Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Curtain Falls On Many Country Music Voices In 2020

K.F. Raizor, author of the website Raizor's Edge and the book We Can't Sing and We Ain't Funny: The World of Homer and Jethro is our guest writer today on That Nashville Sound. She lists some of the musicians and singers we lost along the way in country music this year. 

Hal Ketchum
Here are the people from the world of country music for whom the final curtain fell in 2020. 

Biff Adam (March 7, congestive heart failure, age 83): longtime drummer for Merle Haggard.

Tom Annastas (August 12, heart attack, age 67): longtime vice president of general licensing at BMI Nashville.

William "Bucky" Baxter (May 25, unknown cause, age 65): pedal steel guitarist who co-founded Steve Earle's backing band, the Dukes, and also played steel with Bob Dylan on the "Never-Ending Tour."

Mac Benford (February 15, cancer, age 79): traditional clawhammer-style banjo player and teacher and member of the Highwoods String Band.

Margie Bowes (October 22, illness, age 79): country singer best remembered for “Poor Old Heartsick Me” in 1959.  She was also the ex-wife of Doyle Wilburn.

Jim Brewer (September 12, leukemia, age 82): father of bluegrass singer Gary Brewer, and a frequent member in Brewer's band, the Kentucky Ramblers.

Johnny Bush (October 16, pneumonia, age 85): Texas-born and bred hard country singer with a great voice and a great songwriting pen.  Among his compositions was Willie Nelson's signature tune, "Whiskey River."

Stan Byrd (May 23, unknown cause, age 77): longtime music executive in Nashville who worked for CBS, Asylum, and Warner Brothers' country divisions.

Buddy Cage (February 4, multiple myeloma, age 73): pedal steel guitarist for the country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Jimmy Capps (June 2, unknown cause, age 81): Musicians Hall of Fame guitar player who was a member of the Opry Staff Band and backed some of the biggest names in country music for over 60 years.

Pete Carr (June 27, unknown cause, age 70): Muscle Shoals guitarist who backed countless performers in the studio from country to pop to rock in a Musicians Hall of Fame career.

Wayne Chandler (August 7, renal cancer, age 54): Nashville tourism/hospitality executive who had worked with Kitty Wells and was also the onetime owner of the Nashville Nightlife Theater.

Arthur Connor (April 13, natural causes, age 95): legendary fiddle maker whose instruments were preferred by the likes of Ricky Skaggs.  He also had his own bluegrass band, the Connor Brothers.

J.T. Corenflos (October 24, pneumonia, age 56): widely-used guitarist who began as a member of Jean Shepard's backing band and went on to award-winning work as a session man.

*Charlie Daniels (July 6, stroke, age 83): Country Music Hall of Fame member who was active for seven decades as a producer, session man, and chart-topping performer in country and southern rock.

Chris Darrow (January 15, stroke, age 75): pioneering country-rock  multi-instrumentalist who worked with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and in Linda Ronstadt's early pre-Eagles backing band.

Mac Davis (September 29, complications of heart surgery, age 78): gifted Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member who served as songwriter (Elvis' "In the Ghetto"), actor (North Dallas Forty), and singer who entertained country and pop audiences in the 70s and 80s.

Tony DeBoer (May 20, brain aneurysm, age 81): the "grandfather of Canadian bluegrass" who founded the River Valley Music Park for bluegrass festivals in Ontario.

John Denny (July 21, Alzheimer's disease, age 79): the son of Hall of Fame member Jim Denny was in charge of Cedarwood Publishing for years.  He also owned Denny's Den studio and was a founding member of R.O.P.E. (Reunion Of Professional Entertainers).  His widow, Pandora, died a month later.

Joe Diffie (March 29, COVID-19, age 61): one of the “no hat” country stars of the 90s whose hits included “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” and “New Way (To Light Up an Old Flame).”

Carl Dobkins Jr. (April 8, unknown cause, age 79): Rockabilly Hall of Fame singer whose biggest hit was 1959's "My Heart Is an Open Book."

Rick Durrett (October 6, unknown cause, age 75): a member of the rock band Coven (of "One Tin Soldier" fame) who later became the keyboard player for Crystal Gaylle's band.

Justin Townes Earle (August 20, accidental drug overdose, age 38): the award-winning, critically-acclaimed Americana singer/songwriter was also the son of Steve Earle.

