2016 has had some difficult deaths to deal with in the world of music. It’s a business that favors the young, yet also has more than its fair share of died-too-young.
QRO is in no position to give fitting truly tributes to these careers – you can easily find such tributes in many other places. Instead, here are our encounters with these people who died:
Prince (d. April 21st, 2016)
The most recent startling death in music has been The Purple One, Prince, who was found dead at his Paisley Park home in Minneapolis at the age of 57. A singularly innovative musician who remained relevant from his early eighties breakthrough all the way to today, including touring, he not only pulled off having one name, but claimed an entire color – and even had a period when he went by an unpronounceable symbol, a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”.
Prince was also extremely controlling of his image, perhaps understandably, so QRO never got any photos, but did review last year’s HITnRUN Phase One (QRO review).
Glenn Frey (d. January 18th, 2016)
Guitarist and singer for one of, possibly, the classic American rock band, the Eagles, Glenn Frey teamed up with Don Henley, and the rest, as the say, was history. Songs like “Desperado”, “Hotel California”, and “Take It Easy” – there’s a reason that Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) is the second highest-selling album in history. Oh, and solo Frey also had hits like “The Heat Is On” (its turn in Beverly Hills Cop making it one of songs of the eighties).
Henley has confirmed that the Eagles are now no more, but QRO managed to catch them before Frey’s passing, on September 18th, 2014, at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden (QRO photos).
David Bowie (d. January 10th, 2016)
2016 began with Blackstar by the one-and-only David Bowie, released on his birthday. Two days later, he was dead, and the world mourned. Perhaps no artist has stayed significant longer, reinvented himself more, reinvented music more, than Bowie, through incarnations including Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and others. Indeed, he stayed essential right up until the end.
Unfortunately Bowie gave up touring over a decade ago, but QRO reviewed not only Blackstar (QRO review) but also his 2013 return album, The Next Day (QRO review), not to mention his return to making music, “Where Are We Now?” (QRO review), also released on his birthday [note: which is the same as your correspondent’s – and Elvis]. Even before that, Bowie’s personal selection of songs for a release to go with Britain’s Mail on Sunday was so popular that it got its own release, as iSelect (QRO review), which featured classic “Life On Mars?”, which was also our song for the planet in feature “Music of the Spheres” (QRO feature).
On January 8th, Tony Visconti & Woody Woodmansey, the bassist/producer and drummer (respectively) of Bowie’s early glam work (as well as more recently), performed his/their The Man Who Sold the World in full at New York’s Highline Ballroom (QRO venue review), starting the show by wishing Big Apple-living Bowie a happy birthday over Visconti’s cellphone. Following Bowie’s death and massive interest, they agreed to another show on January 19th, which QRO covered (QRO live review).
John Bradbury (d. December 28th, 2015)
Britain in the late seventies was bursting with new music, new genres, and bringing the Jamaican ska sound to Blighty was The Specials, including drummer John Bradbury. He mixed black and white sounds as much as anyone in the Two/Tone army at the time on such classics as “Gangsters” (his debut with the band), “Ghost Town”, and “Free Nelson Mandela”, one of the most important political songs ever.
Bradbury left when the group disbanded in 1984, but returned for its second reunion in 2008, and was with the band right up until his death (which came only a few months after the death of retired Specials trombonist Rico Rodriguez). QRO caught The Specials at Austin’s South-by-Southwest in 2013 (QRO photos), a slightly odd SXSW schedule that saw the veterans playing a small space after even older Iggy & The Stooges, and last year at home in Britain for Nottingham’s Splendour Festival (QRO photos).
Lemmy Kilmister (d. December 28th, 2015)
Heavy metal and hard rock are built on the heavy, hard foundations of Black Sabbath and Motörhead, the latter fronted by the iconic singer/bassist Lemmy. From early successes such as single “Ace of Spades” to a touring schedule that would break most men, Lemmy was the quintessential rock ‘n’ roller – mutton chops included. Bands may change (including the rest of Motörhead’s line-up), music may change, but Lemmy was always there… until he wasn’t.
QRO covered Motörhead & Lemmy from our early days in 2008, August 10th at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY (QRO photos) and September 20th at New York’s Roseland Ballroom September 20th (QRO photos), to the other Roseland, Roseland Theater in Portland on February 5th, 2011 (QRO photos), through to mere months before his passing, September 1st at Emo’s in Austin (QRO photos) – where his illness cut the set short – and a week-and-a-half later at Riot Fest in Chicago (QRO photos), as well as reviewing one of the Motörhead’s final records, Aftershock (QRO review).
