There’s never a good time for the Grim Reaper to arrive, and 2013 was no exception. Every end of the year is a good time to look back at what we’ve gained as well as what we’ve lost, and the death toll on the musicians we’ve loved always seems catastrophic. So many artists gravitate toward the universe of music in so many genres and styles. Some get to hang around for years, leaving us with legacies that far outdistance any kind of mortality. Others are snatched early, leaving us with a limited catalogue and never ending mysteries of what might have been.
Of all the musical deaths this year, Lou Reed’s seemed to echo the loudest. Strange, he was 71 and living with a recent liver transplant that had not gone well. Still, his passing took us by surprise and was mourned by world leaders and rockers alike. He was symbol of a direction that music needed to take, and he stayed true to a mission that needed him long after the Velvet Underground ascended into legend.
We felt the sting in Colorado with the passing of rock promoter Barry Fey who brought the Stones to Colorado and changed the identity of Red Rocks, something no one had done in millions of years.
It was a year that took not only a Beatle, but a Presley. Tony Sheridan was an early Beatle, appearing on such cave drawings as “Ain’t She Sweet” and “My Bonnie.” The “other” Presley, Reg Presley, was the lead singer for the Troggs who steered the garage into the mainstream with “Wild Thing.”
Huge names disappeared. Jazz trumpet genius Donald Byrd. Pop princess Patti Page. WWII darling of the Andrews Sisters Patty, who made it to 94. Lounge legend Eydie Gorme, of Steve and Eydie fame. Rock star classical pianist Van Cliburn who won the the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 at the age of 23 passed at 78. Richie Havens, who opened Woodstock with a 3-hour performance.
Country took a huge hit, with the loss of George Jones, the man Frank Sinatra once called “the second greatest singer in America.” He died in the middle of a 60-city farewell tour at age 81. Jack Greene and Claude King joined him in Hillbilly Heaven after long and productive careers. Sadly, Mindy McCready decided to end it all at 37.
Hip hop had too many early departures. Lord Infamous from Three 6 Mafia had a heart attack at 40. Magic of “Sky’s the Limit” fame died in a car crash at 37. Tim Dog representing the Bronx was a victim of diabetes at 46. Drugs claimed the life of Chris Kelly, half of Kriss Kross, at 34.
Soul mourned major losses as many definers of the genre reached their golden years. Rock and Blues hall of fame icon Bobby “Blue” Bland with a voice of honey and the stamina of a lion passed in Memphis at 83. Bobby Smith was the notable voice on the Spinners hits. Jewel Akens topped the charts with “The Birds and the Bees.” We lost Clarence Burke Jr. of the Five Stairsteps and Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner of the Ohio Players. Bobby Rogers of The Miracles died after a long illness. Cleotha Staples of the Staple Singers is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though she always thought she was strictly gospel. Magic Slim sang the blues to age 75.
Rock said goodbye to the incredible guitar sounds of Alvin Lee, founder of Ten Years After and another Woodstock icon. Rick Huxley played British Invasion bass for the Dave Clark Five. Dan Toler was an Allman Brother. Peter Banks was the original guitarist of Yes. Clive Burr was the drummer for Iron Maiden. Jackie Lomax had a solid solo career, and worked alongside the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Alan Myers drummed for Devo. Eddie Bond was a rockabilly star in the 50s. Andy Johns produced Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Trevor Bolder played bass for Uriah Heep and David Bowie. Another major producer loss was Phil Ramone whose work with Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, and Frank Sinatra is legend. Two time Grammy winner Jeff Hanneman toured with Slayer until 2011. J. J. Cale stayed low key until the end. The music was also over for Ray Manzarek, a victim of bile duct cancer at 74, who provided the haunting keyboards for the Doors.
Indies weren’t spared. A band most people had never heard of, Brooklyn’s The Yellow Dog, had three members blown away by a disgruntled former band member, who turned the gun on himself. Paul Chevron is remembered for his work with the Pogues. Pat Fear (Bill Bartell) waved the White Flag on the west coast. Chrissy Amphlett, whose Divinyls hit “I Touch Myself” fueled the early 90s, succumbed at 53 to breast cancer. Singer/songwriter Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company) died of organ failure at 39.
The list goes on. On the surface it is grim and sad, but the reality is all these artists and more have left legacies that will be discovered, appreciated, imitated, and re-invented long into the future. What they wanted from their lives we will always have. As we say goodbye to these and many others who defined the music that makes the world go round, we take comfort in knowing the music never dies.
Join me as we pay homage to a handful of these great artists on Retrofit on OpenAir this Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at Noon (and repeating Jan 4 at 6 pm on 90.1 FM) …Bye Bye 2013!