Friday, May 15, 2020

Weekend Listomania: Special "Only the Good Die Young" Guest Blogger Edition

So it's Friday, and you know what that means.

Yes, my Oriental Amanuensis of Awesomeness Fah Lo Suee and I will be social distancing at an undisclosed location that I won't be sharing with you freaking peons, thank you very much.

But in the meantime, courtesy of friend of PowerPop Captain Al, who graciously did the work for this when I decided to be a total slacker, here's a fun project for all of us:

Greatest Pop/Rock/Soul/Country Artists of the 20th Century Whose Early Deaths Probably Deprived Us Of Terrific Music They Would Otherwise Have Made!!!

In other words, these people had to have died before their artistic decline began. Got it? Good.

And our (one of these is mine) totally top of our head Top Eleven is ----

11. Jim Ellison [Material Issue]

Okay, so Ellison wasn't Kurt Cobain, but his death hit me a lot harder. For starters, unlike Cobain, he seemed to actually enjoy being a rock star. -- S.S.

10. Robert Johnson

Reason for inclusion: He was a mentor directly and indirectly to an entire generations of blues and rock musicians. The legend of his life and musicianship is the breakfast of champions for these musicians and fans.

What if he had lived: What direction would his music have taken had he lived. Would he have moved to Chicago and eventually gone electric? Jazz? Jump Blues or even more pop based? He easily could have done any single or combination of those directions. It would have been fascinating to see.

From Greil Marcus, in Mystery Train:

Shortly before his death Johnson reportedly formed a band with piano and drums ("ROBERT JOHNSON" emblazoned on the bass drum); there are even claims that he was using an electric pickup on his guitar. These developments by themselves would not have been unknown (Howlin' Wolf may have been playing an electric guitar in Mississippi at the same time...) But the rhythmic structures of Johnson's songs suggest that any band of his might have been making music recognizable as rock 'n' roll, full-blown not protean rock 'n' least by 1938, the year of his death.

9. Hank Williams

Reason for inclusion: He was a huge star, all-time great songwriter & extremely popular live performer. Like Robert Johnson his self destructive behavior became a symbol for future generations of country and rockabilly artists. Everyone loves a self destructive bad boy.

What if he had lived: Maybe country music would have been recognized as a serious genre much sooner.
He might have become an international superstar.

8. Buddy Holly

Reason: Come on now it's Buddy!

What if: This is my imaginary history if Buddy had lived. This could/should have happened!

In the early 60's Buddy concentrated on songwriting, producing other artists and even becoming a record company executive. He occasionally created his own new recordings and possibly (maybe probably) moved in a more pop mainstream direction. He cuts back on live performing. The British Invasion pulls him back into being a more active recording artist and live performer. By the second half of the sixties he starts playing places like the Fillmores' and the college circuit. Even a few hits follow after he shares stages with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and The Dead. I envision him standing between Grace and Kantner while on stage with the Airplane while directly in front of the stage I and 5000 other hippies dance to him playing at The Tripping Fields at SUNY New Paltz in May 1970! In an alternate universe this really happened. Of course after that he is influenced by James Taylor and gets old, fat and boring. He ends up an executive at Asylum Records and is caught in bed with Carly Simon. Oh, the humanity!!!

7. Eddie Cochran

Reason: Just like Buddy Holly: Great live performer, producer and songwriter.

What if: Possibly even more successful than Buddy! He had it all! He's almost a man of mystery because it feel like very little of his musical future had happened yet. His possibilities for greatness seemed endless. He was a true ass shaking rocker! He might have changed the history of rock & roll, he had that much potential.

6. Elmore James

Reason: One of our greatest blues songwriters. Possibly the most influential slide guitar player ever.

What if: He could have joined Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and BB King in receiving the success and recognition those three gained in the sixties and beyond. He just didn't receive the medical attention he needed. Many of the bluesmen died way too early due to health issues. Freddie King is another one who had his future in front of him and lost it due to a bad heart. The lifestyle of bluesmen was extremely tough and it caught up with Elmore.

