Benjamin Franklin once quipped that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Confronted with death, people deal with their mortality in unique ways. While some spend their last days relaxing with loved ones, others decide to occupy their remaining time by creating something that can be enjoyed after they are gone.
Ask someone to name a farewell album, and some of the most popular answers would likely include David Bowie’s Blackstar, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, and Warren Zevon’s The Wind. Other more obscure artists, however, have tackled the challenge of creating their final artwork before passing away. Ranging from rhythm and blues, jazz, blues, gospel, alternative rock, parody, house music, and even post-punk, the following 10 records were recorded by artists who knew the end was near.
10 Goodbye (Gene Ammons)
Gene Ammons, “The Boss” or “Jug” as he was known, was a tenor saxophone player who recorded jazz music with traces of R&B and soul. Some of those who knew him described Ammons as a gentle giant. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ammons recorded on the Prestige record label, which led him to record with such legends as Donald Byrd and John Coltrane.
In 1969, Gene Ammons was released from Statesville Penitentiary following a seven-year heroin possession sentence. Some reports suggest that when Ammons was released, he had emphysema and an enlarged heart. Five months before Ammons passed away from bone cancer, he recorded the album Goodbye in New York City from March 18 to 20, 1974. Besides being a standard jazz number, Goodbye also now stands as a suitable title for the jazz great’s last albums
By this time, Ammons was already likely aware of how fragile his condition was and how advanced his metastatic cancer was. Later, after breaking an arm on a gig in Oklahoma City due to his weakened bones, Ammons flew back home to Chicago, where he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Ammons passed away from bone cancer and pneumonia in August 1974.
9 Airbusters (Hip Linkchain)
Known for his straightforward and simple guitar playing, Chicago blues magician Willie Richard recorded under the name Hip Linkchain. Raised in Mississippi, Linkchain found his way to playing blues guitar in Chicago clubs in the 1950s. In 1959, Linkchain formed the Chicago Twisters and recorded solo occasionally too.
In 1989, Linkchain released Airbusters, which featured two recording sessions recorded from 1984 to 1987. The album is remembered for driving guitar, strong vocals, and marking the last time that Richard made a recording. The last sessions were recorded in May 1987. Richard later passed away in May 1989 from mesothelioma. Given that a person with mesothelioma lives somewhere between four and 18 months after diagnosis, Linkchain was likely already feeling the illness’s onset.
8 Traveling Through (Dick Curless)
With a baritone voice and an eye patch, the “Baron” Dick Curless gained a reputation in the 1960s as a hard-traveling country singer. Best remembered for his 1965 hit, “A Tombstone Every Mile,” Curless had over twenty hits on Billboard’s country charts.
In 1994, Curless recorded Traveling Through for Rounder Records in Brookfield, Massachusetts. The album’s songs are a mixture of gospel, country, and blues played in a stripped-down manner. Traveling Through includes sad ballads like “Crazy Heart” and “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” which is one of the album’s strongest songs. Additionally, “I Don’t Have a Memory Without Her” is told from the perspective of a son remembering his mother.
While recording the album, Curless felt ill but was not yet aware that he had cancer. Six months later, on May 25, 1995, Curless died of stomach cancer at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Togus, Maine. The cause of Curless’s stomach cancer is unknown.
7 Spirit Touches Ground (Josh Clayton-Felt)
After dropping out of college in the winter of 1987-1988, Josh Clayton-Felt moved to Los Angeles, where he soon formed a band, School of Fish, that was later signed to Capitol Records. School of Fish, however, was not to last, and the band broke up.
From 1993 to 1994, Clayton-Felt recorded his first solo record for A&M Records. This album led to Clayton-Felt signing a deal with A&M Records in 1996, while his next album had a single that scored on the alternative charges and led to tours with Tori Amos. The second album, Inarticulate Nature Boy, did not sell well, and Clayton-Felt was dropped from his label.
At the end of December 1999, while working on his next album, Clayton-Felt went to the hospital with substantial back pain and other symptoms brought on by late-stage choriocarcinoma, an aggressive form of testicular cancer. As the disease progressed, Clayton-Felt fell into a coma and, a month later, passed away at 32 on January 19, 2000.
Clayton-Felt’s final album, Spirit Touches Ground, was released posthumously. The mixing and production of the album were finished one week before Clayton-Felt was diagnosed, which means that in the final months of making the record, he was likely already experiencing the pain and discomfort associated with testicular cancer.
6 Hymns That Are Important to Us (Joey Feek)
Born to a guitar-playing father in 1975, Joey Martin moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in the late 1980s for a position at a horse vet clinic. That same year, she met Rory Lee Feek, whom she would later marry. Not only did she perform as a solo country singer, but Joey Feek also recorded as half of Joey + Rory with her husband.
