Have you ever found a new artist to listen to, only to see that they don’t play anymore? Well, that’s the story of my life. Many bands end their activity when a member dies, which is understandable, but a disappointing experience for new fans. I decided to create a list of dead musicians I wish I had met in their prime.
1. Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
Robert Johnson is the first on my list of dead musicians I wish I had met. He was an American singer and songwriter but also a prominent Delta blues performer.
If you are familiar with the 27 Club, you will be delighted to know that Robert Johnson started it. As the legend goes, he had no previous musical experience, but he sold his soul to the Devil, and suddenly he became a legendary guitarist. He was an itinerant musician, traveling from town to town and impressing people with his unheard-of skills.
Representants of record houses eventually came to contract him, but they found out Robert Johnson had been dead for years. The cause of his early demise is still unknown. Did The Devil come to collect its prize? Was he suffering from an undiscovered disease? You can find some of the answers in the Netflix documentary Devil at the Crossroads, which I strongly recommend.
His life and death are shrouded in mystery, but his legacy endures. I don’t know much about music’s technical aspects, so I’m describing his music as soulful. Robert’s voice conveyed intense emotions that reach out to the listener even beyond the grave. The song below is his most famous one, which describes his alleged deal with the Devil. Haunting, isn’t it?
2. Screamin Jay Hawkins (1929-2000)
Live performances were pretty tame back in the day – at least until Screamin Jay Hawkins came along. Known as the father of shock rock, the American singer-songwriter used outrageous props on stage, such as coffins, skulls, and leopard skins.
His life was as colorful as his music, which included piano and operatic sections, upbeat rhythms, and outrageous interjections. This seemingly chaotic mix became Screamin Jay Hawkins’ trademark, making him one of the best performers in history.
He seemed like a man who didn’t take himself seriously and wrote hysterically funny songs such as ‘I shot the sheriff’ and ‘Constipation Blues.’ Yet some of his compositions are full of melancholia and raw emotions, such as ‘Portrait of a Man’ and ‘Coulda,’ woulda,’ shoulda.’
Perhaps his most well-known song is ‘I Put a Spell on You.’ I discovered Screamin Jay Hawkins thanks to it a few years ago, and I have been a fan ever since. I will leave it below, hoping it will convince you to check out his other songs. His eccentric performance, eventful life, and outstanding musical training made me include Screamin Jay Hawkins in my list of dead musicians I wish I had met.
3. Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
I grew up with Queen, so this entry is self-explanatory.
The British band wrote history for 20 years, until the original frontman, Freddie Mercury, went to sing with the angels. While the band still performs today, Freddie’s on-stage performance remains unmatched. His energy, creative ideas, signature pose, and vocal range qualify him for my list of dead musicians I wish I had met.
Apart from being a musical genius, I think Freddie Mercury was an intriguing person. After watching some of his interviews, I depict him as a humorous, bright person who was unapologetically himself. I would have loved to meet him, maybe be at the same party and just listen to him talk. A man who wrote immortal anthems sure had a lot of exciting stories to share.
Many recognize Freddy Mercury for the vibrant and often comedic stage shows but allow me to suggest a simple yet powerful performance of a meaningful song – ‘Time waits for nobody.’ Freddy Mercury was gone too soon, but his music will never be forgotten.
4. David Bowie (1947-2016)
David Bowie did it all from glam rock to dance, industrial, and jungle. With each album release, fans discovered a new persona, such as Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke. At times, he was a controversial figure, battled drug addiction, defied gender norms, and, most importantly, he kept creating. His last album, titled Blackstar, came out only two days before his death.
He first caught my attention in the movie The Hunger (1983), where he played the immortal Miriam’s (Catherine Deneuve) companion. Afterward, I became interested in his musical career. I discovered that David Bowie had a song for every almost every mental and emotional state, starting from seclusion in ‘Space Oddity,’ joy in ‘Let’s Dance,’ and conciliation in ‘Lazarus.’ I have recently started to listen to his early albums, enjoying his surprising vocal range. Forever changing, David Bowie is definitely one of the dead musicians I wish I could have seen live.
This video clip is a shortened version of the song ‘Station to Station,’ which describes The Duke, one of Bowie’s personas. The ever-changing rhythm, the theatrical performance, and the religious references make it an unforgettable experience, leaving you wanting for more.
5. Peter Steele (1962-2010)
I am going to end my list of favorite dead musicians with a bit of eye and ear candy.
Also known as The Green Man, Peter Steele became famous as the frontman of the gothic metal band Type O Negative. He composed most of the songs, expressing his feelings towards addiction, loss, and love.
Being aware of his imposing stature, Peter Steele played this card well, but he often made fun of his vampire-like looks. Even though his personal life wasn’t happy, he found comfort in writing and performing alongside his bandmates.
His sense of humor, intellect, and bass vocals stirred my interest, making him one of the dead musicians I admire. He seemed like he would hold casual meets and greets after concerts, a bottle of wine in hand and a sharp reply always ready. If I remember correctly, I found out about Type O Negative after Peter’s death, and it shattered me – but here I am, ten years later, still a fan.
To better illustrate my point, here is the music video for Black No.1. Bear in mind that these guys never took themselves seriously and neither should you. Just enjoy the silliness. If you want to hear more of Peter Steele’s vocal range, I suggest ‘Haunted Per Version’ (get it?).