Rock Requiem - Stars That Left Us Too Soon

winehouse.jpg
for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Looks like Amy Winehouse shouldn't have said no, no, no to rehab after all. The recent passing of the overindulgent chanteuse brings to mind a slew of rock and rollers who lived full-throttle and ran out of gas young. Like Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan and Janis Joplin went to rock and roll heaven at age 27 (ed. note: also Kurt Cobain and Brian Jones). Hmm...does that mean if you don't join "the 27 Club" you're gonna be okay? Nah. John Lennon (40), John Bonham (32), Steve Marriott (44) and Elvis (42) were called to that great concert hall in the sky at a relatively young age. Here are some other lesser known but no less important musicians that left us too soon:

Chris Wood (Traffic)
Fellow Traffickers Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi called Wood the heart and soul of the band. Well, by 1974 that soul was wearing down. Wood, who had aversion to flying, started drinking to relax. Then he started drinking in order to perform, then he started drinking in order to fall asleep, then he started drinking to...well, you get the picture. Self taught on the sax and flute, Wood's genius for improvisation began to evaporate. Toward the end of Traffic's final tour he lurched about on stage, fell off the stage or wasn't on stage at all. He once spent half a concert arguing with a fan while the rest of the band played on. Traffic's demise was in part due to Wood's erratic performances. He tried to record a solo album, Vulcan, but drugs and alcohol kept him from finishing it. He died of pneumonia on July 12, 1983, age 39. 

Richard Manuel (The Band)
Manuel sang like a tortured soul. He was. His vocal for the Depression era saga "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" was impassioned; his faltering falsetto for "Whispering Pines" was a desperate cry from a lost man wallowing in the throes of insecurity and depression. Whether he was frustrated that his skills as a composer had deserted him or tired of being on the road, he partied like a condemned man. After The Band played their Last Waltz concert in 1976, Manuel dried out, eventually touring with the reconstituted group in 1983. But the demons returned and Manuel slowly slipped into his old habit of singing only as well as his sobriety allowed. When alcoholism proved to be to slow (he drank eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day and snorted enough Peruvian marching dust to bury a village), Manuel hung himself on March 4, 1986. He was 42.

Paul Kossoff (Free/Back Street Crawler)
Guitarist Paul Kossoff was all of 20 when Free scored a worldwide top ten hit with the iconic "All Right Now." Despite his wailing, expressive style, "Koss" was insecure. He stood a gnome-like 5' 2" and was playing in a rock band without the approval of his father, actor David Kossoff. When 18-year old bassist Andy Fraser began to exert more control over the group adding keyboards and showing Kossoff how to play his parts, Kossoff stepped up his use of Mandrax to ease his troubles. Downs and alcohol seldom mix well on stage; Fraser left the band when Kossoff's addiction made a mess of their performances. Free was finished soon after. Kossoff did solo album, played on Jim Capaldi's first solo album, Oh How We Danced and formed his own group, Back Street Crawler. But Kossoff's performances began to mirror those of his party buddy, Chris Wood, leading to a bet among Island Records staffers whether Kossoff or Wood would die first. Kossoff won the bet, but it wasn't easy. He O'D'ed on his way to New York and was clinically dead for nearly forty-five minutes. Given a second chance at life, Kossoff, admittedly lost without his Free band mates, accelerated his drug use. He suffered a heart attack on a flight from Los Angeles to New York on March 19, 1976. This time he was dead for sure, age 25.

Terry Kath (Chicago) 
File Kath's death under accidental stupidity. A brilliant guitarist with an earth-shattering, guttural singing voice, Kath was one of the axe men admired by Jimi Hendrix (others were the equally tragic Paul Kossoff and Randy California of Spirit). A founding member of jazz/rock giants Chicago, Kath voiced their signature songs "Free," "Make Me Smile," "Out in the Country" and "Colour My World." By 1978, Kath was planning a solo album, but had also fallen into substance abuse to ease his boredom. On January 25 while attending a party at a roadie's home, Kath began playing Russian Roulette with a pistol. His final words to concerned onlookers were, "Don't worry, it's not loaded." He was 31.    

