I have been guilty of moaning about all these farewell tours, but the sad truth is we’re rapidly losing rock ‘n’ roll’s icons. In a few years there won’t be many bands left with enough living members to actually do a show, let alone a tour.
Just this fall saw the passing of Gary “Dream Weaver” Wright. But Gary’s huge 1976 hit was only a small part of his long, impressive career. Wright was a major collaborator with George Harrison on his two proper debut solo albums, All Things Must Pass and Living In The Material World. He also was a founding member of Spooky Tooth — from which only one member remains: Guitarist Luther Grosvenor, aka Ariel Bender when he was with Mott The Hoople.
Similarly, with the passing of Robbie Robertson in August, there is only one member of The Band left — 86-year-old Garth Hudson. Half of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s original lineup died this year (Robbie and Tim Bachman). It got me thinking about all the bands where no original members survive — not just departed, but dearly departed.
Lynyrd Skynyrd got a head start on this tragic distinction when three members were killed in a plane crash in 1977. But just this past March the last surviving member — Gary Rossington died. He was the only band member to appear on every Skynyrd album.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience has been gone since 2008 when the lone surviving member of the trio, drummer Mitch Mitchell, passed away in his sleep five days after finishing after a four-week stint with the Experience Hendrix Tour. By the end of it, he was only playing on two or three songs a night, and was kept from performing entirely on the last show after his drum tech and the tour manager decided he was too weak. Bass player Noel Redding died five years earlier, and Jimi on Sept. 18, 1970 after an overdose of sleeping pills at age 27.
Marc Bolan was famous for his band T. Rex — particularly its 1970-1973 era glam lineup. But the band had its origins as psychedelic folk-rock duo Tyrannosaurus Rex featuring Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took, who was fired due to excessive drug use and his penchant for spiking other people’s drinks. He died in 1980 after choking on a cocktail cherry at the end of a morphine bender. Took was replaced in what was now called T. Rex by percussionist Mickey Finn. Finn was 55 when he died in 2003 of suspected kidney and liver problems. Bolan died in Sept. 1977 after the car he was riding in crashed into a fence post and a tree, killing him instantly. Bolan was just 29 years of age.
Before Finn died, he actually started a band called Mickey Finn’s T. Rex — slightly dubious. But worse still is the fact that the band continues to tour as T. Rex. This is their tagline: “The music of Marc and Mickey featuring the all-star band created by Mickey Finn. This year celebrating 25 years of international shows.”
The Ramones first formed in New York City in 1974 — vocalist Joey (Jeff Hyman), bassist Dee Dee (Doug Colvin), guitarist Johnny (John Cummings) and drummer Tommy (Tom Erdelyi). By 2014 all of them were gone, in that order.
Elvis Presley has one of the most famous death dates in rock history, Aug. 16, 1977 — but his entire first band has passed on as well. Guitarist Scottie Moore was with Elvis from 1954 to 1968. He died in 2016, aged 84. Bass player/bandleader Bill Black died during brain tumour surgery in 1965. The drummer for this band — officially and originally known as The Blue Moon Boys — was DJ Fontana, who died in 2018 at age 87. Fontana played with Elvis until 1968 — from the Sun sessions to the Comeback Special. But there was also another drummer on several of Elvis’s later Sun recordings — Johnny Bernero, who died in July 2001.
When I think of the Oak Ridge Boys, I think of their 1981 hit Elvira. I was shocked to discover the American country and gospel outfit has been around since 1943 — and are still working. The original quartet are all dead, though — Wally Fowler died in 1994. He was with the group until the mid-’50s. Lon “Deacon” Freeman was with the Boys until 1949 and died in 2003. Curley Kinsey left the group in 1949. He died in 1986. Finally, Little Johnny New also left in 1949, with a brief return in 1952. I honestly can’t find any record of New, but I’m going to assume he’s no longer with us.
This one’s a bit cheeky, but I’m going to include Emerson, Lake & Powell — a variant on the iconic ’70s prog trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The trio made one album in the mid-’80s with Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell because Carl Palmer was too busy with his new band Asia and was unable to commit to a reunion. The original trio got back together in the ’90s, and all but Palmer are now dead. Powell, 50, died in a car crash in 1998. Keith Emerson, 71, shot himself in April 2016 and Greg Lake, 69, died of pancreatic cancer seven months later. Palmer continues to tour an Emerson, Lake & Palmer show (he’ll be in Quebec City Nov. 9!).
