Conway Savage, the Australian musician who played piano and organ, and provided backing vocals, for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for more than a quarter-century, died Sunday night, about 10 months after the band revealed he was being treated for a brain tumor. He was 58.
In a heartfelt statement posted to his official site, Cave described Savage as “the anarchic thread that ran through the band’s live performances.” He added: “Irascible, funny, terrifying, sentimental, warm-hearted, gentle, acerbic, honest, genuine — he was all of these things and quite literally ‘had the gift of a golden voice,’ high and sweet and drenched in soul.”
Savage joined the Bad Seeds in 1990 to tour The Good Son, and remained in the band afterward, performing on albums including Let Love In (1994), Murder Ballads (1996), The Boatman’s Call (1997), No More Shall We Part (2001) and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004).
He’s not featured on the most recent, and very minimal, Bad Seeds record — 2016’s Skeleton Tree — but did perform on 2013’s Push the Sky Away.
Last October, Cave revealed why Savage was absent from last year’s Bad Seeds tour: he’d undergone surgery that was “largely a success” for a recently diagnosed brain tumor. In a note on Facebook, the Bad Seeds said Conway was diagnosed shortly before the start of the band’s North American tour in May 2017. Savage “currently is at home in Australia undergoing follow-up treatment,” the band wrote.
Through the 1980s, Savage performed in a number of Australian acts, including Happy Orphans, Scrap Museum, The Feral Dinosaurs, Dust on the Bible and The Legendary Boy Kings. Even after joining the Bad Seeds, he continued to release solo albums, including Soon Will Be Tomorrow (1998), Nothing Broken (2000) and Wrong Man’s Hands (2004).
In 1995, he contributed lead vocals to a Bad Seeds recording of the murder ballad “The Willow Garden,” the B-side to “Where the Wild Roses Grow.”
Below, hear Savage’s lead vocal on “The Willow Garden” and other musical highlights of his career — plus Cave’s full statement.
Our beloved Conway passed away on Sunday evening. A member of Bad Seeds for nearly thirty years, Conway was the anarchic thread that ran through the band’s live performances. He was much loved by everyone, band members and fans alike. Irascible, funny, terrifying, sentimental, warm-hearted, gentle, acerbic, honest, genuine — he was all of these things and quite literally “had the gift of a golden voice,” high and sweet and drenched in soul. On a drunken night, at four in the morning, in a hotel bar in Cologne, Conway sat at the piano and sang Streets of Laredo to us, in his sweet, melancholy style and stopped the world for a moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Goodbye Conway, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Love, Nick and the Bad Seeds.