Thursday, December 29, 2011
Looking Back On Those We Lost In 2011
Here is a list of the people in the world of country music for whom the final curtain fell in 2011.
Harley Allen (lung cancer, March 30, age 55): the son of bluegrass great Red Allen was a singer and songwriter on his own, having penned such songs as Dierks Bentley's "My Last Name," John Michael Montgomery's "The Little Girl" and Alan Jackson's "Between the Devil and Me."
Liz Anderson (heart and lung disease, October 28, age 81): Lynn Anderson's mother had a career as a singer ("Mama Spank," "The Game of Triangles") and a songwriter ("(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," her daughter's hit "If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)," and Homer & Jethro's "I Crept Into the Crypt and Cried").
Kenny Baker (stroke, July 8, age 85): he was Bill Monroe's fiddler for a quarter century, and some would argue that he was the best fiddler bluegrass ever saw.
Carl Bunch (complications of diabetes, March 26, age 71): As a 19-year-old he was on tour as Buddy Holly's drummer and found himself in the hospital suffering from frostbite when Holly lost his life. In the 60s he played drums with Hank Williams Jr. and Roy Orbison before retiring to the ministry.
Patsi Bale Cox (emphysema, November 5, age 66): a gifted writer with a passion for country music, she wrote her own books (The Garth Factor) and collaborated with the likes of Loretta Lynn (Still Woman Enough), Tanya Tucker (Nickel Dreams) and Ralph Emery (50 Years Down a Country Road).
Jack Barlow (long illness, July 29, age 87): a singer/songwriter with hits such as "I Love Country Music" and "Catch the Wind," he also recorded a novelty song, "The Man on Page 602," under the pseudonym Zoot Fenster.
Todd Cerney (cancer, March 14, age 57): Songwriter behind the 2002 hit "Good Morning Beautiful" and "I'll Still Be Loving You."
Buddy Charleton (lung cancer, January 25, age 72): No one needed Ernest Tubb to say, "Ah, Buddy now," when Charleton took a steel guitar break in an Ernest Tubb song because we all knew that distinctive sound that made songs such as "Waltz Across Texas" the classics they are.
Wilma Lee Cooper (natural causes, September 13, age 90): 100% pure country mountain music from start to finish, Wilma Lee started with husband Stoney and continued on the Opry after his death until a 2001 stroke left her unable to perform.
Charlie Craig (lung cancer, July 1, age 73): Songwriter behind "She's Single Again" by Janie Fricke and "Wanted" by Alan Jackson.
Hazel Dickens (pneumonia, April 22, age 75): A recipient of IBMA's Distinguished Achievement award, Hazel was the child of hard times in West Virginia who could articulate those emotions in song, then deliver them, like no one else.
Joel "Taz" DiGregorio (car wreck, October 12, age 67): Charlie Daniel's keyboard player and songwriting partner for nearly 40 years, he wrote the fan favorite "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
Charlie Douglas (ne Douglas China, unknown cause, November 24, age 78): Charlie invented a new format for radio: the overnight "trucker" show. He was a staple on New Orleans' WWL and Nashville's WSM.
Lamar Fike (non-Hodgken's lymphoma, January 21, age 75): The second-longest tenured member of Elvis' "Memphis Mafia," he co-wrote Elvis and the Memphis Mafia. He also served as Brenda Lee's road manager in the 60s and was a Capitol Records executive under Jimmy Bowen.
Billy Grammer (long illness, August 10, age 85): A guitar designer and well-loved session man, he scored a huge hit in 1959 with "Gotta Travel On."
Marshall Grant (brain aneurysm, August 6, age 83): The final member of Johnny Cash's seminal original backing band the Tennessee Two, he was stricken while preparing to perform at a show in Arkansas to raise money to preserve Cash's boyhood home.
Carlton Haney (stroke, March 16, age 82): The name may not ring a bell, but every bluegrass fan is indebted to Haney. He is credited with organizing bluegrass music's first festival. He was also the booking agent for the likes of Bill Monroe and Reno & Smiley.
Warren Hellman (leukemia, December 18, age 77): San Francisco businessman who founded and helped finance the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which, with line-ups that included everyone from Elvis Costello to Hazel Dickens and the New Coon Creek Girls, was exactly what the name implied.
Ferlin Husky (colon cancer/congestive heart failure, March 17, age 85): Simon Crum's best friend gave the world two massive crossover hits: 1957's "Gone" and 1960's "Wings of a Dove." He died shortly after it was announced that his "A Dear John Letter" singing partner, Jean Shepard, was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor Husky received in 2010.
Gene Kurtz (cancer, October 24, age 68): Co-writer of the hit "Treat Her Right," Kurtz spent many years playing in the Austin alt-country scene.
