Another year has come to an end. While 2015 was full of life in so many vivid ways — creatively, intensely, and tragically — it also presented its own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome in the new year. And as a year also brings, we also lost many shining figures in the music world, among other fields.
Here’s a look of some of those figures who touched our lives and will continue to do so always as we remember some of the key people in music, people who are legends, pioneers, luminaries, inspirations, and above all, timeless.
The Motorhead frontman and global wildman was everything about rock and roll, and true rock and roll, personified. Amped up a thousand fold and with a bloodline filled with piss and vinegar, Lemmy remains one of the true if not only bonafide true rock and roll hero, mentor, inspiration, and all-around-legend. Just looking at him in action, or listen to the balls to the wall times four thousand sonic attack of Motorhead that says more about the man than any tribute ever could on the written page. In fact, the best tribute anyone can give the man is blasting his music to kingdom come, just like the world had already been doing anyhow. He died of cancer a few days ago, just days after this 70th birthday.
Known as Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, due to his musical and social activities with Motorhead, the face pressed down on an amplifier grill power trio that blazed through and solidified their place in hard rock history. Taylor’s pounding rhythms led like the out-of-control subway train that put the band on its back and allowed the late Lemmy (see first entry) to spitfire often and always. He was 61 when he died on November 12th.
The jack-of-all-others-trades-who-still-managed-to-make-something-fresh in a world devoid of those sounds, frontman Scott Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots had a first album that was sort of a blueprint to what bands like Creed would do a few years later, but then settled in with a kind of a musical stardust of the Ziggy variety and was able to parlay a successful career with healthy album sales and world tours. Weiland had succumbed many times to many of the stereotypical yet for the most part irresistible trappings of “rock and roll life” which led to his eventual dismissal from the group. The solo career that followed was plagued with more personal troubles and professional, and an eventual reunion with STP. Weiland was 48 when he died of an overdose of drugs, including cocaine, on December 4th.
The master of the blues, BB King was one of the genre’s most revered and beloved figures. With a smooth sound from his jet black guitar — which he affectionately named “Lucille” — to his pleasant, yet pained if needed singing voice, King lit up an entire generation of wannabe blues artists who followed in his musical wake. He also became a key component to and for the electric blues scene that smothered pop and musical culture in the mid to late 1960s, spearheaded by people such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Robby Krieger, and Jimmy Page, all of whom were influenced and inspired by the monarch of the blues. It was fitting that his most signature song, “The Thrill is Gone,” turned out to be his bittersweet epitaph for him and for us. King was 89 when he died peacefully in his sleep on May 15th.
The bottom end for progressive rock legends Yes, Chris Squire played with a fervor and intensity on songs that were not only complex (“Yours is No Disgrace”, “Starship Trooper”), but popular (“Roundabout,” “Owner of A Lonely Heart”). Squire became a sort of metaphoric mentor to many who came after him and bands like Rush, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, and many others may not have existed, or at least not had the kind of bass-playing punch first brought on by the melodic and muscular playing by Squire. One only needs to hear his greatest piece, “The Fish,” from the Fragile album to understand and get caught in the genius of his playing. He remains one of the top shelf bass players of all time. Squire was 67 when he lost a battle with leukemia on June 28th.
The drummer for Twister Sister, the 1980s band that was one of the more harder, kick ass groups to come out of America at the time in the heavy metal ring, AJ Pero had a great knack for keeping expert timing, along with the kind of backbeat indulgence that music of this style required. And on famous tracks like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Burn in Hell,” “I Wanna Rock,” and “Come Out and Play,” Pero, along with Twisted Sister, who were replete in the makeup that was vogue at the time but anything but campy in a sonic sense, burn and slash their way through albums that remain memorable and urgent in the heavy metal spectrum of history. Pero was 55 when he passed away in his sleep on March 20th.
