Tag Archives: Jimi Hendrix

Rock & Roll Heaven: John Bonham

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The late John Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin


Sometime on September 23rd, 1980, John Bonham began to drink. This was not an unusual event in Bonham’s life. He was a big drinker.

But the binge that he was about to undertake was a big one even by his standards. Over the next day and a half, Bonham, would take approximately 40 shots of vodka in a drinking binge that would end his life.

John Bonham was the drummer for the legendary rock band ‘Led Zeppelin’, and he was universally considered one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music.

As he undertook that final late September alcohol binge, he and his mates in Zeppelin were in preparations for their first world tour in over three years, a tour that would never take place.

The legendary original Led Zeppelin lineup was born as a band in London, England in the latter half of 1968, at the height of the 1960’s ‘flower child’ and ‘hippie generation’ crazes. Jimmy Page, who was and is universally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists on the planet, and his band ‘The Yardbirds’ had just broken up.

Page met up with singer Robert Plant and began to consider putting a new band together. It wasn’t long before the talented Bonham, who both men knew from studio sessions, would be recruited heavily and agree to join the band.

With the addition of bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones the four men originally set out as ‘The New Yardbirds’, but following their first touring effort it was obvious to all that they had little in common with that original band. The band’s name was changed to ‘Led Zeppelin’, and the rest is music history.
Zep’s hard-rocking guitar-fueled style is often credited as being at the forefront of what is now known as ‘heavy metal’ music, but they did much tremendous acoustic work together as well.

During the 1970’s, Zeppelin grew into one of the most popular, successful, and influential rock bands in music history. The band became known for extravagant clothing and wild partying during touring.

The band’s classic hits released during these years included “Rock and Roll“, “Going to California“, “Black Dog“, “Houses of the Holy“, “Immigrant Song“, Chase Utley’s signature theme “Kashmir“, and a song widely acknowledged as one of the greatest in rock history, “Stairway to Heaven“.

Bonham had a couple of brief acting turns, first appearing as a drummer in 1974’s “Son of Dracula“, and then in an action drag-racing scene during the Zeppelin vehicle “The Song Remains the Same” that was set to “Moby Dick“, his signature half hour-long concert solo.

Bonham had been married since before the Zeppelin years. He and his wife, Pat, had a son born back in 1966 named Jason Bonham. Jason would go on to drum himself for bands including ‘Foreigner’. During the height of Led Zepplin’s popularity, the couple added a second child when daughter Zoe was born in the summer of 1975. But as a rock and roll star, his life was far from that of the typical family man.

On July 23rd, 1977, following a Zeppelin concert in San Francisco, Bonham became involved in a controversial backstage incident. The band’s manager, Peter Grant, had his son helping with the breakdown job. The son apparently took down a dressing room sign that was not band property, and got into an argument with a member of the promoter’s staff, who slapped young Grant. Bonham saw this and ran to the kid’s aid, beginning an attack that ended with the staffer badly beaten by members of the band’s entourage.

This was just one incident in the downward spiral of Bonham’s life. In one episode, Bonham is said to have ridden his motorcycle through a hotel. During a June 27th, 1979 show in Germany, Bonham collapsed while on stage and was rushed to the hospital. It is widely believed that his collapse was caused by his continued misuse and abuse of both alcohol and drugs.

On September 24th, 1980, Bonham was well into his fatal final drinking binge when he attended a rehearsal session for what was planned to be the first Led Zeppelin tour in almost three years. The session ended in the evening and the entire band along with some of their crew and entourage went back to Jimmy Page’s home. At some point after midnight, a drunken, passed out Bonham was put to bed and placed on his side.

The next day, John Paul Jones and the band’s manager went to try to wake Bonham, and they found him dead. A subsequent autopsy found no other drugs in his system, and ruled that he had died an accidental death, the result of his having vomited, inhaled it, and dying as a result from asphyxiation.

Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters, who had to deal himself with the personal tragic loss of his own former ‘Nivana’ bandmate Kurt Cobain, is quoted as having said “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next – like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff.” It can be said without exaggeration that Bonham lived his life that same way. A great way to drum, perhaps, but perhaps not the best way to live.

John Bonham was just 32 years old when he died from the alcohol abuse. That old adage of sex, drugs, and rock and roll can be extended to include booze as well, a substance that Bonham abused regularly and voluminously. Does he now play the drums in some all-star ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ band with Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain on guitar and Janis Joplin at the front? We may one day get to find out for sure, but one thing we know now is that his life ended too soon from his own choices involving one of the usual suspects.

NOTE: this is the return of the ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ series of articles here at the www.mattveasey.com website, all items of which can be read by clicking on that Tag link at the bottom of the article. 

Rock & Roll Heaven: Karen Carpenter


Karen Carpenter at the White House in 1972
(Photo: Robert L. Knudsen via Wiki Commons)

On February 4th, 1983, one of the most beautiful voices in the history of modern popular music was silenced forever when Karen Carpenter was rushed to a California hospital and pronounced dead. She was only a month shy of her 33rd birthday. The cause of death was heart failure brought on by a long term battle with anorexia.

Back in November of 2008, I began what was to be a series of articles called “Rock and Roll Heaven” that would examine the controversial deaths and lives of artists in the modern music world. At that time the series began with articles on Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, and Jim Morrison. This examination of Karen Carpenter continues that series.

Karen and her brother Richard were born and raised in Connecticut, but their parents moved out to California in 1963. Richard became a piano prodigy, but Karen was more of a tomboy into sports and showed little interest in music as a young girl. On entering high school she joined the school band, and from that developed an interest in playing the drums.

Karen fell in love with the drums and became an outstanding drummer. She joined up with Richard and a friend named Wes Jacobs, and the three became ‘The Richard Carpenter Trio’, playing mostly jazz at local clubs. They also played with a band known as ‘Spectrum’ and recorded numerous demos, but they had little recording success throughout the mid-1960’s.

Karen and Richard finally were signed to a recording contract by A&M Records in 1969, and then in 1970 released their second album and first big smash titled ‘Close to You’. The album and the two hugely popular singles “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” proved to be hits, the songs becoming modern masterpieces.

As the band moved through the 1970’s, Karen was pushed by her label to get out from behind her drum set and perform at the front of the stage.

She loved the drums and was more than good at it. The greats of drumming such as Buddy Rich considered her outstanding, and in 1975 she was voted as the Best Rock Drummer of the Year by the readers of Playboy magazine. Richard said that she always considered herself a drummer who sang.

Back when she was 16 years old, Karen had begun a rigorous diet program because she thought that at 5’5 and 145 pounds she was too heavy. She was under a doctor’s supervision and dropped to 120 pounds, which she maintained for years.

As anxiety over her career direction began to mount in the mid-1970’s, she developed what would later be confirmed as the beginnings of anorexia nervosa, a now well-known but then little-understood illness. With Karen battling anorexia and Richard battling an addiction to Qualludes, The Carpenters cancelled many of their concert performances.

Karen’s personal life proved difficult as well, as she moved in and out of relationships including one with comedian Steve Martin, and an especially difficult breakup with songwriter Tom Bahler. After their breakup, which came because he fathered a child with another woman, Bahler penned the song “She’s Out of My Life“, which became a hit for Michael Jackson.

The Carpenters performed live for the final time in Brazil in 1981, which was also the year the Karen ended what had been a one year marriage to real estate developer Tom Burris. In April of 1982 she recorded her final song “Now” and then returned home to her parents house in California. The family was startled by her appearance and low weight.

After a hospital stay that forcibly put 30 pounds on her via intravenous feeding, Karen left the hospital and went back to California. Here she made her final public appearance as a singer when she performed at her godchildren’s school singing Christmas standards.

The strain on her heart after years of binge dieting had taken it’s toll, however, and she returned to her parents home where she suffered the heart failure that led to her death.

