The Seven Worst Accidents in Rock ’n’ Roll History (Including One in Arizona)

Buddy Holly, seen here in a promo picture for Brunswick Records, was just 22 when he died 62 years ago today.
Buddy Holly, seen here in a promo picture for Brunswick Records, was just 22 when he died 62 years ago today. Public Domain

click to enlarge Buddy Holly, seen here in a promo picture for Brunswick Records, was just 22 when he died 62 years ago today. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
Buddy Holly, seen here in a promo picture for Brunswick Records, was just 22 when he died 62 years ago today.
Public Domain

The history of rock 'n' roll is littered with tragedies, from the early deaths of legendary talents — such as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and too many others to count — to large-scale catastrophes like the Who concert stampede that killed 11 people in 1979 and the violent chaos of Woodstock '99.

But another, far-too-common occurrence are accidents of the car and plane variety that claim the lives of multiple musicians in a single, terrible event.

The most famous of these, of course, is the plane crash that took the young lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper 62 years ago today, on February 3, 1959. (As you probably know, it inspired the classic tune "American Pie.")

But that crash is hardly the only sudden tragedy in the music world. In honor of the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, here's a list of the worst accidents to befall members of the world of rock 'n' roll.

February 3, 1959: Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens die in a 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.

Not wanting to spend another night in their tour bus (whose busted heater kept everyone in the cold), Holly chartered a plane, and at the last minute, Waylon Jennings and guitarist Tommy Allsup gave up their seats to The Big Bopper (a.k.a. Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson Jr.) and Ritchie Valens (who was only 17 years old), respectively.

The last song Holly performed in concert was "Rave On," ironically the last song Rick Nelson performed in concert before his own fatal date with the unfriendly skies.

December 10, 1967: Otis Redding and four members of his Bar-Kays lose their lives 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. Talk about your weird coincidences.

September 20, 1973: Jim Croce and guitarist Maurice Muehleisen die in a plane crash

You can 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 tim,e 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.

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."

December 31, 1985: Rick Nelson, his fiancée, and five members of the Stone Canyon Band die in a plane crash

"Travelin' Man" and rock ’n’ roll legend Rick Nelson recently had 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.

April 6, 2015: Members of Wormreich and Khaotika perish in a van accident

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 next scheduled to play in East Atlanta Village at The Basement under The Graveyard Tavern.

March 27, 2019: British band Her's and their manager die in an Arizona car crash

This one hits way too close to home. The day after a March 26, 2019, show at The Rebel Lounge, Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading of the band Her's, along with their manager, Trevor Engelbrektson, set out to play their next gig in California. They never made it: All three were killed when their van was struck by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 10 in La Paz County. The driver of the other vehicle died as well.

This article originally appeared in 2016 and has been updated. Jennifer Goldberg contributed to this article.
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