With industrial electro rock band Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese sculpted an entirely new thruway for sounds and even fashion styles that gestated from it and is still a large musical force in its own right to this day. Along with other bands that were also in the “Kraut Rock” box like Kraftwerk and Can, Tangerine Dream was music for sights and senses, with Moog synthesizers at the forefront, which gave off a sound and style that instantly became their own. Froese’s band also contributed to some soundtracks, for diverse and original films such as Michael Mann’s Thief and the Tom Cruise early vehicle Risky Business. Froese died of a pulmonary embolism on January 23rd at the age of 70.
The co-writer of the 1970 smash hit “All Right Now” by the English hard rockers Free, Andy Fraser gave that band a punchy and bluesy sound with his bass playing during their peak years headed by singer Paul Rodgers and shaped by the late guitarist Paul Kossoff. Free stood right alongside other bands like Humble Pie and Foghat, and created a nice blend of hard rock and blues. Fraser had been battling complications of cancer and AIDS when he died on March 17th.
Record producer, songwriter; The Runaways
Music luminary and LA legend Kim Fowley was instrumental (pun intended) in spearheading the careers of The Runaways, the all-girl musical quintet ensemble that scrappily staked their claim during the late 1970s and acted as springboards to successful solo careers by band members Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie. Producing the band and co-writing their biggest and most memorable song, the aurally incendiary “Cherry Bomb,” the band was also made in many ways by Fowley and the success of the Runaways and its legend in a way made Fowley in many ways. Fowley remained in musical circles post-Runaways, penning tunes for KISS and Alice Cooper, and other bands which were perfect for his flamboyant yet kick ass style, kind of like a Truman Capote meets Ozzy. He died of cancer on January 15th at the age of 75.
As lead guitarist for the American classic rock group REO Speedwagon, it was the emotional tones of Gary Richrath’s instrument on songs like “Take it on the Run,” “Keep On Loving You,” and “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” that almost became as synonymous as the songs themselves. Richrath was pretty much persona non grata in a public sense, most people barely know the name of the lead singer of the group (Kevin Cronin) let alone Richrath. But there’s no debate about the fact that everyone knows the guitar lines, passages, and solos in each of these songs and many others in the REO Speedwagon canon which is what will make Richrath’s memory and his playing timeless and forever. He was 65 when he died on September 14th.
CJ Buscaglia was the guitarist in Green Jelly, the band who had met with success and some controversy in the 1990s with their song “Three Little Pigs.” The controversy mainly stemmed from the use of the band’s name, which was originally called Green Jello. Kraft, which owns the name to the gelatin product, cried lawsuit, and the band changed its name. Buscaglia went on to engineer for other bands in the years following Green Jelly and recorded solo material. He was 51 when he died on January 16th.
We also remember the following In Memoriam, for their contributions to the music industry and to the art:
– Frank Watkins (bassist for Obituary and Gorgoroth)
– Justin Lowe (guitarist for After The Burial)
– Stevie Wright (English-born Australian singer for The Easybeats)
– Cynthia Robinson (trumpeter for Sly & the Family Stone)
– Cory Wells (singer for Three Dog Night)
– Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboardist for Three Dog Night)
– Jack Ely (guitarist and singer for The Kingsmen, sang on “Louie Louie”)
– Percy Sledge (R&B artist, “When A Man Loves A Woman”)
– Bob Burns (original drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd)
– Bruce Crump (drummer for Molly Hatchet)
– Mike Porcaro (bassist for Toto)
– Lew Soloff (trumpeter for Blood, Sweat & Tears)
– Leslie Gore (singer, “It’s My Party”)
– Sam Andrew (guitarist/songwriter for Big Brother & the Holding Company)
– Danny McCulloch (bassist for Eric Burdon & the Animals)
– Dallas Taylor (drummer for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
– Tim Drummond (bassist for Neil Young, Bob Dylan)
– Steve Mackay (saxophonist for The Stooges)
– Natalie Cole (singer, songwriter)