When reviewing the worst days in music history, why not start at February 3, 1959? Of course, that’s the day Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in an Iowa plane crash. If you know this date, it isn’t because you’ve been going through a Holly phase and were doing online research. It’s because of “American Pie.” As important as Holly and Valens were as musicians, they’ve spent waaaaay more time in the cultural consciousness as proxies for the death of boomer childhood. But, is February 3, 1959, really worse than December 6, 1969 (Altamont), December 8, 1980 (Lennon murdered), December 10, 1967 (Otis Redding & Bar-Kays plane crash), or December 11, 1964 (Sam Cooke murdered)? I’d say no.
Allow me to submit July 14-15, 1973, as the worst collective day in music history. Though the bad mojo took place over two calendar days, the actual events of note occurred inside of a 24 hour period. Consider this:
On the evening of Saturday, July 14, 1973, probably between 6:30-7:00 pm, the Everly Brothers were playing the John Wayne Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm, the first of three shows that night. Unfortunately, Don Everly was so drunk he couldn’t play and couldn’t remember lyrics. Brother Phil responded by smashing his own guitar and according to lore said, “I’ll never get on stage with that man again.” Don Everly came back later that night — presumably a little sobered up — to fulfill the last two sets of the Knott’s contract. According to Robert Hilburn’s account in the LA Times:
When someone in the audience asked where his brother was, Don responded in a nervous attempt at humour, “I don’t know, have you seen him?” Then, as if something else were needed, he said: “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.”
A few hours later, 90 miles north in Palmdale, Clarence White was at BJ’s Tavern. It wasn’t a fancy advertised performance, just a fun gig on a Saturday night sitting in with his brothers Roland and Eric. While loading up the van after the show, probably between 2:00-3:00 am, Clarence was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Plans for a solo album and the reunion of the Kentucky Colonels — or New Kentucky Colonels — were over in an instant. There would be no reunion, no Muleskinner, no more Byrds, not even a theoretical, alternate history in which Clarence White, NOT Joe Walsh, is asked to join The Eagles in 1975.
Several hours after that, on the evening of July 15, 1973, Ray Davies took a bunch of pills (speed) before a Kinks show at London’s White City Stadium. His wife Rasa had left with their two children a few weeks prior (they’d divorce later that year), the band had been touring way too much, and it all came to a head at White City. Ray behaved erratically throughout their set, which ended with him announcing his retirement, and then being immediately driven to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. It would take about a month for Ray to recover.
Whatever supremely bad vibe was hanging over the planet on July 14-15, 1973, it cut a tornadic swath through popular music. Ray Davies would heal up and right The Kinks ship and the Everlys would reunite in a decade. But, there was no bright side to Clarence White’s death. It was an abrupt, tragic end to a life and career whose potential was still not fully tapped.
Everly Brothers – I’m Tired Of Singing My Song In Las Vegas – 1972
“Oh, I’m not coming back again
Oh, I’m tired of singing my song in Las Vegas”