We know the list by now - David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Phife Dawg. The idols we lost in 2016 were defining factors and pioneers in genre and style, and the outpouring of emotions and tribute from fans and fellow musicians worldwide was incredible for each. But in the absolute mess of this definitively shitty year, we lost many more incredibly influential music figures. So we decided to take a look at the legacies of some of the other losses of 2016. Listen to some of their works below.
Frey was the original "frontman" of the Eagles, and his smooth, gentle voice characterized so many of the Eagles' best-known hits. As a singer, guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter, Frey carried a multi-faceted talent through the rocky history of one of the most successful American rock bands of all time. And he didn't stop there, building a repertoire of Top 40 hits in the 80s. When hell froze over and the Eagles reunited in 1994, Frey was still sounding as good as ever. Frey passed away in January, from complications of several health issues, while recovering from surgery. His and the Eagles' influence are certainly still strong today, as they were some of the first to characterize the California sound in rock music.
Rudy Van Gelder
Van Gelder was a prolific recording engineer, and may have had the largest body of work of any figure in the history of the jazz industry. You think of almost any of the biggest jazz legends, and chances are they were recorded by Van Gelder. RVG supervised thousands of recordings, and his recording style was sometimes said to be as important and recognizable as the musicians' style of playing. That's pretty high praise considering he was known for working with giants including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock. The legendary sound of Blue Note Records would not have been the same without Van Gelder, and his legacy in the jazz community is immeasurable. He passed away in August at his home in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Paul Kantner & Signe Toly Anderson
In a tragically beautiful twist of fate, two of the founding members of the influential psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane died on the same day in late January 2016. Anderson was the original vocalist of the band, singing only on their first album, 1966's Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. She departed soon after to take care of her first child, and went on to sing with a few smaller groups through the 70s. Kantner, on the other hand, performed over 5 decades with Jefferson Airplane and its successor Jefferson Starship. He was a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the groups and performed until his last years. Jefferson Airplane is remembered as a pioneering force in psychedelic rock, and their legendary festival performances remain emblematic of the counterculture movement.
White was the founder and leader of the feel-good funk/soul/R&B legends Earth, Wind & Fire. For over 40 years, EWF brought broad influences into their dynamic approach with pop sensibilities, and they enjoyed their share of success. White was always at the helm behind the scenes, as the main songwriter and producer, and often shared the spotlight as lead singer with Philip Bailey. Though semi-retired since the mid-90s, White still performed sporadically and worked with EWF until his last years. His career also included work with prolific artists such as Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand. With EWF continuing to perform and holding a permanent place on party playlists everywhere, White's legacy lives on.
The so-called Fifth Beatle would have been a legend in his own right even if he had never worked with The Beatles. But producing every album for one of the consensus best rock bands of all time? The weight of Martin's influence on the explosion of rock & roll in the 60s is incredible. Knowing The Beatles themselves praised Martin for helping them to define their work in the studio, not much more has to be said. Martin died in his sleep in March 2016. The Beatles will never be forgotten, and Martin should certainly be remembered right alongside them.
Keith Emerson & Greg Lake
Emerson and Lake were leading figures in the progressive rock movement even before they teamed up with Palmer to become the supergroup Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. Each member left their own bands after feeling their chemistry in a jam session, and the rest was history. Emerson's ingenious keyboard style, heavily influenced by classical music, drove progressive rock into new territory in the 70s. Lake's distinctive voice carried the ELP sound over fast-paced instrumentals. Both Lake and Palmer continued working through several decades, while the ELP legacy heavily influenced the next generation of rockers.
In an incredible 60-year career, Leon Russell amassed one of the most amazing and under-appreciated catalogues in rock music. Russell was a core member of the loose-knit Wrecking Crew, the group of session musicians who supported countless popular acts in 60s and 70s LA. Working with countless legends including Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones, Russell quickly became a legend in his own right. An incredibly distinctive country-style voice and a wicked ability on the piano made him a massive influence on acts ranging from 70s classic-rockers to alternative rockers of the 90s and on. Having recorded over 30 albums on top of his hundreds of collaborations, Russell's sheer volume of output was an incredible testament to his skill. We lost one of the true legends of rock & roll in Leon Russell.
So yeah, we already knew 2016 sucked, and I'm sorry if I just basically told you it sucked more than you even realized. But the silver lining in remembering music figures we've lost is that there are manifestations of them that we can continue to listen to, live with, and love. We can even encounter them for the first time when they've already been gone for a long time. So as we move into the next year we can do it with music in our ears, remembering the best moments of the music legends we lost.