The Ten Saddest Moments in Miami Music History

The day the music stopped at Tobacco Road.
The day the music stopped at Tobacco Road.
Photo by Alex Markow

In life, there are ups and downs. So when we posted a list of the 15 greatest moments in Miami music history back in September, it got us thinking about the darker times.

And Miami has seen plenty of those.

Not to imply that any one death is somehow sadder than another, but there are certain tragedies that stick out in our mind over the years. Some were inevitable, and some blindsided us in ways we never expected; some involved locals, and others involved national artists just passing through.

Take a look back with us at the ten saddest moments in Miami music history.  

The Ten Saddest Moments in Miami Music History
Photo by Petras Gagilas via Flickr cc

10. The last Spec's Music shutters its doors. 

In a city obsessed with renovation and in an era when music is free, it didn't necessarily come as a surprise when record stores started shutting down. But it was still a heavy hurt when the last Spec's Music on U.S. 1 closed for business in January 2013. There was a time you could not throw a rock in South Florida without hitting one of its 49 locations. There was one on the ground floor of the Miracle Center, one in Dadeland Mall, and another across from Cocowalk, but it was their first and last store a bit north of Sunset Place whose loss hit the hardest. Founded in 1948 by Martin Spector, it outlasted format transitions from vinyl to eight-track to cassette to CD but could not survive through the era of digital music the way leaner, smaller businesses like Sweat Records and Radio-Active Records have. It was where I bought my first album (a cassette of the Beastie Boys' License to Ill) and my first concert ticket (Lollapalooza '92). A Chase Bank now stands in its stead. — David Rolland

9. Tobacco Road closes down.

It's best not to get too attached to any music venue in Miami, because it will inevitably be bulldozed to make room for some incredibly expensive apartments. We see it all the time, most recently with the World Center forcing out Grand Central. But there was a special kind of sting when we watched Tobacco Road fall victim to developers. When we learned that Miami's oldest bar was set to face a wrecking ball, it taught us that nothing is sacred in this city and that everything has a price. Seriously, you might wake up tomorrow to find that Grey Goose has purchased your torso for advertising space. "We have a three-year lease," Tobacco Road co-owner Patrick Gleber told us in an interview back in April 2014. "And the landlord hasn't exactly been like, 'You're gone in one more year' or 'You're not gone.' But most likely, I would think we are out since it's getting hot around here with the cranes and all that stuff." On Sunday, October 26, Tobacco Road shut its doors, and the music stopped. — Ryan Pfeffer

8. The tragic tale of Jaco Pastorious.

The short life of bassist Jaco Pastorius remains one of South Florida's more tragic tales, even more so because the recordings he left behind reflect a young man at the peak of his prowess. A brilliant musician, both on his own and in the service of others — Weather Report, Pat Metheny, and Joni Mitchell among them — Pastorius had an indelible influence on a generations of bassists that followed, even though the war he raged with his inner demons brought all too early a demise. Inducted into the prestigious Down Beat Jazz Hall of fame in 1988 — the only electric bassist to be so honored — Pastorius is still remembered as one of the greatest masters of his instrument. He began his career by playing with a number of local recording artists and later taught at UM’s Frost School of Music, but sadly his life went downhill rapidly. His drug and alcohol use exacerbated his bipolar disorder, leaving him homeless. On September 11, 1987, he attempted to sneak onstage at a Santana concert, and after being ejected, he made his way to a club called the Midnight Bottle in Wilton Manors. He reportedly kicked in a glass door after being denied entrance and then got into a violent scuffle with the club’s bouncer. Admitted to Broward Medical with multiple facial fractures, he fell into a coma and suffered a massive brain hemorrhage a few days later, leading to his death on September 21. He was only 35 years old, but he left a lingering legacy as one of the greatest electric bassists of all time. — Lee Zimmerman

7. The passing of producer Tom Dowd.

The passing of legendary producer Tom Dowd from emphysema on October 27, 2002, was not only a sad time for the music industry as a whole but also for Miami in particular. It was here that he spent a good part of his career (primarily at the landmark Criteria Studios). Dowd was a generous individual, and his insights into the early days of Atlantic Records, the record company he helped build into a powerful force in the music industry, was a living history lesson that never failed to fascinate all those privileged enough to be in his company, yours truly included. Originally drafted to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project, a group of scientists who developed plans for the first nuclear bomb, Dowd entered the music industry in the late ’40s, first as a classical-music producer and later at the nascent Atlantic Records label. Aside from producing the label’s first crop of emerging artists — including the Drifters, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, the Coasters, Bobby Darin, and Charlie Parker — he innovated the use of multitrack recording, allowing him to enhance his productions by overlaying additional layers of sound. He was seen as a mentor by nearly every artist he produced, and a tribute that was held in his honor at the home of Julio Iglesias shortly before his passing brought out a host of international stars to pay him tribute. Robbie Robertson posthumously inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012. — Lee Zimmerman 

