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Woodstock Performers: Where Are They Now?

50 years after iconic festival, many of its top rockers still make beautiful music

Joe Cocker's band, Woodstock Festival

Alamy Stock Photo

En español | Woodstock was a youth quake, and rebellious rock was the shock wave.

But the musicians who played at the mythic 1969 festival ignored the implicit expiration date on their relevance and vitality.

Of those who didn't die, and many have, a majority remain plugged into music careers as older adults.

The Who

The Who in 1969; Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend performing in 2015

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The Who 1969; Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey 2019

"I hope I die before I get old,” The Who bellowed in teen anthem “My Generation” on day three of the massive gathering Aug. 15-18 in Bethel, N.Y.

Drummer Keith Moon did just that. A drug overdose ended his life at 32 in 1978. And bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack at 57 in 2002.

While the British band's trail is littered with farewell tours, reunions inevitably followed. Singer Roger Daltrey, 75, and guitarist Pete Townshend, 74, continue to carry The Who banner, with their “Moving On!” tour booked through October and their first album since 2006 due later this year.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970; John Fogerty in 2019

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Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970; John Fogerty 2019

The Bay area roots band Creedence Clearwater Revival was enormously popular when it was booked in 1969, and had enough clout to demand the prime time slot of 9 p.m. Saturday, though delays pushed their set past midnight. John Fogerty, 74, felt the performance was substandard and blocked its release on the documentary and soundtrack.

Infighting and a bad record deal took its toll later. John's brother, Tom, quit in 1971, had modest success on his own and died at 48 in 1990 after contracting AIDS through a blood transfusion during back surgery. Fogerty left in 1972 and became a major rock star with such albums as Centerfield, Eye of the Zombie, Revival and Wrote a Song for Everyone. Bassist Stu Cook, 74, and drummer Doug Clifford, 74, formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited in 1995 and continue to play their old band's classics around the world. Live at Woodstock, the band's entire 11-song Woodstock set, finally will be released on Aug. 2, a half century after the band's appearance.

Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane in 1968; Paul Kantner and Slick Aguilar in 2009 at the Woodstock 40th anniversary concert

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Jefferson Airplane 1968; Paul Kantner and Slick Aguilar in 2009

With hits “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane was also at the height of its powers when it took the stage at Woodstock. Substance abuse and creative differences led to the band's implosion in 1973. Marty Balin, who had quit in 1971, joined Paul Kantner, who died in 2016, and Grace Slick, 79, in spinoff Jefferson Starship in 1975. Balin left a few years later for a solo career. In 2016, he underwent heart surgery and died in 2018 at 76. Drummer Spencer Dryden died of cancer in 2005. After the Airplane's 1989 reunion tour, Slick retired, insisting that rock ‘n’ roll was for the young. She took up painting and drawing. Her most popular subjects? White rabbits. Jack Casady, 75, and Jorma Kaukonen, 78, who formed Hot Tuna as a side project in 1969, have kept that enterprise going for 50 years.

The current incarnation of Jefferson Starship is scheduled to appear at the WE 2019 festival in West Jefferson, N.C., this month.

Country Joe and the Fish

Country Joe and The Fish in 1969 and 2011

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Country Joe and the Fish 1968; Country Joe McDonald 2011

Country Joe and the Fish, formed in 1965 as a duo by "Country Joe” McDonald and Barry “The Fish” Melton, left an indelible stamp on Woodstock with a profane chant and protest tune “I Feel Like I'm Fixin’ to Die.” After disbanding in 1970, they reconvened for sporadic reunions. Melton, 72, launched a solo career as The Fish and joined Bay Area psychedelic group The Dinosaurs in the 1980s. He became a criminal defense attorney in 1982 and retired in 2009. McDonald, 77, remained an antiwar activist and has had a prolific solo career, releasing 36 albums since 1969. He's also a Florence Nightingale scholar who maintains a website devoted to her life and developed a one-person stage show, Country Joe's Tribute To Florence Nightingale And Nursing, which includes the four songs he wrote about nursing.

John B. Sebastian

John Sebastian performing in 1969 and 2019

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John B. Sebastian circa 1969 and 2019

John B. Sebastian, 75, founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful, attended Woodstock as a spectator but was drafted as an acoustic fill-in when the crew couldn't bring Santana's amplifiers on stage until rainwater was drained. Sebastian's solo career sputtered in the 1970s, and he resorted to selling real estate. His luck turned with the 1976 chart-topper “Welcome Back,” theme song for the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. In recent years, he has done soundtrack work mostly for Canadian children's TV and movies (Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins), has been an infomercials spokesman for music compilations, and released instructional CDs and DVDs like “An Easy Guide to Tuning Your Guitar.” He'll also appear at WE 2019, presumably prepared.