5. Otis Redding

Reason: He was possibly the best vocalist and showman of the rock and roll/soul era. Successful record producer. He was just getting better and better as a songwriter.

What if: He was a potential record company executive if there ever was one, maybe creating his own record label someday. He would have achieved success on the level of a superstar. The sky was the limit on his talents with unlimited potential. (He is my favorite vocalist ever!) What a loss.

4. Jimi Hendrix

Reason: Considered by many the premier rock & roll guitarist. Great showman and wrote some classic songs. Jimi was a master at using the recording studio as a musical instrument. Then he pissed it all away by dying.

What if: What if he had lived is such a good question and one I have a great bit of difficulty contemplating. Had he hit a wall (as some feel) and he would of stalled creatively taking his music no further creatively with him and us looking at the promised land but unable to enter it the way The Beatles showed us a psychedelic music ("Strawberry Fields", "I am The Walrus" and "A Day in the Life") but could take it no further, or would Jimi have freed up the music and taken it in directions we still can't contemplate. Damned if I know!

3. Janis Joplin

Reason: Unlike the others Janis was mainly a song interpreter but she was one of the best. Janis found great songs that fit her to a 'T" as a performer. She commanded the stage with a passion few could equal. Steve saw her perform with Big Brother back in the day and says it might be the best performance he ever attended! Ask him sometime.

What if: Another tough one to nail down. Some fans and critics said she had burnt her voice out and was on a downhill trajectory as a singer. I don't hear that as her singing on "Pearl" was superb. Her live performances from the same era were in general very, very good. She went out on top. With the right band and material she could have sustained a long wonderful career if only she could have gotten her life under control.

2. Sandy Denny

Reason: That voice, that songwriting and when she was right she could command a stage like few other singer/songwriters.

What if: Surprisingly "Little Miss Demure" was as self destructive as anyone on this list. Drinking, drugging and self destructive physical behavior doomed her. She was ill equipped to deal with a music business in an era before artists could build their careers much more independently of the major labels and unresponsive management. She never got to transition into successful niche careers like Richard Thompson, John Prine, Lucinda Williams or Rosanne Cash, who lowered their expectations of mass stardom and gained longterm control and success with their careers. Sandy could have had that long term success and made good money if she could have lasted long enough to make that transition. Filling mid size halls, selling her own recordings and merchandise and having many more artists covering her wonderful song catalog the way the above named artists have had done to their song catalogs. Another real loss.

And the Numero Uno he died way too freaking young artiste clearly is....

1. Pete Ham

Reason: He was a great rock/pop songwriter and a passionate singer.

What if: Peter had little stage presence or charisma (see the video), but even with Badfinger's limitations as a live act, in the studio they often shined! Even with those limitations I see Peter as a major player as a hit songwriter and producer. Maybe he even could have grown as a live performer. Many of the greatest often do. (Think Richard Thompson)

As with all of the performers on this list Peter Ham's death was very tragic. But unlike the others he committed suicide which was a precursor to the new chic way to die among big time rock stars. His death broke my heart as it was so unnecessary. It broke my heart in a way that was different from the other nine deaths on this list in that he was directly the master of his own fate. For another later generation Kurt Cobain had the same effect on them. Now this way of dying by suicide is all too common and even accepted.

There we are, what do you guys think? Who do you miss because of their early death?

And have a great weekend, everybody!!!


Anonymous said...

big brother and the holding company WAS the right band.

Shriner said...

Adam Schlesigner. Not just for his FoW music, but for the stuff he wrote for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and upcoming musical collaborations with Sarah Silverman, etc. They guy seemingly had an effortless ability to craft great songs and that's a rarity these days. I guess dying in your 50s is not "early", though...

Shriner said...

Oh, and James Honeyman-Scott from the Pretenders. Died *way* too soon and was a great guitarist and integral to the sound of the first two Pretenders albums.

Sal Nunziato said...

Eric Clapton.

Gummo said...

Your 20th-century cutoff disqualifies Amy Winehouse, surely one of the biggest "what if" tales of squandered, unrealized talent in pop music history.

Mark said...

