Friday the 13th: 13 Bad Luck Rockers
When it comes to ranking the unluckiest people in the world, rock stars on the whole fall somewhere between lottery winners and heirs to vast oil fortunes. Not many people have sympathy for famous musicians, who rake in buckets of money, tour the globe, bask in the adoration of fans and tend to have successful romantic lives — all while never having to punch a clock at a nine-to-five job. But rock stars don’t always have it easy, and sometimes things can go very, very wrong. There seem to be significant dangers associated with the career, whether it’s from the constant traveling or simply just living the rebellious and deceptively high-pressure rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. With that in mind, join us on this Friday the 13th as we take a look at 13 artists and bands who have had their rock dreams sullied by extreme cases of bad luck:
Lynyrd Skynyrd were just five shows into the biggest tour of their relatively young career when on Oct. 20, 1977, the chartered plane flying them to their next gig ran out of fuel and crashed into the woods in Gillsburg, Miss., killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines and seriously injuring the rest of the band. Lynyrd Skynyrd broke up after the accident, only to reunite in 1987. Crash survivor Allen Collins’ bad luck only continued. He would be in a serious car crash in 1986 that left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to take part in the reunion. He died on Jan. 23, 1990, from chronic pneumonia.
Almost exactly one year after Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman was killed on Oct. 29, 1971, in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, bassist Berry Oakley died in another motorcycle crash just a few blocks away. Duane’s crash happened right after the classic 1971 ABB double-live album ‘At Fillmore East’ — considered by many his shining moment as a guitarist — was certified gold.
Leave it to Ace Frehley to write a book about his time in Kiss and title it — what else? — ‘No Regrets.’ In the tome, he recalls some bad-luck moments he has endured — like almost drowning on two separate occasions. One such event happened poolside while on tour in Florida and drunkenly falling in, only to be fished out by Gene Simmons.
Then there was the time Ace was nearly electrocuted after touching an ungrounded metal railing while on tour in 1976 in Lakeland, Fla. Despite the shock, he returned 30 minutes later and managed to finish the show. The incident inspired the 1977 Kiss song ‘Shock Me.’
Members of the Rolling Stones are notorious for outliving their expiration dates, but Brian Jones did not experience such luck. Jones formed the Stones by placing a classified ad in a jazz newspaper and served as its leader and manager in the band’s early years, but saw his role steadily diminish as they gained popularity and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took on more control. In June 1969, Jones was told that the group he had started would continue without him. Less than a month later — on the night of July 2 — his body was discovered floating at the bottom of his pool, with the official coroner’s report ruling “death by misadventure.” Jones was one of the first members of the so-called “27 Club.”
A founding member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett was best known as the lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter during the band’s heavily psychedelic early years. He composed the majority of Floyd’s 1967 debut album, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ which was a hit in the U.K.
But the resultant stress of fame, paired with Barrett’s increasing use of mind-altering drugs, seemed to trigger psychological problems. He became increasingly withdrawn from the band, his friends and reality, eventually suffering a psychotic breakdown from which he would never fully recover. In April 1968 it was officially announced Pink Floyd had parted ways with Barrett. He released two more solo albums before moving in with his mother, living out the rest of his life as a recluse. He died in 2006 from pancreatic cancer.
Consider it the most successful rock ‘n’ roll career that almost was. Finding themselves without a permanent drummer in 1960, the pre-fame Beatles hired local Liverpool skinsman Pete Best — but his time in the band would be short lived. After recording a demo for George Martin in 1962, the producer recommended that a session drummer be used in place of Best for future for recordings. The Beatles instead decided to outright fire Best — depriving him of untold riches and rock immortality — and Ringo Starr was hired as his replacement. Best attempted to commit suicide at the peak of Beatlemania, but gradually grew to accept his footnote role in the biggest band of all time. Finally receiving a multi-million dollar royalty check after the 1995 release of the Beatles’ ‘Anthology’ definitely helped the cause.