Canned Heat

Members of Canned Heat in 1960 and Adolfo de la Parra in 2015

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Canned Heat 1960; Adolfo de la Parra 2015

Canned Heat is also slated to play WE 2019, but without its founders, blues historians and record collectors Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite. Wilson committed suicide in 1970, and Hite collapsed and died of a heart attack at the Palomino club in Los Angeles in 1981. The band's global hit, “Going Up the Country,” became Woodstock's unofficial theme song and marked the peak of Canned Heat's popularity. The band, with 38 albums to its credit, soldiered on with new recruits and surviving players, particularly drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, 73, the only remaining member of the classic lineup.

Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead in 1969; in 2015 at the 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well concert

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Grateful Dead in 1969; 2015

Rather than put an end to the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia's fatal heart attack in 1995 simply generated a series of sequels, including the Other Ones, The Dead, Further and Ratdog. One of them, Dead and Company, is still touring with original members Bob Weir, 71, Mickey Hart, 75, and Bill Kreutzmann, 73. Bass player Phil Lesh, 79, who underwent a liver transplant and was diagnosed with prostate cancer and bladder cancer, has cut back on touring but continues to perform with Phil Lesh and Friends, which he founded in 1994. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan died at 27 in 1973 of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

CSNY in 1974; David Crosby in 2019 appearing on The Tonight Show

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1969; David Crosby 2019

When Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young played Woodstock, it was only their second live gig. Soon after, with Déjà Vu high in the charts, the quartet split, and each member released a solo album by 1971. They reunited in 1974, but tensions continued to plague the foursome and, aside from periodic CSN&Y appearances, Neil Young, 73, has been largely a solo act. Graham Nash, 77, remains musically active and opened a digital printing company. Stephen Stills, 74, recently recorded and toured with ex-paramour Judy Collins, 80, the subject of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” David Crosby's, 77, addiction and abrasive personality eventually left him isolated from his bandmates. His Sky Trails summer tour carries on in 2019.


Melanie Safka performing in 1972 and 2006

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Melanie Safka in 1972 and 2006

Melanie was one of only three solo women on the 1969 Woodstock marquee. The singer, 72, sprang from the Greenwich Village folk scene and made her mark with such songs as “Brand New Key,” “What Have They Done to My Song, Ma,” “Beautiful People” and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” She scaled back her career in the 1970s to focus on raising a family. In 1989, Melanie won an Emmy for cowriting “The First Time I Loved Forever,” the theme song for the TV series Beauty and the Beast. She will join other festival veterans at WE 2019.

Sly & the Family Stone

Sly Stone performing in 1969 and 2015

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Sly Stone in 1969 and 2015

Sly & the Family Stone, the groundbreaking integrated R&B supergroup that wowed Woodstock with its blend of electric soul/funk and potent social commentary, made a big impact in the 1960s with hits “Stand!,” “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Dance to the Music.” Led by brilliant singer/songwriter and producer Sly Stone, 76, the group showed enormous promise, but rampant cocaine use shut it down by 1975. Stone's popularity and creativity began to slide. He was jailed for cocaine possession in 1987. Since his release, he has rarely appeared in public.

The Band

The Band perform on the Ed Sullivan show in November 1969; Robbie Robertson in 2019

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The Band perform on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in November 1969; Robbie Robertson in 2019

The Band is far better known for such landmark releases as Music from Big Pink and The Basement Tapes with Bob Dylan than its slow, mesmerizing set at Woodstock, staged late Sunday night before a muddy and exhausted crowd. The group is also famous for the all-star documentary The Last Waltz, which captured its final concert as a touring band on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. The Band regrouped without Robbie Robertson in 1983. Lineups shifted and dissolved as tragedies struck. Singer/pianist/drummer Richard Manuel died of suicide in 1986. Singer/bassist Rick Danko died of drug-related heart failure in 1999. And singer/multi-instrumentalist Levon Helm died of cancer in 2012. Only two Band members survive. Singer/guitarist Robertson, 76, has enjoyed a multifaceted solo career as a recording artist, film composer and author. Organist Garth Hudson, 81, who struggled financially and declared bankruptcy three times, works steadily as a session player and has released four albums since 2001.

