10 Most Criminally Overlooked Rock Deaths of 2015
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.
October 23 - Cory Wells, 74
Cause of death: blood cancer
I never understood why Three Dog Night never got respect from the rock press. Too many AM hits? Maybe, or the fact they chose their own material and gave legendary songwriters like Harry Nilsson, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, and Paul Williams big chart hits, some for the first time. Did The O'Jays get stick for not writing their big hits? They had an incredible vocal blend and great musicians. Although Chuck Negron is remembered as having sung the lion's share of the band's hits, Cory Wells was the voice behind their first two chart-toppers (and biggest sellers), "Mama Told Me Not to Come" and "Joy to the World." Jimmy Greenspoon, keyboardist for the group, also died of cancer in 2015, on March 11.
November 9 - Andy White, 85
Cause of death: stroke
The interim Beatles session drummer between the newly sacked Pete Best and the just-hired Ringo Starr. The Lovable Nose carried a chip on his shoulder for years over that first session, where he was deposed from the drum stool and forced to shake a tambourine on "Love Me Do" and a maraca on "P.S. I Love You." White would play drums on a host of other British hits like Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" and Lulu's "Shout." White's last recording was a cover version of "P.S. I Love You" by The Smithereens, with the band's usual drummer, Dennis Diken, forced to shake a maraca for historical accuracy.
November 15 - P.F. Sloan, 70
Cause of death: cancer
Best known for penning Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction," a song credited with lowering the voting age to 18. Sloan also penned less- political hits for The Turtles ("You Baby"), Herman's Hermits ("A Must to Avoid"), The Grass Roots ("Where Were You When I Needed You"), and Johnny Rivers ("Secret Agent Man"). And just as the '60s ended, Sloan withdrew from the music scene, his long absences attributed to illness or his just being sick of the music industry. Sloan's mythical status accrued by greater measures when Jim Webb wrote a song about how his and Brian Wilson's controversial round-the-clock psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, claimed to have written all of P.F. Sloan's hits!
November 23 - Cynthia Robinson, 71
Cause of death: cancer
The first female trumpeter in a major rock band, Robinson was the crown jewel in Sly & the Family Stone, the one whose brassy blasts elevated already lofty songs like "Dance to the Music," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," "I Want to Take You Higher," "Sing a Simple Song," and "Everyday People." The only member of the group to stay on with Sly when the Fam became a dysfunctional brood, Robinson had a child with Stone in 1976 named Phunne, and mother and daughter played together in a latter-day Family Stone.
December 6 - Holly Woodlawn, 69
Cause of death: brain and liver cancer
Although not an actual rock star, Holly from Miami F.L.A. was one of Warhol's disposable starlets, as well as the first living transgender person name-checked in a pop song, (you Britpop nerds screaming out "What about Jo Jo, the man who thought he was a woman? And 'Lola'?" can sit down now). Lou Reed's 1972 hit "Walk on the Wild Side" became an unlikely Top 20 hit in America and got past some sleeping radio censors here and in the UK, where an oral sex terminology handbook had yet to be furnished to the BBC.
December 27 - Stevie Wright, 68
Cause of death: pneumonia
The lead singer of The Easybeats had the social media misfortune of dying the same day as Meadowlark Lemon and a day before Lemmy. While The Easybeats are viewed as one-hit wonders in America for their transcendent rat race anthem "Friday on My Mind," they were the first superstar group from Australia, and the band's resident songwriters, Harry Vanda and George Young, later would become producers and managers of a bigger worldwide Aussie export, AC/DC (George was Malcolm and Angus' older brother). In this 1967 live clip from Germany, this Little Stevie proves that it's possible to be a compelling short frontman, even if his dance moves make it look like Howdy Doody did the choreography.
Given the amount of drugs and drink Wright poured into his small frame (as chronicled in his harrowing biography "Sorry: The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright"), it's amazing he didn't expire much sooner. The Australian Beatles had a score of worldwide hits to their credit, like "Sorry," "Gonna Have a Good Time," "Women," "Hello How Are You," and the now sadly ironic "Come In You'll Get Pneumonia." And possibly the most heartbreaking song about marital infidelity (because it drags the kids into it), "Falling Off the Edge of the World":
"The love that was in your smile when I married you isn't there now,
And even the children see that you don't look respectable now."
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