Those are people who died, died /
They were all my friends, and they died
That 1980 lyric, penned by the late Jim Carroll, prefigured a spate of celebrity deaths, and while the words describe the demise of junkies and the destitute, the song’s repeated refrain could easily be applied to those legions of icons who have departed for the hereafter in a seemingly nonstop procession so far this year.
Last week, Prince became our latest devastating loss, but having surrendered the likes of David Bowie, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Glen Frey, and George Martin in the past four months alone, lovers of music and some of its most gifted icons have had a lot to mourn so far this year.
In the first third of 2016, we've also had to say goodbye to many musicians who played their own significant roles in the musical trajectory of the past half-century. These individuals may not have made as indelible an impression as Bowie, Prince, or the other A-list stars, but they were significant and merit remembrance too. Here is a list of ten musicians whose deaths this year deserve a brighter spotlight.
Paul Bley (Died January 3) Though he never attained the stature of a Miles Davis or John Coltrane, pianist Paul Bley remains one of jazz’s great innovators and masters of improvisation. His work — both solo and in the company of such legends as Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Jaco Pastorius, and Pat Metheny — was often groundbreaking, and the 80 solo albums he recorded over the course of his career remain blueprints for modern experimental expression.
Robert Stigwood (January 4) With the possible exceptions of Brian Epstein and Elvis Presley’s Colonel Tom Parker, there’s likely no more famous manager in the music business than Robert Stigwood. His charges included the Bee Gees, Cream, and Eric Clapton, and when he formed his eponymous record label RSO, he was immediately catapulted into the highest echelons of the music industry. He scored further successes with his big-screen productions Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever, among them.
Giorgio Gomelsky (January 13) While the Soviet-born producer remained mostly behind the scenes, his impact on music throughout the ’60s and ’70s was enormous. As a manager and record company executive, he helped nurture the careers of the Yardbirds, the Animals, Soft Machine, and John McLaughlin, often by sitting behind the boards and steering their recordings. Consequently, his name is virtually synonymous with any number of classic recordings in a variety of genres.
Clarence Henry Reid AKA Blowfly (January 17) Reid began his career as a writer and producer for Sam & Dave, Bobby Byrd, and Miami R&B diva Betty Wright, but later adopted a garishly dressed alter ego known simply as Blowfly to spotlight a string of parodies and naughty send-ups of various ’70s soul songs (“Shitting on the Dock of the Bay,” “A Spermy Night in Georgia,” to name a couple). A number of X-rated albums followed, making him a hero to prominent rappers like Wu-Tang Clan, Big Daddy Kane, and DJ Shadow.
Dale Griffin AKA Buffin (January 17) As the drummer for Mott the Hoople, Griffin found himself in a band on the brink of breaking up — until David Bowie swept in at the final moment and handed them his song “All the Young Dudes.” It gave Mott a much-needed hit and the necessary impetus to persevere. Even after the group splintered, Griffin remained one of Mott’s most dedicated devotees, writing articles for the band's fan-club newsletter and dreaming of the day when the band would reunite. When the group finally reconvened in October 2009 for a limited number of London shows, Griffin was already ill, suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's, but it didn’t keep him from making an entrance during the encores.
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