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RockNotes: Top 10 Rock Deaths

The very strange death of 62-year-old former ABBA drummer Ola Brunkert from a fatal run-in with a pane of glass has to rank right up there with some of the best of a truly head-shakingly strange roster of accidental rock 'n' roll demises. Not to diminish the human tragedy of Brunkert's passing, but let's face it, karma seems to have a big score to settle with rock musicians. Of course, sound judgment clouded by all sorts of high-living hijinks might have something to do with it, I'll grant you that. But that alone just cannot explain the sheer volume of weird.

The usually execrable British tabloid The Mirror has taken something of a break from its depressingly yobbish wall-to-wall coverage of Sir Paul's divorce battle with Heather to provide what seems to be a surprisingly good and accurate top 10 list of the weirdest accidental rock 'n' roll deaths of all time. Some, of course, are obvious: It's The Mirror, when all is said and done. But others, however, I either hadn't heard of or hadn't remembered in quite awhile. So a tip of the undertaker's akubra to The Mirror for providing this melange of misadventure.

clo_clo.jpg1. Claude Francois. He was the king of the French knock-offs of '60s American rock 'n' roll songs. His biggest hits up until 1967 were ultra-cheesy foreign language versions of famous songs by such groups the Everly Brothers, the Bee Gees and the Beatles ("Je veux tenir ta main"). "Clo-Clo" was widely derided as a megalomaniacal ball of fromage. Then in 1967 turnabout became fair play as he wrote an original French song, "Comme d'habitude," which ultimately became Frank Sinatra's "My Way," one of the cheesiest all-time English-language songs. Clo-Clo met his fate in 1979 when he was electrocuted while attempting to replace a broken light bulb while standing in a bathtub full of water. (Misuse of electricity plays a big role in the Top 10 list).

2. Randy Rhoads. Death by airborne Ozzy Osborne tour bus-ramming. Ozzy explains: "Yhhuu uhhh woll, ha, Randy, eh, noghht to the buzz, the driver eh toollough ober at, I thouawt, 'Eh! Gwann stick me, mate! Ehhhh? Bloody deejorrrgh rawt. Yhhuu paarraaahh the bloody stupid git, ehhh? Then, ruusseff went up annnn dooon, buzzat rawt fracking in th road, mate."

3. Mama Cass Elliott. Cass Elliott really shouldn't be on this list because she did not die accidentally from choking on a ham sandwich, as was widely believed to be the case for years thanks to a false preliminary medical report that was almost immediately debunked (it was a heart attack). But the irony of believing the world's first fat rock star died from food was too delicious to discredit. (The London apartment in which she died also would be Keith Moon's deathplace four years later.)

4. Johnny Ace. I have to admit I'd never heard of this guy, who died on Christmas Day 1954, after playing Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol backstage at a show in Houston. Apparently he was high on PCP when it happened. Yep, that'll do it. The shooting was witnessed by Big Mama Thornton, who was touring with him with her own hit "Hound Dog," just as the race barriers in popular music were coming down. Johnny Ace probably would have been one of the first and biggest crossover artists had he survived.

terry_kath.jpg5. Terry Kath . Another Russian Roulette casualty. Chicago was never the same after Kath died: He provided its edge with his hard-rock guitar solos. His death in 1978 ensured that Chicago would go down the easy-listening path that resulted in oh so many soft rock classics.

6. Leslie Harvey. Another one I hadn't heard of. His band, Stone the Crows, was an early '70s British psychedelic blues rock outfit managed by Led Zeppelin's cricket bat-wielding mentor Peter Grant. Harvey is among the few rock 'n' rollers to actually die onstage; in 1972, he touched an ungrounded live mike with wet hands in Swansea, England. Also trivia-wise, another Stone the Crow, Jimmy McCullough, who later joined Wings and wrote the anti-drug song "Medicine Jar," died of a heroin overdose in 1979.

7. Keith Relf. Again, remember to ground your amplified equipment. Please. He died of electric shock in a home studio after the break-up of the Yardbirds while practicing guitar for his new band, Armageddon. Smokin.'

8. Jeff Porcaro. I think John Bonham and Keith Moon kind of set the standard for drummer deaths (choking on own vomit and OD'ing on an anti-alcoholism drug, respectively). No, the legendary studio drummer and Toto member's demise was a bit less rock 'n' roll. It was caused by a heart attack triggered by an allergic reaction to a pesticide he was using in his yard. Great as Porcaro was, It's kind of hard to imagine Keith Moon tending to the crabgrass.

9. Sonny Bono. No matter what you thought of Sonny, no one could ever have imagined him dying in a skiing accident. I mean, Sonny on skis? It obviously wasn't meant to be.

10. Gram Parsons. Not so much his death (kind of a run-of-the-mill overdose), but the aftermath in which his buddy stole Parsons' body and tried to burn it in the desert at Joshua Tree to honor some kind of drunken pledge. So strange, Johnny Knoxville made a movie about it.

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Catch up with the entire RockNotes collection. It tastes great, it's very filling, and it rocks.



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Posted on March 18, 2008


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