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' roll...at 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!!!