The Six Worst Accidents in Rock ’n’ Roll History
From left, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Jack Casady, Marty Balin, Signe Anderson, and Spencer Dryden.
January was a brutal month for rock stars. Not content to let the month finish out without a few more claimants, the Grim Reaper went into double time and on January 28 claimed two founding members of Jefferson Airplane. We were just processing the sudden death of singer-guitarist Paul Kantner, 74, from multiple organ failure and septic shock just days after suffering a heart attack when we learned that the band's original female lead singer Signe Toly Anderson, who had also been suffering from health problems, also passed away at age 74. Cause of death was not revealed.
In rock's rich pantheon, we've had plenty of bands with multiple members dying of the same thing (cancer, drugs, etc.) And we've had band members choosing the same form of suicide (sad, sad Badfinger hanging themselves). We've even had two band members dying of a motorcycle accident three blocks away from each other and one a year apart (Duane Allman and Berry Oakley). But the death of Kantner and Anderson is the first time that two members of the same band have died on the same day at the same age in two different locations.
Of course, we have lost multiple band members on the same day in more traditional ways, namely small chartered airplane plane crashes. Note to musicians, if anyone asks you to fly in anything named Beechcraft and a couple of letters or numbers after it — don't get in. We've compiled the greatest band fatalities in one day because we at New Times know you are losing sleep over this.
December 31, 1985: Rick Nelson, his fiancée and five members of the Stone Canyon Band die in a plane crash
"Traveling Man" and rock ’n’ roll legend Rick Nelson had recently bought a used propeller aircraft with questionable airworthiness. Most of Nelson''s band were afraid to fly in it after a couple of emergency landings. The historic DC-3 once belonged to Richard C. DuPont but its most recent owner had been Jerry Lee Lewis. The moral: Never buy a plane from someone nicknamed The Killer.
December 10, 1967: Otis Redding and four members of his Bar-Kays die in a plane crash
The night after this December 9 appearance on the Cleveland local television music show Upbeat, The Big O, and The Bar-Kays played what would be their last show at Leo's Casino. One of the opening bands? An early outfit of Cheap Trickster Rick Nielsen called The Grim Reapers. The Coincidence Police could not be notified in time.
October 20, 1977: The Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash claims three band members
Ronnie VanZant, guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines died along with the band's road manager, the pilot and the co-pilot when their plane crashed in swampy woods. The survivors managed to make it to a farmhouse to get help and had guns pointed at them by the occupants. Drummer Artemus Pyle said, "The farmer shot me in the shoulder. He thought I was trespassing. He felt really bad once I told him what happened."
April 6, 2015-:Three Killed in Van Crash Carrying Wormreich and Khaotika
Okay, this one isn't a plane crash, but we figured you could use a breather. Khaotika drummer Nicholas Chrisostomo and Wormreich guitarists Ian McKinney and Paul Truesdale died in a van crash in northeast Georgia. In more irony driven news, the bands were scheduled to play in East Atlanta Village at The Basement under The Graveyard Tavern.
September 20, 1973: Jim Croce and guitarist Maurice Muehleisen die in plane crash
Add to that death toll Croce's road manager, his booking agent, his opening act and the pilot. The Beechcraft E18S they charted could not gain altitude on takeoff and crashed into a tree. At the time Croce was selling millions of records but was virtually broke as the result of some bad record deals. Like Buddy Holly, who also perished in a small chartered Beechcraft, Croce was working a grueling schedule just to keep money coming in and also like Holly, the crash was due to pilot error. In a letter to his wife which arrived after his death, Croce told her he was going to quit the music business. "I'm gonna become a public hermit. I'm gonna get my Master's Degree. I'm gonna write short stories and movie scripts. Who knows, I might even get a tan," he wrote.
February 3, 1959 - Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Richie Valens die in plane crash
Rock's first and most devastating tragedy claimed the lives of three headliners on the ill-fated WInter Dance Party Tour plus the pilot Roger Peterson, who was not yet qualified to operate in weather that required flying solely by reference to instruments and couldn't read the gyroscope on the Beechcraft Bonanza.
Technically Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The BIg Bopper weren't in the same band but Buddy's reconstituted Crickets (with future country legend Waylon Jennings on bass) were the backup band for the headliners plus Dion and the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. When drummer Carl Bunch got frostbite on their perpetually breaking down tour bus with the equally pertpetually busted heater, Holly sat behind the kit and played behind both The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. Not wanting to spend another night in the freezing cold bus, Holly chartered a plane and at the last-minute Jennings and guitarist Tommy Allsup gave up their seats to The Big Bopper and Richie Vaklens respectively. The last song Buddy performed in concert was "Rave On," ironically the last song Rick Nelson would perform in concert performed in concert before his fatal date with the unfriendly skies.
Update, 1 p.m., 2/2/2016: This article originally contained five items. We've added a sixth item to the list.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.