Top 10 Musicians Who Suddenly Died in the 60′s
In North America, Europe and Oceania, the 1960s was a revolutionary decade in terms of popular music. The industry underwent major changes as rock evolved. Talented musicians from all over the world began to try new techniques and produce a different sound. For this reason, a large number of extremely influential rock and roll, country, soul, R&B, and jazz musicians emerged during the 1960s. The revolution caught the attention of top record executives who often saw the freedom of expression as a problem during this hectic time of war, protest, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Similar to other decades of music, a large collection of important musicians suddenly died in the 1960s. Some of the people died under mysterious circumstances, while others experienced a tragic accident. All of the musicians included in this article were killed at an extremely young age. As you can imagine, it was hard to limit the entries to only ten names. For this reason, I will include an extensive list of people who were considered.
Otis Redding (soul singer), Jesse Belvin (R&B singer), Elmore James (blues guitarist), David Box (rock and roll singer), John Coltrane (jazz saxophonist), Nat King Cole (jazz pianist and singer), Judy Garland (actress and singer), Stuart Sutcliffe (bass player), Johnny Burnette (country singer), Little Walter (jazz harmonica), Eddie Sulik (country singer), Frankie Lymon (blues singer), Bud Powell (jazz pianist), Luigi Tenco (Italian singer), Oscar Pettiford (jazz double bassist), Alexandra (German singer), Wes Montgomery (jazz guitarist), Dorothy Dandridge (actress and singer), Little Willie John (R&B singer), Eddie Brown (gospel folk singer), Peter La Farge (folksinger), Scott LaFaro (jazz bassist), Jan Johansson (Swedish jazz pianist), Magic Sam (guitar player), Ji?í Šlitr (Czech pianist), Hawkshaw Hawkins (country singer), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinetist), Don Drummond (ska trombonist), Jack Anglin (country singer), George “King” Scott (R&B singer), Ricardo Aguirre (Venezuelan folksinger), Tooter Boatman, Violeta Parra (Chilean composer), Catherine Warnes (Australian singer), Mark Leeman (R&B singer), Dickie Pride (rock and roll singer), Bill Black (bassist), Nick Pantas, Paul Clayton (folksinger), Roy Hamilton (R&B singer), Shorty Long (soul singer), Benny Benjamin (drummer), Ken Errair (singer), Luther Perkins (folk guitarist), Paul Chambers (jazz bassist), and Martin Lamble (drummer).
10. Johnny Horton
Johnny Horton was an American country music singer most famous for his semi-folk, so-called “saga songs” which began the “historical ballad” craze of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Horton released several successful records during his career, most notably during 1959 with the song The Battle of New Orleans, for which he was awarded the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording.
During 1960, Horton had two other successful songs with North to Alaska and Sink the Bismarck. He was an influential musician who had a direct impact on the country music scene in the late 1950s. It should also be noted that Johnny Horton was a devoted follower of the writings of Edgar Cayce. In early 1960, he is said to have experienced a premonition of his death, telling friends and family that he would soon die at the hands of a drunk.
On November 5, 1960, Johnny Horton went to Texas in order to perform a duet with Jerry Kennedy. During the visit, Horton stayed in his dressing room almost the entire time, saying that a drunk would kill him if he went near the bar. After the show, Horton and a group of friends started the 220-mile (350 km) journey back to Shreveport. While on the road near Milano, Texas the men crashed the car into a truck that came upon them on a bridge. The truck lost control, hit both sides of the bridge, and then plunged into Horton’s Cadillac.
Johnny Horton had practiced avoiding head-on collisions by driving into ditches, but on the narrow bridge, he had no opportunity. Johnny experienced severe head trauma in the accident and died on the way to the hospital. The 19-year-old truck driver, James Davis, was intoxicated. At the time of his death, Johnny Horton was only 35-years-old. He will be remembered for his major contributions to both country and rockabilly music. When Johnny Cash, a good friend of Horton’s, learned about the accident he said, “I locked myself in one of the hotel’s bathrooms, and cried. Johnny Horton was a good old friend of mine.”
9. Richard Fariña
In 1937, Richard Fariña was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Cuban and Irish descent. In the late 1950s, Fariña became a regular at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, which is an area of New York often frequented by poets, artists, and folksingers. At the tavern, Fariña met Carolyn Hester, who was a successful folk singer and his first wife. In 1961, Fariña was present when Hester recorded her third album at Columbia studios. The album includes Bob Dylan on harmonica. After the recording session, Richard Fariña and Bob Dylan became good friends. In 1963, Fariña met Mimi Baez, the sister of Joan Baez, and the two were married. Like Bob Dylan, Richard Fariña was considered a protest singer, and several of his songs were overtly political.
