Nashville-Related Music Obituaries – 2017
As the year draws to a close, we reflect on the staggering number of folks in our music community who will not be with us in 2018.
The Country Music Hall of Fame was particularly hard hit, losing Don Williams, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis and Jo Walker-Meador. Departed Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers who had an enduring impact on Nashville music included Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman and Tom Petty.
The bluegrass world lost Pete Kuykendall and Dave Evans, among others. Nashville’s r&b community mourned the departures of two of its most important contributors, Jesse Boyce and Robert Knight.
And what can you say of Nashville Songwriters Hall member Norro Wilson, pop-country hit man Michael Johnson, Americana grandfather Richard Dobson, country DJ Rhubarb Jones, the Opry’s Troy Gentry, Gospel Hall of Famer Ben Speer and Music Row industry figure Dave Wheeler? To know them was to love them.
Here’s a roll call of some others who have left us during the past year.
BRADLEY GORDON SMITH, 55, died Dec. 15, 2016.
Nashville music attorney and guitarist. Original member Young Nashvillians. Entertained at Silver Dollar Saloon on Broadway. Early proponent of fretless guitar. Performing innovator teaming guitar with computer generated music.
KEN DAVIDSON, 75, died Dec. 20, 2016.
Founder of Kanawha Records, Poca River Records, Tri-Agle-Far Records, which issued bluegrass and old-time music discs by fiddler Clark Kessinger and others.
BILLY JOE BURNETTE, 76, died Dec. 29, 2016.
Singer-songwriter best known for Red Sovine 1976 million-selling hit “Teddy Bear.” Also co-wrote “answer song” “Teddy Bear’s Last Ride” (Diana Williams 1976). Writer and plugger for Cedarwood. Previously pop recording artist with singles “Marlene,” “Stomp, Shout and Twist,” “Billy the Kid,” “Blue Misery,” etc. LP Welcome Home, Elvis. Recorded for Parkway, Warner Bros., Magic Lamp, Deville, Gold Standard, Badger. In recent years, talent agent at own Ross Agency.
GEORGE DUNGAN EDWARDS, 79, died Dec. 29, 2016.
Steel guitarist and dobro player who worked on road and/or in studio with Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Frankie Avalon, Rosemary Clooney, Manhattan Transfer.
RUTH WHITE, 79, died Dec. 30, 2016.
Nashville music biz fixture in publishing, office management, record-label operations, music retailing. Best known as copyright administrator. Career stops included Strobel’s Music Shop, Zibart’s record store, Locomotive Music, Hickory Records, October Records, Sounds of Nashville, Reed Music, Porter Wagoner Enterprises, Country International Records. Aided songwriters Carmol Taylor, Norro Wilson, Sonny James, Gary Gentry, Joe Stampley, Nashville Superpickers, Howard White, etc. Later a music historian with books Every Highway Out of Nashville (with Howard White, 1990), The Original Goober (with Goober Buchanan, 2004), You Can Make It If You Try (with Ted Jarrett, 2005), Nashville Steeler (with Don Davis, 2012), Every Highway Out of Nashville Vol. 2 (2014), Knoxville’s Merry-Go Round (2016). SOURCE honoree 2010. Widow of steel guitarist/publisher Howard White (1926-2008).
JOE M. WRIGHT, 79, died Jan. 3
Lead guitarist in Teardrops band of Marty Robbins in 1950s. Became songwriter 1960s & 1970s with Claude Gray singles “Don’t Give Me a Chance” (1969), “Everything Will Be Alright” (1970), “What Every Woman Wants to Hear” (1972). Since 1977 president/owner of Gray Stone Press selling fine art prints of cowboy, Indian, NFL, Civil War, western landscape subjects.
SAM LOVULLO, 88, died Jan. 3.
Producer of country variety TV series Hee Haw for 25 years, 1969-1993. Also its casting director, hiring Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Stringbean, George Lindsey, Roni Stoneman, Archie Campbell and cohosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens, plus personalities Junior Samples, Gordie Tapp, Lulu Roman, Gunilla Hutton, Gailard Sartain, Misty Rowe, Cathy Baker, Don Harron, Linda Thompson, Lisa Todd, Barbi Benton, Hager Twins, Marianne Gordon. Also produced spin-off series Hee Haw Honeys. Other TV credits Nashville Palace, Sing Out Sweet Land. Previously CBS financial administrator of Lassie, Beverly Hillbillies, Judy Garland Show, etc. Associate producer of Jonathan Winters Show, 1967-69. Book: Life in the Cornfield: My 25 Years at Hee Haw (1996).
HAYWARD BISHOP JR., 71, died Jan. 4.
Music Row drummer on records by Alabama, Perry Como, Brenda Lee, Carl Perkins, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Ronnie Milsap, Chet Atkins, Charley Pride, etc.
CAROL JEAN SANFORD, 80, died Jan. 10.
Former Shreveport, LA performer on stage, radio, television. Wife of Nashville musician Billy Sanford.
TOMMY ALLSUP, 85, died Jan. 11.
Guitarist, producer, recording artist. Member of Johnnie Lee Wills band 1952. Recorded “It’s So Easy,” “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” “Heartbeat” backing Buddy Holly 1958. Gave up seat on doomed plane to Ritchie Valens, who perished with Holly and Big Bopper 1959. Became session guitarist in L.A., playing on hits by Ventures, Gary Lewis & Playboys, etc. Executive at Liberty Records, producing Willie Nelson, Tex Williams, Bob Wills. In Nashville 1970s, played on records by George Jones, Marty Robbins, Reba, Ferlin, Faron, Lynn Anderson, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, etc. Produced five LPs for Asleep at the Wheel. Head of Metromedia Records. Following death of Bob Wills, fronted Original Texas Playboys for several decades. Own LPs included Twistin’ the Country Classics (1962), Tommy Allsup Plays the Buddy Holly Songbook (1965), The Hits of Charley Pride (1969), Tommy Allsup & The Tennessee Saxes Play the Hits of Tammy Wynette (1971), Country Guitars (1994), Tommy Allsup’s Gospel Guitar (2000), True Love Ways (2001) and Precious Guitar (with Billy Grammer, 2010). Member of Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Son Austin Allsup competed on The Voice in 2016.
ALAN JABBOUR, 74, died Jan. 13.
Folklorist and fiddler. Head of the Archive of Folk Song and American Folklife Center at Library of Congress 1969-1999. Also formerly at National Endowment for the Arts as head of its folk arts programs 1974-75. Member of Hollow Rock String Band, cornerstone act of the old-time country scene in Durham/Chapel Hill in 1960s. Produced LPs American Fiddle Tunes (1971), The Hammons Family (1973), Shaking Down the Acorns (1973). Recorded own fiddle albums A Henry Reed Reunion (2002), Southern Summits (2005) and You Can’t Beat the Classics (2015).
JEAN PRINCE WAGGONER, 81, died Jan. 14
Former president of the Tennessee Theatre Association. Appeared in off-Broadway musicals in New York. Longtime Nashville drama teacher.
“AUNT LIZ” CHRISTOPHER, 93, died Jan. 14.
Kentucky & Tennessee radio performer with Miles Sisters, Brewster Brothers, Bailey Brothers. Joined Esco Hankins & The Crazy Tennesseans 1946 as singer/guitarist/comic on WNOX “Tennessee Barn Dance” in Knoxville, on King Records, on “Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance” in Lexington. (full name: Mary Elizabeth Christopher).
GREG TROOPER, 61, died Jan. 15.
Americana singer-songwriter. Songs recorded by Vince Gill, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Walt Wilkins, Mara O’Connell, Tom Russell, Billy Bragg, etc. Recorded 13 albums of his music.
FREEMAN BROWN, 74, died Jan. 17.
Nashville r&b drummer who backed Jimmy Church, Marion James, Johnny Jones, Bottom & Company, etc. Member of the New Era Club’s Imperials house band. Formerly of Fame Gang studio ensemble in Muscle Shoals and in house bands of Night Train and The!!! Beat WLAC-TV series.
MAGGIE ROCHE, 65, died Jan. 21.
Folk singer-songwriter and member of the sister act The Roches. Group recorded several albums and sang backup on records by Kathy Mattea, Paul Simon, Indigo Girls, Loudon Wainwright III, among others.
BRIAN TABOR, 51, died Jan. 29.
Songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Ricky Van Shelton, others. Charted titles include “Another Perfect Day” (Blake & Brian, 1997), “Heart Shaped World” (Jessica Andrews, 1999).
DANNY LEE JONES, 77, died Feb. 3.
Founding member of Bluegrass Alliance. Mandolinist/guitarist previously in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys (1971) and Roland White Band.
JIMMY SMART, 85, died Feb. 5.
Country singer-songwriter who hosted local-access and online TV shows Nashville Video Showcase (2001-2014) and Smart Country (2014-2016). Recorded singles for labels Jed, Bear Creek, Chancellor, Ponzer, Tulip. Also performed in local group The Poison Oaks.
TOMMY FLINT, 82, died Feb. 6.
Guitarist who shared stages with Cher, Elvis, Chet, Dolly, Ray Charles, Merle Travis, Glen Campbell, etc. Journalist for Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, author of 40 guitar instructional books, plus instructional CDs and videos.
CHARLES E. JUSTICE, 81, died Feb. 7.
Fiddler and guitarist who backed George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Mel Tillis, Connie Smith, Ray Price, etc.
KITTY MOON EMERY, 70, died Feb. 8.
Major civic and entertainment-industry leader. During five-decade career, left her mark on worlds of music, tourism, sports, politics, philanthropy and more. Dynamo on dozens of boards overseeing professional sports, symphony, film/video production, banks, country music and charitable organizations. Former president of both CMA and Leadership Music. Key figure on Metro Sports Authority board for more than a decade — its chairwoman when Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans lured to Music City. Founder of Scene Three Inc., once Tennessee’s largest video company. Produced music videos for dozens of stars in 1980s and 1990s — Statler Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, Oak Ridge Boys, Ray Charles, Amy Grant, Crystal Gayle, Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless, Sawyer Brown, etc. Among Scene Three’s videos were career launching “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (1989) and “The Dance” (1990) for Garth Brooks. Also many commercial spots — Toyota, United Cerebral Palsy, Health/Trust, South Central Bell, Northern Telecom, Saturn Corporation, Johnston & Murphy Shoes, Drexel Heritage Furniture, Bridgestone Tires, etc. She produced television specials A Day in the Life of Country Music (1994), Influences: George Jones & Randy Travis (1991), Jerry Clower Live (1990), The Gift of Song (1984). Also founded Scene Three Construction. First president of CMA Foundation board, overseeing charitable donations including funds to help build Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in Music City Center. Honors included CMA President’s Award, Easter Seals Nashvillian of the Year award, SOURCE Award, Leadership Music’s Bridge Award. Also an inductee into YWCA’s Academy for Women of Achievement.
MARTY LACKER, 80, died Feb. 13.
Member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia.” Vice president of American Sound studios in Memphis. Launched label Pepper Records in 1967. Co-founder of Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy in 1973. Former chairman of Memphis & Shelby Country Music Commission. Persuaded Elvis to record at American Sound in 1969, resulting in comeback hits such as “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Kentucky Rain” and “In the Ghetto.”
SHERMAN NOVOSON, 70, died Feb. 13.
Cellist with Nashville Symphony who later became a colorful radio reporter of news & sports, plus a fixture of the Capitol Hill press corps.