Can't argue with any of your choices. I would add however Tim Buckley, Kirsty MacColl, Jim Morrison, and though not my taste, Amy Winehouse. One other, who's outside your parameters, is Clifford Brown, the jazz trumpeter.

Jim Ellison (Material Issue) and Sandy Denny (and in particular, due to her solo albums) are the ones from your list I miss the most.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Janis.

It is clear to me that as great as she was, she never got to fully utilize all her gifts.

Think what a T-Bone Burnett, Ry Cooder or even a Rick Rubin might have brought to her art.

The flame was still igniting when it went out.

Still makes me sad to this day.

She was a beautiful soul.

Good list overall, by the way.

I'd add Sam Cooke to (for the same reasons as Janis). Sam had the sweetest and most soulful voice of all time.


cthulhu said...

I know this misses the 20th century cutoff, but...Chris Whitley.

Otherwise, spot on with all of these. Within the cutoff, I agree with Shriner about James Honeyman-Scott. From the punk world, I’d add Stiv Bators.

cthulhu said...

And Steve, gotta give major props to your write up about Eddie Cochran; his potential was unlimited, probably more so than anybody else on your list with the possible exception of Otis.

Anonymous said...


Gram Parsons

Townes Van Zandt

Buddy Holly


Anonymous said...

My bad. You had Buddy Holly. Sorry

Anonymous said...

george gershwin

Anonymous said...

Bobby Fuller...the next generation's Buddy Holly.

Sjm said...

Jim Croce. The guy was at his peak.

pete said...

I'm reluctant to overrate the futures of artists who died of drug overdoses, but Sam Cooke? Absolutely! So far nobody's mentioned Jimmie Rodgers, who pretty much invented modern country music, at least on the men's side. The name here that resonates the strongest is Hendrix, because in his late recordings you can hear where he was heading. The backing tracks are brilliant, stand-alone instrumentals; the vocals are half-hearted, even for work vocals. The what-if? He's gets new management, which puts him halfway to getting his life straightened out, considering all the drugs they were giving him, and goes on to create the greatest instrumental rock fusion.

Duane Allman? You figured he had a bright future.

James Booker

Howie Wyeth - he might have been "just a drummer" but he was a truly great drummer, a fine pianist, and a sweet guy

cthulhu said...

Seconding Pete’s call on Duane Allman - he would have continued to be a major force in melodic rock and could have enabled the Allman Brothers to be the preeminent “Southern rock” band throughout the ‘70s, and maybe have headed off the lesser exemplars of that genre, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, etc. Such a lyrical player.

Which reminds me of Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom I’m aware is not necessarily one of Steve’s favorites (though the overly-rabid parts of his fan base may be more to blame)...SRV was poised for a new level in his career when he died; having beat his chemical addictions, he was playing, singing, and composing better than ever - I saw him for the third time about a year before his death, and he was absolutely on top of his game. There is every reason to believe he would have continued to be influential and vital in his later years.

Dave said...

Sam Cooke, like Otis Redding, was moving toward more personal music right before his death. There was never a greater male singer in this period.

Ritchie Valens was a superb singer, and became a gifted songwriter in his teens. His few albums were worth seeking out _- not just singles and filler.

Good calls on Bobby Fuller and Kirsty McColl and Bobby Fuller.

Tammi Terrell was woefully unappreciated as a solo singer. She had the potential to do great things.

And I’d like to think that Marvin Gaye might have gotten his act together eventually and produced something as great as “What’s
Going On?’or “Let’s Get It On.”


steve simels said...

Agree about Gershwin -- I think his early death is the greatest tragedy in the history of American music -- but I think I made it pretty clear we were not talking about classical artists.

MarginAlt said...

i would also add Bob Marley to the list. he was at the top of his game when he sadly passed away from cancer.
if he were alive today we wouldn’t be seeing his name and memory being defiled by his greedy estate selling Bob Marley branded pot, coffee
headphones and speakers etc etc.

Alzo said...

Too obvious: Paul McCartney (1942-1969). C'mon, the guy who did 'My Love' is NOT the same guy who did "Scrambled Egg."