Layne Staley: 22nd August 1967 – 5th April 2002
There was a depressing inevitability about Layne’s death. As the singer with ‘grunge’ band Alice in Chains, he had struggled with heroin addiction for many years, indeed wrote about it openly on their 1992 album Dirt. He had retreated from the spotlight in his latter years, his last high profile appearance was on MTV Unplugged in 1996 where he appeared to be struggling. He was found two weeks after his death, when police broke into his apartment. Cause of death was adjudged to be an overdose. He contributed vocals and lyrics to all of Alice in Chains albums in the 1990s. Strangely the band reformed in 2008 with a replacement singer, William DuVall. It’s worth checking out the album Dirt, if you like their heavier side, or Jar of Flies for moodier acoustic music.
Nina Simone: 21st February 1933 – 12th January 2003
Nina Simone died of breast cancer in 2003. A giant of the jazz/blues scene, she had not recorded for 10 years or so, yet has a strong body of work which belongs in anyone’s music collection. Hard to distil her career down into highlights, but Feeling Good will probably become her signature tune. A comprehensive ‘best of’ is definitely worth seeking out.
Johnny Cash: 26th February 1932 – 12th September 2003
Cash died in 2003 four months after his wife. While best known for country music, his deep voice and black apparel caused him to be adopted by younger followers in the mid-90s, when he recorded a series of stripped-down, largely acoustic albums known as the American Recordings, which interspersed original songs with unusual covers of artists like Beck, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.
Elliott Smith: 6th August 1969 – 21st October 2003
Primarily known for guitar-based acoustic music, Elliott Smith recorded a series of albums in the 1990s and early 2000s. Earlier albums were largely acoustic, though later albums saw him achieve a degree of success and an Oscar nomination with a more-fleshed out sound. He did however struggle with depression and drug addiction, and took his life in 2003.
Grant McLennan: 12th February 1958 – 6th May 2006
Played in the Go-Betweens, main songwriter and guitarist along with Robert Forster. His songs tended to be more upbeat than Forster’s, and generally had a more commercial sound (though little commercial success). The band released several albums in the 1980s but split in 1990. He released solo albums in the 90s before regrouping with Forster in 1999 for 3 further Go-Betweens albums. The band’s reunion was brought to an abrupt end due to McLennan’s death of a heart attack.
Ron Asheton: 17th July 1948 – 6th January 2009
See previous entry: http://sacredcowpats.blogspot.com/2009/02/ron-asheton-rip.html
John Martyn: 11th September 1948 – 29th January 2009
John Martyn had a long musical career from the late 60s till the 2000s, with his albums straddling folk, jazz and blues and a slurred vocal style. His 1973 album Solid Air contained his best-known songs, the title track (a tribute to Nick Drake) and May You Never. Much of his work was experimental as he explored ambient sounds, however alcohol and drugs became the ruin of him. He was forced to have his right leg amputated in 2004 and died in 2009 of double pneumonia.