STEVEN R. PETERSON, 66, died Feb. 14.
Professional bass player who migrated from Madison, WI and became popular in Columbia, TN and Nashville nightspots.
BRAXTON DIXON, 96, died Feb. 16.
Known as “the builder to the stars,” he created the distinctive, unusual homes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Marty Stuart & Connie Smith, Donna Fargo, Don Pierce of Starday Records, Fred Foster of Monument Records and others. Also a master stonemason noted for his Tennessee limestone chimneys with a stone heart as his signature.
PHIL WILLIAMS, 80, died Feb. 16.
Co-founder of Seattle’s Folklife Festival and of the Voyager Records folk label.
ROUPEN M. GULBENIK, 96, died Feb. 18.
Former violinist with Nashville Symphony. Also an engraver and antiques dealer. Preserved Tennessee governor’s residence.
DAVID WARREN LIVINGSTON, 92, died Feb. 18.
Composer, music educator, clarinetist, pianist, saxophonist. Decade-long member of Billy Vaughn Orchestra. Formed The Gemini 15 Band, which performed on five U.S.O. tours. Professor at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Produced local musicals. Published compositions include Symphony No.1, Prelude and Fugue for Symphonic Band and many pieces for solo instruments and small ensembles.
ILENE BERNS, 73, died Feb. 20.
Top executive at Bang Records and at Web IV and Sloopy II publishing companies. She made a star of future Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Paul Davis (1948-2008) with such Bang his as “I Go Crazy,” “Sweet Life,” “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” and “Do Right.” Others on her roster Brick (“Dazz”), Derek (“Cinnamon”), Peabo Bryson (“Underground Music”). Nigel Olsson, etc. She also hired future hit Nashville producers Ed Seay and James Stroud. Moved companies to Nashville 1993. Widow of songwriter/producer Bert Berns (1929-1967). She administered his catalog of rock and soul standards “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Tell Him,” “Here Comes the Night,” “Cry to Me,” “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” “A Little Bit of Soap,” “I Want Candy,” “Cry Baby,” “Hang on Sloopy.” She pitched country version of “Piece of My Heart” to Faith Hill, a No. 1 hit 1994. Charted three 1998 country singles on Bang for Monty Holmes — “Why’d You Start Lookin’ So Good” (written by Paul Davis), “Alone” and “Leave My Mama Out of This.” She later promoted 2014 Bert Berns biography Here Comes the Night, campaigned for husband’s 2016 induction into Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, appeared in 2016 documentary film Bang: The Bert Berns Story and spearheaded forthcoming Broadway musical Piece of My Heart.
RONNIE ALLEN, 67, died Feb. 27.
Member of The Allen Brothers, who recorded three LPs for King Bluegrass Records, two for Rounder and one for Folkways. Son of bluegrass legend Red Allen (1930-1993). Brother of country singer-songwriter Harley Allen (1956-2011).
G.C. McCOURY, 87, died Feb. 27.
Leader McCoury Family bluegrass show. Older brother and mentor of Grand Ole Opry star Del McCoury. (full name: Grover Cleveland McCoy).
JOSEPH NUYENS, 82. died Feb. 28.
Patriarch of Belgian bluegrass-flavored band The Nuyens Family, which included wife, son, daughter. After successful overseas career, group moved to Nashville in 1970s. Joseph and wife Angela Goris bought The Castle as recording studio for group 1978. Son Jozef Nuyens Jr. assumed ownership 1981, reopened as commercial venture 1982. Since then, nearly 500 top artists have recorded at Castle.
MIKE BARHORST, 77, died March 1.
Founder of longest running and most popular annual music fest in U.S., Ohio’s Country Concert in the Hills. Formerly called Jamboree in the Hills, begun in 1977.
HURSHEL WIGINTON, 79, died March 6.
Bass singer with prominent Music Row session vocal group The Nashville Edition. Group sang on 12,000 recordings 1970s-1990s. Also regulars on Hee Haw 1969-1988. Heard on such hits as Charley Pride’s “My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You,” Dottie’s “Country Sunshine,” Marty’s “El Paso City,” Tanya’s “Delta Dawn,” Lynn’s “Rose Garden,” Freddie Hart’s “Easy Lovin,’” Barbara Mandrell’s “The Midnight Oil,” Melba Montgomery’s “No Charge,” Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road.” Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You.” On records by a who’s-who of country stars, including Hank Jr., Jones, Brenda, Tammy, Milsap, Waylon, Cash, Haggard, Eddy Arnold, Gene Watson, Hank Snow, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Tom T. Hall. Nashville Edition also backed such pop greats as Henry Mancini, Elvis, Bobby Goldsboro, Nancy Sinatra, Dave Loggins, Tommy James, Bobby Vinton. Previously studio singer in Muscle Shoals (Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”) and Memphis. Nashville Superpicker awards from Recording Academy in 1975, 1977, 1978.
ROSS KEY, 54, died March 6.
R.O.P.E. board of directors. Staged annual Spring Fling music fest in Lebanon, TN. Founder of Traditional Country Network. Country artist who opened shows for stars of 1970s, 1980s. Champion dobro player.
JUNIOR BARBER, 75, died March 9.
Resonator guitarist who worked with Gibson Brothers, Beartracks, Gary Ferguson. Three CDs: Stone Bottom Boogie (1997), Seffi’s Waltz (2002), Stuff That Works (with Ferguson, 2003). (full name: Antoine Barber).
TIMOTHY COOPER, 37, died March 10.
Keyboard player for the Nashville rock “jam band” Mile 8. Group won 2002 Battle of the Bands contest in Music City. Albums: Mile 8 (2003), Whatever Works (2004), Crazy Things (2006).
RAY SPONAUGLE, 84, died March 10.
Ohio bluegrass fiddler with two solo LPs, My Kind of Fiddling (1977), Traditional Fiddling: My Best to You (1988), four albums for Rural Rhythm Records with Raymond Fairchild. Performed on Porter Wagoner Show playing twin fiddles with Mack Magaha, Kenny Baker. Mentor to Jerry Douglas, for whom he designed the BowMate dobro capo now marketed under Douglas name.
DON WARDEN, 87, died March 12.
Steel Guitar Hall of Fame inductee (2008) who was a key figure in careers of Country Music Hall of Fame members Dolly Parton, Red Foley and Porter Wagoner. Began singing & playing in The Porter Wagoner Trio 1953. Booked act out of Springfield, MO. Joined Ozark Jubilee cast 1954. Sang & played on landmark 1955 Wagoner hit “A Satisfied Mind.” Formed Warden Music publishing with Wagoner & ran it. Published & pitched 1959 hits “The Battle of New Orleans” to Johnny Horton and “Tennessee Stud” to Eddy Arnold. Cast member The Porter Wagoner Show on TV beginning 1961 and booked its guests. Built Wagoner’s first custom tour bus. Left Wagoner to work for Parton 1975. Her road manager for 43 years and organized her office. As steel player, also backed Red Sovine, Wilburn Brothers, Norma Jean, Foley, Parton. Shot Jackson created first stand-up Sho-Bud steel guitar for Warden.
VERNON McQUEEN, 86, died March 16.
Member Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys 1960. Also in Stoney Lonesome Boys “house band” at “Brown County Jamboree” in Bean Blossom, IN. Later singer-guitarist in gospel groups The Evangelaires & Gospel Meltones.
FAYE McGINNIS, 89, died March 17.
Journalist, disc jockey, concert promoter, TV host, manager. Longtime leader of Stanley Brothers Fan Club, then Ralph Stanley Fan Club. Published bluegrass newsletters. Radio show “Mountain Echoes” on WMUZ in Michigan 1972, then WDEE 1974, WDET 1985. Columnist for Country In the City newspaper 1975-85. “Mountain Echoes” became cable TV show in Wyandotte 1990s. Business manager for husband’s band The Sunnysiders secured corporate sponsorship of Stroh’s Beer.
CHUCK BERRY, 90, died March 18.
Member Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Founding father of rock & huge influence on country music. “Maybelline,” based on country tune “Ida Red,” launched hit-making career 1955. Covered as top-10 country hit by Marty Robbins. “Thirty Days” covered as top-10 country hit by Ernest Tubb. Berry’s late-1950s pop & r&b top-10s also included “No Money Down” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956), “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1956), “School Day” (1957), Rock & Roll Music” (1958), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958), “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), “Carol” (1958), “Memphis Tennessee” (1959), “Almost Grown” (1959). Returned to charts with “Back in the U.S.A.” (1959), “Too Pooped to Pop” (1960), “Nadine” (1964), “No Particular Place to Go” (1964), “C’Est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)” (1964), “Promised Land” (1965), “My Ding-A-Ling” (1972), “Reelin’ & Rockin’” (1973). Beach Boys co-opted “Sweet Little Sixteen” melody for 1963 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.” First Rolling Stones single Berry’s “Come On” (1963). Beatles covered “Roll Over Beethoven” (1964), “Rock & Roll Music” (1965). Country acts especially recorded Berry: Buck Owens “Johnny B. Goode” (1969), Waylon “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1970), Freddy Weller “Promised Land” (1971), Elvis “Promised Land” (1974), Weller “Too Much Monkey Business” (1974), Emmylou “C’Est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)” (1977), Ronstadt “Back in the U.S.A.” (1978), George Jones & Johnny Paycheck “Maybelline” (1979), Weller “Nadine” (1979), Fred Knoblock “Memphis Tennessee” (1981). Last-named song also recorded by Lonnie Mack (1963), Waylon (1964), Elvis (1965), Buck (1965), Flatt & Scruggs (1965), Karen Black (1975), Toby Keith (2011). Other country covers: Conway “Maybelline,” Ronnie Hawkins “Thirty Days,” Carmol Taylor “Back in the U.S.A.,” Jerry Reed “Promised Land,” Cash “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Jerry Lee “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Milsap “Johnny B. Goode,” Lyle Lovett “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Elvis “Too Much Monkey Business,” Roy Clark (“Johnny B. Goode”). Jim & Jesse recorded entire LP of Chuck Berry songs, Berry Pickin’ in the Country (1965). In 1969, Berry played both Central Park and Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival festival. Played White House 1979. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 1984. Star in Hollywood Walk of Fame 1987. Performed at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame museum opening 1995. Kennedy Center Honor 2000. Movies: Rock! Rock! Rock! (1957), Go, Johnny Go! (1959), Mr. Rock and Roll (1957), The T.A.M.I. Awards Show (1964), American Hot Wax (1978), Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987). Book: Chuck Berry: The Autobiography 1988.
HOVIE WALKER, 67, died March 24.
Gospel bass singer with such groups as The Thrasher Brothers, Willie Wynn & The Tennesseans, The Statesmen, The Classic Voices, etc.
BUDDY PENDLETON, 81, died March 24.
Fiddler who recorded with The Greenbriar Boys (Vanguard Records, 1962), performed with Joan Baez and briefly was a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Also a six-time champion at the Galax Union Grove fiddle convention. Albums include Buddy Pendleton Delivers! (2007), Buddy Pendleton & Friends (2010), Buddy Pendleton & The Highlanders (1971), etc.
RHUBARB JONES, 65, died April 2.
Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame member. ACM 1983 DJ of Year. Best known for long tenure as morning host on WYAY Atlanta, 1985-2008. Other gigs WLWI Montgomery AL, WSKY Ashville NC, WWCC Brenmen GA, WCLS Columbus GA. Former board member ACM, CMA. Established Country Cares for St. Jude’s Kids with Randy Owen of Alabama. (real name: Warren Jones).
BEN SPEER, 86, died April 7.
Two-time Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee. Member The Speer Family. Act founded 1921 by G.T. “Dad” Speer (1891-1966) & Lena Brock “Mom” Speer (1899-1967). Children joined one by one: Brock (1920-1977) and Rosa Neil (b. 1922) in 1920s, then Mary Tom (1925-2014) and Ben (1930-2017) in 1930s. Moved to Nashville 1946. Began recording 1947. During next 50 years, group recorded more than 75 albums. Speers founded gospel’s first daily TV show 1954-60 on Channel 5. Brock’s wife Faye joined 1954. Ben Speer, Brock Speer & Gordon Stoker sang backup on Elvis Presley’s 1956 “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Was the One,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” Also in 1950s, Speers starred for eight years on WSIX radio every weekend. Group joined nationally syndicated TV show Singing Time in Dixie 1964. Ben & Brock assumed leadership of Speers 1965 & took group to new heights with Ben as lead singer. Regulars on TV’s syndicated Gospel Singing Caravan 1967. Speer songs included “Standing By the River,” “My Lord Will Lead Me Home,” “Heaven’s Jubilee,” “I’m Building a Bridge,” “Saved to the Uttermost,” ”He’s Still in the Fire,” “The King Is Coming,” “What Sins Are You Talking About,” “I’ll Meet You in the Morning.” Group’s 1977 hit “I’m Standing on the Solid Rock” — published by Ben Speer — reportedly holds record as longest-lasting No. 1 song on gospel charts. Its 1984 hit “City Coming Down” was gospel’s first concept music video. During 1970s and 1980s, Speers won 14 Dove Awards and were nominated for seven Grammys. Ben Speer retired from group 1993, but continued to be prominent in gospel publishing. His company, founded 1954, was the first to publish Southern-gospel sheet music. Ben also became general manager of Stamps-Baxter School of Music, opened Ben Speer Recording Studio and became music director of Gaither Homecoming gospel video series. Brother Brock retired Speer Family 1998. Group inducted into Gospel Music Hall of Fame 1998, following individual inductions of Dad (1971), Mom (1972), Brock (1975) and Ben (1995). Ben Speer also member of Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
CHARLES WELDON GIDNEY JR., 90, died April 8.
Guitarist with Luke Mathers String Band, David Holt and Laura Boosinger. Folk Heritage Award winner in Asheville, NC. Winner of Bascom Lamar Lunsford Minstrel of the Mountain award, also in Asheville. Organizer of the NC Mountain Dance & Folk Festival.
JAN ELLIOTT, 65, died April 9.
Tour manager and lighting director who worked with Michelle Wright, Janis Ian, Emmylou Harris, Dixie Chicks, Bee Gees, Eagles, etc.
BOB WOOTTON, 75, died April 9.
Lead guitarist for Johnny Cash for 30 years, beginning in 1968 when he replaced deceased Luther Perkins (1928-1968) in The Tennessee Three. Played on Cash LPs Nashville Skyline, At San Quentin, etc. plus on hits “A Boy Named Sue,” “Man in Black,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “One Piece at a Time,” “A Thing Called Love,” “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” etc. Regular on TV’s The Johnny Cash Show 1970-71. Stunt double for Cash in TV movies. Later a tour bus driver for Smashing Pumpkins & others. Inducted into Rockabilly Hall of Fame 2006. Formerly married to Anita Carter (1933-1999).
OTIS ROLAND HAYES JR., 79, died April 10.
Multi-instrumentalist Tennessee native and TSU grad who became a jazz composer, teacher and sideman. Worked with Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Pianist in Louis Armstrong’s band in movie Hello Dolly.
DONALD K. PATTON, 66, died April 11.
Guitarist, bass player. Background vocalist for gospel star Larnell Harris (The Father Hath Provided, 1987), others.
BOB JAY, 69, died April 14.
Former president and general manager of WZTV, Channel 17, and WNAB-TV, Channel 58. Formerly with TV stations in Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Buffalo, San Diego.
TIM MENOWSKY, 62, died April 15.
Radio executive who served on agenda committee of CRS. Worked in DC, New Orleans, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Tampa, Nashville.
TAMMY SULLIVAN, 52, died April 20.
Singer and bass player who carried on legacy of gospel-bluegrass act The Sullivan Family by singing with her father Jerry Sullivan (1933-2014). Tammy & Jerry Sullivan were Grammy nominated artists who recorded for Country Voice, NMS, Country Music Foundation, New Haven, Ceili labels. As youngster, Marty Stuart played mandolin for the duo.
SANDY GALLIN, 76, died April 21.
Powerful, super-connected manager guided Dolly Parton from country hit maker to multi-media superstar. Gallin and Parton formed Sandollar Productions in 1985. Company’s 1989 documentary, Common Threads: Stories From the AIDS Quilt, won an Oscar. Sandollar also produced movies Sabrina (1995), Father of the Bride (1991), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, as well as its hit TV series), Kicking and Screaming (1995) and I.Q. (1994). Gallin and Parton also produced her movies Rhinestone (1984) and Straight Talk (1992), as well as her variety ABC TV series of 1987-88. Company also produced TV specials featuring Andrew Dice Clay, Harvey Fierstein, Neil Diamond, Whoopi Goldberg, etc. During long career Gallin also worked with Barbra Streisand, Cher, Michael Jackson, Lily Tomlin, Pointer Sisters, Petula Clark, Mariah Carey, Patti LaBelle, Donny & Marie Osmond, Olivia Newton-John, Korn, Limp Bizkit, KC & Sunshine Band, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Roseanne Barr, Florence Henderson, Rick Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Phyllis Diller, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Mac Davis (who introduced him to Dolly). In earlier years, Gallin signed and promoted the then-unknown Richard Pryor, Tiny Tim, Joan Rivers and Mama Cass Elliott. He was also part of the team that booked newcomers The Beatles onto The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
CRIS ASHWORTH, 67, died April 24.
Former owner of United Record Pressing, 1999-2008. (full name: James Crispin Ashworth).
BARBARA TURNER, 71, died April 25.
Longtime video and television producer at TNN, MTV Networks and Gaylord Entertainment. Mainstay of the SOURCE organization and its annual awards presentations. Wife of TV executive Bill Turner. (full name: Barbara Hannelor Krone Turner).
BILL BRYSON, 70, died April 30.
Bass player, baritone harmony singer in The Desert Rose Band. Performed on its 1987-92 hits “Love Reunited,” “One Step Forward,” “He’s Back and I’m Blue,” “Summer Wind,” “I Believe in You,” “She Don’t Love Nobody,” “Start All Over Again,” “Hello Trouble,” “Story of Love,” etc. Previously in Bluegrass Cardinals (1976), Doug Dillard Band (1978), Country Gazette (1979). Later in Laurel Canyon Ramblers (1993), Bluegrass Etc. (2000), The Brombies (2003), Loafer’s Glory (2010).
GIL WRIGHT, 87, died April 30.
Longtime member of The Anita Kerr Singers, with whom he earned two Grammy Awards. Key figure in evolution of The Nashville Sound as backup singer for Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Brenda Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Burl Ives, Rosemary Clooney, Waylon Jennings and hundreds more. Also on many Anita Kerr Singers albums of the 1960s.
ROBERT H. FRAKER, 70, died May 2.
Founder, mandolinist and songwriter for acclaimed New England bluegrass group The Bear Bridge Band.
TONY ALAMO, 82, died May 2.
Controversial evangelist, Nashville recording artist, costumer to the stars. Active in Nashville 1970s-1980s. Church on Music Row corner of 17th Ave. & Edgehill. Lavish home at corner of Lealand & Tyne. Clothing store Alamo of Nashville at 325 Broadway. Fundamentalist cult beliefs anti-Catholic, anti-homosexual, anti-government. Wife Susan Alamo (1925-1982) also evangelist. Elvis, Dolly, Conway, Madonna, Michael Jackson wore his sequined-decorated denim jackets, leather coats, etc. As a singer, Alamo released “Little Yankee Girl” as single with stage names “Marcus Abad” and “Tony Fortunato.” Nashville albums included Tony Alamo Sings Mr. D.J. (c.1980), Susan: I Love You So Much It Hurts Me with J.D. Sumner & Stamps Quartet (c.1981), Love Songs for Susan (c.1982) produced by Porter Wagoner with song “Susan” reportedly written for Alamo by Merle Haggard. Following Susan’s death, followers prayed over her glass coffin for resurrection. Alamo jailed in 1990s for tax evasion, convicted in 2009 of having sex with underage girls and sent to federal prison, where he died. (real name: Bernie Lazar Hoffman)
DAVID MURPH JR., 58, died May 4.
Founder, leader and mandolinist with North Carolina’s Gospel Plowboys bluegrass band. Group’s CD Welcome Home on Mountain Fever Records 2016.
GREG YATES, 56, died May 7.
Member of bluegrass group Yates Brothers Band. Album John Yates & The Yates Brothers With Wyatt Rice on Eastwood Records 1999.
KELLEY SALLEE SNEAD, 58, died May 8.
Singer-songwriter whose works were recorded by CCM artist Lisa Daggs Charette, Americana troubadour Lee Domann and Texas group Doak Snead Band. Solo album 2015: Roses & Tumbleweeds: A Retrospective. Also spent 10 years as administrative assistant to Kyle Young at Country Music Hall of Fame, three years working at BMG Music, plus positions at music law firms and Crye Leike Realty. Wife of songwriter Doak Snead. Daughter of Reprise & Dot recording artist Vikki Sallee (1941-2013), known as “The Queen of Hillbilly Hollywood.” Stepdaughter of Doug Dillard (1937-2012) of The Dillards and Andy Griffith Show TV fame.
BEN CALDWELL, 82, died May 8.
Historic Nashville advocate who led fight to save & preserve Ryman Auditorium, Union Station. Prominent Nashville OB/GYN who delivered more than 8,500 babies. Passionate about antiques, history, arts. Co-author The Art of Tennessee (2003). Board of Cheekwood and Historic Belmont Association. Also a sculptor.
JIM HUNT, 74, died May 8.
Drummer for Ernie Ashworth on the Opry and for dozens of other country stars on the road. Backed Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, etc. Member Tim Ledford & The Kimsey Mountain Highway Band.
JOY BYERS, 82, died May 10.
Nashville songwriter with pop successes including “What’s A Matter Baby” (Timi Yuro, 1962), “When You Loved Me” (Brenda Lee. 1964), “Wishing It Was You” (Connie Francis, 1965), “Ring Dang Doo” (Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, 1966). Also 1964 Elvis hit “It Hurts Me,” plus 16 songs for Elvis movies, including the charting “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me’ (1966) and “Let Yourself Go” (1968). Her country top-10 hits included “Gardenias in Her Hair” Marty Robbins 1967, “Here Comes Heaven” Eddy Arnold 1968 and “I Can’t Say Goodbye” Robbins 1969. Songs also recorded by The Orlons, Arthur Alexander, Gene Vincent, Bill Haley & Comets, Rick Nelson, Solomon Burke, Steve Alaimo, Hank Locklin, Nancy Sinatra, 5 Royales, Del Shannon, Betty Everett, Joe Henderson, Anita Bryant, Jimmy Church, Joe Hinton, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Big Al Downing, etc. Widow of Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash/Leonard Cohen record producer Bob Johnston (1932-2015). (full name: Joyce Alene Byers Johnston).