It was well known that Karen exhibited many of the deceptive eating, purging, and medicating practices of those with eating disorders during her lifetime. In the wake of her death her family started up the “Karen A. Carpenter Memorial Foundation” to help raise awareness and research funds to combat eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. It is now known as the “Carpenter Family Foundation” and provides funding for the arts as well.

With songs such as the previously mentioned ‘Close to You’ and ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, as well as hits like ‘I Won’t Last a Day Without You’, ‘Only Yesterday’, and ‘There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)”, as well as the immortal Christmas classic “Merry Christmas, Darling”, Karen Carpenter left an indelible mark on the music-loving world.

But perhaps as much as her music, her talented drumming and her lyrical voice that caused Rolling Stone magazine to rank her as one of the 100 greatest singers of all-time in 2008, we remember Karen Carpenter for her death as a direct result of anorexia. As someone who has experienced the devastating effects of an eating disorder within my own family, it is one of the greatest challenges that an individual and family can face.

Where is the origination of a true eating disorder? Is it the same as a drug addiction, an alcohol dependency, a sexual disorder? Are they all part and parcel of individual human beings who simply cannot cope, for whatever reason, with life’s challenges, and at some point make a conscious choice to take a known alternate route to find that happiness they so greatly crave?

NOTE: This is the continuation of the series ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ begun in 2008, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on to that Tag below.

Rock & Roll Heaven, or Gone to Hell?

This past week I’ve brought you a series of mini-bios on rock stars who died young: 60’s & 70’s hippie icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison; 80’s MTV generation star Michael Hutchence; 90’s grunge-rock star Kurt Cobain.

Each of these young people died at those youthful stages of their lives thanks to conditions largely brought on by themselves: illicit drug use, excessive alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity.

In general, they were killed by their full immersion into the ‘sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll’ lifestyle.

There really is not a lot of redeeming value, but there are plenty of valuable lessons to be learned. They all seemed to have some similarities in background including unusual or unstable family situations as youngsters.

Most were the loner, artistic types whose outwardly extroverted lifestyles belied a depressed introverted reality only made worse by their substance abuse. They simply couldn’t manage to face life squarely.

Many didn’t become parents themselves, never found the joy that raising a child and caring for something deeply outside your own self brings. They never grew up. And they often left a trail of death and destruction in their wakes.

They did each leave what remains a lasting legacy of their talents: film, writing, and most of all music that has stood the test of time. They were stars that burned brightly, and fell back to earth far too suddenly and early.

Are they in ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’, or did they end up going straight to hell?

That’s not for me to judge, but certainly a legitimate question for anyone to ponder. Perhaps the greatest lessons that we can take from their frantic lives and tragic demise is that we should obviously avoid illegal drugs, avoid the excesses in other areas of our lives, and when we do have kids, have them responsibly and provide them with a loving, stable upbringing.

These five mini-bios represent only the beginning of what will become an irregular but recurring ‘Rock & Roll Heaven’ series. Not all will highlight stars dying under controversial circumstances. But all will have been taken far too young.

If anyone out there has any person they would like particularly to see covered, feel free to submit the name. A few have asked about Elvis Presley. After all, were you awared that ‘The King’ was only 42 years of age when he died?

Click into the below Tag to visit more items in that topic. After receiving a great deal of positive commentary, the hope is that I will continue with more in this series as we move into the future.

To wrap here, a few lyrics from a Righteous Brothers’ classic tune: “If you believe in forever, and if life is just a one-night stand; if there’s a rock and roll heaven, then you know they got a hell of a band.”

Rock & Roll Heaven: Kurt Cobain

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The tragic, untimely loss of young superstar talent in the rock-n-roll world has often been associated with the hippie-era, flower child period of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

But the passing years have shown that it is not times that are to blame, but the choices these individuals made within a culture and lifestyle that often encourages those choices.

The perfect case in point came over three decades after the deaths of Janis and Jimi, with the death of garage band, grunge-rock legend Kurt Cobain.

On April 5th, 1994, Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the popular band ‘Nirvana’, killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head at his home in Seattle.

