12 Classic Rock Musicians That Had The Most Badluck
Lynyrd Skynyrd live in 1977 - Lynyrd Skynyrd / Youtube
Rock music has undoubtedly provided us with some of the most iconic and enduring music of the 20th century, with legendary artists who became synonymous with the rebellious spirit of an era.
However, as we peel back the layers of their lives, it becomes evident that many of these rock stars were not immune to the trials and tribulations of existence, despite their incredible talent and fame.
The allure of classic rock often lies in its larger-than-life personas and electrifying performances. Yet, behind the blinding stage lights and thundering guitar riffs, a more complex narrative emerges.
In the following exploration, we will journey through the lives of classic rock stars who, despite their extraordinary contributions to music and culture, encountered various forms of bad luck, be it substance abuse, mental health struggles, or tragic accidents.
Through their stories, we gain a deeper understanding of the price some paid for their artistry, a reminder that fame, while alluring, can come at a steep cost.
1. Terry Reid almost became Led Zeppelin’s frontman
Terry Reid’s name is forever linked to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most intriguing “what-if” scenarios. In the late 1960s, as the iconic British rock band Led Zeppelin was taking its first steps, Reid had a remarkable opportunity that could have reshaped the course of rock history.
At the time, a young and exceptionally talented Reid was already making waves in the British music scene with his powerful blues-infused rock style, capturing the attention of music industry insiders.
In 1968, the legendary Jimmy Page, then a member of The Yardbirds, was in the midst of forming a groundbreaking supergroup that would eventually become Led Zeppelin. Page had set his sights on recruiting Terry Reid as the lead singer, recognizing the immense talent and potential of the young artist.
However, fate intervened in the form of a prior commitment – Reid was already committed to a U.S. tour with the esteemed British rock group Cream. Despite Page’s genuine desire and relentless pursuit, Reid was compelled to decline the offer to front Led Zeppelin. The rest, as they say, is history.
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2. Roy Orbison heartaches
Roy Orbison is a celebrated singer-songwriter renowned for his soulful ballads and unique vocal prowess. Born in 1936 in Vernon, Texas, Orbison soared to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s with hits like “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “Crying”, and “In Dreams”.
His operatic voice and emotional depth earned him the moniker “The Big O,” setting him apart in the realm of rock and roll. Nevertheless, his life was shadowed by misfortune.
One of the saddest tragedies in Roy Orbison’s life was the untimely death of his wife, Claudette, in a motorcycle accident in 1966. A mere two years later, in 1968, another heart-wrenching blow struck when his two eldest sons, Roy Jr. and Anthony, perished in a house fire. These profound losses left Orbison grappling with profound grief, prompting him to withdraw temporarily from the music scene.
Despite enduring these immense personal tragedies, Roy Orbison persisted in his musical journey, embarking on successful tours. However, the 1970s brought challenges, including conflicts with his record label and a decline in his popularity. The 1980s ushered in a revival of interest in his music, thanks in part to collaborations with luminaries like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne in the supergroup Traveling Wilburys.
This Day in Music History 1964
Roy Orbison started a 3 week run at No.1 with ‘Oh Pretty Woman’. The title was inspired by his wife announcing she was going out; Orbison asked if she was okay for cash, his co-writer Bill Dees interjected “A pretty woman never needs any money.” pic.twitter.com/VPFbIsjHIQ
— 🐕Sandy Girl🐕 (@SandyGirl4Him) September 26, 2023
3. Syd Barrett is psychedelic rock’s greatest what if
Instead of Syd Barrett, this list could have put Peter Green, Skip Pence, and Roky Erickson. But the former Pink Floyd leader had one of the most famous and most well-documented breakdowns in rock history. And a classic tribute album that will forever haunt their fans.
Barrett was the visionary talent behind the prog rock outfit’s early success, and a symbol of both creative genius and personal misfortune. Born in 1946, Barrett played a pivotal role in shaping Pink Floyd’s psychedelic sound with his distinctive songwriting and guitar work. Hits like “Astronomy Domine” and “See Emily Play” showcased his unique style and set the stage for the band’s rise to fame in the 1960s. However, his journey was marred by a series of unfortunate events, including mental health struggles and erratic behavior, which led to his departure from the band in 1968.
