Endless Influence of Those Gone Too Soon

By on September 12, 2010

Influence: the capacity or power of persons or things, to be a compelling force – on or produce effects on – the actions, behavior, opinions, etc. of others.

You can find influence in many shapes and forms in the music industry. Here are a few of the most influential musicians that perished much too young. Some to drugs, unknown causes and accidents, but in the end, we all lost out on hearing what could have been. But we must celebrate what they did, in the short time they were here. Some of these artists you may have never heard of, but with anything I write, it would behoove you to check out the music I lay out in front of you. You never know, because you may just find a new favorite artist.

Jeff Buckley

Born: November 17th, 1966

Died: May 29th, 1997- Drowned

The Mississippi River took the life of Jeff Buckley when he was right on the cusp of becoming a household name. If you have never heard of him, you should ask your friends about him. And if they have never heard of him, it’s time to get new friends. Jeff Buckley has to be one of the greatest song writers of all time. Even though he didn’t turn out a ton of albums, you can tell what he was capable of with a few songs. Jeff Buckley wanted to get deep inside your soul and share his every feeling with you. If you just close your eyes, I promise his voice will take you away. Although his voice was incredible, his writing ability was even more impressive. His songs were riddles, ballads, eulogies and in one way or another, they were the perfect soundtrack to his life. Some of the best have been unable to put words down in the way Jeff Buckley did with ease.

Jeff Buckley went swimming in Wolf River Harbor, a channel of the Mississippi River in Memphis Tennessee, for reasons unknown.  What is known is that he went in the beast of a river, wearing steel-toed boots and all of his clothes, while belting out Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Did he think he could do it? Did he know he couldn’t? We will never know the answer to that question. What we do know is that Jeff Buckley put together grace, and it stands the test of time. You could release any one of the songs from that album now, and it would be a chart-topper. Jeff also knew his strengths in his vocals and covered some songs that most artists wouldn’t touch out of fear of destroying the original. Songs like “Lilac Wine”, “Hallelujah”, and “Satisfied Mind” were covers, but Jeff had a way of taking an already wonderful song, and reinventing it into a much different sound and making it his.

When you have musicians like Chris Cornell, Mike Doughty, and Rufus Wainright singing songs about you, you know you’ve made an impact in the music industry. Jeff Buckley even hit Rolling Stones’ “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”, coming in at #39. That puts him right after Elton John and right before Curtis Mayfield. I might have him in a different place, but I’m just trying to show his strength in the music community. His songs have been in movies and on television; and he is still growing in popularity. He shares the same fate as his father Tim Buckley, who died at age 28 from a drug overdose. Tim was an amazing musician in his own right, and worth the listen.

Three songs you should pay close attention to: (1) “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” – the lyrics are just simply amazing! (2) “Everybody Here Wants You” – one of the best songs he wrote, and vocally, just as intense! (3) “Satisfied Mind” – one of the best covers of all time! And again, vocally, it really doesn’t get much better . Indulge in some great music and explore the musical library of Jeff Buckley, and like me, you will miss never seeing him live and miss the songs you know he could have made.

Jim Morrison

Born: December 8th, 1943

Died: July 3rd, 1971 – Unknown

Rock and Roll god, poet, singer, songwriter, traveler and Lizard King, is a way to quickly describe Jim Morrison. In a time most leading men in bands were calm and cool crooners, Jim was indeed not calm and cool, but a crooner he was. Jim was known to have many sexual escapades, enough that when he died, there were close to 20 paternity tests filed against him. A heavy drinker, a chronic LSD user, and having an overall addiction to drugs, Jim set the bar when it came to being a rock star. His stage presence was unconventional, and very sporadic, which added fuel to the fire for the ones contesting his sanity. Jim wrote poems and songs, and pushed the limits with both. Jim wrote about sex, drugs, hallucinations, and everything in between. You could say Jim Morrison is our 1st bad boy of music.