Paul English (February 12, pneumonia, age 87): Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and the “Paul” in Willie’s song “Me and Paul.”

Randy Frazier (June 19, long illness, age 60): musician who played with McBride and the Ride and Sammy Kershaw. 

Bryan Wayne Galentine (October 22, ALS, age 53): songwriter who composed modern hits such as Chris Cagle's "Country By the Grace of God" and Tommy Shane Steiner's "What If She's an Angel."

Benny Garcia (May 7, pancreatic cancer, age 64): longtime guitar technician for Vince Gill.

Steve Gulley (August 18, pancreatic cancer, age 57): well-loved bluegrass musician who co-founded the band Mountain Heart after a stint with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

Joe Halterman (February 11, unknown cause, age 69): drummer for a number of stars, including Bob Luman, and co-writer of the 1983 Whites hit "I Wonder Who's Holding My Baby Tonight."

James Hand (June 8, heart failure, age 67): traditional country and Ameripolitan star, Ameripolitan "male vocalist" award winner, and the man who traditionally opened the Ameripolitan Awards program with his pure honky tonk music.

Alex Harvey (April 4, unknown cause, age 73): songwriter who gave us such massive hits as "Delta Dawn" (Tayna Tucker), "Reuben James" (Kenny Rogers & the First Edition), and "Rings" (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers).

Roy Head (September 21, heart attack, age 79): Rockabilly Hall of Fame member who wrote and originally recorded "Treat Her Right," a song that was later covered by the likes of Billy "Crash" Craddock and Barbara Mandrell.

Jimmy Henley (March 22, throat cancer, age 56): Tulsa-based bluegrass banjo player who got his start playing with Roy Clark on Hee Haw.

W.S. "Fluke" Holland (September 23, short illness, age 85): original drummer in Johnny Cash's Tennessee Three who also worked with a wide variety of acts from Johnny Horton to Dale Watson.

Robb Houston (March 16, ALS, age 57): guitarist who worked for Randy Travis, Brothers Phelps, and on the TV series Nashville Star.

Jan Howard (March 28, natural causes, age 91): "Grand Lady of the Grand Ole Opry" country singer with a career that began with her singing then-husband Harlan Howard's songs for demos and blossomed into a career that included hits with Wynn Stewart, Bill Anderson, and solo success.

Kenny Ingram (July 26, stroke, age 67): much-loved banjo player who began as a member of Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and went on to perform with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Larry Stephenson, and over 200 different recordings.

Teddy Irwin (November 5, unknown cause, age 77): multifaceted session guitarist whose list of credits run from John Lennon to Randy Travis.

Wade Jackson (January 14, complications of a stroke, age 90): singer and songwriter whose lasting legacy is the Stonewall Jackson hit "Don't Be Angry."

Joe Johnson (December 22, natural causes, age 93): co-founder of the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and longtime figure in country music at labels such as Four Star, Challenge, and Columbia.

Larry W. Johnson (June 12, cancer, age 69): co-writer of Tim McGraw's first hit, "Don't Take the Girl."  The song's other writer, Craig Martin, also died this year.

Troy Jones (September 11, electrocuted, age 64): songwriter best-known for Billy Currington's "People Are Crazy."

John B. Kaparakis (April 12, unknown cause, age 82): bluegrass guitarist who worked with the Lonesome River Boys, Hazel Dickens, and Kenny Baker.  He was also a journalist at Bluegrass Unlimited. 

Ramsey Kearney (March 14, unknown cause, age 86): songwriter whose best-known work was "Emotions," which he co-wrote with Mel Tillis. 

Susan Keel (November 20, unknown cause, age 58): Nashville PR agent whose clients ranged from the Tennessee Titans to Ray Stevens.

Dan Kelly (July 22, heart attack, age 54): fiddler in the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band.

Benjamin Keough (July 12, suicide [gunshot], age 27): the grandson of Elvis Presley.

Stan Kesler (October 26, unknown cause, age 92): Sun Records studio musician and songwriter whose credits include "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" and "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone."

Hal Ketchum (November 23, dementia, age 67): country singer with a string of hit singles in the 80s and 90s, including "Small Town Saturday Night," "Mama Knows the Highway," and "Past the Point of Rescue."

