CJ Baker is a published writer who recently started the podcast Ongoing History of Protest Music.
Otis Redding Statue
Musicians Who Pass Away Too Soon
Pursuing a career in music isn't conducive to longevity. The toils of being a touring musician contribute to the prevalence of drug and alcohol overdoses and suicide. Also, the constant travel increases the risk of dying in a plane or motor vehicle crash. This is a list of 10 artists who died at the young age of 26.
Otis Redding (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967)
The legendary soul singer got his start at 15 years old as a member of Little Richard's backing band the Upsetters. From there he joined the Pinetoppers which caught the attention of iconic soul label Stax and he released his first single in 1962, "These Arms of Mine". He went on to become one of the most influential singer and songwriters in music history, writing and recording such iconic hits as "Try a Little Tenderness", "Respect" and the posthumously released "Hard To Handle" and "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". "The Dock of the Bay" also has the distinction of being the first posthumous #1 hit on the US Billboard charts.
Redding died when the small plane he was travelling in crashed into Lake Monona. Seven of the eight passengers ended up drowning in the frigid waters, including 4 members of the Bar-Kays, who were serving as Redding's back band. They were all still in their teens. The only survivor was the Bar-Kays Ben Cauley.
(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding (Video)
Gram Parsons (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973)
Gram Parsons was a very influential figure in blending rock and country and helped draw the blueprints for what is now known as alt-country. Parsons referred to his fusion as "Cosmic American Music".Parsons first got his start in 1968 with the International Submarine Band. He had a brief stint with The Byrds where he made significant contributions to their 1968 album, Sweethearts of The Rodeo, which is considered to an influential album in the development of country rock. The he joined The Flying Burrito Brothers and recorded two critically well received albums.He went on to release two solo albums, which didn't do well commercially but are considered to be widely influential. He was also responsible in helping to introduce Emmylou Harris, a frequent duet partner. He was also friends with both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who both cited Parsons as an influence.
Parsons died of a drug overdose. The events after his death ended up adding to his folk lore. Prior to his death, Parsons told his road manager Phil Kaufman that when he died that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree National Park. On order to try to honor the request, Kaufman and Parsons personal assistant Michael Martin stole the body and they brought it to Joshua Tree and set it on fire. Campers complained about the burning casket and Kaufman and Martin got in trouble with authorities and the body only ended up partially cremated. The charred remains where return to the family and Kaufman and Martin were charged with grand theft.
Many Parsons fans visit Joshua Tree National Park and the Joshua Tree Inn. The Inn reserves the room he died in (room 8) for Parsons fans who specifically request to stay there.
Nick Drake (June 19, 1948- November 25, 1974)
Nick Drake is an example of an artist who didn't start to gain widespread attention until after his death. Between 1969-1972 the English singer-songwriter released three albums which didn't sell well. Part of the reason was that Drake was a reclusive introvert who only ever gave one interview and rarely performed live. When he did perform live, there was minimal crowd interaction and the performances didn't go over to well. By the 1980s, indie and alternative artists started to cite him as an influence and a cult following started to grow. His mainstream break came when his 1972 song "Pink Moon" was used in a 1999 Volkswagen commercial. Millions of fans started to discover the music of Drake. His moody somber music still sounds current and you can hear his considerable influence among the current crop of indie folk artists.
Drake who struggled with bouts of depression, died of an overdose of anti-depressant pills. His death was ruled a suicide, but there has been some dispute among family and friends whether it was.
Riverman by Nick Drake (Video)
Mac Miller (January 19, 1992 – September 7, 2018)
Born Malcolm McCormick, Miller was a rapper and singer who also had success as a producer. He also worked under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman. He was a prolific artist who released five studio albums and 12 mixtapes. His 2011 debut album, Blue Slide Park debuted #1 on the Billboard 200 charts. In 2011 he also had a hit with the song "Donald Trump", which sparked a feud with the now President of the United States. In 2013 he also scored a US Billboard top 10 hit with his collaboration with Ariana Grande, "The Way". He released his last studio album, Swimming on August 3, 2018. It was his fifth consecutive album to crack the top five of the US Billboard charts.
