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Francis Dunnery’s Just Happy to be Alive

It took a lifetime for Jerry Garcia to exorcise his demons. At age 28, Francis Dunnery is already there.

For Dunnery, who fronted the U.K. group It Bites in the ’80s and now has a blooming solo career, waking up in the morning with a positive spin on life is a major accomplishment.

That he’s alive is a miracle.

“The last night I drank,” Dunnery said recently, pausing for a moment, “I had a gun put to my head and I was smoking crack on Hollywood Boulevard, out of my brains on whiskey, crack and crystal meth.

“It scared the living shit out of me. That was the moment in my life where I went, ‘Something’s gotta change.’ Up until then, I was so sick and didn’t even know I was sick.”

Now part of a fellowship he does not want to name, Dunnery said he has come to terms with his problems.

“I kind of learned from some beautiful people a couple of things that were wrong with me,” he said. “I realized that the alcohol and the drugs were just a symptom. The symptom became a problem, absolutely, but it was still just a symptom.

“I had to get rid of the symptom to get to the real stuff, which is really a spiritual sickness. They call alcohol ‘soul murder,’ and that’s what it is. I’ve learned some incredible things, and I’ve been walking forward ever since.”

Part of that journey is “Tall Blonde Helicopter,” Dunnery’s second Atlantic album, produced by Richard Dodd (Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty) and set for a Sept. 5 release. The singer, songwriter and guitarist, who played on Robert Plant’s “Fate of Nations” tour in 1993, is at his heart-on-the-sleeve, reflective best on such tracks as “The Way Things Are,” “In My Dreams” and “I Believe I Can Change My World.”

Dunnery said “Tall Blonde Helicopter,” in which he adopts an instantly accessible acoustic stance, is just further proof of his growth from his ’94 debut LP “Fearless.”

“The overall thing I’m talking about on this album is change,” he said. “It’s a change up, a change for the better.”

One of his boldest statements is in the track “I Don’t Want to Be Alternative.” Dunnery said no one was pigeonholing his sound; he was his own worst enemy.

“I was always trying to be a part of something,” he said. “I remember I had a terrible time during the ’80s with that hair rock stuff. When it was fashionable, I didn’t understand it and it was very frustrating for me.

“People would always say to me, ‘Whoa, your songs are weird, like why don’t you do a rock song, man?’ But I didn’t understand it. … I just want to fit in, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t want to be alternative. I just want to be a part of you, a part of everybody, a part of nature.”

Garcia’s death Aug. 9, after years of battling heroin addiction, is a lesson for all to learn, Dunnery said.

“What happened to him, it’s very sad and very predictable,” he said. “The same with Kurt Cobain. I know the disease that I have and it ain’t fucking around with me one bit. It fills me with self-pity, attacks me in the ego.”

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