Thom King (April 24, heart attack, age 65): Nashville-based photographer and journalist whose works included co-writing Danny Davis' memoir Guess Who I Met Today! 

Bob Loflin (November 16, unknown cause, age 91): former DJ at WSM and announcer on the Grand Ole Opry who also did interviews for the syndicated radio program Country Crossroads. 

Sonny Lonas (June 30, unknown cause, age 81): Virginia-based drummer who followed Patsy Cline to Nashville and later drummed for Ernest Tubb.

Jim Lusk (April 25, unknown cause, age 80): front man of Jim Lusk and the Counterfeit Cowboys and songwriter of "It Started All Over Again" by Vern Gosdin.

Bill Mack (July 31, COVID-19, age 91): Country Music DJ Hall of Fame member whose "Midnight Cowboy" radio show kept long-haul truck drivers company on overnight runs for decades.  He also wrote the hits "Drinking Champagne" and "Blue."

Carl Mann (December 15, unknown cause, age 78): rockabilly member of the Sun Records roster in the late 50s, best-known for his rockabilly rendition of "Mona Lisa."

Marty Martel (March 29, unknown cause, age 81): former manager for Johnny Paycheck and the booking agent for the "Legends Fest" concerts for country greats.

Craig Martin (July 3, unknown cause, age 52): co-writer of Tim McGraw's breakthrough hit "Don't Take the Girl."  The song's other writer, Larry W. Johnson, also passed away this year.

Kirke Martin (December 16, cancer, age 70): manager for music acts ranging from the Dirt Band and T. Graham Brown to numerous contemporary Christian bands.

Lynsey McDonald (November 23, multiple myeloma, age 58): co-founder of the "Music City Roots" program and Americana/alt-country executive working in the careers of Jason & the Scorchers, Robbie Fulks, Deanna Carter, and Todd Snider.

Bill McEuen (September 24, unknown cause, age 79): the brother of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band co-founder John McEuen, he served as the producer for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, including the legendary album Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  He was also Steve Martin's manager in Martin's stand-up comedy days.

Gary McSpadden (April 15, pancreatic cancer, age 77): gospel singer and songwriter who was a member of the gospel-era Oak Ridge Quartet.

Edward "Felix" McTeigue (July 24, post-surgery complications, age 48): producer and songwriter whose credits included the #1 Florida-Georgia Line song "Anything Goes."

Joe Meador (October 21, Lewy body dementia, age 73): manager for Ronnie McDowell and co-writer of McDowell's hits "All Tied Up," "Never Too Old to Rock and Roll," and "Lovin' That Crazy Feeling."

Walter C. Miller (November 13, pneumonia, age 94): producer of numerous television music specials, including a 35-year stint as producer of the CMA Awards program.

Bonnie Lou Moore (September 21, natural causes, age 91): half of the Knoxville-based radio, recording, and TV country and gospel duet "Bonnie Lou and Buster."

Jamie Oldaker (July 16, cancer, age 68): multi-genre drummer who played in the Tractors and worked with other acts as diverse as Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, and Asleep At the Wheel.

David Olney (January 18, heart attack, age 71): much-loved Americana singer/songwriter whose songs were covered by acts such as Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.  Olney suffered a fatal heart attack onstage during a performance at the 30A Festival in Florida.

K.T. Oslin (December 21, COVID-19/Parkinson's disease, age 78): Grammy-winning "late-blooming" singer/songwriter whose first major hit "80s Ladies" came when she was 46 years old.

Charles "Fuzzy" Owen (May 11, kidney failure, age 91): one of the mainstays of the Bakersfield Sound, working with many of the then-unknown performers such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.  He was also a songwriter, having penned Ray Price's "The Same Old Me" and the classic "A Dear John Letter" by Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard.

Jim Owen (March 7, unknown cause, age 78): songwriter whose best-known compositions include "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" and Jim Ed Brown's hit "Southern Loving."

Ira Parker (January 24, unknown cause, age 63): hairstylist and personal assistant for Dolly Parton.

Little Richard Penniman (May 9, bone cancer, age 87): the "architect of rock and roll" touched all genres of music, including country thanks to Waylon Jennings' hit cover of "Lucille."