Cobain had chronic suicidal tendencies that manifested themselves many times over the years, and increasingly in the months leading to his death. These incidents, and indeed his final demise, likely grew out of a bout with classic, severe depression made worse by the abuse of alcohol and drugs, particularly heroin.

He was just 27 years old. Sound familiar? The more things change in the rock world, the more they stay the same.

Kurt Cobain was born and raised in Washington state, and had an intense interest in music as well as ‘a lot of charisma’ from a young age. His parents divorced when he was just 8 years old, an event which he later said had profound impact on his personality.

He became much more withdrawn after this, and spent time living with first his mom and then his dad, who tried hard to direct the young boy into sports activities. Cobain’s heart was more in the artistic, however, and he eventually became so unruly that he was allowed to move in with friends.

As a teenager he found refuge and the beginnings of a purpose in the developing Seattle punk-rock scene. At age 14 his uncle gave him his first guitar, and he first learned a few covers and then began to even create his own music. He also met and began to hang out and occasionally jam with Krist Novoselic, who would remain a key influence in his life until the very end.

Kurt moved back in with his mom during his last couple of years in high school, but never did graduate. When he dropped out of high school, his mom told him he either had to get a job or move out. When Kurt didn’t respond with action, she packed his things in boxes and tossed him out, and he wandered between friends houses.

At age 20 Kurt got a job with a resort on the coast which paid enough to allow him to rent his first house, and which also funded his interest in attending rock concerts in Olympia. Cobain and Novoselic decided to form a band, and eventually joined up with drummer Chad Channing to form the early ‘Nirvana’. The band often performed covers of songs by some of their major influences including Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Queen, and Black Sabbath before finally recording their first album in 1989.

It was also during this year of recording and performing that Kurt briefly met a girl after a concert who would be another key influence in his life. Courtney Love met him backstage, and she developed a crush on him after seeing the band perform in Portland. Cobain quickly realized that he didn’t like Chad Channing’s style, and the drummer was replaced by a new bandmate, Dave Grohl.

In 1991, the new Nirvana released their first major label recording titled “Nevermind”, and the album rose to #1 on the Billboard charts thanks largely to the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which became the anthem for a generation and cemented both Cobain’s and Nirvana’s legend.

In May of ’91, Cobain and Love were formally introduced, and when Grohl let on to each that the other was attracted the two began to hook up more frequently. By the end of the year they were officially together, as much due to mutually-shared drug usage as their physical and emotional connection.

It wasn’t long before Courtney turned up pregnant, and the pair married in Hawaii in February of 1992. Their daughter and only child, Frances Bean Cobain, was born in August. Over the next couple of years Cobain frequently helped Love as she developed her own band ‘Hole’, and some Nirvana fans took a dislike to her, negatively comparing her influence to that of Yoko Ono on John Lennon a generation earlier.

In a magazine article Love admitted to using heroin while pregnant with their baby, though she later claimed that it happened only before she realized the pregnancy. In any event, the courts stepped in and briefly took the child from their custody, placing her with Love’s sister before ultimately returning Frances to her parents.

Drugs were a consuming part of the parents life. Cobain had begun using marijuana at age 13, abused painkillers throught his teen years, and moved on to heroin by age 19. He tried rehab in 1992 with the baby coming, but quickly reverted back to abusing the heroin, and he suffered his first major overdose in the summer of 1993 just before a concert. However, Love injected him with Narcan to counter it’s effects, and Cobain revived enough to take the stage. In rock-n-roll, the show must go on.

While on a European tour in March of 1994, Cobain came down with laryngitis and went to Rome for treatment. It was there on March 4th that he likely committed his first suicide attempt.

Love woke up to find him having overdosed on champagne and some of her own prescription sedatives. He was rushed to the hospital where he remained for almost a week, and then the couple flew back to Seattle where at the end of the month Love organized a formal ‘intervention’ for Cobain. Novoselic didn’t like the idea, and tipped off Cobain before it happened, but in the end Kurt agreed to detox in L.A.