CORKI CASEY O’DELL, 80, died May 11.
Musicians Hall of Fame member. Pioneering rock female session musician. Played rhythm guitar on Sanford Clark’s 1956 hit “The Fool.” Also on rockabilly discs of Jimmy Spellman, on instrumentals by Jimmy Dell and on then-husband Al Casey’s 1963 hit “Surfin’ Hootenanny.” Best known for backing Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy on “twangy guitar” hits as member of The Rebels: “Ramrod” (1957), “Rebel Rouser” (1958), “Forty Miles of Bad Road” (1959), “Because They’re Young” (1960), “Peter Gunn” (1960), etc. She, Barbara Mandrell and country guitarist Velma Smith (1927-2014) inducted 2014 as first three female members of Musicians Hall of Fame. Wife of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Kenny O’Dell (“Behind Closed Doors” Charlie Rich 1973, “Mama He’s Crazy” The Judds 1984, “What I’ve Got in Mind” Billie Jo Spears 1976, “Trouble in Paradise” Loretta Lynn 1974, “Lizzie and the Rainman” Tanya Tucker 1975). (full name: Vivian J. “Corki” Ray Casey Gist)
BOB FORSHEE, 80, died May 11.
Former Pamper Music staff writer of 1960s. Songs recorded by Jan Howard, Jimmy C. Newman, Skeeter Davis, Burl Ives, Connie Francis, Mac Wiseman, Linda Manning, etc. Biggest were Darrell McCall’s 1963 top-20 country success “A Stranger Was Here” and top-30 country hits by Buddy Meredith (1962 “I May Fall Again”) and Hank Cochran (1963 “A Good Country Song”). Success in pop and r&b via Etta James recording his “Would It Make Any Difference to You” and “I’d Like to Hear That Song Again” 1963. “I May Fall Again” revived by Johnny Rodriguez 1996 and Paul Pace 2003.
STEVE SUTTON, 61, died May 13.
Banjo & guitar player who worked with Jimmy Martin, George Jones, Rhonda Vincent, Alecia Nugent, Bill Monroe, Raymond Fairchild, etc.
EARL SINKS, 77, died May 13.
Singer, actor, songwriter, producer, guitarist. Recorded for Decca, Capitol, United Artists, Warner Bros., etc. Also billed as “Earl Richards,” “Sinx Mitchell” and “Earl ‘Snake’ Richards.” Member of recording band The Omegas with Norro Wilson & Bill Fernez (1958). Starred in movies Girl From Tobacco Road (1966), That Tennessee Beat (1966), White Lightning Road (1967). Featured on TV shows Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Surfside Six. Songs recorded by Everly Brothers, Sue Thompson, Newbeats, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Mel Tillis. Session guitarist and/or singer for Del Reeves, Mel Street, Charley Pride, etc. Produced records for Street, John Anderson, Faron Young, Jimmy Dickens, Mark Dinning, Porter Wagoner, Joyce Cobb. As a teen in Crickets, Texas Playboys bands.
PAUL LYLE, 61, died May 15.
General sales manager at WKDF in Nashville for more than 20 years. Formerly at WIVK in Knoxville. (full name: Summers Paul Lyle III)
WENDELL GOODMAN, 81, died May 21.
Manager, husband and “right arm” of country, gospel and rockabilly star Wanda Jackson. Launched “Wanda Jackson Enterprises” in Oklahoma City. Co-writer of her songs “I Misunderstood” (1962), “What Have We Done” (1967).
JOAN GRACE McEWEN, 84, died May 21.
Choreographer, dancer, Nashville music promoter. Formerly actor on TV’s The Young & The Restless.
DAVID CAMPBELL BROWN, 28 died May 23.
Former customer service representative at United Record Pressing.
THOMAS E. PIPER, 84, died May 24.
Builder of recording studio consoles. Became part owner of Studio Supply, later known as Harrison.
JAMES WATSON, 81, died June 1.
Old-time banjo stylist. Recorded 17 albums with Golden River Grass. Appeared at National Folk Festival, National Black Arts Festival, 1982 World’s Fair, 1996 Olympics, colleges, etc. Also seen on PBS shows such as The Appalachian Journey. Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame inductee 2007.
GREGG ALLMAN, 69, died May 27.
Nashville-bred Rock n Roll Hall of Fame member. Longtime leader of The Allman Brothers Band. Solo star as well. Seven Gold, four Platinum records with band, plus two Gold solo LPs. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 2012. Singer and writer of “Whipping Post” (1969), “Dreams,” (1969), “Revival (Love Is Everywhere)” (1971), “Melissa” (1972), “Midnight Rider” (1974). Also sang “Statesboro Blues” (1971), “One Way Out” (1972), “I’m No Angel” (1987). Formed Allman Joys with brother Duane Allman (1946-1971). Recorded debut LP in Nashville 1966. Two L.A. LPs as Hour Glass, 1967-68. Allman Brothers star-making LPs At Fillmore East (1971), Eat a Peach (1972), Brothers and Sisters (1973). Married to Cher 1975-79. Band’s 1981 LP Brothers of the Road recorded in Nashville. Re-formed band 1989 with Nashville rock musicians Warren Haynes, Allen Woody (1965-2000) and Johnny Neel. Allman Brothers won rock-instrumental Grammy 1996. Gregg inducted into Georgia Music Hall of Fame 2006. Comeback solo album, Grammy-nominated Low Country Blues 2011. Autobiography My Cross to Bear 2012 a New York Times best seller. Allman Brothers disbanded 2014. Tribute CD to him 2015 All My Friends, with performances by Vince Gill, Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert, John Hiatt, Trace Adkins, Martina McBride, Keb Mo, etc. Posthumous CD Southern Blood 2017.
NAOMI MARTIN, 89, died May 31.
Country songwriter noted for No. 1 hits “My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You” Charley Pride (1976) and “Let’s Take the Long Way Around the World” Ronnie Milsap (1978). Also Jeannie C. Riley’s “Roses and Thorns,” No. 15 hit 1971. “We Fell in Love Anyway” recorded by Cleve Francis & Patti Austin, Lee Greenwood, Rosemary Clooney, Kenny Rogers, David Slater. During six-decade career, songs recorded by Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius, Freddy Fender, Kitty Wells, B.J. Thomas, Kenny & Dottie, Ray Price, John Conlee, Porter, Faron, Conway, T.G. Sheppard, Barbara Mandrell, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, Twister Alley, Anne Murray, Lorrie Morgan, etc. Formed own Naomi Martin Music Group, where she signed Blake Shelton to his first song-publishing contract, helped him secure his first recording contract and served as executive producer on his earliest studio sessions. Mother of singer-songwriters Dale Daniel and Marty Yonts (1955-2012).
DOROTHY MARIE KUHL VIOLETTE, 97, died June 1.
Nashville classical pianist. Formerly child prodigy with own weekly radio shows in Louisville & Cincinnati.
BLAKE JOHNSON, 33, died June 4.
Bluegrass singer and multi-instrumentalist. Member of Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Alan Bibey & Grassstowne, James King Band, Bluegrass Connection, others.
NORRO WILSON, 79, died June 9.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member. Record producer, label executive, song publisher. Grammy for “A Very Special Love Song” as 1974 Best Country Song. Kentucky Music Hall of Fame member. Earned 24 BMI Awards. BMI Country Songwriter of Year in 1973, 1974, 1975. His co-written “The Grand Tour” a hit three times: George Jones (1974), Aaron Neville (199), Tony Jackson (2017), also recorded by Sammy Kershaw, Joe Stampley, Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson, etc. “A Picture of Me Without You” topped charts for both Jones (1972) and Lorrie Morgan (1991). Wilson also co-wrote such classic songs as “Soul Song” (Stampley 1972), ”The Most Beautiful Girl” (Charlie Rich 1973), “Another Lonely Song” (Tammy Wynette 1973), “He Loves Me All the Way” (Wynette 1970). Other top-10 hits “Baby Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (David Houston 1969), “Good Things” (Houston 1973), “Soft Sweet and Warm” (Houston 1972), “I Love You I Love You” (Houston & Barbara Mandrell 1974), “Love’s the Answer” (Tanya Tucker 1972), “I’ll See Him Through” (Wynette 1969), “Then He Touched Me” (Jean Shepard 1970), “My Man (Understands)” (Wynette 1972), “Bring It On Home (To Your Woman)” (Stampley 1973), “I Love My Friend” (Rich 1974), “Beautiful Woman” (Rich 1978), “Get on My Love Train” (LaCosta 1974), “The Door” (Jones 1974), “Still a Woman” (Margo Smith 1979), “Take My Breath Away” (Smith 1976), “Never Been So Loved” (Charley Pride 1981), “Surround Me With Love” (Charly McClain 1981), “Night Games” (Pride 1983), “Good News” (Jody Miller 1973), “If You Touch Me” (Stampley 1972), Can’t You Feel It” (Houston 1974), “After Closing Time” (Houston & Mandrell 1970), “You’ve Got Something on Your Mind” (Mickey Gilley 1985). Among his frequent songwriting partners Glenn Sutton (1937-2007), Billy Sherrill (1936-2015), Carmol Taylor (1931-1986), George Richey (1935-2010). Worked at Acuff-Rose, Gallico Music, Merit Music. Label exec at Warner Bros., RCA. Record producer for Pride, Jones, Kershaw, Wynette, Kenny Chesney, Con Hunley, Keith Whitley, Reba, Shania, John Anderson, Chely Wright, John Michael Montgomery, Craig Morgan, Sara Evans, etc. Former recording artist for Monument, Smash (1969 LP Dedicated to Only You), Mercury (1970’s “Do It to Someone You Love,” his only top-20 country hit), RCA, Capitol and Warner Bros. Also session backup singer for Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, others. Former member Southlanders Quartet in 1950s. Duo act with Don Gant (1942-1967) in 1960s.
CHRISTINE SLAYDEN TIBBOTT, 96, died June 9.
Former scenic artist for such TV productions as Hee Haw, Great Performances and Dance in America.
TONY WILLIAMS, 70, died June 12.
Kentucky bluegrass promoter, entrepreneur. Father of three-time IBMA Guitarist of the Year Josh Williams.
BEN EYESTONE, 28, died June 12.
Drummer in bands The Lonely H, Quiche Night, Cataline Crime, Margo & The Price Tags, Nikki Lane, Henry Wagons, Little Bandit, Killer Eyes. The Lonely H recorded four albums. In between tours, bartender at The Five Spot in East Nashville.
BILL DANA, 92, died June 15.
Comedian, humor writer, television star and recording artist. Famed for his ‘60s laconic Latino character “Jose Jimenez,” who was frequently featured on Ed Sullivan Show, Danny Thomas Show and Batman. Star of NBC-TV sitcom The Bill Dana Show 1963-65. Eight best-selling comedy albums. Began career writing “Would You Believe….” jokes for Don Adams and later for Adams’s Get Smart TV series. Became head writer on The Steve Allen Show. Performed at President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Gala. Wrote for TV’s All in the Family and had a recurring role on The Golden Girls. A Nashville resident for the past 15 years. (real name: William Szathmary).
