The cover of David Bowie's classic 1977 album, Heroes.
The cover of David Bowie's classic 1977 album, Heroes.
Masayoshi Sukita

Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Too Many Other Great Musicians Died in 2016

Much is made about rock stars who cashed out early, dubbed the 27 Club. Well, I think now that rock has survived into its seventh decade, we will soon be talking about the 67 Club, rock stars who just barely made it passed the mandatory retirement age.

Baby boomers’ music, the so-called “classic rock” of the ’60s and ’70s, has been ingrained into every decade that followed it, never disappearing from the airwaves the way the bulk of rock ’n’ roll from the ’50s has been relegated to ham radio frequencies. It’s featured in our movies, our advertising, our TV programs, and in heavy rotation on oldies stations. So with any artist that has been as much of a constant as a David Bowie or Glenn Frey, people take their passing like the loss of a parent. And unlike a parent, a Leonard Cohen or a Sir George Martin never sent us to bed without our supper.

We’ve had a whole year of death after death of all ages, but with time being so short, we’ll focus mainly on all the Hall of Famers (because you did), give a few honorable mentions, and take special notice of all the Quietest Bassist Deaths (because they REALLY always get overshadowed).

Click on each month for the entire month's roundup.

Glenn FreyEXPAND
Glenn Frey
Melissa Fossum


Already smarting from the Yuletide loss of Lemmy Kilmister, the world losing David Bowie was indeed like losing a father figure. He was the father of glam rock, the father of theatrical rock, and the father of chameleon rock, and it almost seems like a cruel trick that he could be snatched away days after his 69th birthday and the release of Blackstar, his final album. You have to admire the way Bowie kept both his illness and his album a secret and then unloaded it all on us like a fiendish surprise.

As if the loss of one R&R Hall of Famer wasn’t enough, we lost Glenn Frey of the Eagles. Although he wasn’t the father of country rock (only if you discount the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Mike Nesmith, and Rick Nelson), you can’t deny that Eagles took countrified rock across the finish line. The group racked up one of the biggest selling albums of all time with the 1976 album Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trifecta ended with the freakish phenomenon of Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner, age 74, dying the same day as Signe Anderson, the band’s original lead singer, also dead at age 74.

Quietest Bassist Death: Jimmy Bain, 68, Scottish bassist (Rainbow, Dio).

We lost one R&R Hall of Famer (Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire), one Country Music Hall of Famer (Sonny James), and got a precursor of what Prince’ s death would be like nine weeks later with the passing of Vanity. Like her former mentor, Vanity would also die at age 57. Prince reportedly heard the news of her death before one of his last shows and dedicated “Little Red Corvette” to her. Maybe his band didn’t know the chords to “Nasty Girl.”

George MartinEXPAND
George Martin
David Train/Creative Commons 2.0

Can you think of any other knighted record producer beyond George Martin? A great loss to the Beatles’ shrinking inner circle, certainly no one else contributed so much to the Fab Four’s entire output than Martin did. Of Martin, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich tweeted, “The definitive record producer ... he did it all first ... and best.”

We barely got over that sad news only to be gobsmacked by Keith Emerson’s death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, reportedly because his hands could no longer play keyboards the way he wanted them to. Of his former partner in prog, Greg Lake (who died in early December) said, “Music was his life, and despite some of the difficulties he encountered, I am sure that the music he created will live on forever.”

The late, great Prince.
The late, great Prince.
Chelsea Lauren

Sometimes it snows in April and sometimes it pours. The deaths of Prince and Merle Haggard pretty much dominated the month, which overshadowed the deaths of other R&B greats like Billy Paul ("Me and Mrs. Jones") and Leon Haywood ("I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You").

Quietest Bassist Death: Carlo Mastrangelo, 78, American bass vocalist (Dion & the Belmonts).

The late Candye Kane, one of several musicians to head to the great beyond in May.EXPAND
The late Candye Kane, one of several musicians to head to the great beyond in May.
Alan Mercer

The first month where no big names passed, so it almost seemed as if someone spoke to the Reaper’s people about knocking it off for a while. Still, we lost producer/engineer Jack Miller, who worked on early rock classics like “The Fool” by Sanford Clark right here in Phoenix and helped create Duane Eddy’s twang sound at Audio Recorders; and blues singer-songwriter Candye Kane, 54, who frequently performed in Phoenix at the Rhythm Room.

