By Thom Jennings
It has been a tragic time for for the music industry as the list of prominent musicians that have died continues to grow. If you came of age in the 1970s or early 1980s, you have witnessed four prominent classic rock artists die in their sixties, in the last seven months, even as many of their peers are still actively touring.
The four that stand out in my mind are Chris Squire, Gary Richrath, David Bowie and Glenn Frey. Together, those four musicians contributed a never-ending stack of songs that dominated FM radio, and each had a style was unique and in many cases it was groundbreaking.
Richrath’s guitar and his songwriting were a vital component of REO Speedwagon’s sound. Their records were filled with tender ballads and great hooks but where REO and Richrath made their mark was as the greatest arena rock band of their time. Richrath’s guitar cut through the heavy smoke, and even though REO remains a great live act, they were never the same after Richrath’s exile from the band.
Chris Squire was the only person who managed to survive all of Yes’ lineup changes. There were four lead singers, two drummers, three guitarists, eight keyboardists and until his death there was only one bass player. There was never any mistaking his signature sound. It’s almost unfathomable Yes without Squire and his thunderous bass driving “Roundabout.”
David Bowie’s death, like the previous artists, was sudden. While Bowie had not toured in many years he had begun recording and releasing new material in recent years. Bowie always looked healthy and always looked cool. His early years we redefined by his stage personas and androgynous style, in later years the image did not overshadow his talent as a musician or an actor.
Bowie’s songs were unique and thought provoking. “Space Oddity” was so good it spawned a sequel that was written by another artist, and became a minor hit. Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Todd Rundgren all played “Rebel Rebel” within days of his death.
Finally there is Glenn Frey. The Eagles had a relatively short initial run, but it did not take long for them to amass a catalogue of songs that not only dominated FM rock airways, the songs were hit pop songs and influential on an entire generation of country music performers. Less than six months earlier he was touring with The Eagles.
Richrath, 65, Squire, 67, Bowie, 69 and Frey, 67, all had long careers and all of them created the soundtrack for many of our lives. They may not belong to the 27 club, but they all surely left us too soon.