HOWARD STARK, 89, died June 15.
Head of the 1984-88 Nashville label MTM Records. Formerly with ABC Records in L.A. MTM roster included Judy Rodman, Girls Next Door, Schuyler-Knobloch-Overstreet, Becky Hobbs, Holly Dunn, In Pursuit, Voltage Brothers, Almost Brothers, Marty Haggard, Hege V, The Shoppe, Metros, Ronnie Rogers. Affiliated publishing company signed Beth Nielsen Chapman, Bill Lloyd, Hugh Prestwood, Larry Boone, Radney Foster.
SHELBY JEWELL, 79, died June 17.
Founded Virginia band The Bluegrass Kinsmen in 1971, with whom he recorded four albums.
BOB HEATHERLY, 73, died June 19.
Longtime Music Row record exec. Began career selling records in St. Louis. Joined RCA as sales rep in Nashville 1971. Became RCA national director of country promotion. Hired as sales manager at R&R magazine 1985. Vice president of sales & marketing for Atlantic Nashville beginning 1989. Formed Music City Records with Charley Pride. Leadership Music class 1992. Husband of T.J. Martel CEO Laura Heatherly.
JIMMY NALLS, 66, died June 22.
Founding member of rock jam band Sea Level in Macon, GA. Albums Sea Level (1976), Cats on the Coast (1977), On the Edge (1978), Long Walk on a Short Pier (1979), Ball Room (1980). Formerly guitarist for Alex Taylor on Capricorn Records. Relocated to Nashville 1980s. Session and/or road player for B.J. Thomas, Bodyworks, Lee Roy Parnell, Gregg Allman, Nighthawks, Dr. John, T. Graham Brown, etc. Solo album Ain’t No Stranger (1999). Finale album 2017 The Jimmy Nalls Project with all-star cast including Parnell, Joe Bonamassa, Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Jack Pearson, Jimmy Hall, Chuck Leavell, Dave Pomeroy, Kenny Greenberg, Ray Kennedy, Gary Nicholson, Guthrie Trapp, Joe Glaser.
A.J. NELSON, 94, died June 22.
Lead guitarist and last surviving member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys band. Many USO tours during Vietnam era. Later, head of repair department at Sho-Bud and Sho-Pro steel-guitar headquarters. (full name: Alden Johnny Nelson).
DONNA DARLENE, 78, died June 24.
Traditional country singer who recorded for Admiral, Kapp, Charta, Sardust, Arc, Top Spin, Rural Rhythm, Stop, Cheyenne, Little Richie, Wizard and Marathon labels. Began career in Pennsylvania on WKBI in St. Mary’s (at age 13) and WPXY in Punxsutawney. Member Golden West Girls. Joined Dusty Owens & His Rodeo Boys on WWVA in Wheeling, WV in mid 1950s. Toured with Jamboree stars. Regular on Jim Reeves hosted Country Music Time radio show 1959-60. Albums included The Hurtin’ Side of Country (1967), Welcome to the Other Side of Me (c. 1970), Precious Moments (1974), Girl on the Cover (1979 with liner notes by Chet Atkins), By Request (c. 1982). Formerly married to fiddle great Buddy Spicher and to Cajun star Doug Kershaw. Widow of steel guitar great Shot Jackson (1920-1991).
MO LEBOWITZ, 84, died June 25.
Mandolinist and graphic designer. Performed with Bill Harrell, Jody Stecher, Arnie Fleisher, Winnie Winston and autoharpist wife Loretta, with whom he starred in a CitiBank TV commercial singing “The Happy Sunny Side of Life.”
DAVE EVANS, 65, died June 25.
Soulful, highly regarded bluegrass singer, songwriter, banjo player. Began in Earl Taylor & Stoney Mountain Boys. Breakthrough job in 1972 with Larry Sparks & Lonesome Ramblers. Also gigs with Goins Brothers, Boys From Indiana, Lillimae & Dixie Gospelaires, Red Allen & Kentuckians. Launched own River Bend band 1978. String of LPs for Vetco Records in Cincinnati. In prison for assault 1989-95, followed by acclaimed CDs for Rebel Records — Goin’ Round This World (1996), Few More Seasons (1997), Bluegrass Memories (1997), Bad Moon Shining (2000), Hang a Light Out for Me (2002), High Waters (2003), Just Look at Me Now (2003), Poor Rambler (2005), Close to Home (2005), Pretty Green Hills (2006). Retired with arthritis, diabetes in 2010. Noted for songs “Pastures of Plenty,” “One Loaf of Bread,” “99 Years Is Almost for Life,” “Highway 52,” “Pretty Green Hills.”
VALERIE POTTER MENEFEE, 86, died June 30.
Dancer and actor who became an ad copywriter and marketer at WSIX radio and helped launch WSIX-TV (now WKRN, Channel 2).
EARL CLARK, 70, died July 7.
Country songwriter with Tracy Lawrence hits “Renegades, Rebels and Rogues” (1994) and “Can’t Break it to My Heart” (1993). Cuts by George Strait, Tim McGraw, Tanya Tucker, etc. Former bus driver for Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson.
DAVID ALEXANDER HECKMAN, 69, died July 9.
Former Nashville blues/pop artist with albums including Act Fearless (2016). Reportedly wrote 300+ songs.
SYLVIA MOBLEY, 76, died July 10.
Country artist who recorded singles for Starday, Cotton Town Jubilee, Jeopardy and Phoenix labels. Later a bus driver/host for Gray Line Tours in Music City.
KAYTON ROBERTS, 83, died July 13.
Steel Guitar Hall of Fame member. In Hank Snow’s band, Rainbow Ranch Boys, for more than 30 years on Opry stage. Also backed John Fogerty, Emmylou, Willie, Alison Krauss, George Jones, Dolly, Riders in the Sky, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Marty Stuart, Aaron Tippin, etc. Instrumental compositions included “Blue Steel Guitar,” “Kayton’s Rag,” “Opryland Swing,” “Kayton’s Waltz.” Several solo LPs, Steelin,’ The Bells of St. Mary’s, Valley of the Roses, etc.
MARIA CUEVAS-SALINAS, 53, died July 13.
“First Lady” of star clothing emporium Manuel’s. Wife of designer Manuel, stepmother of designer Manny Jr.
BILL HUDSON, 90, died July 13.
Texas guitarist with long tenure in Light Crust Doughboys. Also backed Bruce Channel (“Hey Baby”), Slim Whitman, Paul & Paula (“Hey Paula”), Darrell Glenn (“Crying in the Chapel”), Freddy Powers, others.
COOKIE INMAN, 70, died July 14.
Bass player noted for tenure in The All American Bluegrass Band at Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Also performed with Jimmie Skinner, Allen-Lily Band, Red Allen, Larry Sparks, James King, Traditional Grass, others. (real name: Glen Inman).
REX NORTH, 83, died July 17.
Bass and tuba player. Former staff musician at WSM radio. (full name: Elmer E. North).
RED WEST, 81, died July 18.
Founding member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia.” Co-writer of the star’s “Separate Ways” (1973), “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” (1966), “If You Think I Don’t Need You” (1972), “That’s Someone You Never Forget” (1967), “If You Talk in Your Sleep” (1974). West’s co-written “I’m a Fool” recorded by Rick Nelson and by Dino, Desi & Billy (a 1965 hit). Songs also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis (“Set My Mind at Ease”), Pat Boone (“A Thousand Years”), Little Milton (“If You Talk in Your Sleep”), Johnny Burnette (“Big, Big World”). Stunt man on Nick Adams TV series The Rebel 1959-61. Also in 1965 Robert Conrad series The Wild, Wild West. Early movie roles Two for the Seesaw (1962), Americanization of Emily (1964), Walking Tall (1973), plus parts in Presley films Flaming Star (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), etc. Co-author of first tell-all Presley book Elvis: What Happened (1977). Later movie roles: Road House (1989), Legend of Grizzly Adams (1990), Natural Born Killers (1994), I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Cookie’s Fortune (1999), Glory Road (2006), The Rainmaker (1997), Forty Shades of Blue (2005), Goodbye Solo (2008). Recurring roles in TV series Black Sheep Squadron (1976), The Duke (1979). Many other TV credits.
BILLY JOE WALKER JR., 64, died July 25.
Top session guitarist, producer, songwriter and smooth-jazz recording artist. Produced Travis Tritt, Collin Raye, Mark Chesnutt, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tracy Byrd, Pam Tillis, Bryan White, etc. More than 100 of his songs recorded, including hits “I Wanna Dance With You” (1984) and “B-B-B Burning Up With Love” (1986), both sung and co-written by Eddie Rabbitt. Others who recorded his songs Yearwood, Jerrod Niemann, Van Zandt, Tanya, Billy Currington, Chet Atkins, John Anderson, etc. Guitarist on records by Ray Charles, Haggard, Dixie Chicks, Tom Jones, Hank Jr., Bryan Adams, George Jones, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Waylon, Crystal, Mickey Gilley, Steve Wariner, Reba, Vince, Martina, Rodney Crowell, Strait, Glen Campbell, Beach Boys, etc. Solo instrumental records: Treehouse (1987), Painting Music (1989), Universal Music (1990), The Walk (1992), Untitled (1993), Warm Front (1993), Life Is Good (1994), Children Play (1996), Defeated Creek (1997).
JOSEPH O. PRICE, JR., 83, died July 25.
Founder of pop band The Tennessee Dew Drops, which toured the Southeast. Also in Nashville’s The Aristocrats big-band dance ensemble and a Dixieland band that played Chicago Playboy Club.
MICHAEL JOHNSON, 72, died July 25.
Nashville pop and country hit maker. Pop successes on EMI “Bluer Than Blue” (1978), “This Night Won’t Last Forever” (1979), etc. Country hits on RCA included “I Love You By Heart” (1985, with Sylvia), “Gotta Learn to Live Without You” (1986), “Give Me Wings” (1986), “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder” (1987), “Crying Shame” (1987), “I Will Whisper Your Name” (1988), “That’s That” (1988), etc. Duets with Juice Newton (1991’s “It Must Be You”), Alison Krauss (1997’s “Whenever I Call You Friend”). Co-writer of 4 Runner’s 1995 single “Cain’s Blood.” Formerly in The New Society (1966, with Randy Sparks) and in Chad Mitchell Trio (1967, with John Denver). Three folk-pop albums for Atco, 1973-76. Later country discs for Atlantic (1991-92), Vanguard (1995), Intersound (1997), Yellow Rose (2005), Red House (2012).
STEVE CHAPMAN, 74, died July 29.
Former member of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours (1966-69) and Bill Anderson’s Po’ Folks (1969-72). On Po’ Folks 1971 instrumental LP The Casual Country Feeling. Guitarist began career in bluegrass with Reno & Smiley on their local daily TV show in Roanoke, VA and on the road 1957-63. In Nashville since mid-1960s, he also backed Billy Walker, Roy Acuff. Jim Ed Brown, Porter Wagoner, others. Recording sessions for George Strait, Donna Fargo, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Milsap, Tubb, Anderson, etc. In recent years, member of Mandy Barnett’s band.
TAMMY BROWN, 59, died July 30.
Worked for Sound Shop studio, Tree Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Sony Music Nashville (Associate Director of A&R) and ole Publishing. Former executive assistant to Paul Worley. Championed such artists as Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lee Ann Womack, Jude Cole, Trisha Yearwood, etc. SOURCE Award 2016.