On April 30, 1966, two days after the publication of Richard Fariña’s book Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, which is based largely on his college experiences and travels, Fariña was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was only 29-years-old. On the day in question, Fariña was attending his wife’s 21st birthday party. At the party, Richard decided to take a motorcycle ride with a friend up Carmel Valley Road. At an S-turn in the road, the driver lost control of the motorcycle and Richard was thrown from the bike. The driver survived the accident, but Fariña was killed instantly. The police said the motorcycle had been traveling at 90 miles per hour (140 km/h).
Richard Fariña was buried in a simple grave at Monterey City Cemetery. Due to his brief life, Fariña’s musical output was limited. However, several critics consider him a major folk music talent of the 1960s. Ed Ward has been quoted: “If Richard had survived that motorcycle accident, he would have easily given Dylan a run for his money.” Fariña’s best-known songs are Pack Up Your Sorrows and Birmingham Sunday, the latter of which was recorded by Joan Baez and used as the theme for Spike Lee’s film 4 Little Girls, a documentary about the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama. At the time of his death, Richard Fariña was also producing an album for Joan Baez, which has never been released.
8. Bobby Fuller
In 1964, Bobby Fuller moved to Los Angeles with his band The Bobby Fuller Four. He was signed to Mustang Records by producer Bob Keane, who was noted for discovering Ritchie Valens and a collection of surf music groups. During this time in history, the British Invasion and folk rock dominated the music scene, but Fuller decided to stick with Buddy Holly’s style of classic rock with Tex Mex flourishes. His first Top 40 hit was the self-penned Let Her Dance. During the week of March 12-19, 1966, Bobby Fuller’s second hit, I Fought the Law, peaked at #9 on the Hot 100. The song was written by Sonny Curtis, who was a former member of The Crickets.
On July 18, 1966, Bobby Fuller was found dead in an automobile parked outside his Hollywood apartment. He was only 23-years-old. The Los Angeles deputy medical examiners report indicated that Bobby’s face, chest, and body were covered in “petechial hemorrhages,” probably caused by gasoline vapors and the heat. His body was drenched with gasoline and the windows of the car were rolled up. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation, “due to the inhalation of gasoline.” The report indicated that Fuller’s body had no bruises, no broken bones, no cuts, and no evidence of beating.
The boxes for “accident” and “suicide” were checked, but next to the boxes, the examiner left question marks. Despite the official cause of death, some people feel that Bobby Fuller was murdered. A collection of conspiracy theories have examined the similarities between the death of Bobby Fuller and Sam Cooke, the connection with Charles Manson, and the fact that Fuller often dated women related to the mafia. After his brother’s death, Randy Fuller took over lead vocal in the Bobby Fuller Four, but the group quickly broke up. The case remains closed and sealed under California law.
7. Fred Buscaglione
Fred Buscaglione was an Italian singer and actor who became very popular in the late 1950s. During his career, Buscaglione developed the public persona of a humorous mobster character with a liking for whisky and women. During World War II, Fred was incarcerated in an American internment camp in Sardinia. His musical talent was apparent and Buscaglione was allowed to join the orchestra of the Allied radio station of Cagliari. This gave him the rare opportunity to experiment with sounds and rhythms coming from the United States. At this time in history, most foreign music had been officially forbidden by the Italian Fascist regime.
After perfecting his routine in night clubs and theatres, Fred Buscaglione started recording songs in 1955. His first single (a shellac 78rpm record containing ‘Che bambola’ and ‘Giacomino’) sold 1,000,000 copies with close to no promotion. This fact caught the attention of people all over the world and Fred was propelled to a degree of fame he never considered possible. By the end of 1950s, Buscaglione was one of Italy’s most wanted entertainers. He appeared in advertising campaigns, on television, and in movies.
Little is known about the events that caused the death of Fred Buscaglione, but on February 3, 1960, he was killed in a car accident just outside the U.S. embassy in Rome, Italy. The accident occurred in the early morning while Fred was driving his pink Ford Thunderbird. He collided with a truck and was killed instantly in the accident. He was only 38-years-old. In an important note, Fred Buscaglione deserves an honor for having encouraged musicians and singers from the 1960s to stand up against the conservative producers and discographers of the time. He demanded recognition for his art and style. In this role, Buscaglione proved to be an important figure in the rise of the “yellers” scene, which started to revolutionize Italian popular music in the 1960s.
6. Johnny Kidd
Johnny Kidd was an English singer and songwriter. He was the front man of the rock band Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, which was one of the few early British rock groups to achieve worldwide fame. The Pirates scored a number of hit songs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Johnny Kidd’s most famous song as a composer was Shakin’ All Over, which was a #1 UK hit in 1960. However, the bands style and influence far outshines their chart performance. The Pirates stage act was theatrical in a way that anticipated rockers of the 1970s, such as Alice Cooper. They used full pirate costumes, complete with eye-patches and cutlasses.