The detox stay didn’t last long. On his first night at the facility, he told staff that he wanted to go out to have a cigarette. Instead he jumped a fence, hailed a taxi cab to the airport, and flew back to Seattle on April Fool’s Day.

Over the next couple of days he was spotted in various Seattle-area locales, but wasn’t in contact with any friends or family. On April 3rd, Love hired a private investigator to look for him, and on the 7th, with Cobain missing, Nirvana pulled out of that year’s Lollapalooza tour.

The next day an electrician went to Cobain’s home on a previously arranged appointment to install a security system. He found Cobain with blood coming from his ear, a shotgun placed against his chin, and a suicide note nearby.

Toxology tests showed that Kurt had consumed about twice a lethal amount of heroin. On April 10th, Love attended a public memorial service and handed out items of Kurt’s clothing to the fans. His body was cremated.

In the years since his death there have been a number of highly speculative, inflammatory, accusatory, and controversial theories on Cobain’s death that involve foul play.

This seems to be a recurring theme in the death of these rock stars who are actually simply a victim of their own excess. Some fans would rather believe that their heroes were murdered, rather than admit that they were killed by the very drugs and booze that those same fans are often abusing. Or, as in Kurt’s case, by their own hands when they could not handle the constant depression which these substances only make worse.

Kurt Cobain was left depressed as a young child by his familial situation, and during his life had to deal with a continual stomach ailment that went mostly undiagnosed and untreated.

In other words, when asking whether Kurt Cobain is fronting a band in some ‘Rock & Roll Heaven’, singing a duet with Janis while Jimi plays guitar, he may have more of an argument to get in than they did. But in the end, the fact remains that like those 60’s icons, this voice of a new generation was silenced by his own hand thanks largely to a severe abuse of drugs and alcohol.

NOTE: this continues the ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ series, all entries of which can be read by clicking the below Tag.

Rock & Roll Heaven: Jimi Hendrix

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The rock world’s loss of Janis Joplin at such a young age was an especially difficult blow for the youth of America in 1970, in large part because it was their second such blow in a short period.

Just two weeks before Janis’ death by drug overdose, on the other side of the world, legendary American rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

In London, England, Hendrix attended a late-night party on Thursday night, September 17th. He was picked up from the party in the early morning hours of Friday the 18th by his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, who drove him back to her apartment at the Samarkand Hotel. Dannemann’s story, which frequently changed, was that Hendrix then took nine of her sleeping pills.

What is definitely known is that at 11:18 am the next morning, someone made a phone call for an ambulance to go to the room. The ambulance crew arrived just nine minutes later, and found the door to the flat was open. They saw a man lying on the bed, and there was no one else in the room.

As they looked closer, they found the man in what they described as a ‘horrific’ condition. There was red and brown vomit covering him, and covering the pillow and bed as well. The man’s airway had been completely blocked, and he was clearly dead. Police arrived quickly as well, and the man was transported to the hospital where he was officially pronounced as dead on arrival.

Dannemann became a further source of controversy when she publicly stated that Hendrix was alive when he was taken from the apartment. More fuel was added to the ‘mystery death’ fire when that night on the BBC News, rock star Eric Burdon announced that Hendrix had died as a result of a suicide. Burdon, an original member of ‘The Animals’ rock band, stated that lyrics to a Hendrix song and the circumstances as he knew them led him to make this statement.

Obviously drawn to the spotlight that Hendrix’ death created, Dannemann’s statements have proven completely irrelevant over the years. Any reasonable evaluation of the evidence shows that Hendrix likely returned from the party, where he had been drinking considerably, popped some sleeping pills, and fell into bed. At some point he vomited, choked on it, and died. Whether Dannemann was there when this happened, was asleep or unconscious herself, or had left the room and later found him, the odds are that it was she who made the ambulance call.

There have been speculations that she suffocated him, or slipped the sleeping pills into a drink, or had some other role in his death, but all that is pure innuendo. The coroner ruled that most of the vomit was red wine. Hendrix drank too much, and mixed it with too many sleeping pills, and likely died of an accidental overdose. No real mystery here.

