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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

Nashville horn icon whose "Yakety Sax" scored many a boobalicious chase scene on Benny Hill.

Sneaky Pete Kleinow, 72, Alzheimer's

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

West Coast country-rock titan. Worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones and John Lennon to the Bee Gees and Sly and the Family Stone.

Billy Thorpe, 61, heart attack

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

A rock god in his home country of Australia, Thorpe was famous here mainly for the bombastic classic rock anthem "Children of the Sun."

Del Reeves, 74, emphysema

PC: 7, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 9

Country singer and songwriter and former host of TV show Del Reeves' Country Carnival.

Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin, 81, natural causes

PC: 7, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 9

Creole singer and accordionist of zydeco forerunner "la-la music."

Casey Calvert, 26, prescription drug interaction.

PC: 3, FC: 4, M: 3 Total: 10

Guitarist in emo-punk band Hawthorne Heights.

Denny Doherty, 66, abdominal aneurysm

PC: 8, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 10

The last of the two Papas from the Mamas and the Papas; member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hank Thompson, 82, lung cancer

PC: 8, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 10

Princeton-educated Country Music Hall of Fame member and swinging honky-tonker from Waco. His "The Wild Side of Life" dominated the country charts in 1952.

Bobby Byrd, 73, natural causes

PC: 7, FC: 2, M: 1 Total: 10

Famous Flame best remembered for backing vocals on James Brown songs like "Licking Stick," "Make It Funky," "Get Into It, Get Involved."

Lee Hazlewood, 78, renal cancer

PC: 9, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 11

Atmospheric singer-songwriter and producer; wrote Art Bell fave "Some Velvet Morning," "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and the Dean Martin hit "Houston." Varied list of interpreters includes Lydia Lunch, Einsturzende Neubauten, Calexico, Primal Scream, Nick Cave, Harry Nilsson and Megadeth.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, 79, natural causes

PC: 10, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 12

Composer, pianist and electronic music pioneer whose influence cut across rock, classical, avant-garde and jazz. Pictured on cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Max Roach, 83, Alzheimer's Disease

PC: 10, FC: 1, M: 1 Total: 12

Jazz drummer extraordinaire.

Tony Wilson, 57, cancer-related heart attack

PC: 8, FC: 4, M: 1 Total: 13

English impresario whose Manchester institutions the Hacienda Club and Factory Records label were instrumental in the careers of Joy Division and Happy Mondays. A dedicated believer in regionalism, Wilson could be described as "the Rory Miggins of Manchester."

Porter Wagoner, 80, lung cancer

PC: 9, FC: 3, M: 1 Total: 13

Pompadoured country crooner who rocked glittering Nudie suits like none before or since. The former husband and frequent duet partner of Dolly Parton and Grand Ole Opry stalwart saw something of a critical renaissance this year with the release of Anti album The Wagonmaster.

Jimmy T-99 Nelson, 88, natural causes

PC: 8, FC: 4*, M: 1 Total: 13

Local Big Joe Turner sound-alike and criminally underrated songwriting genius. Scored national R&B hits in the '50s with "T-99 Blues" and "Meet Me with Your Black Dress On"; after a couple of decades' retirement, released three strong albums in the last ten years with remnants of Roomful of Blues.

*Based on good chance that Nelson's songwriting gift is rediscovered.

Kevin DuBrow, 52, cocaine overdose

PC: 2, FC: 2 , M: 9 Total: 13

Iron-voiced, zebra-stripe-pantsed frontman for Slade clones Quiet Riot, which had mid-'80s hits with "Cum On Feel The Noize," "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)."

Ike Turner, 75, natural causes

PC: 10, FC: 3, M: 1 Total: 14

Mississippi Delta-bred hipcat who helped invent rock and roll and stayed current through several eras thereafter. Married, produced and (allegedly) abused Tina Turner. Member of both the rock and blues halls of fame.

Big Moe, 33, heart attack

PC: 7, FC: 3, M: 4* Total: 14

Bluesy Third Ward rapper-singer; often sang about codeine. Scored R&B hits with "Just a Dog," "Purple Stuff" and "Mann!"

*Heart attack brought on by morbid obesity; obesity brought on by heavy consumption of syrup.

Kirk Rundstrom, 38, esophageal cancer

PC: 6, FC: 7, M: 3* Total: 16

Singer-guitarist in Kansas alt-country roots-rock band Split Lip Rayfield.

*Extra points awarded for type of cancer; esophageal cancer often comes from rock vices like drinking and smoking.

Buck Jones, 33, hit by car on freeway

PC: 5, FC: 8, M: 5 Total: 18

Young Texas country singer with bright future run over by drunk driver after van breakdown on Texas Highway 30.

Chad Butler, a.k.a. Pimp C, 33, died in sleep in Hollywood hotel

PC: 9, FC: 9, M: 5* Total: 23*

UGK rapper and producer; primary architect of Dirty South hip-hop. In Texas, the most grieved musician since Selena.

*Toxicology report pending.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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