After parting ways with Pink Floyd, Barrett’s solo career was marked by sporadic releases that reflected his creative brilliance but also underscored the fragility of his mental state. His struggles with mental health issues and withdrawal from public life painted a poignant picture of the toll that fame and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle can exact on an artist’s well-being.
Syd Barrett’s story serves as a somber reminder of the delicate balance between artistic brilliance and personal challenges. He remains an enduring figure in rock music, remembered as an unlucky genius who left an indelible mark on the world of music while grappling with the shadows that fame can cast.
Syd Barrett, 1967. Photo: Alain Dister. pic.twitter.com/Df3LUlVG75
— Bill Pourquoimec (@BillPourquoimec) September 29, 2023
4. Mountain’s unfortunate decision
Mountain, the American rock band formed in 1969, faced an unfortunate situation in relation to the iconic Woodstock Festival and its subsequent documentary film. Woodstock, held in August 1969, remains a pivotal moment in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, featuring legendary performances from some of the era’s top artists. Mountain, with Leslie West as their charismatic frontman, delivered a powerful and well-received performance at the festival. However, their decision not to be included in the Woodstock movie has been viewed by many as a missed opportunity.
Mountain’s choice not to feature in the Woodstock movie was primarily influenced by what they perceived as unfavorable financial terms for their participation. While their performance had resonated with the massive crowd at Woodstock, the band opted out of the documentary film directed by Michael Wadleigh.
This decision meant that their notable Woodstock appearance, despite its impact at the festival, did not become a part of the iconic Woodstock movie, which went on to become a historic representation of the counterculture movement and the music of the era, featuring renowned artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
In retrospect, Mountain’s decision has faced criticism, as it is seen as a missed opportunity to secure their place in rock history alongside their peers who were immortalized in the Woodstock movie. Despite this missed chance, Mountain’s music continues to be cherished by fans of classic rock, and their legacy endures, even if they are not as closely associated with Woodstock as some of their contemporaries.
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) December 23, 2020
5. The Monkees’ career-ending eccentric movie
The Monkees, a popular American rock and pop group formed in the 1960s, made a rather unexpected decision to film “Head,” a surreal and unconventional movie released in 1968. The decision to film the eccentric movie marked a turning point in their career, driven by a desire for artistic control, a response to the counterculture movement, and a satirical critique of celebrity culture.
The band had grown frustrated with their manufactured image and lack of creative freedom, and “Head” was their attempt to break free from those constraints and establish themselves as genuine musicians and artists. The late 1960s cultural shift, characterized by experimentation and a challenge to traditional norms, influenced the Monkees and their decision to explore more complex and unconventional themes in their work.
“Head” served as a satirical and surreal film that critiqued the entertainment industry, celebrity culture, and the media’s portrayal of the Monkees. It portrayed the band members as disillusioned and trapped by their own fame, a stark departure from their cheerful television personas. Collaborating with figures like director Bob Rafelson and writer Jack Nicholson, the Monkees sought to push the boundaries of artistic expression and use the film as a platform for social commentary and experimentation.
While “Head” did not directly lead to the end of the Monkees’ career, it did contribute to changes in their image and commercial success. The film’s unconventional style and themes were met with confusion by both fans and critics, and it marked a departure from the pop-oriented image that had initially propelled the band to fame. Ultimately, factors such as evolving musical tastes, individual pursuits, and commercial considerations played roles in shaping the trajectory of the Monkees’ career beyond “Head.”
The Monkees. Was this a Saturday tradition for you? pic.twitter.com/dnD8kkRQTF
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) September 30, 2023
6. Allan Williams gave the Beatles away
Alan Williams, often dubbed “The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away,” played a pivotal role in the early days of The Beatles’ career. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a Liverpool-based businessman who managed a club called the Jacaranda. It was through his club that he became acquainted with the budding Beatles, who were then a relatively obscure local band.
