When Amy Winehouse died Saturday, almost everyone noted how the troubled British soul singer had joined the "27 Club," the list of legendary musicians who passed away at that age that also includes Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, bluesman Robert Johnson and Texas' own Janis Joplin. There are many others... so many that the 27 Club has its own Wiki page.
Winehouse also joined another club that may be even smaller: Artists who passed away before they ever had a chance to perform in Houston. The only U.S. cities she ever did play were New York, L.A., Austin at SXSW 2007, and Lollapalooza and Coachella that year. Winehouse had planned a more extensive tour of the States for later on in '07 - Houston wasn't on that itinerary, either - but it got postponed and later canceled, and she never performed in America again.
It took a good bit of research to put together the rest of this list. For one thing, 27 is pretty old in touring years, since most artists start down that road in their early 20s or even earlier. The other is that for all the griping we do about losing shows to Austin and Dallas, Houston is still a pretty big city and major tour market, so most acts with any kind of draw wind up routed through here sooner or later, and usually sooner. Provided they live long enough.
The other reason is that, despite what you may have heard, the Internet is far from a reliable record-keeping resource. In two days of research, Rocks Off was unable to come up with conclusive information one way or the other about several other artists who died relatively young and whom we suspect may never performed in the Bayou City: Johnson; Latino rock and roller Ritchie Valens; singer-songwriter softie Jim Croce; rap loose cannons Eazy-E and Ol' Dirty Bastard.
To give you an idea what a tough time we had, while we were researching this article, we were able to cross off two more from the "maybe" list: Minutemen bassist D.Boon, who played at Lawndale before the December 1985 van accident that claimed his life, even though agit-folkie Billy Bragg was unable to make it due to visa issues. Rocks Off contributor and "punk professor" David Ensminger sent us the flyer you see at right and says the show was in 1984 ("methinks").
Meanwhile, we were almost positive Tupac Shakur had never performed in Houston. We even had one of our operatives reach out to Bun B, who said he didn't think so either. However, Digital Underground did open Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" tour at the Summit in August 1990. It's unclear whether Shakur performed with the Oakland-based "Humpty Dance" crew at that show, but since he was a roadie for DU before joining the group, there's a good chance 'Pac was at least in the building. Also on the bill were Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane - what a show that must have been.
The following three, though, we're almost 100 percent certain went to their graves without ever getting a chance to entertain (or enrage) a Houston audience. If you can think of others, or can confirm any of the other names we listed above, do be a love and let us know in the comments.
Ian Curtis: Unlike Amy Winehouse, the glum front man of seminal UK goth-punks Joy Division never crossed the Atlantic at all. Curtis hung himself just days before the band was scheduled to open its first U.S. tour. Although some dates and venues are unconfirmed, this Web site has Joy Division following the traditional arc of East Coast to West Coast via Upper Midwest that at least proves bands bypassing Houston - hell, the entire Southwest - is nothing new. Curtis' surviving bandmates finally made it to Houston when their new group, New Order, played the Maceba Theater in November 1986. Evidently that place didn't last too much longer before being shut down for asbestos problems.
Sid Vicious: Of all the people on this list, Vicious is the most likely to have at least passed through Houston - the Sex Pistols played Baton Rouge, Dallas and San Antonio on their ill-fated swing through the South and Southwest in January 1978. Then they broke up onstage in San Francisco, and Vicious spent the last year of his life in New York, either in a heroin fog or trying to kick the junk at Bellvue Hospital. He died of an OD shortly after he was released.
Darby Crash: One of the first punk bands to form in Southern California, the Germs played a key role in Penelope Spheeris' The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, Part 1 and gave future Go-Go's singer Belinda Carlisle her start as a drummer calling herself "Dottie Danger"; ex-Runaway Joan Jett produced their 1979 album GI. Partially due to singer Crash's erratic and drug-fueled behavior, though, they didn't tour much; Ensminger says the Germs never did make it to the South.
Not the first time, anyway - Crash committed suicide in December 1980, and in what has to be one of the most bizarre second acts in rock history, the Germs regrouped around 2005. The new lead singer was actor Shane West, who played Crash in 2007 biopic What We Do Is Secret. West (as "Shane Wreck") stuck around to front the band on a couple of Warped Tours. Also, Germs guitarist Pat Smear has since been through Houston a few times with Foo Fighters, and Rocks Off hopes he comes back soon.
BONUS: FIVE PEOPLE WHO DID PLAY HOUSTON BEFORE DYING YOUNG
Jeff Buckley: Urban Art Bar, December 1, 1994 (age 28, died 5/29/97)
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana: Three times, most recently AstroArena, December 6, 1993 (age 26, died 4/8/94)
Gram Parsons: Liberty Hall, February 24, 1973 (age 26, died 9/19/73)
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Otis Redding: The Pladium (3145 Southmore), March 22, 1966 (age 25, died 12/10/67)
Buddy Holly: Sam Houston Coliseum, October 6, 1957 (age 21, died 2/3/59)