warren Zevon is released. It is the first compilation of Warren's music and is the last release from Asylum. Due to space limitations, the LP has 12 tracks, whereas the CD and cassette editions have 14 tracks. Lawyers, Guns And Money is edited, due to various things hitting the fan. The album goes gold and is the only Zevon compilation available for the next 10 years.
In August, Warren returns with his sixth studio album, Sentimental Hygiene, his first in over five years. Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, all members of R.E.M., served as Zevon's band. R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe sings Harmony on Bad Karma. Other notable guest musicians include Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Brian Setzer, Jennifer Warnes, Flea and Don Henley. This is Warren's first album from Virgin Records.
Inspired by cyberpunk science fiction writer William Gibson, Warren records and releases a concept album, Transverse City. As with previous albums, a who's who of musical guests appear including David Gilmour, Neil Young and Jerry Garcia.
After disappointing sales for Transverse City, Virgin drops Warren from the label. Giant Records, a label started by entertainment powerhouse Irving Azoff, signs Warren in short order. The first release is Hindu Love Gods, recorded with Bill Berry, Mike Mills and Peter Buck during the Sentimental Hygiene sessions. Their cover of Prince's Raspberry Beret charts on the Billboard 200.
In October, Warren returns to his solo career with a new album, Mr. Bad Example. Standout tracks include Searching For A Heart and Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, the later of which was used for the title of a Gary Fleder film. Dwight Yoakam contributes harmony vocals on Heartache Spoken Here. Warren appears on Late Night with David Letterman twice to promote the album, performing Finishing Touches and Searching For A Heart.
In April, Warren releases Learning To Flinch, a solo acoustic live album that chronicled his 1992 world tour. Recorded live to DAT, the album includes performances of his most popular songs and debuts Piano Fighter, The Indifference Of Heaven and Worrier King. Warren appears as himself on the HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show starring Garry Shandling.
The self-produced album Mutineer is released in May. The album is recorded entirely at Warren's home studio with little outside influence. The album is the worst selling of Warren's career, a victim of his label, Giant Records, going out of business.
The career spanning collection I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (An Anthology) is released in September. The two disc collection, compiled by Zevon, includes hits, classic tracks, live performances, one offs and a previously unreleased track from the Excitable Boy sessions, Frozen Notes. Tracks from his first album Wanted Dead Or Alive are noticeably absent.
Warren returns after another five year recording layoff with Life'll Kill Ya, which is produced by Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade, best known for their work on Radiohead's Pablo Honey. The album, from his new label Artemis, includes the classic I Was In The House When The House Burned Down and Warren's take on Steve Winwood's Back In The High Life Again. Warren appears on Later... with Jools Holland to promote the album, performing My Shit's Fucked Up and Werewolves Of London.
Warren releases a new album, My Ride's Here in May featuring Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song) and Genius. Hit Somebody! is recorded with members of the CBS Orchestra and even includes some vocals from David Letterman himself. After experiencing shortness of breath at a live festival in Canada, Warren is diagnosed with mesothelioma in August and is given months to live. Warren starts work on a final album, determined to finish it in the time he has left. VH1 begins filming a documentary, chronicling the project. On October 30, David Letterman invites Warren as his only guest on The Late Show. Warren joins David for a humourous and heartfelt interview and performs three songs, Mutineer, Genius and Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner. This would prove to be Warren's last live performance. The compilation album Genius: The Best Of Warren Zevon is also released in October.
Warren continues to outlive his original diagnosis and welcomes twin grandchildren from daughter Ariel in June. His final album, The Wind, is completed and released in August. A who's who of musical icons and personal friends appear on the album including Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakham, Don Henley, Billy Bob Thornton, Emmylou Harris and Joe Walsh. The album reaches number 12, Warren's highest charting album in 25 years. Warren Zevon loses his battle to mesothelioma on September 7, 2003 at the age of 56. Warren is posthumously nominated for five Grammy awards, winning two. The Wind won for Best Contemporary Folk Album and Disorder in the House won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon, a star-studded tribute album, is released in October. An incredible lineup of musicians paid tribute to Warren including Bob Dylan, Don Henley, The Wallflowers, Bruce Springsteen, Adam Sandler and Jackson Browne to name a few. Warren's son Jordan contributed a cover of an unreleased track, Studebaker. The Wallflowers with Jordan Zevon appear on The Late Show with David Letterman to perform Lawyers, Guns And Money.
A few months after his father's death, Jordan Zevon discovers a case of undated reel-to-reel tapes, acetates and test pressings in one of his dad's storage spaces. The result is the two CD collection Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings. Six unreleased tracks are collected with ten alternative versions of well known Zevon classics. Best Buy stores received an exclusive version with three additional unreleased recordings. Disc two features Jody Denberg interviewing Warren in 2000. In May Crystal Zevon's biography on Warren entitled I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon is released. Warren asked Crystal to write the biography before his death.