Williams took on the role of their first manager, arranging gigs and, most notably, organizing their first trip to Hamburg, Germany, in 1960. In Hamburg, The Beatles performed extended residencies in clubs like the Indra and the Kaiserkeller, gaining valuable experience and exposure.
Upon their return to Hamburg in late March, the band, except for Stuart Sutcliffe, chose not to remit Williams’s 10% commission, due to conflicts with German tax deductions. An angered Williams threatened to terminate the Beatles’ residency and report their conduct to the Agency Members Association, a move that could have jeopardized their prospects of securing management in the UK.
After a failed legal action and a bitter parting, Williams later met with the Beatles’ second manager, Brian Epstein, and memorably cautioned him, “Brian, don’t touch them with a fucking bargepole”. Eventually, he rescinded the ban on the Beatles’ entry to the Blue Angel.
— michael fitzgerald (@mogfitzgerald) July 13, 2014
7. John Rutsey gave way to Neil Peart
John Rutsey, while most rock fans never heard of him, holds a significant place in the history of the iconic rock band Rush as its first drummer. And there’s a reason why: although he was a founding member and contributed to the band’s early development, Rutsey’s time with Rush was relatively short-lived, spanning from 1968 to 1974.
Rutsey, along with guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, co-founded Rush in Toronto, Canada, in 1968. The trio initially performed covers of popular rock songs and started gaining local recognition. In 1974, they released their debut studio album, “Rush,” which featured Rutsey on drums and showcased the band’s early blues-influenced hard rock sound.
However, due to health issues, particularly diabetes, Rutsey faced challenges that hindered his ability to tour extensively and maintain the demanding schedule of a growing rock band. As a result, Rutsey made the difficult decision to leave Rush in 1974, just before the band’s first major U.S. tour. His departure paved the way for Neil Peart to join the band as their new drummer and primary lyricist.
While John Rutsey’s tenure with Rush was relatively brief, his contribution to the band’s formative years and their debut album helped lay the foundation for the progressive rock sound that would define Rush’s later albums.
— This Day in Rush History (@RushHistory2112) September 25, 2023
8. Marc Bolan’s ironic death
Marc Bolan, the charismatic and flamboyant glam rock icon known for his role as the frontman of T. Rex, met an ironic and tragic end that marked the premature conclusion of his legendary career.
Born Mark Feld in 1947, Bolan rose to fame in the early 1970s as the driving force behind T. Rex, a band that became synonymous with the glam rock movement. Bolan’s charismatic stage presence, distinctive fashion sense, and catchy rock tunes, such as “Get It On” and “Hot Love”, made him an international superstar and a symbol of glam’s extravagance and androgyny.
However, Bolan’s life took an ironic turn when, on September 16, 1977, he died in a car accident in London at the age of 29. The irony lay in the fact that this glam rock icon, known for his extravagant style and decadent lifestyle, did not learn how to drive in fear of dying prematurely. He was a passenger in a Mini 1275 GT driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones when the car crashed into a fence post. Bolan was killed instantly, while Jones survived the accident.
Marc Bolan’s tragic death marked the end of an era in rock music and left a void in the glam rock movement. His influence on the music industry, fashion, and pop culture is still felt today, as he helped shape the glam rock sound and left a glamourously somber mark on the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Marc Bolan in Santa Monica, 1973. Photo by Neal Preston. pic.twitter.com/7RCEPrO5nN
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) September 24, 2023
9. Cliff Burton rode the lightning and never came back
Cliff Burton, the immensely talented bassist known for his groundbreaking work with the iconic heavy metal band Metallica, had a tragically short-lived career that left a profound impact on the world of rock and metal music.
Born in 1962, Burton joined Metallica in 1982, replacing their previous bassist. His unique playing style and musical creativity quickly became a defining element of the band’s sound. Burton’s contributions to Metallica’s albums, including their critically acclaimed “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets”, helped elevate the band to international fame and established them as pioneers of the thrash metal genre.
However, on September 27, 1986, tragedy struck when Metallica’s tour bus skidded off the road in Sweden and overturned. Cliff Burton was thrown from the bus and crushed to death by the vehicle. He was only 24 years old at the time of his untimely demise.