Jimi Hendrix had been born as Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle, Washington during the early months of U.S. involvement in World War II to a 17-year old girl who had gotten pregnant by an American serviceman. She gave him up to some friends to raise in California, but Hendrix’ father took custody of him after being released from his military duties and changed the boy’s name to his own name of ‘James’.

The parents got back together, married, and ended up having four other children, most of whom had physical handicaps, before finally divorcing when Hendrix was just nine years old. His mother would die just a few years later.

In the aftermath of her death, at the age of 16, Hendrix purchased his first acoustic guitar with a $5 allowance that his father had given him. He practiced incessantly, and at age 17 his dad bought him his first electric guitar. Jimi played in a couple of local bands, and was influenced early on by blues and the music of Elvis Presley.

In 1961, Hendrix was arrested for riding in a stolen car, and was given the choice of two years in jail or two in the military. He took the military time, and spent a year in the army before being discharged early under murky circumstances that were likely because of his sub-par performance and attitude. He made an important contact in the army on meeting Billy Cox, a man who would be a key partner and influence in his musical development.

Hendrix moved to New York in early 1964 and won an Apollo Theatre amateur contest. In the spring in Atlanta, legendary performer Little Richard hired him as a part of his recording and backing band. He also spent a stint playing with Ike & Tina Turner during this time, and over the next couple of years his talent, flamboyant performing style, and his reputation all grew.

In 1966 he had his only daughter, named Tamika, with a teenage runaway with whom he briefly lived. Although he acknowledged the girl as his daughter in the shadow of a paternity suit, that paternity was never officially recognized in the courts.

That same year he was passed on to join The Rolling Stones band after being introduced to them by Keith Richard’s girlfriend, Linda Keith, who may have turned him on to some of the drugs that would ultimately kill him. But through those same contacts he did meet Chas Chandler, former bassist for The Animals who was looking to get into management. Chandler helped guide Hendrix in setting up his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and also introduced him to Eric Clapton, who would become a close friend.

The ‘Experience’ set about recording and touring, mostly in Europe, and in 1967 Hendrix had his only son, James Daniel Sundquist, with a woman he had met while touring in Sweden.

He finally began to get American exposure when Paul McCartney recommended the Experience to appear in 1968 at the Monterey International Pop Festival. The band performed in front of numerous fans and, perhaps more importantly, music critics who took a liking to them, and things took off briefly.

1969 would prove to be a year of change, as the Experience fell apart. They played their final European gig together in February, and their final U.S. concert in late June, and by the end of the year Jimi had formed a new band which he called ‘Gypsy Sun and the Rainbows’.

Hendrix also turned into the headline performer at the Woodstock music festival that summer, performing a 2-hour set on Monday morning that was highlighted by his now-legendary guitar version of “The Star-Spangled Banner“.

On September 6th, 1970, Hendrix gave what was to be his final concert performance in Germany. He then returned to London, where he performed in public for the final time by jamming on-stage with Burdon’s new band ‘War’. He died just days later.

Hendrix musical career was marred by, and often fueled by, his constant drinking and drug use. He was a well-known user of LSD, marijuana, and amphetamines. Ultimately, his mixing of too much drinking and drugs would leave him, like Janis Joplin just weeks later, lying dead in a motel room. He was just 27-years old.

Did it have to be this way? Did the rock world, the American youth, have to lose these two legends to their demons of drink and drugs? Could they have risen to the heights that they attained without those substances?

Is Jimi playing guitar while Janis sings the lead on a stage somewhere in a rock-n-roll Heaven? Hard to say. It’s always hard to know exactly what were the extent of someones sins, and what atonement and peace they may have made before their death. One thing is certain, both Jimi and Janis left far too soon, and both did so because of their addictions.

NOTE: this article continues the “Rock and Roll Heaven” series, all entries for which can be enjoyed by clicking on that below ‘Tag’