There are three things synonomous with Rock and Roll stardom: sex, drugs, and premature entry to the Great Gig in the Sky. Over the course of modern music history, early deaths have robbed the world of countless world changing pieces of music, and the artists who dedicated their lives to providing us with them. This piece explores the lives of revolutionary musicians whose deaths left the world after far too short a ride.
John Lennon – The former Beatle was 2 months shy of his 40th birthday when an assassin inspired by JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye took his life in New York City in 1980. His most highly regarded solo records had been recorded in the early 1970s, and following a long break from music, he seemed to be on the verge of producing hit singles again. One can only assume what Mark David Chapman robbed the world of when he took Lennon’s life.
Keith Moon and John Bonham – The two greatest Rock drummers of all time were members of equally great bands before their early deaths in ’78 and ’80 respectfully. Moon, of The Who was the quintessential hard rock drummer before hard rock was even considered a grenre. The rhythm section he headed (along with Bassist The Ox who also died young) is considered the one of the most talented of all time, and literally invented a new musical genre. John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, is widely considered the most talented percussionist of all time. He could turn the drums into an instrument that no one had ever heard before.
Freddie Mercury - The Queen singer was the greatest live performer the world has ever seen. Just one look at a recording of a live Queen show is enough to turn a casual fan into a true fanatic. He could own the stage better than anyone alive, and is still remembered as one of the greatest British performers of all time. Queen’s live recording from Montreal is the definition of a perfect performance. Complications due to AIDS took this singer away from us far too early.
Jim Morrison – The Doors singer, more famous for the controversy surrounding his death (or “death” as some would have it) than for his music, was one of the greatest artist’s American music had ever seen. When he died at 27 from an apparent drug overdose the music world lost not only an amazing musician, but one of the last great American poets.
Notorious BIG – Since his death in 1993 at age 24, The Notorious BIG has only become more famous than during his life. Known by various monikers like Biggie Smalls, Christopher Wallace, and Big Poppa, Notorious captured the essence of his community, Brooklyn, New York, with a higher level of veracity than any rapper had ever achieved. Though The Wu Tang Clan and NWA certainly outshined Biggie’s “flow” and production, no one could tell a story of struggle and redemption like Christopher Wallace.
Tupac – Tupac Shakur was shot and killed on September 13th, 1996 at age 25. No hip hop artist has, in history, made as large a societal impact as he. He approached rapping as both a business, and a way to achieve social change. Both of his parents were members of The Black Panther Party which inspired him to take his music to a political level never before seen in rap music.
Bradley Nowell- Too often written off as a cheap mix of 70s reggae and 90s DIY punk, Bradley Nowell’s band Sublime rivals Nirvana as the most influential band to come out of the 1990s. Though his lyrics were often crude (see: Date Rape) they also spoke to a generation of disillusioned young men and women across class and gender lines. Even today, Nowell’s soulful protest songs like April 26, 1992 and punchy instropection prove that there was more to Brad than the punk boy veneer major music sources like to apply to him. Following his death in 1996, Sublime was launched to a level of stardom he never got to appreciate.
Jimi Hendrix – The guitar was never the same once one found its way into young Jimi Hendrix’s hands. Capitalizing on the Free Love (and more specifically free drugs) air of the late 1960s, Jimi Hendrix turned his axe into something of legend. No one before or after has ever bent an electric guitar to his will like him, and it is doubtful that anyone ever will.
Kurt Cobain – The Nirvana lead singer’s image is synonomous with teenage angst, 1990s, and musical genius. Cobain was able to capture the hopes, desires, and fears of an entire generation in a way that few musicians have ever been able to achieve. When he took his own life in 1994, the musician was already considered an American hero and icon.
Otis Redding – Otis Redding recorded his most famous song, Dock of the Bay, weeks before he lost his life in a tragic plane crash. The singer, whose contributions to soul music were matched only by Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, gained the international acclaim his powerful, booming voice deserved posthumously as Dock of the Bay and Redding’s early death sparked a huge popular interest in his earlier works. One can only imagine what more would have come from Otis Redding has he lived through his musical prime.
Sam Cooke – Sam Cooke did more for “race music” than any other performer in American history. He conquered both politics with protest songs like A Change is Gunna Come, and pop music like Wonderful World. Cooke’s voice had emotional vigor and guttural power that few, if any, musicians have come close to recreating. The world was robbed of Mr. Cooke (who was also a shrewed anti-recording company business) far too early when he was killed in a seedy hotel lobby.Tags: Brad Nowell, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sublime, The Beatles, The Doors