German Country Singer Gunter Gabriel is Dead!

Obituary

German Country Singer Gunter Gabriel is Dead!

Germany's Johnny Cash is dead. As a pioneer of the German country music scene, singing in German and therefore connecting directly to the blue collar masses, country music and especially trucker-song-singer Gunter Gabriel passed away on Thursday, June 22nd. He died from complications from an earlier fall down a set of stairs, on the eve of his 75th birthday.

According to local German tabloid "Berliner Kurier," Gabriel fell in a hotel in Herburg on the way to a show, after celebrating with several friends his June 11th birthday. Even though he had a bleeding laceration, he thought nothing bad of it and went to bed. He did not realize, he had a fracture of a cervical vertebra. The next morning, on his birthday, he had to be rushed to a hospital. Several operations and later a circulatory collapse made it worse and 12 days after his fall, he passed away.

For many German country fans, especially truck drivers, he was their outspoken hero, calling things by name and by using their common language "German" to sing his Schlager and country songs. Often in the tabloids for his outlandish behavior, he was loved for his, what was considered honest opinion and what was often interpreted as "standing up for the little guy." During one of his last appearances at a harbor fest, he actually called for the assassination of the presidents of the USA, Russia, and Syria, Trump, Putin, and Assad according to a YouTube video.

Born Günter Caspelherr on June 11th, 1942 in Bünde in the German state of Westfalen, he had a rough childhood, dominated by violence and abuse after his mother passed away when he was only four years old. He survived, made an apprenticeship as a welder, went back to school to get his qualification to study at a University and enlisted to become a mechanical engineer. But his passion was music. Unsuccessful with his own songs, he began writing for other artists, after he became part of publishing company Meisel, thanks to his first marriage. He would write Schlager (German pop songs) for a big array of German artists, like Frank Zander, "Ich Trink Auf Dein Wohl, Marie" (Cheers To You, Marie); Bernhard Brink's first hit "Alles Was Ich Habe" (All I Have) or later even the German Top Ten Hit for Juliana Werding "Wenn Du Denkst, Du Denkst, Dann Denkst Du Nur, Du Denkst" (If You Think, You Are Thinking, Then You Only Are Thinking, You Think).

Beginning in the 70's he started to have hits of his own and singing about the plight of the "Lastwagenfahrers" (truck drivers), with "Er Ist Ein Kerl (Der 30 Tonner Diesel)“ (He Is A Man (The 30 Ton Diesel) he immediately became an idol of a whole professional group. Gunter Gabriel was a man of the people and for the people and his anthem "Hey Boss, Ich Brauch Mehr Geld" (Hey Boss, I need a better pay) made him a blue collar hero.

Often he didn't sing his own songs, but took American country songs and "translated" or better adapted them with German lyrics. Kristofferson's "Me And Bobby McGee" became "Freiheit Ist Ein Abenteuer" (Freedom is an Adventure), Bob Dylan's "Wanted Man" turned into "Ich Werd Gesucht In Bremerhaven" or Willie Nelson's & Waylon Jennings "Good Hearted Woman" was reborn as "Ehrbares Mädchen." (The version below with Boxcar Willie is sung half in English and half in German.)

Johnny Cash - Gabriel's crashes and reoccurrences

But it was the songs of Johnny Cash, their 25-year friendship and their common desire to help the underprivileged, who brought them together. Cash who in the 70s and 80s toured regularly in Europe would always call Gabriel to join him on stage. Gunter Gabriel visited his friend and idol also in Tennessee and actually recorded a tribute to the "Man In Black" in Cash's studio just months before Cash's passing in 2003. He followed with another tribute in 2009 "Sohn aus dem Volk" (Son of the People) and later would sing/act in a German stage production "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

But as glamours, as it all sounds, Gabriel's life was anything else. Married four times, having four kids from four different women, being a heavy drinker and speculating and losing his money left him broke, drunk and up to the ridicule as German tabloids often reported on him. His life was a rollercoaster ride.

Heavily indebted at one point, he offered to play house concerts at 1000 Euros a piece to be able to pay off his debt. After 800 private concerts, he was debt-free. He quit drinking and sobered up and started a comeback in 2009. He got calmer and lived on a houseboat in one of the harbors of Hamburg. A year ago, he participated in a German reality show, called the "Jungle Camp" but quit due to the health problems.

Lately, he often started talking about his death, as in the outspoken TV portrait below. Gabriel shares his vision of how he would have liked to die, rambles about his life and his meetings with his idol Johnny Cash. Already five years ago, as stories were printed for his 70th birthday, he was quoted: "Mein Denkmal sindmeine Songs, einpaarwerdenja überbleiben. Und das reichtdochauch." (My monument are gonna be my songs, some will stand the test of time, and that's good enough).

Yes, some will, hey boss I need a better pay, is a universally understandable slogan.

Johnny Cash - Gabriel's crashes and reoccurrences

But it was the songs of Johnny Cash, their 25-year friendship and their common desire to help the underprivileged, who brought them together. Cash who in the 70s and 80s toured regularly in Europe would always call Gabriel to join him on stage. Gunter Gabriel visited his friend and idol also in Tennessee and actually recorded a tribute to the "Man In Black" in Cash's studio just months before Cash's passing in 2003. He followed with another tribute in 2009 "Sohn aus dem Volk" (Son of the People) and later would sing/act in a German stage production "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

But as glamorous as it all sounds, Gabriel's life was anything else. Married four times, having four kids from four different women, being a heavy drinker and speculating and losing his money left him broke, drunk and up to the ridicule as German tabloids often reported on him. His life was a rollercoaster ride.

Heavily indebted at one point, he offered to play house concerts at 1000 Euros a piece to be able to pay off his debt. After 800 private concerts, he was debt-free. He quit drinking and sobered up and started a comeback in 2009. He got calmer and lived on a houseboat in one of the harbors of Hamburg. A year ago, he participated in a German reality show, called the "Jungle Camp" but quit due to the health problems.

Lately, he often started talking about his death, as in the outspoken TV portrait below. Gabriel shares his vision of how he would have liked to die, rambles about his life and his meetings with his idol Johnny Cash. Already five years ago, as stories were printed for his 70th birthday, he was quoted: "Mein Denkmal sind meine Songs, ein paar werden ja überbleiben. Und das reicht doch auch." (My monument are gonna be my songs, some will stand the test of time, and that's good enough).

Yes, some will say "hey boss I need a better pay," is a universally understandable slogan.

Sources: Berliner Kurier, Gunter Gabriel Facebook (Photo), YouTube,

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A. Michael Uhlmann
A. Michael Uhlmann
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A. Michael Uhlmann
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