Scott Weiland (d. December 3rd, 2015)
When alternative music broke through in the early nineties, certainly voices on the heavier end gave it real weight, such as Kurt Cobain and Scott Weiland. Fronting Stone Temple Pilots, out came hits like “Plush” and “Interstate Love Song”, before an acrimonious break-up ten years later. Weiland’s personal issues, including struggle with drugs and alcohol, didn’t prevent him from fronting super-group Velvet Revolver (whose Guns n’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum knew a thing or two about mercurial singers), then an STP reunion. But eventually it caught up with him, as the rest of the Pilots “terminated” their relationship with Weiland, even continuing on with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington under the STP name.
QRO caught Stone Temple Pilots with Scott Weiland for some reason playing Austin’s new music showcase South-by-Southwest in 2010 (QRO photos), even reviewed their return eponymous album (QRO review). QRO did a ticket giveaway (QRO contest) for Weiland’s solo show – with backing orchestra & Christmas songs – at iHeartRadio Theater on November 29th, 2011 (QRO live review), and even covered ‘Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington’ at The Paramount in Huntington, NY on September 10th, 2013 (QRO live review). Last year Weiland was embarking on his latest solo career, with new backing band The Wildabouts, and QRO was at one of their first shows at Gramercy Theater in New York on March 10th (QRO live review). Their album Blaster came out on March 31st, just a day after the death of Wildabout guitarist Jeremy Brown, and that Gramercy show ended up being Weiland’s last in the five boroughs, with his drug overdose last winter.
Dave Brockie (d. March 23rd, 2014)
You may not know Dave Brockie, but you will recognize his alter ego, Oderus Urungus of GWAR. As Oderus, Brockie founded & fronted the legendary horror-rock-mock outfit, dressed in a costume that included a cuttlefish codpiece (which was taken into custody as “evidence” after an arrest in North Carolina for obscenity) and buckets of fake blood. In addition to theatrical stage shows (slave pit and crucifixions included), Brockie/Oderus was there whenever GWAR appeared on screen, in everything from Empire Records to The Jerry Springer Show to FOX News’ Red Eye.
GWAR’s photographers have dared the fake blood & semen to see GWAR (QRO spotlight on) on November 18th, 2011 at Austin’s Marchesa Hall & Theatre (QRO photos), People’s Court in Des Moines, Iowa on March 27th, 2012 (QRO photos), Wooly’s in Des Moines on April 19th, 2013 (QRO live review), 2013 Riot Fest in Chicago (QRO photos), and Portland’s Roseland Theater on October 13th, 2013 (QRO live review). More intimately, QRO interviewed Brockie in 2012 (QRO interview), where he discussed the November 3rd, 2011 passing (just before that Marchesa show) of guitarist Cory Smoot/Flattus Maximus.
But just as Flattus’ ascension into the intergalactic heavens (or hell) didn’t stop GWAR, neither did Brockie’s death, and QRO caught one of their first post-Oderus shows at 2014 Riot Fest (QRO photos), where new lead singer Blother asked the crowd to bow their heads at the loss the band had suffered – “they lost a crack rock and need you to look for it.” QRO has continued to follow the band, back at Wooly’s on August 27th, 2015 (QRO photos), back at Riot Fest last year (QRO photos) – including an interview with members Beefcake the Might and Balsac the Jaws of Death (QRO interview) – and New York’s own Webster Hall on November 15th (QRO photos). Hail Oderus!
Pete Seeger (d. January 27th, 2014)
There is a strain of politically activist music that goes back far before Rage Against the Machine or even Bob Dylan, to the thirties and forties folk music of the likes of Pete Seeger. As a member of The Weavers, Seeger was a fixture on radio in the forties, topping the charts in 1950, before the whole group was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. But Seeger reemerged in the sixties at the forefront of its own activist music with such songs as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer”, not to mention helping popularize spiritual “We Shall Overcome”, which became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
On the ground, Seeger was particularly involved in the effort to clean up New York State’s Hudson River (whose own artistic history goes from Dutch colonial architecture to Catskills comedy, to say nothing of the Hudson River School of painting), most notably in the Clearwater Festival, where QRO caught him, still performing, less than a year before his death (QRO photos).
Benjamin Curtis (d. December 29th, 2013)
Unfortunately, not all of the artists on this list are legends from way-back-when, but also those still building the careers that were cut down way too soon. School of Seven Bells was formed in 2007 in New York by sisters Alejandra & Claudia Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, previously of Secret Machines and Tripping Daisy. They released some beautiful and pushing electronic stylings, before first the departure of Alejandra, and then the death from cancer (at only the age of 35) of Curtis.
QRO covered them a bunch, including all four of their albums, 2008’s Alpinisms (QRO review), 2010’s Disconnect from Desire (QRO review), 2012’s Ghostory (QRO review), and this year’s posthumous SVIIB (QRO review). We also caught them live quite a bit, including back when The xx opened for them at New York’s South Street Seaport on August 14th, 2009 (QRO photos), one of their last shows with Alejandra at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge on September 29th, 2010 (QRO live review), and sharing White Castle burgers with them at a Doc Martens store only a month before Curtis’ lymphoma diagnosis was announced, on January 16th, 2013 (QRO photos).