JIM CLAPPER, 71 died July 31.
Former Dean of the Massey School of Business at Belmont University. Leadership Music class 1999.
RALPH LEWIS, 89, died Aug. 4.
Multi-instrumentalist member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys 1974-76. Played guitar as well as twin fiddles with member Kenny Baker.
GLEN CAMPBELL, 81, died Aug. 8.
Country Music Hall of Fame superstar singer, guitarist, TV host, movie actor. Massive country crossover artist to pop charts. Classic hits include “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights.” Recorded more than 70 albums & placed more than 80 songs on pop, country and/or A/C charts. Lifetime record sales exceed 45 million. Had 17 Grammy nominations and six wins. Arkansas native played guitar from childhood, professionally as a teen beginning in New Mexico. Own band 1958. Moved to L.A. 1960 and joined studio aggregation “The Wrecking Crew.” Played on records by hundreds, including Sinatra, Ricky Nelson, Monkees, Jan & Dean, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, Haggard, Mamas & Papas, Ray Charles, Simon & Garfunkle, Fifth Dimension, Righteous Brothers. In “house bands” of TV shows Star Route, Shindig!, Hollywood Jamboree. Toured as member of Champs (“Tequila”). Recorded as member of Hondells (“Little Honda”) and Sagittarius (“My World Fell Down”). Signed with Capitol Records 1962. “Kentucky Means Paradise” first solo success 1963. Toured as member of Beach Boys, 1964-65, & played on group’s iconic 1966 LP Pet Sounds, as well as on hits “Help Me Rhonda,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” etc. “Burning Bridges” Campbell’s second country hit 1967. “Gentle on My Mind” (1967) won ACM Single & Album of Year plus ACM Male Vocalist of Year and country Grammy Award. Pop Grammy for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (1967). First No. 1 country hit “I Wanna Live” (1968), followed by “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” (1968), “Wichita Lineman” (1968). Repeated Male Vocalist ACM win. Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell named ACM Album of Year 1968. By the Time I Get to Phoenix LP won Grammy as Album of Year. Also 1968 CMA Entertainer & Male Vocalist of Year. Summer-replacement TV series 1968. Starred in CBS weekly variety series, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour 1969-72. Named ACM TV Personality of Year 1968 & 1971. ”Galveston” (1969), “Try a Little Kindness” (1969) continued success on charts. Film roles ensued. Co-starred with John Wayne in True Grit (1969), with Joe Namath in Norwood (1970). Other films Strange Homecoming (1974) with Robert Culp & Leif Garrett, Any Which Way You Can (1980) with Clint Eastwood, Uphill All the Way (1986) with Roy Clark & Mel Tillis plus animated Rock-A- Doodle (1991). Hits of early 1970s “Honey Come Back” (1970), “It’s Only Make Believe” (1970), “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1974), “Dream Baby” (1971). Recorded duet LPs with Anne Murray (1971) & Tennessee Ernie Ford (1975). “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975) No. 1 in both pop & country. Pop & Country Single of Year at American Music Awards, plus LP won AMA Country Album the following year. “Rhinestone Cowboy” also ACM”s 1975 Single of Year. Then topped both pop & country charts again with “Southern Nights” (1977). Became international touring superstar 1980s. Next country hits included “Don’t Pull Your Love/Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (1976), “Sunflower” (1977), “Can You Fool” (1978), “Any Which Way You Can” (1980), “I Love My Truck” (1981), “Faithless Love” (1983), “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (1985), etc. During 1980s, recorded duets with Rita Coolidge, Emmylou, Tillis, Cash, Willie, Lee Greenwood, Tanya. Big duet hit with Steve Wariner “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (1987). Solo hits continued with “Still Within the Sound of My Voice” (1987), “I Have You” (1988), “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone”
(1989), etc. Album No More Night (1986) won Dove Award. Second Dove for “Where Shadows Never Fall” (1992). Published Rhinestone Cowboy as autobiography 1994. ACM Pioneer Award 1998. Country Music Hall of Fame 2005. As “Wrecking Crew” member, Musicians Hall of Fame 2007. Third Dove for A Glen Campbell Christmas 2000. Three of his records into Grammy Hall of Fame — “Wichita Lineman” (2000), “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (2004), “Gentle On My Mind” (2008). Comeback albums Meet Glen Campbell (2008), Ghost on the Canvas (2010). Went public with Alzheimer’s diagnosis 2011. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 2012. Final recorded song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” won 2014 Grammy. Last tour documented in 2014 film I’ll Be Me. Final album Adios released 2017. Discovered Alan Jackson, influenced Keith Urban, many others. Father of singer Debby Campbell, singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Ashley Campbell, Little Feather band member Shannon Campbell, singer-songwriter Dillon Campbell.
ANN JENNALIE COOK CALHOUN, 82, died Aug. 13.
Theater maven and Vanderbilt professor who co-founded Nashville Shakespeare Festival, International Shakespeare Association. Published two Shakespeare books.
JO WALKER-MEADOR, 93, died Aug. 15.
Country Music Hall of Fame member due to 30-year executive directing of Country Music Association (CMA). Also a role model for a generation of women in Nashville music business. Took country radio from 81 full-time country stations in 1958 to 2,400+ (more than any other music format) when she retired 1991. Grew CMA membership from 200 to more than 7,000 and dubbed it “world’s most active trade association.” Under her leadership, CMA built Country Music Hall of Fame, launched CMA Music Festival, inaugurated annual CMA Awards telecast. Began as office manager 1958, organized first CMA banquet 1959, first Country Hall of Fame inductees 1961, made exec director 1962. Telemarketing success with country-hits album as fund raiser 1966. Hall of Fame building opened and CMA Awards begun 1967. Awards became first nationally televised music honors 1968. Fan Fair (later named CMA Music Fest) launched 1972 — grew from 5,000 attendees to 88,000 today. Metronome Award 1970. ACM Jim Reeves Award 1983. CMA Irving Waugh Award 1991. Inducted into Country Hall of Fame 1995. Music City Walk of Fame 2008. Cecil Scaife Visionary Award 2013. CMA Jo Walker-Meador Award named for her., as is a SOURCE award. Formerly executive secretary at Crescent Amusement, public relations manager of gubernatorial political campaign. Widow of WKDA radio general manager Charles F. “Smokey” Walker (1926-1967) and of businessman Bob Meador (1926- 2015). (birth name: Edith Josephine Denning).
KARIN DALE COBLE, 83, died Aug. 15.
Former lead singer of Nashville big band The Establishment in 1970s. Also member of The Greg Colson Chorale and performer with Nashville Symphony of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals.”
JESSE BOYCE, 69, died Aug. 17.
Nashville r&b and gospel mainstay for four decades. Leadership Music class 1993. Singer, songwriter, producer, bandleader, businessman, entertainer. Initially rose to prominence as bass player in FAME Gang in Muscle Shoals, backing Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett, Bobbie Gentry, Clarence Carter etc. Also made own 1969 FAME Gang records “Grits and Gravy,” “Soul Feud” etc. To Nashville 1972. Formed Bottom & Co., signed to Motown 1973 as Nashville’s first modern black major-label band. Sang band’s singles “You’re My Life” (1974), “Here for the Party” (1975) and album Rock Bottom (1976). Teamed with guitarist/producer Moses Dillard (1947-1993). They starred in top-10 disco hits “Come On Dance, Dance” (billed as “The Saturday Night Band,” 1978), “Perfect Love Affair” (billed as “The Constellation Orchestra,” 1978) and on Mercury Records LP We’re In This Thing Together (1980). Team also produced r&b and disco hits “We Fell in Love While Dancing” for Bill Brandon (1978), “Feed This Flame” for Lorraine Johnson (1979), “Learning to Dance All Over Again” for Lorraine Johnson (1979), “Let It Ride” for Linda Clifford (1982). Boyce sang “You Got Me Dancing in My Sleep,” “Burn Me Up” in group Frisky (1980), plus “Get What You Want” in group Spunk (1981). Also sang lead in oldies bands The Marvels, Sons of the Beach. Solo singles “Bluer Than Blue” (1983), “It’s Your Chance (To Break Dance)” (1984). Album The Messenger (as Jesse Boyce & Vision, 2013). Songs recorded by Temptations, Ben E. King, Dells, Impressions, Commodores, O.C. Smith, Bloodstone, David Ruffin, Chi-Lites, others. As Music Row session bassist, keyboardist and/or backup singer recorded with Crystal Gayle, John Hiatt, Shirley Caesar, Dr. John, Millie Jackson, Lonnie Mack, Lou Rawls, Albertina Walker, Osmonds, Mighty Clouds of Joy, etc. NARAS Super Picker awardee. Began 30-year tenure as bass player for Little Richard 1986. Composed and recorded soundtrack music for several religious films. Dillard & Boyce produced Warner Bros. CD by Tennessee State Prison lifers New Faith 1991, featuring guests Sam Moore, Teddy Pendergrass, Head of Sovereign Music Group. Founder of Midtown Music Academy. Music minister at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church. Featured in cancer documentary film Intentional Healing (2017) producing “Dance Again” for Phil Hugely (Gtar Phil) & Black Violin.
LEON DOUGLAS, 78, died Aug. 18.
Country singer a member of WWVA Wheeling Jamboree for 30 years. Performed on Opry with Cousin Jody in 1960s. Appeared on shows with George Jones, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, etc.
SONNY BURGESS, 88, died Aug. 18.
Rockabilly Hall of Fame member noted for “We Wanna Boogie,” “Red Headed Woman,” “Ain’t Got a Thing,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” “Itchy,” “Thunderbird” on Sun Records 1956-59. Formerly member of Conway Twitty’s band. Revived career in 1980s via a string of albums, festival appearances and European tours. Recorded Sonny Burgess Has Still Got It (Rounder Records, 1996) in Nashville with producer Gary Tallent and Billy Livsey, Scotty Moore, Jordanaires, Roy Huskey Jr. in CD’s cast. Headlined at 2015 Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit party for “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll: The Genius of Sam Phillips.” (full name: Albert Burgess Jr.)
DAVE WHEELER, 83, died Aug. 19.
Longtime RCA Records sales exec. Helped shape careers of Dolly, Pride, Alabama, Vince, Milsap, Martina, Waylon, etc. Label’s Director of Marketing in Nashville, in charge of all of RCA Nashville’s promotion, artist development, product management and media as well as sales and marketing. Remained with label for 35 years, his entire professional life. Leadership Music class 1992. Father of Provident gospel exec Jimmy Wheeler and of Jill Wheeler of Red Mountain Entertainment.
MAYNARD SPENCER, 92, died Aug. 19.
One half of The Spencer Brothers of Virginia with sibling Lance. Both worked with Charlie Monroe & The Kentucky Pardners in 1940s, 1950s.
JEFF PETTIT, 46, died Aug. 20.
Co-owner and founder of the East Nashville emporium and alt-music venue Fond Object Records.
PETE KUYKENDALL, 79, died Aug. 23.
Bluegrass Hall of Fame member. Co-founder (1968) of International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and of its annual awards show and museum. Founder (1966) and longtime editor of Bluegrass Unlimited, the genre’s “bible” monthly publication. Songwriter of bluegrass standards, including “I Am Weary Let Me Rest” on million-selling 2001 Grammy Album of Year O Brother Where Art Thou. Former member of The Country Gentlemen, 1958-59. Music publisher, studio owner, record producer, event promoter, music journalist, country disc jockey, historian/archivist. Recorded/produced discs by Mississippi John Hurt, Country Gentlemen, Red Allen, others. His Bluegrass Unlimited became the primary source of information about its genre, carrying record reviews, musical-instrument information, festival listings, features, artist news and letters. Created (1972) and managed Indian Springs Festival in Maryland, a cornerstone bluegrass event for next 14 years. Using pseudonym “Pete Roberts,” composed and arranged bluegrass classics “Down Where the Still Waters Flow,” “Journey’s End,” “No Blind Ones There,” “Out on the Ocean,” “Rollin’ Stone,” “Remembrance of You.” Songs recorded by Bill Clifton, Ralph Stanley, Country Gentlemen, J.D. Crowe & New South, Bill Yates, Charlie Waller, Larry Rice, James King, John Duffey. “I Am Weary Let Me Rest” sung by Cox Family on O Brother. Also a collector of rare banjos, mandolins, guitars, records. Fixture at annual IBMA conventions.
WENDY THATCHER, 69, died Aug. 28.
Former guitarist, songwriter & lead singer in bluegrass band The IInd Generation alongside Eddie Adcock & Jimmy Gaudreau. Recorded albums with group in 1972, 1974. (full name: Jan Erin Thatcher).
JIM ROLLINS, 54, died Sept. 7.
Banjo player formerly in Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys band.
DON WILLIAMS, 78, died Sept. 8.
Country Music Hall of Fame member. More than 30 top-10 hits. International ambassador for genre, achieving popularity in Germany, Sweden, Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Ireland, etc. Began professional career in Texas pop/folk trio Pozo Seco Singers. Came to Nashville to record with Bob Johnston (1932-2015). Scored on pop charts with “Time” 1966, “I’ll Be Gone” 1966, “I Can Make it With You” 1966, “Look What You’ve Done” 1967, more. Two LPs for Columbia. Members Williams & Susan Taylor then became Pozo Seco & recorded third LP with Jack Clement (1931-2013). Moved to Nashville. Signed as solo to Clement’s JMI label. Country chart debut with “Shelter of Your Eyes” 1972, then “Come Early Morning” b/w “Amanda” 1973. “Come Early Morning” believed to be country’s first concept video. “Amanda” an even bigger hit for Waylon Jennings 1979. Williams first top-10 hit, “We Should Be Together” 1974. Signed with Dot Records. “I Wouldn’t Want to Live if You Didn’t Love Me” 1974 first No. 1. Revived Brook Benton oldie “The Ties That Bind” in country 1974. Seven consecutive No. 1 hits 1975-78 — “You’re My Best Friend” 1975, “Love Me Tonight” 1975. “Til the Rivers All Run Dry” 1976, “Say It Again” 1976, “She Never Knew Me” 1976, “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” 1977, “I’m Just a Country Boy” 1977. Movie debut 1975’s W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings. Also in 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II. Began touring internationally 1976. In 1978 “I’ve Got a Winner in You,” “Rake and a Rambling Man,” “Tulsa Time.” Last named revived by Eric Clapton as pop hit 1980. Williams CMA Male Vocalist of Year 1978. “Lay Down Beside Me,” “It Must Be Love,” “Love Me All Over Again” 1979 hits. “It Must Be Love” revived by Alan Jackson 2000. Landmark “Good Old Boys Like Me” (1980) written by Bob McDill, who also wrote 11 of singer’s other top-10s. Other regular songwriters for singer Allen Reynolds, Wayland Holyfield, Roger Cook. Cook’s co-written “I Believe in You” (1980) returned Williams to pop charts. Later revived by Bette Midler. Big career year 1981 via “Falling Again,” “Miracles,” “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” Emmylou Harris duet “If I Needed You,” plus CMA award for I Believe In You as Album of Year. Dot became ABC became MCA. Williams hits continued with “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Love Is on a Roll,” “Stay Young,” “That’s the Thing About Love” 1982-85. Joined Capitol Records with 1986 hits “We’ve Got a Good Fire Goin,” “Heartbeat in the Darkness,” “Then it’s Love;” 1987 hits “Senorita,” “I’ll Never Be in Love Again,” “I Wouldn’t Be a Man;” 1988-89 hits “Another Place, Another Time,” “Desperately,” “Old Coyote Town.” Signed with RCA 1989. Scored with “One Good Well” 1989, “I’ve Been Loved by the Best” 1990, “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy” 1991, last one revived by Josh Turner 2006. Williams continued as major touring attraction 1990-2010. Also successful as songwriter via recordings by Kenny Rogers (“Lay Down Beside Me”), Charley Pride (“The Shelter of Your Eyes”), Lefty Frizzell (“If She Just Helps Me Get Over You”), Johnny Cash (“Down the Road I Go”), Jeanne Pruett (“Lay Down Beside Me”), Sonny James (“If She Just Helps Me Get Over You”), Pete Townsend (“Til the Rivers All Run Dry”), etc. Williams returned to recording on Sugar Hill Records with And So It Goes 2012, Reflections 2014, both top-20 hits on country album charts. Live CD/DVD 2016. Retired 2016. Tribute CD 2017 Gentle Giants by lifelong producer Garth Fundis featured performances of Williams’ hits by Chris Stapleton, Alison Krauss, Garth Brooks, Keb Mo, Lady Antebellum, Trisha Yearwood, etc.
TROY GENTRY, 50, died Sept. 8.
Grand Ole Opry member as half of duo Montgomery Gentry (with Eddie Montgomery). CMA Vocal Duo of Year 2000. ACM Top New Vocal Group 2000. AMA Favorite New Country Artist 2000. Five Gold albums, three Platinum. Twenty-eight charted singles and 16 top-10 hits — “Lonely and Gone” (1999), “”She Couldn’t Change Me” (2001), “My Town” (2002), “Speed” (2003), “Hell Yeah” (2003), “If You Ever Stop Loving Me” (2004), “Gone” (Gold Record, 2004), “Something to Be Proud Of” (2005), “She Don’t Tell Me To” (2005), “Some People Change” (2006), “Lucky Man” (2007), “What Do Ya Think About Me” (2007), “Back When I Knew It All” (2008), “Roll With Me” (2008), “One in Every Crowd” (2009), “Where I Come From” (2001). Other notable singles “Hillbilly Shoes” (1999), “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm” (2000), “All Night Long” (with Charlie Daniels, 2000). Ten albums – Tattoos & Scars (1999, Platinum), Carrying On (2001, Gold), My Town (2002, Platinum), You Do Your Thing (2004, Platinum), Something To Be Proud Of: Best Of (2005, Gold), Some People Change (2006), Back When I Knew It All (2008), For Our Heroes (Cracker Barrel, 2009), Rebels On the Run (2011), Folks Like Us (2015). Kentucky Music Hall of Fame 2015.
MARK GEE, 37, died Sept. 9.
Former owner of Synergee Entertainment management company.
JESSI ZAZU, 28, died Sept. 12.
Singer/guitarist/leader of the 2007-2016 Nashville rock band Those Darlins. Three albums — Those Darlins (2009), Screws Get Loose (2011), Blur the Line (2013. Performed at Bonnaroo 2014. Song “Red Light Love” used in national Kia car TV commercials. Band began as country and rockabilly interpreters, then shifted to punk rock. Theme song: “Ain’t Afraid.” Also a visual artist, graphic designer of Good Booty book jacket by Ann Powers. Niece of Steve Wariner. (real name: Jessi Wariner).
NEWELL ANGEL, 87, died Sept. 12.
Bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and band leader in Chattanooga. Tom & Newell & The Grasscutters issued five LPs
MERRILL FARNSWORTH, 60, died Sept. 14.
Following a career at Hummingbird Productions, she became a counselor, therapist and writer. Books include the play collection Jezebel’s Got the Blues (2012) and the poetry anthology Kissing My Shadow (2015).
JUDY PARKER, 79, died Sept. 14.
Nashville songwriter. Co-writer of pop successes “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” for 4 Seasons (1976), “Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight” for Neil Diamond (1977, NBC-TV), “Who Loves You” for 4 Seasons (1975). Songs used in the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys. Formerly an actor on the TV series Bonanza, My Three Sons, Batman, etc. and a model in commercials for United Airlines, Breck, Prell, Halo, Lilt Home Permanent, etc. Co-writer with husband Bob Gaudio. (married name: Judy Parker Gaudio).
MARK SELBY, 56, died Sept. 18.
Nashville Americana artist formerly on Vanguard Records. Albums include More Storms Comin’ (2000), Dirt (2003), Mark Otis Selby and the Horse He Rode In On (2006), Nine Pound Hammer (2008), Live (2009), Blue Highway (2012). Songs recorded by Wynonna, Yearwood, Jo Dee, Lee Roy, Keb Mo, etc. Hits written with Kenny Wayne Sheppard “Deja Voodoo,” “Slow Ride,” “Last Goodbye,” “Blue on Black.” Co-wrote Dixie Chicks breakthrough “There’s Your Trouble.” Also session musician for Kenny Rogers, Wynonna, B.B. King, Skynyrd, etc. Membership recruiter for NSAI. Kansas Music Hall of Fame member. Husband of songwriter Tia Sillers.
VIC RUMORE, 71, died Sept. 18.
Nashville broadcasting vet in both radio & TV. Head of VHR Broadcasting for 32 years, with TV properties in Lubbock, Springfield, St. Louis, Providence, Richmond, Atlanta & radio stations in Nashville (WLAC, WGFX), Winston Salem, etc. Formerly manager at WZTV Fox-17 1996-2003 and vp/gm at WKDA/WKDF radio during 1981-86 heyday. full name: Victor Hugh Rumore).
SPEEDY TOLLIVER, 99, died Sept. 18.
Revered banjo and fiddle player in D.C. area. Performed with Eddie Stoneman, Roy Clark, Lee Highway Boys, Sprouts of Grass, Over the Hill Gang. Featured multiple times on Smithsonian Folk Festival, toured as Friendship Ambassador for National Council for the Traditional Arts. Fiddle album Now and Then (2005). Virginia Heritage Award 2009. (Birth name: Roy Odell Tolliver).
KEN STILTS, 81, died Sept. 24.
Country-music artist manager and record-label exec of 1980s, 1990s. Best known as former manager of Judds and as owner of Dimension Records. Formed label 1979 to market Eddy Raven. Singer-songwriter’s singles “Dealin’ With the Devil,” “You’ve Got Those Eyes,” “Another Texas Song” and “Peace of Mind” all made country top-40 in 1980-81. Label scored its first top-10 hit with “It Don’t Hurt Me Half as Bad” by Ray Price 1981. “Diamonds in the Stars” repeated its success for Price following year. Dimension’s “Innocent Lies” a top-20 comeback hit for Sonny James 1982. Stilts provided financial support for Judds while then-partner Woody Bowles secured duo a recording contract with RCA/Curb 1983. Stilts became sole manager during Judds superstar years 1983-91. Also managed Carl Perkins, Terry McBride. Listed as a producer on Judds 1991 farewell concert event & TV documentary. Managed Wynonna’s solo career until 1994.
BOBBY BARNETT, 84, died Sept. 24.