Cliff Burton’s death marked the end of an era for Metallica and left a void in the band’s lineup that could never truly be filled. His innovative bass playing, musical creativity, and songwriting contributions remain legendary in the world of heavy metal. In his memory, Metallica continued to create music, and they dedicated their subsequent album, …And Justice for All, to him.
On this date in 1986 we lost the great Cliff Burton of Metallica. (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986) pic.twitter.com/0Uz0DTo7xP
— Bass Magazine (@BassMagOnline) September 27, 2023
10. Allman Brothers’ tragic losses
The Allman Brothers Band were Southern rock giants who broke into rock legend status with their live album At Fillmore East in 1971. It could have been a lengthy career of tours and iconic albums but the band lost their leader Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident that same year.
Just over a year later, the band faced another heart-wrenching tragedy when bassist Berry Oakley suffered a similar fate in a motorcycle accident, eerily near Duane’s place of tragedy.
In addition to these personal tragedies, the band grappled with financial struggles, legal disputes, substance abuse issues among members, and lineup changes throughout their careers. Despite these hardships, the Allman Brothers Band persisted in creating groundbreaking music and maintained their status as a beloved and enduring presence in the world of rock and blues, demonstrating their unwavering commitment to their craft.
Misfortune reared its ugly head once more in 2017 when drummer Butch Trucks died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January, followed by the death of vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Allman in May due to liver cancer complications.
Duane Allman in Central Park New York, 1971, Photo by Joseph Sia pic.twitter.com/urP1tPadGb
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) October 2, 2023
11. All original Lynyrd Skynyrd members are now dead
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s founding guitarist died in March 2023, and he’s the last original member of the band that once dominated Southern rock. The legendary rock outfit known for their timeless hits, faced a series of unfortunate events and challenges throughout their storied career.
The most tragic and defining moment in the band’s history was the devastating plane crash of October 20, 1977. This tragic event resulted in the loss of three band members, including their charismatic frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. This immense loss not only had a profound impact on the band’s dynamic but also marked a somber turning point in their trajectory, forever altering their course.
Prior to the tragic plane crash, Lynyrd Skynyrd grappled with internal conflicts and disputes among band members. These tensions occasionally led to temporary breakups and lineup changes, affecting the band’s stability and creative cohesion. Additionally, the band encountered financial and legal troubles, including disputes with management and record companies, along with allegations of financial mismanagement, which left them facing significant financial challenges.
Deaths of other members soon followed: Allen Collins in 1990, pneumonia; Leon Wilkeson in 2001, emphysema; Billy Powell in 2009, heart attack; Ean Evans in 2009, cancer; Bob Burns in 2015, car accident; and Rossington.
— 🎸 Rock History 🎸 (@historyrock_) August 29, 2023
12. Pete Best was once the drummer of The Beatles
You probably saw this name from miles away. Pete Best has always been the butt end of jokes due to his association with The Beatles, much like Alan Williams and Decca Records. They all left or gave away the future’s most popular rock band.
Pete Best’s story is a remarkable chapter in the history of The Beatles. Born in India in 1941, he joined the band in 1960 when it was still a relatively unknown local group from Liverpool. As the original drummer, Best played a crucial role during the band’s formative years, including their time performing in Hamburg, Germany, where they honed their musical skills and developed their unique sound.
However, in a pivotal moment in 1962, just as The Beatles were on the brink of global stardom, they made the decision to replace Best with Ringo Starr as their drummer. The reasons for this decision have remained a subject of debate, with various theories ranging from personal conflicts to concerns about Best’s drumming abilities.
Regardless of the motivations, this change transformed The Beatles’ trajectory and set them on the path to becoming one of the most iconic and influential bands in music history. While Best’s departure from The Beatles may have been a missed opportunity for him personally, he continued to pursue a career in music with various bands.
The Beatles (Pete Best era) posing with the Proto-Adderall, Preludin. pic.twitter.com/duzkBjVFiF
— Tim Timson (@TimTimson1234) September 28, 2023