This Day in Music, August 25: The Great Gig in the Sky

By , Contributor

On this day in 2001, American singer and actress Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas at the age of 22. The small Cessna plane crashed a few minutes after take off killing everyone on board with the exception to four passengers who were pulled from the wreckage but later died. Aaliyah had been filming a video for her latest release, “Rock The Boat,” on the island.

Later investigators said the Cessna was severely overloaded and that pilot Luis Morales was not licensed to fly the plane. An autopsy later showed that Morales had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.

They say it’s the safest way to travel (which statistics prove is correct), but we’ve lost some great musical talent in plane crashes over the years.

Maybe the most famous is the loss of 22-year-old Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, who were all killed in a crash shortly after takeoff from Clear Lake, Iowa on 3rd February 1959. On tour, Holly had hired a plane after heating problems developed on his tour bus. All three were traveling to Fargo, North Dakota for the next show on their Winter Dance Party Tour which Holly had set, covering 24 cities in three weeks, to make money after the breakup of his band The Crickets earlier that year.

Country singer Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash at Dyersburg, Virginia, along with The Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins on 5th March 1963. They were traveling to Nashville to appear at a benefit concert for DJ 'Cactus' Jack Call, who'd died in a car crash. Cline was the first country singer to cross over as a pop artist. Two days later country singer Jack Anglin was killed in a car crash on his way to Cline's funeral.

Country singer Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash when the single engine aircraft flying from Arkansas to Nashville crashed in thick fog in July 1964. Forty-one-year-old Reeves was the first country singer to cross over into the pop market.

In October 1964 all four members of US band Buddy and the Kings were killed when they hired a Cessna Skyhawk to take them to a gig in Harris County. Piloted by the band's drummer Bill Daniles, the plane crashed nose first killing all on board. Singer with the group Harold Box had replaced Buddy Holly in The Crickets after his death in a plane crash. He sang lead vocals on "Peggy Sue Got Married."

Another great loss has to be American soul singer/songwriter Otis Redding who was killed in a plane crash, aged 26, on 10th December 1967. Redding and his band had made an appearance in Cleveland, Ohio on the local Upbeat television show the previous day. The plane carrying Otis Redding and his band crashed at 3:28.pm into the icy waters of Lake Monoma near Madison. Redding was killed in the crash along with members from the The Bar-Kays, Jimmy King, Ron Caldwell, Phalin Jones, and Carl Cunningham. Trumpet player Ben Cauley was the only person to survive.

In 1977, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd were all killed along with manager Dean Kilpatrick when their rented plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a densely wooded thicket in the middle of a swamp in Gillsburg, Missouri. The crash seriously injured the rest of the band and crew who were due to play at Louisiana University that evening.

Now this one is sheer madness. Ozzy Osbourne's rhythm guitarist and former Quiet Riot member Randy Rhoads was killed when the plane he was riding in crashed in 1982. After driving much of the night, the band had stopped near a small airstrip. The tour bus driver, Andrew Aycock, talked the band's keyboardist, Don Airey, into taking a test flight in a '55 Beechcraft Bonanza, the joyride ended, and the plane landed safely. Then Aycock took Rhoads and Rachel Youngblood on another flight and attempts were made to "buzz" the tour bus. The left wing clipped the bus, which sent the plane spiraling into a nearby house and bursting into flames. All three bodies were burned beyond recognition and were identified by dental records.

In 1988 former Cockney Rebel bass player Paul Jeffreys was one of the 259 passengers killed by a terrorist bomb on Pan Am flight 103. The plane crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland. Sex Pistols singer John Lydon and his wife Nora had a lucky escape - they both missed the flight because Nora hadn't packed in time. Also The Four Tops were booked onto the flight returning to the States for Christmas but missed it after a recording session overran. Another very lucky escape.

On August 27, 1990, 35-year-old blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash near East Troy, Wisconsin. Four helicopters were being used to night transport the concert group. The helicopter in question, a Bell BHT-206-B, remained at a lower altitude and crashed into the ground soon after taking off into dense fog. 

Air travel has come a long way since the '50s and '60s. Both Elvis and the Beatles had lucky escapes when they both experienced engines catching on fire and had to make emergency landings (resulting in Elvis having a life-long fear of flying).

But it does get you thinking - how would the careers of these stars unfolded? Unquestionably Buddy Holly would have given us so much more, he was only just beginning, and Otis, one of the finest soul singers ever, had so much to give, Stevie Ray Vaughan was a brilliant guitarist - and Aaliyah just 22 when she was killed.

We will, of course, will never know.


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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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