Ray Pennington (October 7, house fire, age 86): country songwriter whose list of credits include the Waylon Jennings classic "I'm a Ramblin' Man."

Knox Phillips (April 15, cancer, age 74): the son of the legendary Sam Phillips was also a well-respected producer who worked with the likes of John Prine, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Willie Nelson.

Bonnie Pointer (June 8, cardiac arrest, age 69): a member of the legendary R&B group the Pointer Sisters, she wrote the 1974 country crossover and Grammy-winning hit "Fairytale" in tribute to her love for country music.

*Charley Pride (December 12, COVID-19, age 86): Country Music Hall of Fame country singer who had an impressive string of top ten hits from 1967 to 1984, including the crossover hit "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'." 

John Prine (April 7, COVID-19, age 73): Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member who knew his way around three chords and phrases better than just about anyone in his generation.

Bill Pursell (September 3, COVID-related pneumonia, age 94): songwriter ("Our Winter Love") and much in-demand session piano player for most of the country acts in the 60s through 80s.

John Ragsdale (March 25, fall, age 75): brother of Hall of Fame member Ray Stevens who worked as song co-writer, emcee, and business manager.

Glenn Ray (June 11, unknown cause, age 82): songwriter whose biggest success was "I Just Came Home to Count the Memories," a hit for Bobby Wright, Cal Smith, and John Anderson over the years.

Ellen Reeves (September 15, unknown cause, age 87): the widow of country star Del Reeves and songwriter behind Rose Maddox's hit "Sing a Little Song of Heartache." 

*Harold Reid (April 24, kidney failure, age 80): the bass singer and main comedian for the Statler Brothers.  He also was Lester “Roadhog” Moran in that classic spoof of small-town radio shows.

Tony Rice (December 25, unknown cause, age 69): Bluegrass Hall of Fame guitarist and singer who influenced generations of bluegrass guitarists who came after him.

Dave Rich (March 18, unknown cause, age 84): Rockabilly Hall of Fame singer whose career in country music was minimal but very significant, thanks to his recording of Bill Anderson's song "City Lights."

*Kenny Rogers (March 20, cancer, age 81): Country Music Hall of Fame singer whose career spanned seven decades and covered the genres of country, pop, and rock.

Alan Schulman (June 24, unknown cause, age 66): Muscle Shoals-based Grammy-winning recording engineer who worked with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Alabama, and Ronnie Milsap.

Eddie Setser (January 17, unknown cause, age 77): songwriter whose greatest claim to fame was co-writing the Willie Nelson/Ray Charles duet "Seven Spanish Angels."

Bob Shane (January 26, pneumonia, age 85): the last original member of the folk group the Kingston Trio, whose "Tom Dooley" won the first country music Grammy award in 1958.

Billy Joe Shaver (October 28, stroke, age 81): legendary Texas “outlaw” country singer and songwriter whose contributions to the country songbook included “Ride Me Down Easy,” “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” and “Honky Tonk Heroes.”

Lucille Starr (September 4, unknown cause, age 82): Canadian country music singer whose "The French Song" was a hit in both Canada and the US. 

Doug Supernaw (November 13, bladder and lung cancer, age 60): 90s country singer with a string of hits including “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” and “Reno.”

Gary Walker (July 8, unknown cause, age 87): songwriter behind hits such as Carl Smith's "Trademark" and Jim Reeves' "According to My Heart."  Later operated Nashville's legendary used record store the Great Escape.

Jerry Jeff Walker (October 23, throat cancer, age 78): “gonzo” country great who wrote the classic “Mr. Bojangles” and was an “outlaw” in country before it was cool.

Eric Weissberg (March 22, Alzheimer's disease, age 80): musician whose recording of "Deuling Banjoes" was featured in the movie Deliverance and became an international hit.

Wanda White (December 15, natural causes, age 87): WNOX Midday Merry-Go-Round performer who also performed on the Opry as a member of Carlton Scruggs and the Down Home Folks.

Dick Whitehouse (January 14, cause and age unknown): longtime Curb Records executive who helped get acts such as Lyle Lovett, Junior Brown, and Sawyer Brown on the label.

Katherine Williams-Dunning (June 13, car wreck, age 27): daughter of Hank Williams Jr., and sister to singers Hank III and Holly Williams.

Farewell, and thank you for the music.

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