Looking back, this past decade wasn't too kind to rock and roll as a whole. We lost plenty of people who weren't exactly disgustingly huge as Michael Jackson or as monolithic as Johnny Cash. This decade took its share of people who were massively influential and iconic, but not on the grand world radar. It seemed like blues and punk rock took the biggest hits, with Lux Interior and John Lee Hooker both moving on to the next astral plane. Ray Charles (June 10, 2004) We promise we didn't forget about Mr. Charles. It is kinda hard to pack ten departed people from a decade awash in legendary passings. The seminal pianist and soul pioneer saw a marked resurgence in popularity after his death in June 2004, with his biopic Ray earning Jamie Foxx an Oscar and that fall's five-times platinum Genius Loves Company album topping the charts. The release paired Charles with modern artists like Diana Krall and Norah Jones, along with Elton John and James Taylor.
Country music lost plenty of its best and brightest artists this decade. Between Johnny Cash and Buck Owens, the passing of Waylon Jennings in February 2002 saw the end of a golden era. Jennings was one of the original outlaw twangers, embodying the title in his music and personal life. He had bouts of drug addiction and his beating the demon powders only seemed to make his music all the more honest and real. His son Shooter Jennings continues the old man's work, bringing his father's music to whole new younger audiences. The elder Jennings cheated death in 1959 when he switched seats with Buddy Holly on the fateful night of the plane crash that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.Warren Zevon (September 7, 2003)
Few singer-songwriters had the ability to intimate parts of the human condition the way Warren Zevon did. Each of his compositions were like miniature graphic novels with sordid characters and acts that could make you laugh and cry. When he found out he had cancer in 2002, he took action in the only way he knew how by writing songs about his experience. He recorded the funerealThe Wind
with special guests Don Henley, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty providing background vocals and instrumentation, and died just two weeks after the album's release.Layne Staley (April 5, 2002)
In the early '90s, Alice In Chains was the one of the most morbid of the big grunge bands. Their songs were steeped in addiction and death imagery, mostly written by lead singer Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. As time went on, the band's music got more aggressive and each track saw Staley exercising his anger at his addiction. He started a slow decline that finally ended with his body being discovered in April 2002 by police. For a man who had so many friends and acolytes, few people attempted to save him.Billy Preston (June 6, 2006)
Houston-born Billy Preston holds the distinct honor of being called "The Fifth Beatle" for his work with the band late their career. His piano lines helped buoy tracks on Get Back and Abbey Road. After his involvement with the Fab Four he went on to have a stellar solo presence and began working with the Rolling Stones for their early to mid-'70s output. Kidney disease ended Preston's life in June 2006, and there are still untold countless hours of music that he recorded that is awaiting release.Lux Interior (February 4, 2009)
One look at that shock of black hair and the low-slung leather pants, and you knew Lux Interior was hell on two legs. The Cramps frontman was a monster live and with his wife Poison Ivy, helped make the psychobilly punk band monolithic. Their first albumSongs The Lord Taught Us
has warped the minds of millions with songs like "Garbageman" and "T.V. Set". They also made high art out of dissecting and covering songs by the Trashmen and Ricky Nelson. Interior died suddenly in February of a tear in his aortic wall.John Lee Hooker (June 21, 2001)
The deaths of Bo Diddley, R.L. Burnside and John Lee Hooker signaled an end to the era of classic influential blues that helped shape rock and roll. Hooker's death in 2001 left B.B. King and Buddy Guy to help mind the store for the rest of the decade. Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" and "Crawling King Snake" still manage to shape the sounds of modern blues enthusiasts the Black Keys and Davey Knowles' Back Door Slam.John Entwistle (June 27, 2002)
Many people still see Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as the nerve center of the Who. Those people have obviously never listened intently enough to the work of their now-departed rhythm section. Along with drummer Keith Moon, bassist Entwistle helped forge the band's epic sound. Known as "The Ox," he played bass like it was a lead guitar and his fingers laid to waste the thick strings nightly. He went out a rock star, dying in his sleep of a cocaine overdose with a stripper at his side in Las Vegas.Screamin' Jay Hawkins (February 12, 2000)
Hawkins' trademark bone-through-the-nose and witch-doctor aesthetic helped bring a new and creepy vibe to rock and roll at a time when it was just gathering steam. His 1956 track "I Put A Spell On You" still has the ability to frighten even a half of a century after it bubbled to the surface. Aside from being one of the first shock rockers, he also reportedly sired almost 100 children during his 70 years on Earth.
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Along with the passing of Ray Charles, soul took another hit in April 2003 when the world lost Nina Simone. The singer and activist could tear up a room with her voice and her contributions to jazz and neo-soul artists like Mary J. Blige and Mos Def is immeasurable. She could fashion intensity and fire as delicate as a bouquet of flowers but as dangerous as a rattlesnake.