Sha Na Na

Members of Sha Na Na in 1970 and 2019

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Sha Na Na 1970 and 2019

Sha Na Na's hyperactive set of early rock covers ("At the Hop,” “Get a Job,” “Teen Angel") woke up the weary Woodstock crowd Monday morning before Jimi Hendrix's closing set. And the group's clashing presence in the film and soundtrack ignited its career, paving the way for recordings, tours, a syndicated TV series and 1979's Grease: The Movie. Sha Na Na has undergone huge turnover since 1969. The current lineup includes two founding members, singer Donald York, 70, and singer/drummer John “Jocko” Marcellino, 69. They perform roughly 25 shows a year and released the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition album in June. Many original players gave up performing. Pianist Joe Witkin, who was replaced by Screamin’ Scott Simon, in 1970, is a retired emergency room physician. Singer Rich Joffe became a litigation attorney. Guitarist Elliot Cahn, an entertainment lawyer, was Green Day's first manager. Bassist Alan Cooper became a professor of theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Singer Dave Garrett operated a musical instrument amplifier company in Long Island. Singer Denny Greene got his law degree at Yale University, worked at Columbia Pictures and taught at several universities until his death from cancer in 2015.

Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie in 1969 and 2018

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Arlo Guthrie in 1969 and 2018

Arlo Guthrie, 72, the son of folk legend Woody Guthrie, was inebriated when he hit the Woodstock stage with a short set that included “Coming Into Los Angeles” but not his marathon antiwar tune “Alice's Restaurant.” He has returned to the site many times to perform and will play at the smaller 50th anniversary event, a free concert at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Aug. 15 in Bethel. In 1991, he founded the nonprofit interfaith church The Guthrie Center, and in 2004, he began writing children's books. He continues to play folk music on tour but no longer considers himself a political activist.

What do you remember about Woodstock? Share your story on our community forum.

Wavy Gravy

Wavy Gravy at Woodstock; and in 2016

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Wavy Gravy in 1969 and 2016

Wavy Gravy, 83, the unofficial Woodstock emcee who also handled security duties with his Please Force, remains a clown and tie-dyed-in-the-wool hippie. He hosts frequent benefits to combat diabetes and blindness, and to support American Indian health initiatives. He was the subject of the 2009 documentary Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie.

Leslie West and Mountain

Mountain circa 1969; Leslie West in 2016

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Mountain circa 1969; Leslie West in 2016

Leslie West and Mountain, best known for the 1970 rock hit “Mississippi Queen,” disbanded in 1972, reuniting frequently over the years. While West, 73, never reached superstardom, he's held in high esteem as a pioneering rock metal guitarist. He got married onstage when Mountain performed at the 40th Woodstock anniversary show in Bethel. In 2011, he lost his right leg to type 2 diabetes. Three months later, he released the solo album Unusual Suspects. Bassist and vocalist Felix Pappalardi, the other key player in Mountain, was shot to death by his wife in 1983.

Final Acts

Woodstock lived up to its promise of peace and music. Music was plentiful and harmony reigned at the hippie mecca, where only two attendees died despite congestion, lack of food and shelter, only 600 toilets, bad weather, rampant drugs and inadequate security.

The death count rose steeply in the years after Woodstock, when many of its key players made their final exits:

  • Dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who donated his field for the festival, died of a heart attack at 52 in 1973.
  • Promoter Bill Graham died at 60 in a helicopter crash in 1991.
  • Jimi Hendrix, whose version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” remains the defining moment of Woodstock, died at 27 in 1970 of asphyxia after a barbiturates overdose. His drummer Mitch Mitchell, long ill with alcohol-related ailments, died in his sleep at 62 while on tour in 2008.
  • Janis Joplin also died at 27 in 1970, of a heroin overdose.
  • British rock/soul belter Joe Cocker, a heavy smoker until 1991, died at 70 in 2014 of lung cancer.
  • Singer/guitarist Alvin Lee of Ten Years After died at 68 in 2013 of complications after routine surgery to correct an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Blues/rock guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter was 70 when he was found dead in 2014 in his Zürich hotel room two days after performing at a festival in France. His producer stated the cause as emphysema and pneumonia.
  • Folk/soul singer Richie Havens was 72 when he died of a heart attack in 2013.
  • Singer/guitarist Tim Hardin died at 39 of a heroin and morphine overdose in 1980.
  • Sitar master and unlikely Woodstock hero Ravi Shankar died of heart disease at 92 in 2012.
  • The Paul Butterfield Blues Band lost its namesake to a morphine overdose in 1987. Half his band is also gone. Bassist Rod Hicks succumbed to cancer in 2013. Sax player Gene Dinwiddie died at 65 of unknown causes in 2002. And drummer Phillip Wilson was murdered at 50 in 1992.
  • Misfortune befell several members of psychedelic folk band Sweetwater. Nansi Nevins suffered brain damage and vocal cord injuries as a result of a car crash, but survived. Cellist August Burns fell out of a construction elevator in Germany in 1979 and died from pneumonia during treatment for his injuries. Drummer Alan Malarowitz died in a car wreck in 1981. Lung cancer killed flutist Albert Moore in 1994.

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