Quietest Bassist Death: Marshall “Rock” Jones, American bass player (Ohio Players).

Bernie Worrell, keyboard legend.EXPAND
Bernie Worrell, keyboard legend.
Manfred Werner/Creative Commons 3.0

The most horrific death story of the month was the mass shooting that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The day before in Orlando was a tragedy smaller in scope, but pretty horrific nonetheless: Christina Grimmie, 22, American singer-songwriter and talent show participant (The Voice), was shot after one of her shows at a meet-and-greet by a delusional stalker. We lost legendary musicians like funkmaster Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic), bluegrass player Ralph Stanley, and British folk musician Dave Swarbrick.

But it was an insanely busy month for Memphis-related deaths, from Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore, to American Studios producer Chips Moman, trumpeter Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, and “Mustang Sally” songwriter and Stax recording artist Mack Rice.

Quietest Bassist Death: Rob Wasserman, 64, (David Grisman Quintet, RatDog).

What do you say about a month whose biggest names are punk rock/industrial icon Alan Vega (Suicide) and American record producer and band manager Sandy Pearlman, (Blue Öyster Cult, the Clash, Black Sabbath)?

Quietest Bassist Death: Hall of Fame bassist Lewie Steinberg, 82, (Booker T. & the M.G.s).

Rapper Kid Cali was shot at a heavily promoted multimillion-dollar-mansion pool party in the Granada Hills section of Los Angeles. We lost Matt Roberts, 38, guitarist and songwriter for 3 Doors Down (yeah, the “Kryptonite” song that Roberts co-wrote). We also lost Toots Thielemans, 94, Belgian jazz guitarist, whistler, and harmonica player. Where are we gonna get that combination again?

Quietest Bassist Death: Preston Hubbard, 63, American bass player (The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roomful of Blues).

Buckwheat Zydeco, may he rest in peace.EXPAND
Buckwheat Zydeco, may he rest in peace.

For the third month in a row, not one Rock and Roll Hall of Famer died. We did, however, lose pioneers in ska and bluebeat (Prince Buster), honky-tonk music (Jean Shepard), country, folk (Fred Hellerman, the last surviving member of the Weavers), southern hip-hop (Shawty Lo), and zydeco (Buckwheat Zydeco).

Quietest Bassist Death: Frederick D. Tinsley, 76, American classical double bass player.

Halloween just wasn't the same without Rod Temperton (who wrote the Michael Jackson song "Thriller"), John Zacherle ( "The Cool Ghoul") and Pete Burns, the Lon Chaney of '80s synth pop, whose over 200 corrective plastic surgery procedures made you not recognize him as the one-time lead singer of Dead or Alive. We also lost early '60s teen idol Bobby Vee to Alzheimer's disease and two members of the Satintones on the very same day, yet another interband expiration coincidence that would've shocked a nation if only people knew who the Satintones were. Hint: they were one of Motown's earliest signing. Somehow, I can still feel your punkish disinterest.

Leonard CohenEXPAND
Leonard Cohen
By Rama (Own work)/CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, via Wikimedia Commons

People who love to mourn on social media had plenty to cry about besides the election results. We lost Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and Mose Allison, whose death educated me that the Pixies song "Allison" was actually about him.

Quietest Bassist Deaths: Bob Cranshaw, 83, American jazz bassist; and Laurent Pardo, 55, French bassist (Elliott Murphy).

At press time we were only less than two weeks into the 2016 finale but we've already said goodbye to
Micky Fitz, 57, British punk singer (The Business) and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, both cancer victims. While many on social media feared for the health and well-being of the prog supergroup's lone survivor, Carl Palmer, they neglected to mention that the Emerson, Lake and Powell lineup were all now deceased. Although it happened in 1998, it's worth noting that drummer Cozy Powell truly died in the fast lane, the result of a tire puncture, being slightly over the drink-drive limit and talking to his girlfriend on the phone. As Lake himself once said, "C'est La Vie."

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