Rockabilly and Tragedy Seem to Have Gone Hand in Hand

By Buster Fayte, Featured Author, Sad Man’s Tongue

With all of the joy that has sprung from rockabilly music, it’s sometimes  difficult to fathom the tragedy that seems to have plagued the early pioneers.  Many of the greatest rockabilly artists had their careers–and in many cases  their lives–cut short by accidental injury and death. Many others succumbed to  the tragedy of substance abuse and other problems that came between them and the  happiness they sought. Here is a list of several rockabilly artists who we lost  much earlier than we should have.

Buddy Holly: Probably the most famous rock and roll tragedy of all  came in the frigid early morning hours of February 3, 1959 when Buddy Holly’s  small chartered airplane crashed in a cornfield near Mason City, Iowa. Holly had  played the night before in Clear Lake Iowa at the Surf Ballroom as part of the  Winter Dance Party tour that he and several other rock and rollers where part  of. By the time of his death, Holly had been performing for only a few years and  had already progressed beyond his rockabilly roots, but his early rockabilly  recordings are among he greatest recordings of the genre. Holly was only 22 when  he died. Also killed in the plane crash (in addition to the pilot, Roger  Peterson) were Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Eddie Cochran: Among rockabilly fans, Cochran’s death might be  considered the most significant tragedy of them all. Even younger than Holly  when he died at age 21, Cochran hadn’t yet come near reaching his full  potential. He’d had several hits, but had never really broken through as the  mega star everyone knew that he would eventually become. Cochran had been deeply  affected by the death of his friends Holly and Richie Valens and it seemed to  those close to him that he was convinced his time was almost up too. Just a  little more than a year after the fatal plane crash that killed his friends,  Cochran’s time did indeed come up. He died in London on April 17, 1960 as a  result of injuries sustained in a late-night car crash the night before.

Gene Vincent: Although he wasn’t killed that night, Vincent was in the van along with Eddie Cochran the night of the crash that killed Eddie.  Naturally, Vincent was deeply affected by Eddie’s death as the two had become  very close during their tours together. According to Commercial van insurance – one sure insurance, he was a already suffering from a bad leg, he  sustained severe injuries in the crash and never really recovered either  physically or emotionally. Although he went on to record several more records  after the crash, he never realized the kind of success he had in the early  rockabilly years. Vincent died of a ruptured stomach ulcer in October of 1971.  He was just 36 years old.

Johnny Horton: Horton was known more for his later country story-song  recordings like “The Battle of New Orleans”, “North to Alaska”, and “Johnny  Reb”, but he recorded a number of fantastic rockabilly records early in his  career. Like Cochran–only even more so–Horton felt that the end was near. He’d  begun telling those close to him that he would soon be killed by a drunk. After  a show on the night of November 5, 1960–just a few short months after Cochran’s  death–Horton was killed when his car was struck head on by a truck driven  by…a drunk driver.

Johnny Burnette: Burnette was the victim of a different type of  accident. He drowned on the night of August 14, 1964 when his fishing boat  (which had no lights) was struck by a cabin cruiser on Clearlake in California.  Johnny’s rockabilly career was over by this time as the initial rockabilly craze  had pretty much run its course long before then, but he had just started his own  record label earlier that year. Burnette was just 30 years old when he died.

Elvis Presley: Although Elvis lived to be much older than the other  rockabilly performers on this list, his later life could be considered tragic as  he struggled to deal with his excessive fame and addition to the pills he often  took in order to try and deal with it all. He’d become grossly overweight and  very unhealthy with a host of physical ailments either caused by or exacerbated  by the excessive use of prescription drugs. Still, he kept up a frantic touring  schedule. Nearing his death however, his concerts were becoming barely more than  an exhibition to see whether he could remain standing for the hour or so he was  on stage. He was found dead on August 16, 1977 on his bathroom floor the day  before he was to leave for yet another tour. Elvis was only 42 years old when he  died.

We can only wonder what wonderful music would have been made had each of  these musicians lived long and healthy lives. Thankfully, they each left a  wealth of wonderful recordings behind.

Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.

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About Sad Man's Tongue: Rockabilly Bar & Bistro - Prague

We are a Bar and Bistro where old school meets the new school, dedicated to preserving the roots of rock and roll and it's modern adaptations as well as preserving the cultural identity of our neighborhood through our food, the the principles of the slow food movement. A little bit of rockabilly and retro combine with the kustom kulture of today, in an atmosphere devoid of Pretension.
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2 Responses to Rockabilly and Tragedy Seem to Have Gone Hand in Hand

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