Pete Ham and Tom Evans (Badfinger)
With hits like "Come and Get it," "No Matter What," "Day After Day" and "Without You" (Harry Nilsson's cover of "Without You" went to #1), the members of Badfinger should have been set for life. Instead, when guitarist/vocalist Pete Ham tried to write a check to cover his mortgage, he discovered he only a few dollars in the bank. He and the rest of the band had been swindled out of millions by their manager, Stan Polley, who had convinced them to leave the safe confines of The Beatles record label, Apple for Warner Brothers. Embroiled in a law suit with his new record company, unable to provide for his family, Ham hanged himself on April 25, 1975 at age ...you got it, 27. 

Tom Evans had never been a tower of strength and when his best friend committed suicide, he wanted to join him in the next world. After an argument with band mate Joey Molland over royalties, Evans went out to his garden and hanged himself. His son found the 36-year old guitarist the following morning on November 19, 1983.

Duane Allman and Berry Oakley (Allman Brothers)
It wasn't a thirst for drink or drugs that did in guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley. It was speed - and not the pharmaceutical kind. At 24, Duane Allman's signature high-pitched slide guitar work for Aretha Franklin ("The Weight"), Boz Scaggs ("Loan Me a Dime") and Wilson Pickett ("Hey Jude") and his recordings with the Allman Brothers and Derek and the Dominoes had already made him a legend. On October 28, 1971 during a break from recording the next unnamed Allman Brothers album in Macon, Georgia, Allman took a motorcycle ride. He saw a peach truck attempting to make a turn in front of him. Inexplicably, the truck stopped in mid-turn at an intersection. Allman tried to stop, but lost control of his bike. He was thrown from the bike and died from internal injuries. The Allman Brothers next album, dedicated to Duane, was called Eat a Peach.

A little over a year later on November 11, 1972, bassist Berry Oakley was riding his bike
three blocks from where Allman had died when he hit a bus. Like Allman, Oakley was also thrown from his bike. He landed on his head, but he walked away from the accident and refused medical treatment. Suffering from a severe headache he went to a hospital a few hours later, but it was too late - he died as a result of a fractured skull. Like Allman, Oakley was 24.

Felix Pappalardi (Mountain) 
A ripple of surprise went through the music world when 43 year-old Mountain bassist and Cream producer Felix Pappalardi was shot dead by his wife and collaborator, lyricist/graphic artist Gail Collins on April 17, 1983. But those that knew the couple weren't all that shocked. Pappalardi had a roving eye and Collins knew it.

As Cream's producer, Pappalardi often recorded with the trio, adding unusual instrumentation associated with classical music. Along with fellow bass players Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser and Rick Grech, Pappalardi's full-bodied sound helped popularize the instrument. But after three albums with gargantuan guitarist Leslie West in Mountain with West turning his amp up to 11, Pappalardi started to lose his hearing, forcing him into semi-retirement. That meant he could do interesting side projects like 1976's Creation with a Japanese rock band by the same name, but it also meant too much time for groupies and girlfriends. Collins and Pappalardi maintained they had an open marriage...and Pappalardi apparently tested their claim.
Collins, who served two years of a four year sentence for criminally negligent homicide, maintained the shooting was an accident. Commenting on Pappalardi's death, the never subtle West said, "Buy your wife a diamond ring, some flowers, a pushup bra. Don't buy her a gun."

Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (Grateful Dead)
The Dead's bluesman was a drinker in a group that ate acid like Pez. His taste in the blues and his taste for booze made him the odd man out, although he excelled when he was given the spotlight to wail "Turn on Your Lovelight," "Hard to Handle" or "Big Boss Man." When keyboard player Tom Constanten took over Pigpen's spot on keyboards at live gigs Pigpen appeared less on stage, diving deeper into the bottle. McKernan developed a form of cirrohis of the liver and was advised to stop touring and warned that if he didn't stop drinking he'd simply stop. With a bottle in his hand, Pigpen accompanied the Dead on their Europe '72.  He died from a gastrointestinal hemmorage on March 8, 1973 having packed a lot of living into his 27 years. 

Others gone too soon include Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye's singing partner (24, brain cancer), T. Rex founder Marc Bolan (car accident at age 29...One headline read "T. Wrecks"...ouch), Queen's flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury (AIDS, 42) and folkie Tim Hardin, composer of "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Reason to Believe" (39, heroin overdose). (ed. note: I can't leave off Gram Parsons, age 26, overdose of morphine or Otis Redding, plane crash)



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