The LA County coroner's report reveal that Miller died as a result of an accidental drug overdose due to "mixed drug toxicity" of fentanyl, alcohol, and cocaine.
Mac Miller NPR Tiny Desk Concert (Video)
Hillel Slovak (April 13, 1962 – June 25, 1988)
Slovak is best known as a founding member and guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even though he helped co-written a number of the tunes, he didn't appear on their self-titled 1984 debut because he was also involved with the band What Is This?, which he considered his main recording project. What Is This? released two EPs and one self-titled full-length, which was produced by Todd Rundgren. After the band disbanded, Slovak rejoined the Chili Peppers where he appeared on their 1985 George Clinton produced album Freaky Styley and the 1987 album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. This was before their commercial breakthrough, but the band was building a cult following for their energetic brand of funk rock.
Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Slovak was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2012.
My Mind Have Still Eye by What Is This? (Video)
Jimmy McCulloch (June 4, 1953 – September 27, 1979)
McCulloch first became known for being the guitarist for Scottish psychedelic band One in Million. They released two singles in 1967. One of these, "Fredereek Hernando"/"Double Sight" is considered an obscure psychedelic classic and has become a sought-after collectible among vinyl collectors. From there he got his commercial breakthrough with Thunderclap Newman who scored a 1969 UK #1 hit, "Something in the Air". From their he had a brief stint with Stone the Crows before joining Paul McCartney's Wings from 1974-1977. With Wings he appeared on three studio albums and one live album. He left Wings to join the reformed Small Faces and he was involved in a couple of other projects.
The official cause of death was heart failure which was caused by morphine and alcohol poisoning. Despite this, he was not known for being a heavy drug user. He wrote and sang lead vocals on Wings 1975 anti-drug tune "Medicine Jar".
Medicine Jar by Wings (Video)
Yutaka Ozaki (November 29, 1965 – April 25, 1992)
Ozaki was a popular Japanese musician. He released 6 studio albums between 1983-1992. One of his signature tunes, "I Love You" has been frequently covered in both Japanese and English. He was ranked 23 on a list of the 100 top musicians by HMV.
On April 25, 1992, he was found drunk, unconscious and naked in a Tokyo alleyway. He was initially taken to the hospital and then released. He ended up dying several hours later. The official cause of death was pulmonary edema, but there are numerous theories concerning his death, including homicide.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (January 4, 1710 –March 16 or 17, 1736)
Pergolesi was an Italian violinist, organist and composer. His more renown work includes La serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress) and Stabat Mater (which was composed during the final weeks of his life). He was considered an influential figure in the development of opera buffa (comic opera). He died of tuberculosis.
Fats Navarro (September 24, 1923 – July 7, 1950)
Navarro is a jazz trumpeter who is considered a pioneer of the bebop genre. He played with several jazz legends including Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton. In 1982 he was inducted in the Downbeat Magazine Jazz Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, his recording output was limited partly due to his heroin addiction which made him undependable. The cause of death was tuberculosis.
James "Baby Huey" Ramey (August 17, 1944 – October 28, 1970)
Ramey started as the front-man for the soul group, Baby Huey & the Babysitters. The band formed in 1963 and released a few singles in the 60s. In 1971 his debut album The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend was released posthumously. The album featured the Curtis Mayfield penned single "Hard Times" which been widely sampled by several rappers. The tune was also covered by John Legend and The Roots for their 2010 album Wake Up.
He struggled with heroin addiction. He died of a heart attack.
Hard Times by Baby Huey (Video)
© 2018 CJ Baker
Takako Komori from Yokohama, Japan on May 25, 2020:
Wow, I didn`t know there are quite a few musicians who died at age 26! Yutaka Ozaki`s music still endures although I don`t recall his songs or his popularity when he was alive or when he passed away. I`ve read that drugs were involved with his death. He is well known for having passed away young, but he does seem to have loyal fans who still keep his music alive.
Dianna Mendez on October 08, 2018:
I remember Baby Huey. Seems like just yesterday people were talking about his surprising death and cause. I suppose there are a few musicians out there who do not depend on drugs but sad to hear of those who indulge. It does lessen your days.