1974 — Mama Cass dies

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known to the world as Mama Cass, was only 32 years old when she died. Mama Cass was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, best known for their 1965 hit, “California Dreamin'”. Stardom had been good to the band, most of them living among the other musicians and artists of Los Angeles, but bad for Cass in many ways.

She had an addictive personality, and being able to afford basically any drug she wanted had led her to behave like a kid in a candy store. Cass was also known for her appetite, being considered somewhat fat (even by the more generous standards of the Sixties for most of her career). At the time of her death, she was fasting four days a week – the coroner speculated that this may have stressed her heart, leading to her fatal heart attack. No food was found in her windpipe – the story that she choked on a ham sandwich is simply an urban myth.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1977 – Several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a plane crash

A total of 24 passengers and 6 crew were aboard the Convair CV-300 that crashed on the evening of October 20, 1977 after running out of fuel near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Six people died: the pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray, along with three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister) and the assistant road manager of the band Dean Kilpatrick.

The band did not continue to tour after the crash, only reforming with a substantial changeover in membership some ten years later. They left a legacy of two of the best known songs in the world: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird”.

Referenced in:

Ronnie and Neil — Drive-By Truckers
Play It All Night Long — Warren Zevon
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1970 — Jimi Hendrix dies

Widely acclaimed as the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix was only 27 years old when he died. He had released only 4 albums before his death, but he was already one of the iconic figures of the Sixties. He popularised the use of the Fender Stratocaster, the guitar on which he played, and he played some of the greatest live sets of all time at Woodstock and Monterey.

Although occasional allegations of murder or suicide have been made, it seems most probably that Hendrix’ death was a tragic accident. He asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking a combination of an overdose of sleeping pills (Hendrix was unfamiliar with the brand and it was stronger than he likely realised) and red wine. He died in London, but his body was returned to his native Seattle for burial.

Referenced in:
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Six Strings Down — Jimmie Vaughan
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions