Fred Is Dead

Along with a mess of others.

By Craig D. Lindsey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 9, 2008

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art credit: ALEX FINE

It's officially a new year, and it's usually at this time that I comb through the tribute and farewell sections of magazines' year-end issues to see which greats left us and exclaim, "Oh shit, he's dead!" For example, imagine my shock when I found out both Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, the original Will and Grace, passed away last year. Reruns of Match Game are even more emotional now that I have that bit of info in my cranium.

But this isn't a column devoted to '70s game-show panelists.

Rap fans' jaws slammed to the floor when news broke of Pimp C (33, causes unknown), one-half of the influential Texas rap group UGK (Underground Kingz), found dead in his Los Angeles hotel room on Dec. 4. This came right on the heels of the group's best year yet. Their self-titled comeback album, which included the Willie Hutch-sampling, OutKast-featuring "Int'l Players Anthem," debuted at No. 1 in August.

Pimp C wasn't the only Gulf Coast rapper to leave us so abruptly. Houston rapper Big Moe (33, heart attack) passed on as well. He mostly devoted his life to singing the praises of that narcotic cocktail of grape soda and prescription cough syrup. It goes by many names: lean, drank, barre, sizzurp or, Moe's favorite, purple stuff.

December also saw the passing of Ike Turner (76, complications from emphysema), better known as the man who took a girl named Anna Mae Bullock out of Nutbush, Tenn., shaped her into a rough hellraiser named Tina Turner, and unfortunately got a rep as the dude who beat her ass for most of her young career. But the man managed to turn out some decent funk back in the day. Eerily enough, two days before his death, I was in a used book/record store and the clerk played a vinyl copy of an album Turner did with his Kings of Rhythm band. Even without Tina, Ike could bring it.

Last year was bookended with the passing of two jazz piano greats. At the top of the year we laid to rest harpist/organist Alice Coltrane (69, respiratory failure), John's widow. And just two days before Christmas, pride of Canada Oscar Peterson (82, kidney failure) joined her to twinkle some ivories.

Drummers from all around raised their sticks in salute when famed modern jazz drummer Max Roach (83, causes unknown) riffed his way through the pearly gates in the middle of the year.

We lost prominent band members, like longtime Funk Brother Joe Hunter (79, complications from diabetes) and card-carrying J.B. Bobby Byrd (73, cancer). New Orleans funk/soul man Willie Tee (63, colon cancer) moved on from this mortal coil on 9/11. Luther Ingram (69, heart failure), the man who set off the conception of many a badass kid with the song "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)," also moved on. In the singing soul-group category, we said goodbye to a Spinner (Billy Henderson, 67, complications from diabetes), a Drifter (Bill Pinkney, 81, heart attack) and a Platter (Zola Taylor, 69, complications of pneumonia).

South African reggae maverick Lucky Dube (43, murder) and New York mixtape MC Stack Bundles (24, murder) had their lives sadly taken away too soon. A Detroit gospel legend (Bill Moss, 76, emphysema), a Baltimore jazz songstress (Ruby Glover, 77, complications from a coma) and a Chicago blues harp innovator (Carey Bell, 70, heart failure) all packed their bags and left quietly in '07.

The death I was most shocked and saddened to hear about was Tony Thompson's (31, accidental overdose), the lead singer of the early '90s R&B boy band Hi-Five. I remember being in high school listening and grooving to such Hi-Five hits as "I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)" and "She's Playing Hard to Get." While many of these aforementioned artists have lived rich, full lives, leaving legacies that will influence many future performers for generations to come, hearing about someone getting their life cut so tragically and unfortunately, especially a fellow young'un you grew up listening to, always hits the hardest.

Of course we'll have their music to remember them by. But more important, we'll have their music to guide us, to mold us, to inspire us, so we can hopefully leave half the indelible impression they left.

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