Rocking from beyond the grave

News that Queen are to re-form despite the absence of Freddie Mercury has been greeted with some surprise. Yet many rock bands survive the death of, well, most of their members
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When Queen, the biggest and most theatrical British act of the Seventies and Eighties, announced yesterday they were going back on the road, the question all true Queen fans were asking was: who would fill the spangled leotards left empty by Freddie Mercury's death from Aids in 1991?

When Queen, the biggest and most theatrical British act of the Seventies and Eighties, announced yesterday they were going back on the road, the question all true Queen fans were asking was: who would fill the spangled leotards left empty by Freddie Mercury's death from Aids in 1991?

The answer, according to Queen's guitarist Brian May, is none other than one of Middlesbrough's most famous exports, Paul Rodgers, whose powerful vocal performances elevated his band Free to the forefront of the British blues revival in the 1960s.

He later enjoyed success with Bad Company and apparently hit it off so well with May and drummer Roger Taylor during a collaboration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fender guitar that the three have decided to make it a permanent gig.

"Suddenly the Queen phoenix is rising again from the ashes," May said yesterday. After the Fender concert, Rodgers, May and Taylor performed for Queen's induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame. "The show went so incredibly well that we decided almost then and there that we would look at a tour together," May explained on his website. While Queen have performed with a number of singers since the death of their flamboyant front man, they have not toured. The original bassist, John Deacon, has also given up performing live with the band.

With rock 'n' roll moving into its sixth decade, the next few years promise an ever-growing number of musicians left without a permanent berth. The average age at which a rock star dies has been calculated at 36.9 years, nearly half that of the average United States citizen. Drug abuse rivals heart disease as the primary killer, with suicide, car crash, murder and alcohol all competing with mainstream medical ailments such as cancer and brain tumour to raise the body count.

Rodger's ex-bandmate from Free, Paul Kossoff, died in 1976 at the tragically early age of 25. He lived for three years longer than Buddy Holly, who was killed in a plane crash in 1959, but whose band The Crickets toured as recently as 2002. Holly in turn was a year older than Sid Vicious, whose band the Sex Pistols re-formed to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Individual stars may come and go, but it seems that the bands that spawn them have a stubborn habit of coming back for an encore.

The Doors

When a bloated and egomaniacal Jim Morrison died in a Parisian bath tub in 1971, most observers felt this effectively slammed the future shut on The Doors, regarded by their adoring fans as the West Coast shamans of pyschedelia. Two limp albums followed without their charismatic front man. But this year, surviving keyboardist Ray Manzarek, now in his sixties, and fiftysomething guitarist Robbie Krieger, recruited Eighties Goth idol Ian Astbury from The Cult. Astbury's vocal style and appearance managed to capture the spirit as well as the likeness of the late Lizard King, and the band is now playing under the name The Doors of the 21st Century - despite strenuous objections from Morrison's estate and original drummer John Densmore, now a film producer. Their lawyers argue that the new Doors are merely a tribute band. However, the fans, who continue to worship at Morrison's graffiti-covered grave in Paris, think they're wonderful.

Allman Brothers

The pioneering country rock band had its musical heart ripped out when singer/ guitarist Duane Allman died in a road accident in 1971. Almost immediately bass guitarist Berry Oakley was killed in a smash, three blocks from where Duane died. They continue to tour and record.

Canned Heat

Woodstock headliners Canned Heat suffered some of the heaviest losses in rock. Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson committed suicide in 1970. In 1981 Bob "The Bear" Hite died from a heart attack on stage. And Henry "The Sunflower" Vestine died at the end of a tour in 1997.

The Who

The Who have lost not only Keith Moon, perhaps the finest and certainly the craziest rock drummer of his generation, but also virtuoso bassist John Entwistle. Moon died in 1978 after an accidental drug overdose, Entwistle (who also fronted his own band, Ox, possibly one of the loudest in rock), suffered a heart attack in a Las Vegas hotel room 24 years later. The addition this year to the line up of Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums and Pino Palladino on bass earned them considerable critical acclaim following a series of live dates. A tour and a studio album are now planned.

New York Dolls

When the New York Dolls re-formed for this year's Meltdown festival, only three surviving members turned up. Founding drummer Bill Murcia died from an overdose in 1972, and his replacement Jerry Nolan died from a stroke two decades later. Guitarist Johnny Thunders died in 1991, also from an overdose. Bass player Arthur "Killer" Kane died from leukaemia only a month after the reunion gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

Grateful Dead

The Dead have lost four members, including the band's founder, Jerry Garcia, who died from a heart attack in 1995. The Spinal Tap-style curse on the Dead's piano stool has sent three keyboard players to an early grave - Ron Pigpen McKernan, from liver failure in 1973, Keith Godchaux, 1980, in a car accident and Brent Mydland from an overdose in 1990.

Sex Pistols

When Sid Vicious died from a heroin overdose in February 1979, the band was already at the end of its brief but incendiary creative life. In a move which defied cynicism, they decided to reform with original bassist Glen Matlock for a series of concerts including one in Finsbury Park in 1996. The group got back together again to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.