Thankfully, 2009 was a sorry year for the Greil Marcus Rock Death Meter. Aside from the not terribly unexpected (but still weird) demise of the King of Pop, few bona fide legends went on to the Great Green Room Beyond the Sky. The Rock Death Meter rates rock deaths on a ten-point scale in three categories: past and potential future contributions and manner of death. Buddy Holly was Marcus's all-time champ, with Ronnie Van Zant and Jimi Hendrix tied at the top of the 1970s tables. Rocks Off would submit Kurt Cobain, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Selena, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, Pimp C, Dimebag Darrell and Jeff Buckley as more recent entries. This past year, there was no death comparable to those - one in which the deceased left behind a huge legacy, had much great work left to be done and died young and/or shockingly - this year. So we won't even bother with rating all these guys numerically like we used to. On to the Grim Reaper's roll call for the class of '09...
January brought the passings of four big-name sidemen in Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, jazz/R&B saxman extraordinaire "Fathead" Newman, Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell and Dewey Martin, who punched his ticket to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame banging the skins in Buffalo Springfield and the Monkees. Buena Vista Social Club bass maestro Cachaito Lopez died in Havana in February, as did Snooks Eaglin, probably the finest guitar player New Orleans, city of horn and piano greats, ever produced. If you think that's damning the man with faint praise, like calling someone the finest left-handed pitcher from Finland or something like that, it's not. Check out Eaglin's recording of "Café Society" for proof.
Country songwriter (and former Houstonian) Hank Locklin passed away in March, leaving behind "Please Help Me I'm Falling" and "Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On" as part of his musical legacy, while New Orleans lost another R&B legend in Eddie Bo the same month. England Dan Seals, who despite his name hailed from McCamey, Tex., took his country-tinged soft rock to heaven the same month. As half of Seals and Crofts, he brought the world such '70s AM gold as "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" and "We'll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again." Honky-tonker par deluxe Vern Gosdin passed on in April, while uber-cool Austin roots music guitarist/producer Stephen Bruton died in May. Wayman Tisdale, a smooth-jazz bassist and gold-medal-winning Olympic basketball player, also passed on in May at only 44 years of age, followed quickly by one of the year's few startling demises in that of 45-year-old former Wilco sideman Jay Bennett.
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KoKo Taylor, Queen of the Blues, died at 80 in June, which also saw the weeks-long media lollapalooza that greeted Michael Jackson's strange exit from the planet. Electric guitar pioneer Les Paul and boogie lord Jim Dickinson, two men too many casual rock fans might not know of but should, died two days apart in August, Paul at the ripe old age of 94. Dickinson worked with Aretha, Dylan and the Stones and produced Big Star and Green on Red and was synonymous with all things cool from Memphis and Mississippi, not least his two sons, Cody and Luther of North Mississippi All-Stars fame. After surviving a plane crash less than a year before, douchebag lodestar/former Nicole Richie-Mandy Moore boyfriend DJ AM crossed the velvet rope into that better place where the chicks are all hot and the bottle service is always free in late August. In spite of the fact that he had signed on to do an MTV reality show about the dangers of drugs, AM had relapsed into old bad habits. His toxicology report would have done Rick James proud: he was found to have cocaine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Benadryl and cocaine filler Levamisole in his system.
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary died in September, just before the fatal bizarre mixed-martial-arts accident that claimed hip-hop DJ/turntablist Roc Raida. Austin-bred alt-country fiddle queen Amy Farris also passed away in September at a mere 40 years of age; authorities in her new home of Los Angeles ruled her death a suicide. Hard-partying Texas troubadour/Cosmic Cowboy Rusty Weir died at 65 on October 9. (Austin had a very tough year - Sky Saxon of the Seeds also passed away there this year.) And other than Captain Lou Albano and Vic Mizzy, the guy who composed the themes to Green Acres and The Addams Family, that's about it, other than Jerry Fuchs, that guy from the Juan MacLean who fell down an elevator shaft in Brooklyn's hipster haven of Williamsburg.