Early Passage into “Rock ‘n Roll Heaven”
In 1971, out in my temporary home in Merced, California where I was serving my final year of military service after returning from a tour at Phan Rang Air Force Base in Vietnam, I began to compile a listing of rock musicians who had already succumbed to life’s circumstances.
The list at that time seemed very manageable. The nature of the business always presented increased risk for the artists due to the hazards of travel and the even more perilous hazards of the lifestyle. But back then, each instance of demise seemed particularly tragic because – in most instances – we just had not experienced enough from those creative lives.
A Tip of the Hat to ….
….. these artists who passed away during 2015:
Passed January 8, 2015 – age 72 – A gospel oriented artist who crossed over often with popular artists of the day and charted a single time in 1980
Passed February 16, 2015 – age 68 – Her final LP release came in 2005 after a 30 year absence from the recording studio
Jimmy Witherspoon – Three Dog Night
Passed March 11tth, 2015 – age 67 – Jimmy was a member of Three Dog Night
Passed April 14th, 2015 – age 74
Andy Fraser – Free
Passed March 16th, 2015 – age 62 – Andy was a member of the British band Free – He was a co-writer of the monster hit “It’s Alright Now”
Jack Ely – The Kingsmen
Passed April 28th, 2015 – age 71 – Performed with the Kingsmen and is included as a member of the group which released what at the time was considered a controversial song; “Louie, Louie”
Ben E. King – The Drifters
Passed April 30th, 2015 – age 76 – One of my very favorite lead singers and solo artist
Errol Brown – Hot Chocolate
Passed May 6th, 2015 – age 71 – Errol was the lead voice on “Every One’s a Winner” and “You Sexy Thing” – Early on the Beatles signed them to the Apple Label
Passed May 14th, 2015 – age 89 – Riley “B.B.” King! What more needs to be said
Jim Ed Brown – The Browns
Passed June 11th, 2015 – age 81 – The Browns “Three Bells” reached number 1 for 4 weeks in 1959 – Jim Ed would continue on as a very successful solo country artists. Sisters and group members Bonnie and Maxine are both still living.
Chris Squire – Yes
Passed June 28th, 2015 – age 67 – Chris was an original member of the British group Yes
Passed July 31st, 2015 – age 67 – Country singer first most notably crossed over onto the Pop Charts in 1970 with the number 3 hit “Rose Garden”. The song hit number one country for five weeks. She charted a total of 60 times on the country single charts five number 1’s and 16 appearances in the Country Top Ten
Passed August 1st, 2015 – age 72 – Priscilla “Black” was a British singer from Liverpool – real name Priscilla White – She was a close associate of The Beatles
Billy Joe Royal
Passed October 6th, 2015 – age 73 – Royal gave us “Down In The Boondocks”, “I Knew You When”, “Cherry Hill Park”, and “Hush”
Here is a short list of some of the first to bid us farewell:
Johnny Ace (John Alexander Marshall) – 1929-1954
Johnny was most always cited as the first tragic story – having passed due to what was usually reported as a result of playing “Russian Roulette”. In time, first hand witnesses refuted this saying that his shooting was self inflicted but accidental.
Holly/Valens/Richardson (Charles Hardin Holley 1936-1959/Richard Steven Valenzuela 1941-1959/Jiles Perry Richardson Jr. (The “Big Bopper”) 1930-1959
The most noted trio of rock fatalities – all three died when their plane went down in icy conditions after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. Other performers on the “Winter Dance Party” performance in Clear Lake included Crickets Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings and drummer Carl Bunch. After the accident performers Fabian, Jimmy Clanton and Ronnie Smith helped fill in the remaining tour dates. Dion Dimucchi and Franki Sardo were also performers on the bill the day of the accident.
Frankie Lymon (Franklin Joseph Lymon) – 1942-1968
Frankie died from a heroin overdose after a long troubled post “Teenager” career. Frankie at age 13 co-wrote the Teenager smash “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.
Johnny Horton (Johnny Gale Horton) – 1925-1960
Horton and others were driving back to Louisiana from Texas when the car he was driving when they were struck by a truck. His two passengers suffered injuries – one resulting in a leg amputation but both survived. Johnny was headed for a hunting trip with country singer Claude King at the time.
Johnny Burnette (John Joseph Burnette) – 1934-1964
Johnny died in a boat mishap at Clear Lake, California. A cabin cruiser struck his boat tossing him overboard which resulted in his drowning. Johnny started off with the “Johnny Burnette Rock and Roll Trio” with brother Dorsey and Paul Burlison. Dorsey would pass in 1979
Otis Redding (Otis Ray Redding Jr.) – 1941-1967 & The Barkays
Redding and passengers were flying in inclement weather after a performance in Madison, Wisconsin. The plane went down in Lake Monona. The actual cause of the accident was not determined. Jimmy King, Ronnie Caldwell, Carl Cunningham and Phalon Jones – all members of the Stax group “The Barkays” were also killed in the crash. The only survivor of the accident was Barkay band member Ben Cauley.
Gene Vincent (Vincent Eugene Craddock) – 1935-1971
Gene passed away in California as the result of a ruptured stomach ulcer. Gene nearly lost his leg due to a motorcycle accident early on in his life but it was saved although he would be hindered by it throughout his life. In 1960 in the U.K. Vincent was injured in a high-speed auto accident which took the life of fellow rocker Eddie Cochran.
Eddie Cochran (Edward Raymond Cochran) – 1938-1960
As noted above – Eddie Cochran was killed in a 1960 auto accident in the U.K. when he was thrown from the speeding vehicle – damaging his brain. He passed away the following morning.
Mama Cass Elliott (Ellen Naomi Cohen) – 1941-1974
Mama Cass’s death post dates my focus here but wanted to clarify that she passed away after a solo concert in the U.K. and that she died of a heart attack – not by choking on a sandwich!
Bobby Darin (Walden Robert Cassotto) – 1936-1973
It is well documented that Bobby did not expect a long lifetime due to family genetics and that indeed to pass. Darin passed away shortly after emergency surgery in California for a damaged heart valve.