One of the fondest memories I have of hearing Jim sing, was on an old vinyl record given to me after my uncle had died in 1986. “L.A. Woman” was my introduction to the Doors at the age of 11… and I loved it! Jim had a voice that was like he was talking to you, screams that made you feel like breaking a wall down, and lyrics I did not understand at the time. I would continue my appreciation of  The Doors and Jim Morrison for years to come. I remember going to see the movie The Doors with Val Kilmer when I was a sophomore in High School, and I knew every word to every song and was not afraid to sing along. The movie was worth watching, but for some reason, it tarnished the vision of Jim Morrison I had for so many years.

Jim had a swagger and confidence that shines through in song, on stage, in photos, and in interviews. Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Layne Staley, Eddie Vedder, and Scott Weiland, have all mentioned Jim Morrison as a major influence – and it shows. With that many stars giving recognition to one person, it’s hard to not see the greatness in him. Because Jim Morrison wanted to – and did – push the limits in every aspect of his life, we have Rock and Roll at its purest form. Go back and watch a clip of an early Doors performance, and see the birth of a Rock legend, and the birth of a more twisted style of Rock and Roll, much different from what everybody was accustomed to hearing and seeing. I thank Jim Morrison for making music what is it is today. He is a true pioneer, and a true musical genius.

Jim Morrison was not only a bad boy on and off the stage, but he was truly an amazing and articulate writer. His poems would challenge your thinking and question reality, but it made sense, in one way or another it all made sense. What didn’t make sense was his friends and family letting him waste away to nothing, and dying a lonely death. Had he cleaned his act up there is no telling where Jim Morrison would have gone, but he’s gone and he can still be appreciated in him lyrics, and his song.

Janis Joplin

Born: January 19, 1943

Died: October 4th, 1970 – Overdose

A rebel, a visionary, and hands down, one of the most influential artists of all time. Janis was a true Rock and Roll superstar, and possibly the 1st female rock legend. In the process, she broke down walls for female singers all over the world. Janis was a young white woman that sang a Blues/Rock hybrid style that she came up with, on her own for the most part. She had listed Blues great, Bessie Smith and Leadbelly, as her major influences for becoming a singer. The self proclaimed Misfit, Joplin, was a chronic drug user and loved to down the Southern Comfort. Heroine was her drug of choice and unfortunately, it took her life. Janis seemed uneasy or frantic while being interviewed. On stage, she was just wild and fun and exciting to watch. She seemed as if she was the happiest when on stage and in front of a cheering crowd, always with a smile and a voice that many have tried to duplicate. But she shares that splendid, raspy voice with nobody.

Janis has influenced some of the best female singers in the business – from Stevie Nicks, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Rate, Joss Stone, and Pink – to name a few. Janis was one of the first female rock singers to be open and sexual in nature. Although it was the 60’s, and the time for peace, love, and happiness, women in the public eye were supposed to be conservative. Janis did not play by the rules and it shows. From her wardrobe, to her style of singing, to her stage presence, to being a sexual woman – sex with both men and women, didn’t matter to her. There are many reports that she was bisexual and had many lovers during her 27 years on the earth. Kris Kristofferson was her long time love. He wrote “Me and Bobby McGee” for her, which is one of her most popular songs, but it has also been reported she carried on a long and open relationship with Peggy Caserta, a boutique owner in the Haight/Ashbury district in San Francisco. Janis was never afraid to show her sexual side, which in those days, raised eyebrows, but paved the way for Madonna, Katy Perry, Pink, and most of the sexually amped up performers we have today.

I think it’s most important for music fans to give credit where credit is due, and Janis deserves a ton of credit. Go back and watch her live performances. Watch as she takes full control and sings with unbridled emotion. Play her songs and pay close attention to how singers emulate her style to this day. Rumors have been going around for years that a movie is in the works about the life of Janis Joplin. I hope they do her justice. She truly deserves the recognition. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 was a step in the right direction. With a movie in the works, and many of the current up-and-coming artists giving her credit as a major influence, I think we will see a resurgence of all things Joplin. A woman in a man’s world, she broke down walls, built up a large core of fans – and more than anything – started a revolution within the female ranks of musicians.