6. Bob Marley's final breath.

Any life lost is a tragedy, but few musical deaths hit harder than when reggae legend Bob Marley died at what is now known as the University of Miami Hospital on May 11, 1981. Marley refused for years due to his Rastafarian beliefs to have a cancerous toe amputated. On a layover in South Florida between seeking treatment for his cancer in Germany and his home in Jamaica, Marley's health worsened. Rumor had it that on his deathbed, he told Ziggy, one of his 11 children, that  "money can't buy life." He has been dead now almost as long as the 36 years he walked this Earth. In the year 2015, it is safe to say there is no musician living or dead who is as universally beloved as Robert Nesta Marley. — David Rolland

5. Gloria's bus accident. 

There are few folks in this city more revered than Gloria Estefan. The lead singer of Miami Sound Machine who taught the world how to conga is the closest thing Miami's ever had to a mother. So when a truck hit Estefan's tour bus on March 21, 1990, causing the 32-year-old singer to suffer a broken vertebra, this city held its breath in shock. Gloria's husband and fellow member of Miami Sound Machine, Emilio Estefan Jr., suffered injuries to his head and hand during the accident, and their son, Nayid, suffered a neck injury. The tension eased when Gloria's surgeon announced during a news conference that "she is not paralyzed in any way, shape, or form," though only slightly. We still didn't know when or if she'd return to the stage. It wouldn't be any time soon. But after about a year of intense physical therapy, Estefan made her return to music at the American Music Awards with a legendary performance of her new single "Coming Out of the Dark," a song she wrote about her recovery process. Gloria managed to turn what could have been Miami music's greatest tragedy into a timeless story of perseverance, which, by the way, you can now see on Broadway. Ryan Pfeffer

4. Henry Stone passes away.

You can't talk about Miami music without mentioning TK Records. The Hialeah label was helmed by the legendary Henry Stone, a producer who produced records by Ray Charles and James Brown before launching his own record company. His biggest TK Records export was KC & the Sunshine Band, but he also worked with artists like George McRae, Benny Latimore, Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright, and Anita Ward, creating what we now call the Miami Sound. He also gave Miami one of its weirdest and most wonderful artists in Blowfly. TK Records shut its doors in 1981 just as disco faded out of the airwaves, but he left a lasting legacy on Miami music. Stone died at age 93 in the city he helped put on the map. — Ryan Pfeffer

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3. Aaliyah's final flight. 

Aaliyah's last days took place in Miami as she filmed the music video for her song "Rock the Boat." On August 22, 2001, she went to the FIU Biscayne Bay Aquatic Center to film the underwater shots featured in the video. After that, she and her crew flew down to Abaco, Bahamas. They ended up finishing the shoot early and flew back on August 25. Aalyah along with members of her entourage — nine people total — hopped aboard a twin-engine Cessna 402B at the Marsh Harbour Airport in Abaco Islands. The plane, we'd tragically learn later, was hopelessly overloaded, and the pilots ignored a laundry list of safety precautions that could have prevented the crash. Almost immediately after takeoff to Opa-locka Airport, the plane dove back to Earth, killing everyone inside. — Ryan Pfeffer

2. The death of Celia Cruz.

No one disputed the fact that Celia Cruz was the Queen of salsa. At least, no one disputed it without receiving an immediate chancletazo to the forehead. She earned the title. Born on October 21, 1925, in Havana, Cuba, Cruz was revered among her native Cuban population. And in Miami, things were no different. There's just not enough space here to cover all of her accomplishments, but rest assured, there are plenty. Yet the fact that she lived a long and accomplished life was hardly any consolation to a shattered Miami Cuban community when she died of brain cancer at the age of 77. Her body was flown to Miami and laid to rest in the Freedom Tower, where the line of thousands of mourners stretched for blocks. — Ryan Pfeffer

1. The murder of Uncle Al.

You're probably not familiar with the murder of Miami's beloved DJ "Uncle Al" Moss. Because less than 24 hours after he was shot in cold blood in the doorway of his North Miami duplex, hijackers flew two planes into the twin towers and one into the Pentagon, shifting the nation's attention to other matters. But they still remember in Liberty City. And when we reached out to some of Miami music's biggest names back in 2010 to share their Uncle Al memories, the consensus was unanimous. Uncle Al was a pioneer in Miami hip-hop — specifically Miami bass — but he was also a great person, one who preached peace and tolerance right up until the day he died. It's still unclear who shot Uncle Al or why. There were rumors of a dispute over pirate radio station space, and some said it was a case of mistaken identity, but the way he died is the least interesting thing about Uncle Al. Because it's the way he lived that makes people remember him. — Ryan Pfeffer


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