Music Deaths

The Greil Marcus Rock Death Meter returns

First, the standard disclaimer: A few years ago, we started stealing the Greil Marcus Rock Death Meter, which he invented in his now 28-year-old work "Rock Death in the 1970s: A Sweepstakes."

In that seminal essay, Marcus rated dead 1970s rockers on their past and potential future contributions, and their manner of death. Those who left pretty corpses and died spectacularly were awarded the highest scores. After all, Marcus contended, we rank musicians in life, so why not in death, as well?

Rock death in 2007 was like a scorpion — it had a nasty sting in its tail. There was little or no tragedy or surprise until October, just the inevitable passings of many aged luminaries. And then wham, we lost Pimp C and Big Moe with little or no warning, and then (big step down here in quality) came the somewhat surprising to downright shocking demises of Kevin DuBrow, Dan Fogelberg and Hawthorne Heights guitarist Casey Calvert.

That two of those players were Houstonians speaks to the fact that this was an absolutely horrid year in the Bayou City. We lost 26-year-old Poor Dumb Bastards guitarist Hunter Ward to a suspected drug overdose in June, and Houston-bred Austin blues heavies Phareaux Felton and Uncle John Turner passed away in January and July, respectively, each before they reached retirement age. New Birth Brass Band tuba man (and post-Katrina Houstonian) Kerwin James died this summer at only 35 from the after-effects of a devastating stroke he suffered in 2006.

Rory Miggins, the Clifford Antone of Houston, passed away earlier this month of melanoma, and Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, one of the music giants Miggins coaxed out of retirement in the 1990s, beat Miggins to the great gig in the sky by a couple of months.

The curse of this annus horribilis seemed to extend in all directions — Lee Hazlewood, whose only strong Houston connection was the authorship of a hit song that bears the city's name, also met his maker.

Bad as it was here, matters were much worse across the Rio Grande, where musicians are being slaughtered in the narco-wars with a ruthlessness and viciousness that makes the East Coast-West Coast rap war look like a church youth group paintball game by comparison. Down there, if you sing the wrong narcocorrido, you die. If you refuse to sing that very same narcocorrido, you also die, only by someone else's hand. And apparently, even if you don't sing any narcocorridos at all, you also die.

Four members of Banda Fugaz were executed this February, and norteño singer Valentin "El Gallo de Oro" Elizalde was ambushed and killed along with his manager just across the river from McAllen last month. The butchery continued into December, when singer Zayda Peña of Zayda y los Culpables was finished off in her Matamoros hospital bed hours after catching a bullet in the back at her hotel. Two days after that, superstar K-Paz de la Sierra singer Sergio Gomez was kidnapped, tortured and strangled in Morelia, and the next day a trumpeter was murdered in Oaxaca.

Elsewhere, a few other musicians were swept away by the nasty riptide of current events. One of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre was a budding folk singer. Private Nicholas Riehl was killed in Fallujah; stateside he had been in a band called For This I Die. Army Specialist Darrell Shipp was killed in Iraq when a bomb exploded near his HumVee. Back home, he had been in a band called Celebrate Tuesday. He died on a Thursday.

Dallas was the site of a spectacularly tragic rock demise. Carter Albrecht, formerly one of Edie Brickell's New Bohemians, currently a member of the rising band Sorta, and by all accounts one of Big D's most talented side-men, was shot and killed in a wee-hours fracas brought on by Albrecht's psychotic reaction to a combination of alcohol and the smoking-­cessation drug Chantix.

And then there's our Johnny Ace Rock Death of the Year, awarded to the most spectacular exit from this vale of tears. 2007's champ is Waco's Tony Thompson. The 31-year-old singer of the R&B group Hi-Five overdosed, but this was no run-of-the-mill coke, meth or smack demise. Thompson met his maker at the wrong end of a severed air conditioning duct, from which he inhaled a lethal dose of Freon.

Attaway, playa. If you're gonna die a huff-meister, might as well go with the champagne of inhalants.

Here's this year's roll call of fallen greats.

Dan Fogelberg, 56, prostate cancer

Past Contribution: 2, Future Contribution: 2, Manner of Death: 1 Total: 5

Schmaltzy folk-rocker who gave us "The Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Auld Lang Syne."

Don Ho, 76, heart failure

PC: 3, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 5

Lei-bedecked, ukulele-strumming crooner of "Tiny Bubbles" and face of Hawaii for a generation.

Alice Coltrane, 69, respiratory failure 

PC: 6, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 8

Jazz / avant-garde keyboardist / harpist and composer; widow of John Coltrane.

Bobby "Boris" Pickett, 69, leukemia

PC: 6, FC: 1 , M: 1 Total: 8

The original "monster of rock." Famous for Halloween chestnuts "Monster Mash" and "Monster's Holiday" and once led a band called the Crypt-Kickers.

Boots Randolph, 80, brain hemorrhage

PC: 6, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 8

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