Bradley Nowell

Born: February 22nd, 1968

Died: May 25th, 1996 – Overdose

Bradley Nowell, lead singer of Sublime, may not be regarded as a great lyricist or having the voice of an angel, but he did have the ability to make you love his music… and smile. His influence can be heard today in such bands as 311, Slightly Stoopid, Jack Johnson, G. Love and Special, John Butler Trio, Michael Franti, and Ras-1, to name a few of the more popular bands. Sublime did not invent the Ska/Rock sound, nor did they hit the pinnacle of success until after Bradley had died, but they made music fun to listen to. Music does not always have to be full of depth and symbolism. However, on rare occasions, you can find some very deep and meaningful lyrics. For example, in the song “Pool Shark”, you can hear Bradley sing, “But now I’ve got the needle and I can shake, but I can’t breathe. I take it away, but I want more, and more. One day I’m gonna lose the war”, which describes his addiction to heroin and how he almost knew it would take his life. You can’t just judge influential musicians by just pure sales and lyrics alone. You need to go a little deeper and see the full realm of what they brought to the music industry.

With Bradley at the helm, Sublime was just what the music industry needed at the time. A style of their own was born, just at the same time Bradley Nowell was losing his life. Most people close to him, and those who worked with him, watched him battle a war against drug addiction, and he certainly had his ups and downs, but in the end it was down. Bradley was found in his hotel room with his faithful companion, Lou Dog the Dalmatian – that was never far from him – licking his face as he lay in what is said to resemble somebody praying at the foot of their bed. His lower body on the floor, and his upper body resting on the bed. All of this happened just a few short hours after he had his last show and the last conversation with his wife. Bradley had just married Troy and had a baby with her that they had named Jakob. Bradley was the type of performer that just wanted to make music and share it with the world. His love of music started at an early age. Some of his favorites were N.W.A., Bob Marley, Barrington Levy, and Bad Brains. You can hear these influences in many of his songs.

The Sublime style of music was what Bradley did best – a fun, party style music that makes you want to make a bonfire, drink in front of the ocean, and listen to the waves crash on the shore. Bradley Nowell was just what the 90’s lacked. In the middle of grunge, industrial, and the emergence of rap, you found a mellow and fun style that wasn’t about showing others up, but bringing others up. He wasn’t about angst and screaming or the dark pits of Hell. Even when his sickness was at its worst, Bradley still wanted to keep a smile on your face. It still works today. If you are feeling down or bored, bust out some Sublime and listen to Bradley sing. He will send you to a better place and improve your overall happiness.

Nick Drake

Born: June 1948

Died: November 25, 1974 – Overdose

Folk music is at its best with Nick Drake. Nick Drake was a self-taught musician with some wonderful guitar chords, sweet and dark lyrics, and an aura of an innocent being to this day. He was never a major commercial success until now, and over time has been relatively unknown. Nick Drake only made three studio albums and they can actually all be described as “GENIUS”. Lyrically, symbolically, metaphorically, musically, and vocally, Nick Drake was a perfectionist and he accomplished just that in each album. I don’t blame you if you don’t know much about Nick Drake. You really have to be looking for good music in the corners of history, or you need to have somebody close to you that was introduced to his music. I can hear Nick’s influence in many songs I hear today, and while doing some research, was surprised to find some of the other bands that claim he was a major influence, in their music as well. Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure, claimed to have named his band after lyrics in Nick’s song, “Time Has Told Me”, i.e: “…a troubled cure for a troubled mind”. Others to give Nick Drake credit include Peter Buck from R.E.M., Lucinda Williams, and Jackson Brown. As I said, you can hear his influence in many of the artists today, like Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, David Gray, and Belle and Sebastian, to mention a few.

Being plagued with depression and his constant drive for perfection, drove Nick to suicide in 1974. He had cut ties with just about everybody close to him, with the exception of his parents, whom he lived with, and a few very close friends. He took a lethal dose of anti-depressants and ended his life in the early morning. Much can be said for the way he ended his life. He had been diagnosed with Depression in 1971 and never took his medication. To end your sadness and plunge into death by taking the medicine that would have kept you out of that sad spot, is ballsy. Perhaps that was his final symbolic note for the world to hear. Perhaps his sadness was what he needed to write such beautiful songs and melodies. You could hear one of his songs once or twice, and the tune will stick in your head forever. His Family had always challenged the ruling of suicide, and claimed it had to be an accident. He took pills to help him sleep, and there was no suicide note. You can look at his life and death and judge for yourself.

