Ten Rockers Who Died Before Their Bands Hit The Top, Part One!

Billy Murcia - NY Dolls

After initially forming The Pox with Sylvain Sylvain in 1969 and The Dolls with Sylvain and Johnny Thunders in 1970, the trio of Thunders, Arthur Kane and Rick Rivets recruited him for their new group in 1971.  With the addition of David Johansen on vocals, the band rechristened themselves The New York Dolls and played their first show on Christmas Eve at a local homeless shelter.

The band's unconventional appearance and musical style made them instantly recognizable on the New York scene and led to a great deal of industry interest.  In late 1972, the band's big break came when Rod Stewart offered the band the opportunity to open one of his UK shows.  It was during this trip that Murcia overdosed on drugs at a party and an attempt to revive him with coffee, which led to asphyxiation.  He died at the age of 21.

The New York Dolls would replace him with Jerry Nolan and release their debut album in July 1973. Murcia's playing can be heard on the unofficial Dolls album Lipsick Killers-The Mercer Street Sessions.

Brian Jones-Rolling Stones

There are few rock deaths sadder than that of Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who went from founding the band, guiding their musical direction, and playing multiple instruments on most tracks to succumbing to drugs and seeing his membership in the band minimized to playing a guitar that wasn't even plugged in.
Despite being highly intelligent, Jones held immense disregard for authority and left school in disgrace after impregnating his then-girlfriend and had fathered five children by the age of 25.

After forming the band in 1962, Jones began ambitiously promoting and managing the band, for which he received a higher percentage of the group's earnings, leading to some animosity within the ranks.  Eventually, the band became so popular that outside management was sought and Andrew Loog Oldham was hired.

Oldham's first order of business, it would appear, was to further alienate Jones from the rest of the band by placing the focus on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and urging the two to concentrate on original material and phase out the blues covers that had dominated their albums.

Jones descended into a haze of drugs and alcohol, began missing rehearsals and recording sessions, and became unruly to his bandmates.  On June 8, 1969, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts informed him that he was no longer a member of the band.

While Jones express interest publicly in putting together a new project, the amount of free time on his hands led him to fall deeper and deeper into a drug-induced stupor.  On July 3, he was found at the bottom of his swimming pool by his girlfriend.  The coroner ruled it "death by misadventure."

The Stones would go on to put their blues days behind them (at least on record), hiring Mick Taylor as their new guitarist and become even more popular throughout the '70s and '80s with albums such as Exile On Street and Tattoo You.

Stu Sutcliffe-Beatles

As a member of the Beatles when they were a five-piece outfit, Sutcliffe played bass and sang "Love Me Tender" during their early live shows.  His girlfriend Astrid Kirscherr was an early supporter of the Beatles, taking photographs of the band and helping them fashion their own outfits.

Eventually, Sutcliffe's love for art won out over music and he left the band in 1961, loaning his bass to McCartney until he could afford to buy his own.  He would die suddenly in April 1962 from a brain aneurysm rumored to have been brought on by a skull fracture encountered in a fight after one of the band's performances.   He was 21 years of age.

Cliff Burton-Metallica

After being floored by a bass solo they had mistaken for a guitar solo, Burton was approached by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich after his band's gig at L.A.'s Whisky A-Go-Go in 1982.  The pair immediately offered Burton the opportunity to fill the vacant bass slot in their band.  Burton agreed, but refused to relocate to Los Angeles.   Recognizing the gift horde they had stumbled upon, Hetfield and Ulrich relocated to the San Francisco area.

While the band had already garnered interest from a few metal labels with a previous demo, Burton's addition to the band made them a force to be reckoned with and helped secure a deal with Megaforce Records.  The title of their debut album, Kill 'Em All, had been coined by Burton after their label nixed the album's original title, "Metal Up Your Ass".

Sadly, Burton died mere months after the band released their third album (and first for major label Elektra Records), Master Of Puppets, and never got to experience the massive success the band would achieve on later albums.  It was Burton who won a game of cards with Kirk Hammett to decide who got their choice of bunks on the tour bus.  Burton won with, of all things, an ace of spades, and chose the bunk that Hammett normally slept in.  When the bus skidded off the road on the morning of September 27, 1986, Burton was thrown from the vehicle, which then crushed him.

Bon Scott-AC/DC

While AC/DC had begun to see worldwide success with the release of their sixth studio album, Highway To Hell, they were still "a long way from the top", if you will, and eager to build upon that success with their next album.

For all of his unconventional qualities, the least of which is his unusual singing voice, it was his sense of humor and all-out live performances that endeared him to rock fans.

Having traveled to England to begin work on their new album, Scott busied himself by socializing with friends and cavorting at London nightclubs while the rest of the band worked on musical ideas.  After a night of heavy drinking at the now-defunct club Music Machine, a friend left the unconscious Scott in his car, where overnight temperatures dropped below freezing.  Upon checking on Scott during the morning of February 19, 1980, he was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital, where he was dead on arrival.

The band momentarily considered breaking up, but continued at the urging of Scott's family.  Their next album, Back In Black,  would be released only six months after his death and go on to sell over 22 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Check back next Friday for Part Two!

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