10 Most Criminally Overlooked Rock Deaths of 2015

These aren't the most famous rock stars, but they're important nonetheless.EXPAND
These aren't the most famous rock stars, but they're important nonetheless.

Although there's something ghoulish about measuring a year's passage by how many celebrities we lost to the Reaper, the Academy Awards' and Grammy Awards' "In Memoriam" montages provide a much-needed public service in the "I didn't know (insert name/pronoun) died!" department.

Because everyone knows celebrities generally die in threes, a lot of people get easily overshadowed. And in the eat 'em up and spit 'em out world of pop music, many more are just plain forgotten. Inevitably you always get blindsided by a few newly deceased names that if you didn't spend a hot minute on Facebook on any given day you might not have received the bad news.

So here in their order of their disappearance are 10 pivotal rock and pop luminaries we lost in 2015. Read carefully. It will save you the embarrassment of posting the death of Ben E. King in 2018 like it's a current news item.

February 7 - Joe B. Mauldin, 74
Cause of death: cancer
Everyone remembers February 3, 1959, as The Day The Music Died. But February 7, 2015, the day the bassist for Buddy Holly and the Crickets died? Not so much. Which is a shame because the Crickets were the first and best example of a self-contained pop group among the pioneering rock stars. In this clip, with one of only two surviving examples of the Crickets in action, you can best see Maudlin's bitch-slapping double bass technique. The Crickets rock extra harder on this second and last Ed Sullivan Show appearance because the stage crew deliberately turned the volume of Buddy Holly's guitar down. 

March 19 - Michael Brown, 65
Cause of death: heart failure
Although not the strict inventor of "baroque pop," The Left Banke was the first band with corny jokes about "going for Baroque" in its liner notes. Brown was the band's resident Brian Wilson, keyboardist, and songwriter of timeless hits like "Walk Away Renee," "Pretty Ballerina," and "Desiree." The Left Banke's discography was slim, but all of it is essential. Brown went on to form Stories, whose chart-topping 1973 hit "Brother Louie" returned to active service in 2010 as the theme to Louis CK's TV series, rendering it impossible to hear that song now without thinking about midlife crisis and pizza. Stories recorded it after Brown left the group, but that didn't stop it from being included on a Rhino Best of The Left Banke album.

April 24 - Sid Tepper, 96
Cause of death: old age
If you saw any obituaries for this famous songwriter best known for "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," you would've seen the claim that he wrote somewhere between 40 and 50 songs for Elvis, more than any other songwriter. And this is true but as a qualifier, he wrote mostly songs for the King's lousy movies, and they were some of the worst, each one designed to exile him further from the realms of rock ’n’ roll. "Petunia, the Gardener's Daughter," Song of the Shrimp," "Ito Eats," "The Bullfighter Was a Lady," "The Walls Have Ears," "G.I. Blues," "Drums of the Islands," "Slicin' Sand," "Kismet," "Five Sleepy Heads" — look any of these up on YouTube and see if your shoulders aren't above your head by the chorus. Pastiche calypso and tangos were anathema to The Hillbilly Cat's talents, but it's songs like "Wheels on My Heels" and "Smörgåsbord" that attempt to make rock the way the Pelvis once did that really depress a true believer. While once fans would've claimed he could sing the phone book and make it sound compelling, in these movie situational songs Tepper wrote, there is always the underlying fear that he might be asked to do just that. "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce," anyone?

April 28 - Jack Ely, 71
Cause of death: possibly skin cancer
Would "Louie Louie" have had the shelf life it's enjoyed for over half a century if you could understand the words and could rest assured there was nothing dirty about it? The combination of a mic suspended from the ceiling, the group's excessive volume in the studio and Ely's dental braces all colluded to make Louie's saga incomprehensible. Oddly enough, the mother of Kingsmen drummer Lynn Easton trademarked the band's name and, with success on the horizon, forced Ely out of the band so her son could become the lead vocalist. It is Easton who can be seen lip-synching Ely's vocals on all subsequent TV appearances and it is Easton's picture that many online news outlets carried in their obituaries. The song survived an FCC and FBI investigation and it is some of the misheard dirty lyrics that Iggy Pop put to good use on the Stooges' Metallic K.O. live album.


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