More importantly, and unusual for bands of the time, the Pirates had only one guitarist (not two), alongside a bassist and a drummer. Kidd didn’t play any instruments on stage and was only the vocal presence. This style was very influential on the rock bands of the 1970s, including Led Zeppelin and The Who. Johnny Kidd was also known to swing around on stage and would often damage the wooden framework. By 1964, when the British Invasion was taking shape, Kidd was left in the shadows. By 1966, it seemed that he was on the verge of a reemergence, but this was stopped by his sudden death.
On October 7, 1966, Johnny Kidd died in a car accident on the A58, Bury New Road, Breightmet, near Radcliffe, Lancashire. He was only 30-years-old. Kidd was traveling as the passenger in a car that experienced a head-on collision. He was killed instantly in the crash and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London. The Pirates’ bassist Nick Simper, who later became an original member of Deep Purple, was also in the car with Kidd and suffered a broken arm. In hindsight, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates are seen as an extremely important band in the history of rock music. They recorded music with an increased emphasis on electric blues and R&B, which is a style that influenced acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Animals.
5. Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington was an American blues, R&B and jazz singer. She has been cited as the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s. Washington has also been called the “Queen of the Blues.” Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular and successful singers of the period. Her recordings included blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, and even a version of Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart.
During her career, Dinah Washington recorded a number of sessions with leading jazz musicians of the time, including Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, and Ben Webster. In 1961, she scored her last big hit with the song September in the Rain. Dinah was well known for singing love songs, but also had a strong and outspoken personality. In one recorded account before her death, Dinah Washington was performing at the London Palladium, with Queen Elizabeth sitting in a box. She told the audience: “There is but one heaven, one hell, one queen, and your Elizabeth is an imposter.”
Dinah Washington was married eight times during her lifetime. Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Dinah’s eighth husband Lane went to sleep with his wife, and awoke to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross was called to the scene and he pronounced Washington dead. An autopsy later revealed a lethal combination of the drugs secobarbital and amobarbital. Dinah Washington was only 39-years-old and her death was officially ruled an accidental overdose. In 1959, Dinah won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
4. Eddie Cochran
Eddie Cochran was an American rock and roll pioneer who had a small but lasting influence on rock music and guitar playing. During the 1950s, Cochran held the public image of a sharply dressed, rugged but good looking young man with a rebellious attitude. He epitomized the stance of the fifties rocker. Eddie Cochran’s only album released during his lifetime was titled Singin’ To My Baby and it featured his hit single Summertime Blues.
In early 1959, two of Cochran’s friends, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, along with the Big Bopper, were killed in a plane crash while on tour. Eddie’s friends and family said that he was badly shaken by their deaths, and developed a morbid fixation that he would also die young. Cochran was anxious to give up his life on the road and spend time in the studio, thereby reducing the chance of suffering a similar fatal accident while touring. However, financial responsibilities required him to accept a 1960 tour in the United Kingdom.
On April 16, 1960, while on tour in the United Kingdom, the 21-year-old Eddie Cochran died in a traffic accident. He was traveling in a taxi with his girlfriend (Sharon Sheeley) and a collection of musicians through Chippenham, Wiltshire, on the A4. During the accident, the speeding taxi blew a tire, lost control, and crashed into a lamp post on Rowden Hill, where a plaque now marks the spot. Cochran, who was seated in the center of the back seat, threw himself over Sheeley to shield her and was thrown out of the vehicle when the door flew open.
Eddie Cochran was rushed to St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, where he died the next day of severe head trauma. The taxi driver, George Martin, was convicted of dangerous driving, fined £50, disqualified from driving for 15 years, and sentenced to prison for six months. Famous rock and roll musician Gene Vincent was also involved in the crash. He broke his ribs and collarbone and further damaged his weakened leg. Vincent died prematurely in 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer. In 1987, Eddie Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His contribution to the genre of rock music was great and Cochran has influenced some of the most important music acts in history. The UK Rolling Stone ranked him #84 on their 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
3. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was an American gospel, R&B, and soul singer. Cooke is widely considered one of the pioneers of soul music. He has been labeled the “King of Soul.” Sam Cooke was among the first modern black performers and composers to handle the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label (SAR Records) and a publishing company. Sam also took an active role in the American Civil Rights Movement. During his career, Sam Cooke had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964, including the songs You Send Me, A Change Is Gonna Come, Chain Gang, Wonderful World, and Twistin’ the Night Away.