Charlie Louvin (pancreatic cancer, January 26, age 83): The Louvin Brothers didn't invent harmony, they just made it sound that way. After Ira's death in 1965 Charlie continued on a solo career that he once said was more commercially successful than the Louvin Brothers', but it's the unbelievable harmonies he made with Ira that will keep him forever in our hearts.
Wade Mainer (congestive heart failure, September 12, age 104): Jethro Burns said in 1984 that Mainer belonged in the Hall of Fame because he was a true pioneer in the world of country music. He was older than country music and served it faithfully for over 70 years.
Johnny Mathis (pneumonia, September 27, age 80): Before there was a pop singer there was Country Johnny Mathis. His partnership with Johnny Lee Fautheree as Jimmy & Johnny yielded the smash "If You Don't Somebody Else Will." Songs he wrote were recorded by the likes of Ray Price, Johnny Paycheck, and George Jones.
Mel McDaniel (lung cancer, March 31, age 68): Country singer and Opry member who had a string of hits in the 1980s including "Louisiana Saturday Night," "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On," and "Big Ole Brew."
Huey Meaux (illness, April 23, age 82): In addition to discovering the Sir Douglas Quintet he owned Sugar Hill Studios and introduced the world to "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" by Freddy Fender.
Ralph Mooney (kidney cancer, March 20, age 82): One of country music's greatest steel guitarists, he wrote Ray Price's classic "Crazy Arms" and played with the likes of Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings.
Roger Nichols (pancreatic cancer, April 9, age 66): Steely Dan listed him as "the immortal" on their albums in the 1970s, but Nichols also worked with country acts including Rosanne Cash and John Denver (with whom he won a Grammy).
Joe Paul Nichols (Lou Gehrig's Disease, July 27, age 69): One of the die-hard traditional country performers on the Heart of Texas label, he was also a member of the International Country Gospel Music Association.
James O'Gwynn (pneumonia, January 19, age 82): Known as "the Smiling Irishman of Country Music," his best-known songs were "House of Blue Lovers" and "My Name is Mud."
Bobby Poe (blood clot, January 22, age 77): Rockabilly performer who began his career as a member of Wanda Jackson's band.
Johnny Preston (heart failure, March 4, age 71): His massive 1959 smash "Running Bear" (which was later covered by Sonny James) featured backing vocals and guitar work by George Jones and was written by "Beggar to a King" songwriter J.P. (Big Bopper) Richardson.
Jody Rainwater (ne Charles Johnson; complications of heart attack and other ailments, December 24, age 92): The one-time bass player for Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs was also a longtime and well-loved disc jockey on WSVS in Virginia.
Billie Jo Spears (cancer, December 14, age 74): Gifted singer with hits over three decades such as "Mr. Walker, It's All Over" and "Blanket on the Ground."
Dan "Bee" Spears (exposure after falling outside his home, December 8, age 62): Willie Nelson's bassist for over four decades and the backbone of his band.
Joe Taylor (heart disease, March 24, age 89): A Hoosier native who was content to play his music in Indiana instead of seeking national fame, he nevertheless found it when his song "He's a Cowboy Auctioneer" was recorded by Tex Ritter.
Buster Turner (unknown causes, March 3, age 82): An east Tennessee-based country, bluegrass and gospel performer who gave us the classic song "Beautiful Altar of Prayer."
Don Wayne (illness, September 12, age 78): Songwriter who wrote the classics "Country Bumpkin" and "Saginaw, Michigan."
Margaret Whiting (natural causes, January 11, age 86): Primarily known as a pop singer, she hit the country charts numerous times as Jimmy Wakely's duet partner on hits like "Slippin' Around."
Doc Williams (natural causes, January 31, age 96): A longtime member of the Wheeling Jamboree and influence on countless West Virginia country musicians such as Brad Paisley.
Jim Williamson (COPD, January 24, age 75): Longtime recording engineer who worked on songs like "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Stand By Your Man" and "Rose Garden."
Randy Wood (complications of a fall, April 9, age 94): The man who gave us Dot Records, early home of acts such as Mac Wiseman, Bonnie Guitar, Roy Clark and Barbara Mandrell.
Johnnie Wright (natural causes, September 27, age 97): Mr. Kitty Wells had a long career with duet partner Jack Anglin as Johnnie & Jack as well as a successful solo career.
Paul Yandell (cancer, November 21, age 76): A skinny kid who idolized Chet Atkins joined the Louvin Brothers' band in the 50s and eventually became Chet's right-hand guitarist and the last person to be designated a Certified Guitar Picker.
Farewell, and thank you for the music.
Independent scholar and free-lance writer since 1989, K.F. Raizor's work has appeared in "Lefthander" magazine and "Hard Country Beat", and hosted a column from 1994 until the magazine ceased publication in 1998. You can look forward to an upcoming project on Country Music Hall of Famers Homer and Jethro. Check out the country blog at Raizor's Edge.