The day the music died: 7 bizarre rock 'n' roll deaths

BY Andy Richardson

1st Jan 2015 Music

The day the music died: 7 bizarre rock 'n' roll deaths

Going out in a blaze of glory—it comes with the rock-star territory, but these 7 musicians not only died unexpectedly but under rather odd circumstances.

Chet Baker (May 13 1988, Amsterdam)  

Chet Baker is best known for his silky vocal and pioneering trumpet work as a part of 50’s jazz sensation The Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Baker’s legend was further cemented upon forming his own successful quartet, The Chet Baker Quartet.

Unfortunately, Baker was also famed for his drug habits and stints in jail—although neither of these would not be the death of him. It wasn’t until late in his career (when Baker was enjoying renewed success) on May 13 1988, Baker was found dead on the street below his second-story hotel room.

Legend has it that a drug dealer pushed him—and indeed, drugs were found both in his hotel room and his body. Officially his death was ruled “an accident”. We’ll never truly know.



Randy California (January 2 1997, Hawaii)

What is not said about Randy California’s influence on guitar music is almost as tragic as his death.

Cutting his teeth as a precocious protégé of Jimi Hendrix (who also gave him his stage name) at just 15, Randy was destined for greatness. By the age of 17, he had formed the psychedelic outfit Spirit.

Although the band received modest success, Spirit are more notably remembered for tragedy. It is well regarded that Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page robbed Randy California of his central riff in “Taurus”, modifying it slightly into what would become the Led Zep’s most famous song, "Stairway to Heaven". And not a writing credit in sight!

Sadly, tragedy reared its ugly head once more in 1997 when Randy and his son Quinn went swimming to celebrate New Year off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.

A tidal wave caught the two off guard and amidst the chaos, Randy, pushing his son away from an advancing rip tide to safety, was swept away. His body was never found.



Gram Parsons (September 19 1973, California)

Gram’s death is like the stuff of folklore, incredibly it's entirely true.

During his short stay on earth, Gram reinvented popular country music. Transforming an already popular genre into a cool, youthful sound, he blended classic country twang with 60’s psychedelia and 70’s rock music. His brand of cosmic, alt-country is undoubtedly his lasting legacy, but his short life and tumultuous end is also a bit of a talking point.

Having just completed the now enormously celebrated classic, Grievous Angel (released posthumously in 1974), Parsons, headed to The Joshua Tree Inn to wind down with enough booze and morphine to kill two men—allegedly. Naturally, Gram suffered a major overdose that ended his life.

Here’s where things get strange. While Parson was in transit to Louisiana for burial, friend and producer, Phil Kaufman intercepted his body. He was fulfilling a pact the two had made which stated that his remains were to be cremated out in the desert at Cap Rock.

Phil managed to seize the body, evade capture from the police, and with the help of some gasoline, set his buddy’s remains alight.

Gram’s remains were eventually found and flown back to New Orleans. Kaufman was only charged $750 for his stunt.



Mike Edwards (September 3 2010, Devon)

Mike Edwards was the cellist in Electric Light Orchestra—a classically trained musician who was with the band during their formative years (1971-75).

Edwards brought an explosive approach to cello (quite literally—it was one of his stage pieces!). He fit in perfectly with the eccentric band that combined classical music and progressive rock.

Unfortunately, while out driving on one of Britain’s A roads, a 590kg hay bale collided with his van killing him instantly. 



Terry Kath (January 23 1978, Las Angeles)

Krath is best known as lead guitarist, co-lead singer, and founding member of rock group, Chicago.

During the 1970s they were the leading the way up the US singles charts and to this day they remain one of the world’s best selling groups of all time. It’s no wonder that Kath liked to party! However, Kath also liked to ‘play’ with firearms and often carried them around with him.

While at a party with a roadie, Kath was fooling around with unloaded guns, putting them to his head and pulling the trigger. First, Kath took up an unloaded revolver, put it to his temple and pulled the trigger several times—for a laugh presumably. Much to the roadie’s chagrin, Kath wouldn’t let up. He then picked up a semi-automatic 9mm pistol, put the gun to his temple and said, “don’t worry about it […] the clip’s not even in it”. Unfortunately, there was a round in the chamber and Kath was killed instantly.



Keith Relf (May 14 1976, London)

Multi-instrumentalist Keith Relf made his name as lead vocalist and harmonica player in English garage rock group The Yardbirds. But he is also known for his unfortunate and strange death.

Relf was electrocuted in his basement by his own guitar, due to a grounding fault. That would never happen with a harmonica!



Steve Peregrin Took (October 27 1980, London)

Steve Peregrin Took was one part of influential, English rock duo, T-Rex. Pippin was sacked as Bolan’s accomplice on account of his heavy drug use and misadventures. He was notorious as a ‘serial drinks spiker’ (known to have spiked Bolan one evening).

Pippin didn’t die from an overdose or even the consumption of alcohol. It must have been karma for all that drink spiking, as it was the cherry from a cocktail which choked him to death.

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