On December 11, 1964, the manager of the Hacienda Motel, Bertha Franklin, shot Sam Cooke to death in Los Angeles, California. He was only 33-years-old. His body was discovered in Franklin’s office with no shirt, pants, or underwear. Franklin claimed that Cooke broke into her office and accosted her over the whereabouts of a guest. After a physical altercation, Franklin beat and shot Sam Cooke to death.
A coroner’s inquest was convened to investigate the incident, which resulted in the finding of a justifiable homicide. The courts ruled that Sam Cooke was drunk and distressed at the time of his death, and that the manager killed him in self-defense. Some of Cooke’s supporters have rejected this version of the events and believe that Sam was murdered.
2. Brian Jones
Brian Jones was an English musician and founding member of the Rolling Stones. He played guitar and harmonica for the group, but was also a talented multi-instrumentalist. Jones formed the Rolling Stones in 1962. He chose the members, named the band, chose the music they played, and was in charge of scheduling gigs. He was very influential and very important to the early Rolling Stones. However, by the late 1960s, Brian Jones was addicted to a collection of drugs and was pushed away from the group.
To the public, it appeared as if Brian Jones had left the group voluntarily, but this wasn’t the case. The other band members told him he was done with the Rolling Stones. On June 9, 1969, Jones released a statement to the public announcing his departure from the band. In this statement he said, among other things: “I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting.” During the 1960s, Brian Jones was regarded as a fashion icon due to his rebellious and flamboyant style. His dress and manner influenced the fashion scene of 1960s London.
On the night of July 2, 1969, Brian Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool at Cotchford Farm, near Hartfield in East Sussex. His Swedish girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, was convinced that Jones was still alive when he was taken out of the pool, but when the doctors arrived, it was too late, and he was pronounced dead. The coroner’s report stated “death by misadventure” and noted his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.
Brian Jones was 27 at the time of his death and for this reason is one of the members of the infamous 27 Club. Upon his untimely passing, Pete Townshend wrote a poem about him, Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to him on U.S. television, and Jim Morrison of The Doors published a poem entitled “Ode to L.A. While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased.” Jones was reportedly buried 12 feet (3.7 m) deep in Cheltenham Cemetery (to prevent exhumation by trophy hunters), in a lavish casket sent by Bob Dylan.
1. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was an American country music singer who saw success in the early 1960s with a collection of pop music crossovers. Cline was best known for her rich tone, emotional expression, and bold contralto voice. She helped pave the way for women in country music. Prior to the early 1960′s, so-called “girl singers” were seen by the male-dominated realm of country music as mere “window dressing,” only necessary to attract male listeners to their shows. After her untimely death, millions of Patsy Cline records sold. As a result, she has been given numerous awards and accolades, leading some fans to view her as an icon similar to legends such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
On March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline and a group of country singers boarded a private plane (single propeller 4 person Piper Comanche PA-24) headed for Nashville, Tennessee. The plane took off in severe weather and crashed in a forest outside Camden, Tennessee, only 90 miles (140 km) from Nashville. Randy Hughes, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, and Patsy Cline were killed instantly in the crash. At the time of her death, Cline was at the height of her career and was only 30-years-old. Her friends Dottie West, June Carter Cash, and Loretta Lynn recalled that Patsy told them that she felt a sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer. Cline is considered one of the most influential, successful, and acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century.
Krzysztof Komeda was a Polish music composer and jazz pianist. He is perhaps best known for his work in film scores. Komeda wrote the music for Roman Polanski’s movies Rosemary’s Baby, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Knife in the Water, and Cul-de-sac. In 1965, Komeda released an album titled Astigmatic, which is widely regarded as one of the most important European jazz albums in history. During his career, Krzysztof used the stage name of Komeda due to the Polish communist government’s dislike of jazz. In all, Komeda wrote more than 70 soundtracks during his lifetime. As a jazz musician, he exerted a crucial influence on original style, often described as the Polish school of jazz.
In December 1968, in Los Angeles, Komeda had a tragic accident which led to a hematoma of the brain. It is unclear exactly what happened to him, but several accounts exist. One story involves a car accident in the autumn of 1968 while another says that Komeda was pushed off an escarpment by writer Marek H?asko during a drinking party. Roman Pola?ski mentioned the event in his memoirs and said that Komeda was injured as a result of “friendly rough-and-tumble” with Marek H?asko, and that Komeda suffered a severe head injury.
After being transported back to Poland, Krzysztof Komeda died as a result of wrong treatment of the hematoma. It is believed that one of the main reasons he was transported to Poland after the accident is that he did not have U.S. medical insurance, but this fact has not been proven. Since Komeda’s tragic death at the age of 38, his music has influenced a large collection of jazz musicians from all over the world.
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