September 14, 1983 – July 23, 2011
For those of you out there who have yet to learn about the biggest new craze that looks to soon be sweeping the live music performance world, it seems that after seeing all those kids screaming at the sight of a deceased rapper brought back to “life” has gotten industry heads screaming for one of their own. There’s been talks about giving the same “hologram that’s not really a hologram” treatment to several other deceased stars and even talks about a possible Elvis Presley and Justin Beiber duet – yes, you read correctly- and while I won’t get into the whole trashing the legacy of true star by making his likeness perform with a flavor of the month thing, we here would like to take a chance to remember a few of our dearly departed rock icons in a much more tasteful way by remembering their legacy and listening to their music. While there are certainly many stars that are deeply missed, we will be focusing on the ones that left us at their prime who were able to accomplish so much in so little time. Read on as we list a few of music’s missed stars.
A member of that infamous 27 club, and while there certainly was no pact with the devil in her case, she sadly still had plenty of demons. Known for her powerful deep contralto vocals, Winehouse became an instant hit in her homeland of the UK with the release of her first album, Frank, in 2003. She would soon gain worldwide stardom with her 2006 follow-up album, Back to Black, winning five out of six Grammy Award nominations including three of the “big four” categories, all at the age of 24. Her style was a mix of new and old, combining such genres as big band, R&B, soul and jazz mixed in with modern unrestrained lyrics based on her personal life that included drugs, failed relationships, infidelity and social issues – her biggest hit “Rehab” spoke about her deep resentment of trying to get clean. In the end, her songs spoke more true to life than most had hoped for; after several failed attempts at getting sober, the young singer died of alcohol poisoning on July 27, 2011. With only two proper albums and a few years of stardom, she became to only British female to win five Grammys as well as garnering the UK’s best selling record of the 21st century with Back in Black.
January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970
Yet another member of the 27 club, Janis Joplin was known for living an exciting but deeply depressed life fuelled by excessive drug use and a crippling self image issue stemming from her experience in high school where she was regularly ridiculed for her looks and personality. She first rose to fame during the late sixties as the lead singer for psychedelic blues-rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company and then later as a solo artist. Although she only charted five singles throughout her career, several songs have become cult classics regardless of their initial impact during the sixties. Her performances during the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock are regarded as some of the best in rock history. Although she battled with depression and self esteem issues throughout most of her life, her last years alive were known to be her best as she was engaged to be married and very excited about her work on what would be her last album, Pearl. On October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead at Hollywood’s Landmark Hotel, face slumped with fresh puncture wounds in her arm. The death was ruled an accidental heroin overdose.
November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997
Son of folk singer Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley was a singer-songwriter and guitarist that amassed a massive cult following by regularly playing several unique covers at venues in Manhattan’s East Village. Just listen to his cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “Sarah” and “I Shall Be Released” as well as his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and you will most definitely see why this guy made it to cult status. After about a decade of working as a guitarist for hire in Los Angeles, he was signed to Columbia Records and recorded his only proper album, Grace. Following two years of consistent touring to promote the album, Jeff Buckley moved to Tennessee and began sporadically working on material for his second album. On May 29, 1997, Buckley went out for a swim at the nearby Wolf River where he was subsequently hit by a passing motorboat, effectively knocking him out, unknown to the boat driver or anyone else at the time as Buckley had been alone. His body was found fully clothed a few days later on June 4. Since his death, several previously unreleased material has surfaced including tracks from his would-be second album along with several live cuts from his days at East Village.
July 15, 1956 - May 18, 1980
Coming in as the youngest artist on our list, Ian Curtis was not brought down by drugs or alcohol, but sadly, by himself, as the enigmatic Joy Division frontman committed suicide at the young age of 23, leaving behind a legacy of influence that can still be seen today in several modern bands’ affinity for Ian’s brand of alternative new wave sound and unorthodox style. When you think about the amount of groups that have listed Joy Division as an influence, it’s hard to realize that the band was only active for about four years, 1976-1980, with their first proper album not released until ‘79. Joy division was known for their unique post-punk sound and imaginative lyrics as well as Curtis’ unique bass-baritone vocals coupled with his signature dance style which mimicked the epileptic seizures that he suffered from. Ian Curtis suffered from depression and epilepsy most of his life which can be seen in his lyrics which would often focus on emotional isolation, death, alienation, and urban decay. During the last year of his life, his health was in decline as well as his marriage due to his close relationship with journalist Annik Honoré. In the early hours of May 18, 1980, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his house in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England.
February 22, 1968 – May 25, 1996
Although it’s hard to gauge the popularity and impact on the entire scope of music of a man who died days before the release of his band’s most lauded album and subsequent fame, here in his stomping grounds of Southern California, the man is most definitely a legend and an icon – and rightly so – bringing together a unique blend of punk rock, reggae, dance hall and ska, blended with his own soulful singing style that is as quintessential Californian to the ‘90s as the Beach Boys were to the ‘60s. Bradley Nowell of the band Sublime first gained local fame through a series a very well received shows around their native Long Beach and soon spread their popularity when a demo of the bands song “Date Rape” was given to Los Angeles radio station KROQ who then played it as part of their regular playlist.
MCA records soon picked up the band and agreed to distribute their debut album 40 oz to Freedom, which the band recorded themselves using California State University, Dominguez Hills’ recording studio during restricted hours, essentially giving themselves $30,000 worth of free studio time. Soon after in 1996, they returned to the studio to record their major label debut album, the self titled Sublime. Nowell had been struggling with heroin addiction since his early years with the band and quickly worsened as several failed attempts caused him to come back deeper every time. Seven days after getting married and just days after Sublime embarked on the first leg of their Northern California tour – with European and East Coast tours scheduled right after – Bradley Nowell was found lying slumped over his hotel room bed, dead of an apparent heroin overdose.
There you have it, five stars brought down by their demons, robbing the world of what may have been; Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly… the list goes on and on. And although we will never again be able to experience their talents live, their passion and legacy will forever live on through their music. Let us never forget them and what they mean to the world of rock… and let’s try not to let Justin Beiber sing with the King of Rock, please?