Nick Drake penned some of most beautiful folk songs of all time. He also made some beautiful music with his guitar. If you are an acoustic guitar fan, you need to go back and play some of Nick’s music. His guitar work is truly unappreciated and not discussed enough. Guys like Rocco DeLuca and G. Love, both have songs tuned like Nick Drake would tune his guitars.

Where would we be without Nick Drake and his music? It’s very hard to tell. What’s not hard to tell is the amount of music he has influenced. Any die-hard Folk music lover will tell you that Nick Drake was one of the bests. He has gained some popularity with his songs in almost 30 movies and numerous commercials in the past few years. It’s nice to see at least some people still care about music. And anybody that includes a Nick Drake song in their playlist is OK in my book.

Otis Redding

Born: September 9th, 1941

Died: December 10th, 1967 – Plane crash

“Hard to Handle”, “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay”, and “These Arms of Mine” are just some of the noted tunes in the Otis Redding song library. But it went much deeper than those songs. You can’t discuss Rhythm and Blues without talking about Otis Redding. Yet another great leaves us too soon. At age 26, Otis had been in the music business for 6 years and had recorded a handful of records. His most famous song would be “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, which he recorded a few days before his plane crashed. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” was still not complete in his mind. Even never being able to complete the song, it was released and became Redding’s only number one song.

Redding also wrote a good portion of his own lyrics, which in the 60’s R&B scene, was not of the norm. That shows he could have gone on to really fine tune his writing ability and we will never really know what his “BEST” could have been. He had not yet peaked and it’s our loss for that. One can hear his influence in many of the music we hear today. Not to mention the numerous original songs you will hear in film, television, and advertising. Otis Redding may be more prominent today than he was in his own time. He has gained popularity in death like many other young musicians, but something puts Otis in a different group. Maybe it’s the way he died. Rather by a plane crash than over the normal overdose – in that time period. Whatever the reason, he is still a dominant force in music.

Many admirers of Redding have shown their love in ways of cover songs. The Grateful Dead and The Black Crowes have covered “Hard to Handle”. “Respect” was done by Aretha Franklin (yep that’s an original Otis song). Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, all took a shot at “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, and yet none sound as good as the original. This is just another way to see the force and impact Otis Redding had on music. Janis Joplin was a huge fan, and would often bring him food, drinks, and whatever else to him – while he was performing in San Francisco – just to hang out with him. He was loved then and still loved now. A man that sang songs to women saying what most men couldn’t say, but wanted too, he was a true renaissance man. Otis wrote many of his songs and kept musical rights to them. He owned his own record label in 1965, and he owned his own publishing firm. Redding did all this, was married with three young children, toured heavily, and could still be one of the hardest working men in the music industry. Those are few things people either don’t know or forget, but I mention this because, had he lived, he could have had a very successful career as an industry shot-caller like Quincy Jones.

Shannon Hoon

Born: September 26th, 1967

Died: October 21st, 1995 – Overdose

Blind Melon lead singer Shannon Hoon had one of the most recognizable voices of the 1990’s, and not to mention, was one of the best songwriters of his time. Plagued with an addiction problem that would eventually take his life, Shannon was still able to pump out some amazing songs in his short career that only lasted 6 years. Publicly famous for the video with the “bee girl” in it, true fans knew of them from long before, and appreciated the many songs they recorded. One of Shannon’s best works as a song writer comes in the first song he wrote called “Change”. Shannon was one of the guys that just really enjoyed the art of music. It seemed like he was at his most peaceful while in front of a microphone. I’d like to take a minute to dissect the music of Shannon Hoon, and what he contributed to the art in his short life.

If you start with the first song on their first self-titled album, “Blind Melon”, and finish with the last song on the last album, “Nico” – named after Shannon’s daughter, Nico Blue – you will find a great American story teller and a deeply troubled young man. There was something about Shannon’s voice that would speak volumes to you with just a melodic hum. I actually received my first speeding ticket while playing Blind Melon and you know what? I couldn’t get in a bad mood. Shannon’s voice just made it impossible to be in a bad mood.

