Lists

Death Race 2016: All The Musicians Who Died in April 2016

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Merle Haggard, 79, country music legend cause of death  complications from pneumonia
One of country music's all-time greatest voices was also one of its most misunderstood. Haggard went from juvenile offender to federal prisoner in short order, and managed to escape from several jails, which landed him in maximum-security prison San Quentin. There, he watched a fateful Johnny Cash concert and was inspired to turn his life around for good. And while Haggard never used his prison stint as a badass marketing tool, he never hid it either, judging from his earliest hits like songs like "Mama Tried" (about a young man who spent his 21st birthday in prison) and "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" (his first country number one).

Haggard achieved his biggest notice from the pop world in 1969 with the song "Okie From Muskogee," which the country's Silent Majority took as a full-on endorsement of their anti-hippie, anti-draft card burning, and anti-marijuana views. To be sure, Haggard was in the joint, but he was not adverse to hooving on one. Just ask his pal Willie, who conveniently walks on in this video after that opening line about not smoking marijuana is dispensed with. The conservative views of "Okie" may have hampered him from connecting with the Woodstock generation like  Johnny Cash did, but Haggard's no-nonsense singing and the Bakersfield sound was already influencing future country rockers like Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam for generations to come.


April 7
Jade Lemons, guitarist for post grunge band Injected, cause of death 
 drug overdose.
Injected's first single, "Faithless," was a top 20 single on modern rock charts. Minus the presence of girls in painted-on jeans and open beverages,  and this clip could be any country music video today. Since splitting from the band in 2002, Lemons reunited twice with the band for one-off shows but the promise of new material never happened.


Jimmie Van Zant, 59, Southern rock musician, cause of death 
 liver cancer
Jimmie was the cousin of Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Donnie Van Zant of 38 Special. The Jimmie Van Zant Band were lesser known nationally, which has led to internet trollers accusing him of riding on his relatives' coattails. According to Jimmy, "There’s a brand name, but there is to be expected quality, and we try to deliver that."
April 11
Emile Ford, 78, Saint Lucian singer and sound engineer

"What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?" was legendary British producer Joe Meek's earliest production and Ford's biggest hit. But as a sound engineer, Ford had a pioneering hand in creating the basis for what we now know as karaoke, where you could sing this selection for yourself. But only in Britain, where it was a number one hit in 1959.




April 21
Lonnie Mack, 74, singer-guitarist

The influential rock guitarist is credited for being one of the first virtuoso guitar soloists. He is best remembered for his 1963 cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" but Mack also played bass on The Doors' Morrison Hotel album in 1970.



Prince, 57, cause of death  still unknown
I've already eulogized The Purple One, so I'd like to use this space to ponder on why a man who had an aversion to elevators and warned us not to let the elevator bring us down in "Let's Go Crazy" was found dead in one. According to friend L.A. Reid, Prince once told him "The Elevator is the devil." With such a fervent belief, you'd think he'd maybe install an escalator or, I dunno, maybe a chairlift in Paisley Park.
April 24
Billy Paul, 81, American R&B singer, cause of death 
 pancreatic cancer
Paul's 1972 number-one hit "Me and Mrs. Jones" is one of my go-to karaoke songs, so I'll always love Billy Paul for that. His political followup to that popular slow jam, "Am I Black Enough For You," may have been stalled his career, but hardly sounds like a misstep from this soul-deprived vantage point.

April 25
Eddie Watkins, 47, Polvo drummer

Proving you can't play math rock without a great time keeper.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic