1999 – The Twentieth Century ends

Technically, the Twentieth Century did not end for another year, at the end of the year 2000. But in the popular imagination, the last day of 1999 was the last day of the millennium. A day when many a religious – and one big secular – apocalypse was counted down to, to hit at the stroke of midnight. But neither the Second Coming nor the Y2K bug proved to be that big a threat.

The Twentieth Century was over with, and now, the 21st Century – the future – could begin. Only it turned out that if apocalypse wasn’t just around the corner, neither was utopia. And only 21 months into the new century, we’d all be dragged into a brand new endless Cold War when we’d just finally shaken off the last one.

Referenced in:

1999 — Prince
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town — David Bowie

1972 — Mississippi Fred McDowell dies

Mississippi Fred McDowell was 68 at the time of his death – he was born, died and was buried in the state that gave him his nickname. Cancer took him, and the world lost a great talent.

McDowell, although often lumped in with the Delta Blues tradition, is more accurately seen as one of the earliest representatives of the distinct yet related North Mississippi Blues tradition. He often served as a mentor to younger musicians – famously, although he always said “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N’ Roll” (he even released an album with that as its title), he was happy to associate with those who did, notably Bonnie Raitt.

Referenced in:

L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Green Onions — The Blues Brothers

1974 – Duke Ellington dies

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was one of the greatest and most influential of Jazz musicians – although he himself always described his music as “American music”, and used the phrase “beyond category” to praise music he particularly liked.

He was born in Washington DC in 1899 to parents who were also musical, and who nurtured his talents. Ellington started writing his own compositions at the age of 15, and by the time of his death, would have created more than a thousand pieces of original music, embracing the jazz he is best known for as well as other musical styles including blues, gospel, pop and classical.

He is universally regarded as one of the all time greats in his field, and achieved (and faded from) popular and critical success several times during his life (and after).

Referenced in:
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Woke Up This Morning — Alabama 3

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

1967 – John Coltrane dies

John Coltrane, born on September 23, 1926, is a legend of twentieth century jazz. He worked alongside other greats such as Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. He pioneered Free Jazz, and made more than fifty recordings in the twelve years of his career.

Coltrane died from either liver cancer or hepatitis, depending on who you believe, but either way, his heroin use was almost certainly a contributing factor.

Referenced in:
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Woke Up This Morning — Alabama 3