I’m sure many of you will say things like, “He didn’t do enough to make that large of an impact.” Or, “Bands like Blind Melon were a dime a dozen”, but the truth is, Shannon Hoon was truly something special when it came to his lyrics and his vocals. He was an evolved southern style singer that could blow the roof off with his voice. Shannon could go from a whisper to a haunting howl effortlessly, and that alone, is impressive. I hear vocalists trying hard to reach the level of which Shannon could manipulate the feeling of a song with a high-to-monotone pitch, to a scream, to a child-like innocence. I often think to myself what type of music he would have made had he not died? And this is the meat of the issue here. I feel that Blind Melon would have been one of the mainstays in the music industry with a following that of a Phish, Dave Matthews, and possibly even the Grateful Dead. Wildly out of control at times, Shannon chose to push the limits on many occasions. He was starting to build that “bigger than life” persona – urinating on a fan in Canada, publicly smoking pot on stage in Florida, and the whole acid trip at Woodstock – name a few of his naughty moments. All in all, Shannon Hoon represented the 90’s very well as far as talent goes, and unfortunately for us, he also fell into the 90’s overdose epidemic.  I will not sit here and compare him to anybody else. In my opinion he was one of a kind, and that’s why he is here. Maybe it was his words or the way he sang the words, but Shannon Hoon had “IT”, and it was lost in 1996. We’ve lost out since. Shannon must have stopped dreaming. He said, “Keep on dreaming boy, ‘cause when you stop dreamin’, it’s time to die.” He seemed to know he was close to the end when he started to place lyrics like, “And I’ll pull the trigger and make it all go away,” on the song “Soup”, and “All I need are things I don’t need”, on the song “All That I Need”. We lost a great artist that had not hit his prime, yet he was well appreciated in the music industry. This will just go down as another one of those “COULD HAVE BEEN” stories.

Ian Curtis

Born: July 15th, 1956

Died: May 18th, 1980 – Suicide

Ian Curtis, lead singer and sole song writer for the band Joy Division, was always one for the Arts. Beginning at a young age, he excelled in writing and poetry, and grew into one of the most influential artists of all time… Yes, of ALL TIME. Look at it like the “Butterfly Effect” or “historical ripple” effect. From his dark and emotional lyrics, to his baritone voice, to his seizure-like dance moves, Ian helped pave the way for many musicians and helped develop Alternative, Industrial, Emo, Electronica, and Synthpop music genres. Without Ian Curtis we would have no New Order, no Depeche Mode, no The Cure, no U2, Radiohead, and NIN to name a few. His influence shines through today in artists like Brandon Flowers from the Killers, who if you watch him on stage, almost conjures up the spirit of Ian Curtis as he goes into the famous Ian Curtis style of dance, which is truly evident in the cover of “Shadowplay”. It is mind blowing to me how far his influence has reached and continues to grow with only recording two albums. What that proves is that he was truly a visionary and was way ahead of his time. He died much too soon.

Much can be said about Ian Curtis, but for me, the lyrics really stand out more than anything. He brought darkness to new levels and still made it something very beautiful in the end. His songs are able to move you and make you wonder, make you feel the pain and agony he felt deep inside. It’s lyrics like this that stand the test of time and never fade away. A bright flame continues to burn in the heart of music for Ian Curtis, and it only gets stronger with time. He is almost a myth of sorts to many. He was not around long enough to make it to the mainstream of music popularity, and as time goes on and more is talked about him, the more he is loved and appreciated. You could easily take his song lyrics and make them into a book of poetry, and like in the movie Control, turn his life into film.

Ian Curtis suffered from depression, epileptic seizures, and a rough marriage in his short life of 23 years. When you added in the beginning of fame, a newborn baby and a mistress, you find yourself in the world he was so unhappily living in. It was just overwhelming for him and he had had enough and decided to hang himself. There are many theories as to why Ian really killed himself – from the fact he couldn’t bare the sadness of hurting his wife and mistress, to being manic depressive with epilepsy, to having a morbid fascination with death. Whatever the reason for him to take his life, he did it, and there is just no coming back from that. Some may also argue that Ian Curtis was the face of Joy Division, and Peter Hook was the real powerhouse behind the band, which may have some truth to it, but if you dissect the lyrics of Joy Division and New Order, you will see a large change in lyrics and the lack of “grayness” to the way the words were arranged. I am pretty confident that Ian Curtis, as reported, was the sole song writer for the band Joy Division.