Lou Reed (d. October 27th, 2013)
Few musicians have been as influential as Lou Reed, frontman for The Velvet Underground & much more. As Brian Eno famously stated, that while 1967 debut The Velvet Underground & Nico initially sold on 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” It’s now regarded as one of the greatest records of all time, along with Reed’s solo albums Transformer and Berlin (and he even had a solo hit in “Walk On the Wild Side”).
Reed was also a notorious crank, and QRO got to see that in person when he and classic rock photographer Mick Rock did a Q&A with designer John Varvatos (with Underground super-fan Salmon Rushdie in the crowd) at John Varvatos Bowery (the former CBGB’s) on October 3rd (QRO photos), only weeks before his death. QRO also caught two very different team-ups of Reed and a modern act, doing his team-up piece with Metric, “The Wanderlust” from Synthetica (QRO review), at Radio City Music Hall on September 23rd, 2012 (QRO video), as well as Underground’s classic “Pale Blue Eyes”, one of his last live performances ever – and his ill-fated album with Metallica, Lulu (QRO review). But if anyone’s got the career to be forgiven for being cranky, forgiven for Lulu, it’s certainly Lou Reed.
Richie Havens (d. April 22nd, 2013)
Many great artists emerged from the Beatnik fifties scene in Greenwich Village, including Richie Havens, who shifted from poetry to picking up a guitar. His career burst forth when he played the opening set at Woodstock, three hours & multiple encores (and reportedly every song he knew) because other artists were delayed getting there.
In 2009, downtown New York’s own River-to-River Festival had a series of shows at Castle Clinton (QRO venue review) celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the most famous music festival ever, which included tributes to the likes of Sly Stone & Joni Mitchell, as well as actual Woodstock performers like Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens (QRO photos).
Levon Helm (d. April 19th, 2012)
Perhaps only The Band was good enough to get away with that name, as the roots-rock-revival group kind of encapsulated much of what was great about rock music in the sixties and seventies. It’s rare drummer/singer was Levon Helm could do it all – he later went on to have a career as an actor, and recovered from throat cancer to win multiple Grammys in the twenty-first century.
Unfortunately, cancer did finally take Helm, but QRO got the chance to meet him in – where else? – Woodstock, New York, at the Levon Helm Studios (QRO feature). “We should remember him as the every-man – he was a husband, a father and had a great heart. And we should remember the impact he had on the world of music.”
Devon Clifford (d. April 18th, 2010)
When dance-punk was breaking out, from western Canada came You Say Party! We Say Die! and albums Hit the Floor!, Lose All Time, and XXXX. They were also notorious for getting banned at the border to the United States, but it was the death of drummer Devon Clifford that saw the band drop “We Say Die!”, line-up changes, and eventually hiatus/break-up. But a reunion beckoned, with this year’s You Say Party.
QRO covered 2007’s Lose All Time (QRO review) and 2009’s XXXX (QRO review), covered the band at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland on March 10th, 2010 (QRO live review), caught them again just after at SXSW (QRO photos) – just a month before Clifford’s brain hemorrhage – and even recently reviewed their new, sorrowful form on their self-titled release (QRO review).
Alex Chilton (d. March 17th, 2010)
There’s an alternate history where seventies power-pop was as popular as the decade’s hard rock and what’s now known as classic rock, and in that world, the sound’s touchstone is Big Star, fronted by Alex Chilton. Though they only lasted a few years and three albums, #1 Record, Radio City, and Third/Sister Lovers had influence far beyond their record sales, particularly on the eighties breakthrough in bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements – the latter released maybe the ultimate tribute song, “Alex Chilton”: “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round”
The group reunited in the nineties, even released a new album In Space in 2005, and was set to play South-by-Southwest in 2010, when Chilton died mere days before. What was to be a Big Star concert became a Big Star memorial, which has continued with performances of Third over the years, including back at SXSW in 2012 (QRO photos), with a band that included remaining living member Jody Stephens (QRO photos), The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson (QRO photos), and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (QRO photos).
John Pike (d. June 2nd, 2007)
When QRO was first getting into gear, one of our favorite new bands was Ra Ra Riot and their uplifting baroque pop. Since then, Ra Ra Riot has gone on to great things, but unfortunately not part of this success has been drummer John Pike, who disappeared and drowned after a show in Providence, Rhode Island, just as they were starting to get notice.
QRO never caught the band with Pike, but saw one of their first shows after his death, as the group decided that he’d want them to continue, June 29th, 2007 at South Street Seaport (QRO live review). QRO also covered their self-titled debut EP that he was a part of (QRO review), talked with lead singer Wes Miles about Pike (QRO interview), even saw them play Pike-penned “St. Peter’s Day Festival” (QRO video), and has continued to follow the band to this day (QRO spotlight on).