In 2014, Feek was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Following surgery and treatment, Feek went into remission for a year before she started feeling sick again. While receiving cancer treatment, Feek and her husband recorded hymns in their hotel room, which comprise the couple’s last record, Hymns That Are Important to Us, including a powerful rendition of “When I’m Gone.”
The next year, Feek announced that her cancer was terminal and she was stopping treatment. Fortunately, Feek lived long enough to see a Grammy nomination for one of her final songs. She passed away in March 2016. The album includes twelve religious hymns and a reprise of “When I’m Gone,” a song from an earlier Joey + Rory album.
5 Pop Crimes (Rowland S. Howard)
A visionary Australian guitarist, Rowland S. Howard first gained celebrity playing with Nick Cave’s bands: The Boys Next Door and the Birthday Party. Rowland is remembered for his long hair, fondness for black clothing, and carrying a walking stick.
For many years, Howard suffered from hepatitis C. In 2003, Howard was diagnosed with liver cancer and was waiting to receive a liver transplant. However, Howard died from hepatocellular carcinoma in December 2008. In 2009, Howard’s last album, Pop Crimes, was released, and it quickly gained a cult following despite its lack of commercial success. Recorded from the summer of 2008 to the winter of 2008, Pop Crimes is a dark and haunted-sounding album and includes a stark version of “Nothin” by Townes Van Zandt.
4 Man of My Word (Johnny Adams)
Born in 1932 in New Orleans, Johnny Adams, or “the Tan Canary,” had his first minor hit in 1959 with “I Won’t Cry.” In the 1970s, Adams briefly signed with the prominent national record label Atlantic Records. By the 1990s, Adams was touring nationally and intentionally and was finally well-known outside of New Orleans. Over his life, Adams recorded albums with some of New Orleans’s most famous musicians, including Dr. John, Duke Robillard, and Harry Connick, Jr.
Following a prostate cancer diagnosis in 1998, Adams recorded his final record, Man of My World. The album’s recording sessions were challenging for Adams, who was facing pain associated with cancer with one of its most memorable songs, “This Time I’m Gone for Good.” The album was well-received as a strong R&B entry. In September 1998, Adams passed away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
3 I Can Dream (Max Merritt)
New Zealand singer and songwriter Max Merritt’s music is best described as a mixture of soul and R&B. For a time, he led Max Merritt and the Meteors, who had several hits, including “Slippin’ Away” and “Hey, Western Union Man.” Many viewed Max as one of the best performers in the 1960s and 1970s in New Zealand and Australia. In the 1960s, Max and his band relocated to Australia, where he earned the nickname the “King of Soul.” After living in England during the late 1960s, Merritt relocated to the United States in the 1970s while continuing to tour Australia and New Zealand.
In April 2007, Merritt was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital and was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that impacts the kidneys and lungs. From 2007 until his death, Merritt struggled with both finances as well as his health. In September 2020, Merritt passed away in Los Angeles, California.
Shortly before Merritt died, he recorded an album, I Can Dream, which was later released posthumously. I Can Dream includes 10 of Merritt’s songs written from 2002 to 2020. Between 2014 and 2020, Max recorded some of his final songs at a studio owned by Colin Hay, a Scottish/Australian musician and member of the band Men at Work.
2 77 Trombones (Blowfly)
A masked artist, who was once referred to as “hip-hop’s weird, dirty uncle,” Clarence Reid went under the name of Blowfly. Under the “Clarence Reid” name, the musician released more funk, soul, and R&B-oriented music for bands like KC & the Sunshine Band. As Blowfly, Clarence released sexually fueled songs that parodied popular songs. In 1973, Blowfly began releasing what would add up to 30 albums. Reid claimed to be the first rapper to have a song banned.
On January 12, 2016, Blowfly announced that he had terminal cancer leading to multiple organ failure. The same day, Blowfly announced that his last album, 77 Trombones, would be released posthumously. On January 16, 2016, Blowfly passed away from cancer.
1 Warehouse Summer (i_o)
Garrett Falls Lockhart (or i_o, as he was known) dabbled in electronic dance house music. In 2019, i_o received substantial violence after collaborating with Grimes on Violence. The next year, i_o released an EP trilogy called 444.
In late 2020, i_o was signed to Armada Music Label, an exclusive record label. Unfortunately, later in the year, in November 2020, i_o passed away suddenly at 30 from Hashimoto thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder involving thyroid inflammation. Soon after, i_o’s estate released his first and likely last posthumous album, Warehouse Summer.
The 14 songs on Warehouse Summer are best described as house music with elements of techno, including titles like “Hold Me Down” and “Prayers.”