Sometimes the worst luck can turn out to be the best luck — and good luck the worst. Original Metallica bassist Ron McGovney’s time in the band was full of tension and short lived, ending when he quit in 1982. Which looked like a bad move when Cliff Burton took over bass duties and Metallica quickly blew up to become one of the biggest underground metal bands in the world. But tragically, the decision looked a little better after the 1986 tour bus accident in Sweden that killed Burton, who was thrown from his bunk and crushed when the bus skidded on ice and flipped over. Burton had won the privilege of sleeping in the choice bunk by drawing an ace of spades in a card game with his bandmates. Eventually McGovney reconciled with Metallica, briefly joining them onstage during their recent 30th anniversary concerts in San Francisco.
AC/DC are known for having had two fantastic singers over their career, but did you know before Bon Scott and Brian Johnson there was another, short-lived vocalist? Dave Evans fronted the Aussie outfit for one year in 1973, releasing the single ‘Can I Sit Next To You, Girl’ before being let go due to artistic differences and clashes with management. Needless to say, with Scott taking over the job — and Johnson several years later, after Scott’s death — AC/DC grew to become one of the best-selling rock bands of all time. Dave, ever hear of biting your tongue?
You know Lady Luck isn’t shining on you when a band halfway named after you goes on to multi-platinum superstardom — without you. Tracii Guns helped form Guns N’ Roses with Axl Rose in 1985, merging his band L.A. Guns with Axl’s Hollywood Rose. The lineup didn’t last long, however, with Tracii and his fellow ex-L.A. bandmates soon parting ways from the band, eventually being replaced with Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. Guns N’ Roses would go on to become, well … Guns N’ Roses, while Tracii would reunite L.A. Guns and continue to toil away in relative obscurity.
What is it with bands and automobile bang-ups, anyway? Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen’s story ultimately is one of triumph over adversity; although he lost his arm during a 1984 accident which saw him smash his Corvette into a drystone wall while driving outside Sheffield, England, he acquired a custom-made kit and taught himself to drum on it using one arm and two legs. He still drums with Def Leppard to this day. His bandmate, guitarist Steve Clark, wasn’t so lucky. After years of battling alcoholism, he died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and booze. His girlfriend found his body at their Chelsea apartment in January 1991, the morning after a night of heavy drinking.
(Forgive us for lightening the mood just for a second.) The word “luck” isn’t even in the vocabulary of Spinal Tap, the fictional but fiercely beloved mock metal band featured in the 1984 mockumentary film ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ Nothing ever seems to go right for Spinal Tap, whether it be pathetic tickets sales, constant in-band fighting or simply getting lost backstage on their way to the stage. But the worst luck is reserved for those seeking to fill the drumming position, as Spinal Tap have gone through a seemingly endless series of drummers, each of whom has died under bizarre circumstances: spontaneous human combustion, a “bizarre gardening accident” and, choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown are just a few ways the band’s numerous beat keepers have died. The police ruled that last death “a mystery better left unsolved.”
Badfinger and bad luck were made for each other. After scoring four consecutive hits in the early ’70s, things were looking up for the Beatle-endorsed British band. But what followed was years of diminishing returns and tragic loss, as record deals with Apple Records and Warner Bros. fell apart due to mishandling by the band’s management. At one point, WB refused to release Badfinger’s next album and sued to recover missing escrow money, basically bankrupting the band. The members of Badfinger fell into a deep despair, and April 1975, singer-guitarist Pete Ham hanged himself in the garage of his Surrey home. He was 27. Badfinger broke up after that, struggled to reform over the next few years, and once again found themselves at the center of even more legal nightmares. Several years later, in November 1983, another tragedy occurred when bassist Tom Evans also his own life, also by hanging.
The death of Steve Peregrin Took perhaps is the most bizarre of all. He played guitar for T. Rex for a few years in the early '70s, and by the early ’80s was receiving long overdue checks for his work with the band. One night in October 1980, flush with cash from a recent payment, Took acquired a collection of booze and drugs with his roommate. The following morning his body was found; he had reportedly choked to death on a cocktail onion. The official cause of death was ruled “death by drug misadventure.”