If you want to take the journey into the darkness Ian Curtis lived in on a daily basis, you may want to check out the following songs. I think they will help you understand his demons more. (1) “Isolation”: some feel this was a suicide note. (2) “Dead Souls”: one of their most popular songs. (3) ”Love Will Tear Us Apart”: another one of their more popular songs, which will get stuck in your head for days.

Layne Staley

Born: August 22nd, 1967

Died: April 5th, 2002 – Overdose

Layne Staley, Layne Staley, LAYNE STALEY! I really don’t know where to start with this one. With many of the other stories I’ve written about musicians who influenced and made a major impact on music, this one is different. This one I tried very hard to stick to the basic facts, but Layne Staley is my favorite off all time, and although I truly enjoy and appreciate the music and contributions of all the previously mentioned artists, Layne gets top billing here. Layne Staley is the poster child for despair and bleakness. His songs talked of addiction, pain, suffering, hopelessness, and self-loathing. His voice was able to convey the darkest of lyrics with the most amazing voice I’ve ever heard. I was in High School the first time I heard Alice In Chains, while watching MTV (when they actually played music videos), I saw the  “Man In The Box” video. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to go out and buy their album. From the first song “We Die Young”, to the last the last song “Real Thing”, I was hooked and will be until I’m dead. I think once a fan of the style at which Layne sang in, you will always crave his voice. Problem is; it is IRREPLACEABLE.

Say what you want about Layne and his vocals. To me, he sang from a different place – almost transferring a story with each tone, note, octave and vibrato he let flow out of his mouth. When I was younger I may not have understood all the lyrics, but I felt the song and sometimes, that’s the most important aspect of music. Layne Staley was a tortured soul and it comes through in his lyrics and in his voice, as well as his overall presence during interviews and while performing. Check out the Unplugged video, and you will fully understand what I’m talking about. It was one of the last major performances of his short career. His body and mind already showing the signs of years of addiction, yet the “SOUL” of his music came through loud and clear. Layne went from the Glam Rock band Sleze, to Alice N’ Chains, a quasi Speed Metal band, to the more famous Grunge/Metal band of Alice In Chains. Layne also was in a band called Mad Season and sang lead vocals for The Class of  ‘99, in which he covered Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall” (Part One and Part Two). You can go back to the first demo that Layne put out and hear that his voice was a unique style, and at times, you can hear him change it up a little as if he wasn’t sure of the power he actually had. I think with Mad Season you find Layne at his darkest moments and without hope, and with Alice In Chains, you see him falling, but you still have that sense that things could improve.

Bands like Staind, Puddle of Mudd, Tantric, and Days of the New are some of the bands that have openly said Alice In Chains and Layne Staley played a major influence on their music. Has Layne Staley influenced the greatest bands of our time? No, but because of him, I have been influenced and inspired – and that’s what it’s all about. What music moves you? What lyrics can you fall deep into? Maybe a guitar riff that pierces your being? There are many ways to look at it, but in my opinion, Layne Staley is the most important musician of MY time. Your influence may be Elliot Smith, Buddy Holly, Howard Johnson, Jimi Hendrix or Mama Cass, but mine is Layne Staley. Layne Staley has written, sang, lived and died for music, and I thank him for that. He was a saddened man with an addiction and a natural ability to always make his music felt. I still get shivers when I hear his angst-ridden grumbles and mumbles of pain. He knew his addiction would end his life, but in his mind, he wasn’t living to do drugs. He was doing drugs to live, or at least keep the pain away. The pain did go away in his Seattle condo on April 5th, 2002, and I lost my favorite musician… and the world lost the maker of some of the most impressive music of the 90’s.

If you want to hear Layne at his most penetrating, simply pick any song he sang, and that song will be Layne at his best. You just can not go wrong with him, or at least I can’t go wrong with him.

Endless Influence of Those Gone Too Soon Conclusion

All these talented musicians passed away all too soon but their music will last forever. Yes the endless influence on the world leaving us all to wonder….

Oh wonder, what might have been and what did we miss out on.

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