I’m also going to include Motörhead here, even though their co-founder & first drummer Lucas Fox is still alive — he’s 70. Fox was the one who collected Lemmy from the airport after he was fired by Hawkwind in 1975. He was with the band for six months before being replaced by Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor — whose drums were overdubbed over all but one of Fox’s performances on Motörhead’s shelved debut album, 1976’s On Parole (released in 1979). Taylor died in 2015 of liver failure. The first guitarist in Motörhead was Larry Wallis (Pink Fairies). His work can be heard on On Parole, but he left the band shortly after. Wallis died in 2019. His replacement — and Motörhead’s best-known guitarist — “Fast” Eddie Clarke died in hospital in 2018 while being treated for pneumonia. Motörhead’s leader Lemmy Kilmister died on Dec. 28, 2015 after a short battle with prostate cancer as well as complications from cardiac arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure.
By my count, Molly Hatchet has had 40 different band members since it formed in 1971. As of August 2020, all of the original members are dead. The band continues to perform and will finish 2023 on a busy tour of the U.K. and Europe.
Thunderclap Newman is about as much a one-hit wonder as you’ll ever find. The U.K. trio was put together by Pete Townshend and Who manager Kit Lambert in 1968, and remains known for the hit Something In The Air (1969). All three members have died — keyboardist and namesake Andy “Thunderclap” Newman died in 2016. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch later went on to fame as a member of Wings from 1974-1977. He died of morphine and alcohol poisoning in 1979 at age 26. Lead vocalist and drummer Speedy Keen — who wrote Something In The Air — died of heart failure in 2002.
Bill Haley And The Comets were early pioneers of rock ’n’ roll, so it should come as no surprise the original band members — Haley, bass players Al Thompson, Al Rex and Marshall Lytle, keyboard player Johnny Grande and steel guitarist Billy Williamson. Haley’s death was a sad affair. He battled alcoholism for decades and was rapidly losing his mental health during the final year of his life. There is some dispute as to whether or not he had a brain tumour. He passed away in 1981 at age 55, a year after his final performances in South Africa in June 1980. The previous year he played for Queen Elizabeth II at a Royal Command Performance. There have been more than 100 members of the Comets during and beyond Haley’s lifetime. There are several bands touring under the name to this day.
Feb. 3, 1959 was “The Day The Music Died” — the day fans lost Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in a plane crash. Holly’s entire band, The Crickets, are also no longer with us. Drummer Jerry Allison (who co-wrote That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue) died of cancer just last year. Guitarist Niki Sullivan died of a heart attack in 2004. Bass player Joe Mauldin died of cancer in 2015.
In this country, when we think of The Arrows, we think of the Canadian band formed in 1981. But the U.K. version — formed in 1974 — might be most famous for having written and recorded the first version of I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll in 1975. Joan Jett made it an international hit six years later. All the original members of The Arrows (which had a handful of other hits) are deceased. Bassist/vocalist Alan Merrill died of COVID-19 in 2020. I’m not sure what became of brief, first drummer Clive Williams — but Paul Varley replaced him before the first album was recorded. Varley died in 2008. Guitarist Jake Hooker retired in 1978 when the band broke up. He died in 2014 at age 61.
The Drifters continue to perform, despite the fact that no original members of either of its initial splinter groups survive — the one which backed Ben E. King or the one which backed Clyde McPhatter. Bill Pinkney was the last surviving member of the original Drifters. He died in 2007.
Similarly, vocal group The Coasters formed in 1955 and the last surviving member of the original group, Leon Hughes, died in March of this year, age 92. The original group was vocalists Carl Gardner, Bobby Nunn, Billy Guy and Hughes, plus guitarist Adolph Jacobs. There is still a touring version of The Coasters, but the name and its rights are owned by Gardner’s widow Veta Gardner.
The Kingsmen had more hits than just Louie Louie, but it was certainly their biggest. The group went through a number of iterations before their first record — that lineup being original members Lynn Easton and Mike Mitchell, with new additions Gary Abbott, Barry Curtis and Norm Sundholm. Dick Peterson replaced Abbott very soon after. Mitchell died in 2021 — the last original member, still performing with the band. Peterson still performs with The Kingsmen — most recently at the end of September at Portland, Oregon’s Aladdin Theatre.
To wrap this up, here’s a list of classic bands with only one surviving original member: Big Star (Jody Stephens), Cream (Eric Clapton), Mamas And The Papas (Michelle Phillips), Steely Dan (Donald Fagen), Sweet (Andy Scott), Small Faces (Kenney Jones), Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Carl Palmer), Bee Gees (Barry Gibb), The Stooges (Iggy Pop), Wham (Andrew Ridgely) and Suicide (Martin Rev).
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.