The tendency, as calendars start moving past their expiration dates, is to wrap up the year in music with an interminable parade of year's best lists—beginning, oh, around September. That, then, is followed by speculation, prediction and a whole slew of wild guesses about what the upcoming year in music holds in store.
But, while this time of year indeed provides ample time to rehash the past and conjure the future of singles, albums, concerts and other newsworthy moments from our favorite (and least favorite) musicians, it's also an apt time to reflect on some musicians' ultimate career move: death. The moment a rocker drops the "living" part of his or her "living legend" status provides such a career jolt that Billboard ought to consider adding a Posthumous chart.
Before we get into this year's predictions of who will bite the dust over the next 12 months, though, let's take a moment to remember some of the most noteworthy deaths of 2010—none of which, incredibly, were predicted by last year's Dead Pool ("Which Musicians Will Kick The Bucket In '10?" January 7, 2010). Among those receiving their final ovation were Teena Marie, Captain Beefheart, reggae singer Gregory Isaacs, Ari Up of The Slits, soul singer Solomon Burke, bandleader Buddy Morrow, 1950s singer (and Carrie Fisher's dad) Eddie Fisher, Michael Been of The Call (and father of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Robert Been), Richie Hayward of Little Feat, Neil Young collaborator Ben Keith, songwriter Hank Cochran, jazz critic/cartoonist/NX35 keynote speaker Harvey Pekar, Kinks bassist Pete Quaife, Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider, country singer Jimmy Dean, Marvin Isley, Slipknot's Paul Gray, jazz pianist Hank Jones, EMI exec Bob Mercer, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Gang Starr's Guru, Type O Negative's Peter Steele, jazz guitarist Herb Ellis, Big Star's Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, Mark Linkous, The Knack singer Doug Fieger, Dale Hawkins, John Dankworth, R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass and indie-rock madman Jay Reatard.
Assuming they're still breathing as of press time, picks from previous lists like Amy Winehouse, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Jerry Lewis remain strong candidates. Along with them, we now nominate eight more musicians who may not get to sing "Auld Lang Syne" at Dick Clark's next Rockin' New Year's Eve—assuming Clark, a Death Pool pick last year, is still there himself.
Wagering is allowed, but please, no interference in the game. The last thing we want is an accessory to murder charge on our record.
Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul reportedly has pancreatic cancer, a notoriously deadly form of the Big C with a survival rate percentage in the single digits. Yet, if anyone has the force of personality to beat the disease, it would be Aretha, the woman whose charisma and incredible voice made "Respect" so much of a calling card that few seem to remember that it was written and originally recorded by the equally legendary Otis Redding. Odds: 2/1
Justin Townes Earle. That he's the son of one recovering addict (Steve Earle) and is named for a man who essentially drank himself to death (Townes Van Zandt) should have been warning enough. But the cautionary tales his dad must have shared still haven't kept the second-generation singer-songwriter from messing with drugs and alcohol—to the point that he was forced to miss a few gigs and go to rehab following a booze-fueled Indianapolis dressing-room-trashing and donnybrook last year. Odds: 40/1
Bret Michaels. A diabetic, the Poison frontman and reality-show seeker of true love last year endured an emergency appendectomy, a brain hemorrhage, a stroke and finally learned that he has a hole in his heart that will require surgical treatment this month. As if someone with a heart condition needs the stress, he also proposed to his two-time baby momma after being blamed in the media for busting up the marriage of American tweenhood's model of parenthood: Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus. Odds: 10/1
Ronnie Wood. Since about 1966, just about every celebrity dead pool ever written has included Keith Richards, as mortality oddsmakers apparently remain ignorant of the fact that the Human Riff has a drug tolerance so high that he is impervious to the toxicity of nose candy, junk, booze and every other substance man has ever used to get high. It would take an intergalactic drug containing some element previously unknown to man to do Richards in. On the other hand, his latter-day Rolling Stones bandmate, legendary Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood, still seems susceptible to intoxication. Odds: 12/1
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Little Richard. The flamboyant performer and one of rock music's most important architects has long ping-ponged between the sacred, clean-living world of gospel music and the temptations of homosexuality and drug use. While that tension makes his performances all the more compelling, the stress level it must create for a 78-year-old recovering from recent hip surgery can't be healthy. Odds: 13/1
Leif Garrett. In October, the former child star and pop singer was sentenced to rehab after pleading no contest to heroin possession. It's the latest in a string of drug-related legal problems for Garrett dating back to 1979, when he destroyed a car—and a buddy's ability to walk—while fucked up on booze and Quaaludes. Considering that his name sounds like "Leaf" and he lives in a city where symptoms as vague as sleeplessness are good for a prescription for the finest marijuana in the world, you'd think he could stick to the natural stuff. But, then again, since he's a 49-year-old who's been dabbling with narcotics since the days of 'ludes, a change of course looks unlikely. Odds: 33/1
Steve Albini. No, the legendary musician, recording engineer and music critic isn't ailing. Nor does he seem to lead an unusually dangerous lifestyle—assuming, that is, that his poker buddies aren't the type to blow a fuse and draw a weapon following a bad turn of the cards. Albini was, however, the keynote speaker at NX35 in 2010, following in the footsteps of 2009 speaker Harvey Pekar, who died the following year. We're not saying the role is cursed—but if it is, Albini may join some of his friends who are already this fucked. Odds: 35/1
Leslie West. According to Ozzy Osbourne's autobiography I Am Ozzy (which, by the way, gives plenty of reasons why Osbourne was a smart pick in last year's Death Pool, and makes for a fine holdover choice this year), West was the one who introduced Ozzy to the Bolivian Marching Powder. Diabetes has forced him to trim down considerably from his once 300-pound-plus girth, and supposedly he's been drug-free for years. But stories of his wheels-off life make it hard to believe he could ever totally leave behind the wildman lifestyle. Odds: 45/1