Oklahoma-based country singer who charted eight titles in 1960-1978. Recorded for Razorback, Sims, K-Ark, Columbia, Cin-Kay labels. Biggest hits “Love Me, Love Me” (#14, 1968), “This Old Heart” (#24, 1960).
BOBBY PATTERSON, 75, died Sept. 24.
Bluegrass and old-time banjo player in Camp Creek Boys, Highlanders Bluegrass Band. Founded Mountain and Heritage record labels. Recording studio and record store owner. Preserved and promoted traditional Appalachian music in Galax, VA area. Virginia Heritage Award 2009. Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame 2015.
TOM PALEY, 89, died Sept. 30.
Country-folk revivalist. Co-founded New Lost City Ramblers 1958-1962 D.C. with Mike Seeger & John Cohen. Six albums for Folkways before he left to be replaced by Tracy Schwarz. Formed New Deal String Band 1965-2017 in London. Popularized old-time country in Europe. Guitarist & banjo player who also recorded solo for Elektra: Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachian Mountains (1953)
KENNY BEARD, 67, died Oct. 1.
Country songwriter and record producer. Co-wrote top-10 hits “Today’s Lonely Fool” (Tracy Lawrence, 1992), “My Second Home” (Tracy Lawrence, 1993), “As Any Fool Can See” (Tracy Lawrence, 1995), “If the World Had a Front Porch” (Tracy Lawrence, 1995), “The Rest of Mine” (Trace Adkins, 1996), “Is That a Tear” (Tracy Lawrence, 1997), “Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly” (Aaron Tippin, 2002), “The Love Song” (Jeff Bates, 2003). Co-written top-40 hits included “Big Time” (Trace Adkins, 1998), “A Bitter End” (Deryl Dodd, 2000), “I Can’t Lie to Me” (Clay Davidson, 2000), “Sometimes” (Clay Davidson, 2001), “I Wanna Make You Cry” (Jeff Bates, 2004), “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” (Trace Adkins, 2011).
TOM PETTY, 66, died Oct. 1.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member with significant ties to country music. Top pop hits included “Don’t Do Me Like That” (1979), “Refugee” (1980), “The Waiting” (1981), “You Got Lucky” (1982), “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985), “I Won’t Back Down” (1989), “Free Fallin’” (1990), “You Don’t Know How It Feels” (1995). Wrote two country hits – “Never Be You” for Rosanne Cash (1986) and “Thing About You” for Southern Pacific & Emmylou Harris (1985). Sang on Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all-star CD Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vol. 3 (1990) and on “Mind Your Own Business” with Hank Williams Jr. and others (1986). Songs covered by Sammy Kershaw, Johnny Cash, Swon Brothers, Aaron Watson, Glen Campbell, Neal Coty, Everly Brothers, Robin Meade, Dale Ann Bradley (bluegrass), Gibson Brothers (bluegrass), Infamous Stringdusters (bluegrass). Final project was as producer on 2017 Americana CD Bidin’ My Time by Chris Hillman, featuring Herb Pedersen & John Jorgenson of Desert Rose Band.
AUBREY HOLT, 79, died Oct. 5.
Founder and enduring mainstay of the popular bluegrass band The Boys From Indiana 1973-1995. Prolific songwriter: “Atlanta Is Burning,” “We Missed You ln Church Last Sunday,” “You Can Mark It Down,” “Headin’ South,” “Family Reunion,” etc. Songs recorded by Carl Story, Vince Gill, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Rhonda Vincent, Feller & Hill, Joe Mullins & Radio Ramblers, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, others.
CHESTER R. GREEN, 102, died Oct. 9.
As exec v.p. of marketing for Kraft Foods, he led company to launch star-studded Kraft Music Hall network TV series 1959-1971 (regularly featuring Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans) and then to sponsor the first televised CMA Awards, 1968.
REGGIE “MAC” McLAUGHLIN, 73, died Oct. 10.
Nashville booking agent for five decades. Worked with George Jones, Conway, Vern, Loretta. Keith Whitley, Lorrie Morgan, Confederate Railroad, Kentucky HeadHunters, Johnny Lee, Janie Fricke, Gene Watson, etc.
TERRY ELAM, 67, died Oct. 11.
Artist manager affiliated with Fitzgerald-Harley for 28 years. Star clients over the years included Vince Gill, The Time Jumpers, Roy Orbison.
MARGARET WIDLAKE, , died Oct. 18.
Co-owner of the Music Row watering hole Sherlock Holmes Pub 1991-2004. Wife of former Roy Orbison bass player Terry Widlake.
ROB POTTS, 65, died Oct. 27.
Major figure in Australian country music. Winner 2017 Jo Walker Meadow International Award from CMA. Created several Oz country festivals. Managed Warner Music Nashville’s Morgan Evans.
LANDY GARDNER, 64, died Oct. 28.
Founder and director of Christ Church Choir. Group recorded with Dolly Parton, Bill Gaither, Charlie Daniels, Carman, Glen Campbell, The Judds, Shirley Caesar, Garth Brooks, Dallas Holm, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patty, DeGarmo & Key, Steven Curtis Chapman, others. Six albums of its own, 1991-2002. Formerly married to gospel star Reba Rambo.
WALTER ALEXANDER HOUSTON, 85, died Oct. 28.
Nashville ventriloquist with a dummy named Elmer. Appeared on The Jimmy Dean Show 1957-59. Hosted own Nashville TV program The Alex and Elmer Show, appeared on Hee Haw and Grand Ole Opry. Opened for Charley Pride, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, etc. Formerly in father’s championship dance troupe The Echo Inn Cloggers.
ORVILLE ALMON, JR., 67, died Oct. 29.
Entertainment attorney on Music Row for 35+ years. Represented prominent recording artists, songwriters, executives, music publishers, record producers, managers, TV production companies, book authors. Founding partner of Zumwalt, Almon & Hayes. Formed own practice 2010. Leadership Music class 2009.
ROBERT KNIGHT, 72, died Nov. 5.
Nashville soul singer. Sang original version of the evergreen “Everlasting Love” 1967. Written by Buzz Cason/Mac Gayton, song has since been recorded by hundreds, including Love Affair (1969), David Ruffin (1969), Carl Carlton (1974), Narvel Felts (1979), Louise Mandrell (1979), Rex Smith & Rachel Sweet (1981), U2 (1989), Gloria Estefan (1995), David Essex (1995). Cason & Gayton also produced him and cowrote follow-up single Blessed Are the Lonely” (1968). Other Knight singles “Isn’t It Lonely Together” (1968), “Love On a Mountain Top” (1970). Sang at Apollo Theater in Harlem, traveled with Joe Tex for six months, became Aretha Franklin’s opening act on European concert tour. “Everlasting Love” revived as “beach music” favorite in 1980s. Knight and song revived again 2004 via Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit “Night Train to Nashville” and accompanying CD, which won a Grammy. Formerly sang lead in Paramounts, on Dot Records, and in Fairlanes.
MATTHEW SHANE CAMERON, 47, died Nov. 11.
Founder of the Nashville music-video firm Stormlight Pictures.
STEVE DAHL, 71, died Nov. 19.
Head of Fairs & Festival department at Paradigm booking agency. Founder of Monterey Peninsula Artists Nashville office (1986). Formerly singer & trumpet player in Atco Records r&b band The Red Dogs in 1960s. Member of music halls of fame in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota.
MEL TILLIS, 85, died Nov. 19.
Member Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry. Songwriting catalog includes 500+ titles, 18 BMI Awards and standards “Detroit City,” “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Mental Revenge,” “I Ain’t Never,” “Heart Over Mind,” “Burning Memories,” “All the Time,” “Emotions.” As recording artist, placed 77 titles & 35 top-10 hits on charts 1958-1990. Famed for using trademark stutter for comedic effect on TV shows and in films W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings (1977), Smokey & The Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), Beer for My Horses (2008), Every Which Way But Loose (1979), etc. First brought songs from native Florida to Music City 1956. Signed by Cedarwood, whose co-owner Webb Pierce had hits with Tillis tunes “I’m Tired,” “Honky Tonk Song,” “Holiday for Love,” “Tupelo County Jail,” “A Thousand Miles Ago,” “I Ain’t Never,” “No Love Have I,” “Take Time,” “Crazy Wild Desire,” “Cow Town,” “Sooner Or Later” and “How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody But Me.” Created rockabilly classics “Bop-a-Lena” and “Rock the Bop” in 1958 for Ronnie Self and Brenda Lee, respectively. Other late-1950s songwriting hits included “Why, Why, Why,” ”Ten Thousand Drums” for Carl Smith, “The Violet and a Rose” Jimmy Dickens, “Mary Don’t You Weep” Stonewall Jackson, “Little Dutch Girl” George Morgan” and “All the Time” Kitty Wells. Ray Price scored with “One More Time,” “Heart Over Mind,” “Burning Memories.” In 1961, Tillis had pop hits with Brenda Lee’s “Emotions” and Everly Brothers “Stick With Me Baby.” Patsy Cline recorded evergreen Tillis tunes “Strange,” “So Wrong.” Bobby Bare had 1963 pop-crossover smash “Detroit City.” More songwriting hits: Faron Young (“Unmitigated Gall,” 1966), Waylon Jennings (“Mental Revenge,” 1967), Kenny Rogers & The First Edition (“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” 1969). Charley Pride launched recording career 1966 with Tillis tune “Snakes Crawl at Night.” In 1967, Jack Greene revived “All the Time,” and Tom Jones had international hit with “Detroit City.” Many others successful with Tillis songs. Based on songwriting success, Tillis signed to Columbia as recording artist 1958, then Decca 1962, Kapp 1966, MGM 1969, MCA 1976, Elektra 1979. “Stateside” (1966) named his band The Statesiders. Became a regular on TV’s The Porter Wagoner Show 1967. Top-10 hits as singer beginning in 1969. Own version of “Heart Over Mind” plus “Commercial Affection” self-penned hits. Many hits written by others – “These Lonely Hands of Mine,” “Heaven Everyday,” “Arms of a Fool,” “Brand New Mister Me” and duets with Sherry Bryce “Take My Hand,” “Living and Learning.” During 1970s, had 25 top-10 hits, including self-penned “I Ain’t Never” (No. 1, 1972), “Sawmill” (1973), “Memory Maker” (1974), “Burning Memories” (1977), plus others’ songs “Neon Rose” (1973), “Midnight, Me and the Blues” (1974), “Stomp Them Grapes” (1974), “Woman in the Back of My Mind” (1975), “Good Woman Blues” (No. 1, 1976), “Heart Healer” (No. 1, 1977), “I Got the Hoss” (1977), “What Did I Promise Her Last Night” (1978), “I Believe in You” (No. 1, 1978), “Ain’t No California” (1978), “Send Me Down to Tuscon” (1979), “Coca Cola Cowboy” (No. 1, 1979). Mellifluous singing contrasted with speaking stutter led to TV stardom on Tonight Show, Love Boat, Dukes of Hazzard, Love, American Style, Hollywood Squares, plus many talk shows. Own summer show on ABC-TV, Mel and Susan Together (1978) with Susan Anton. Also became Vegas hotel-casino attraction. Music City News Comedian of Year 1971 and six consecutive times in 1973-78. CMA Entertainer of Year 1976. Formed own publishing companies, Sawgrass (BMI), Sabal (ASCAP), Guava (SESAC). Bought Cedarwood catalog 1983, for a reported $3 million. Also bought radio stations. Hits in 1980s included “Blind in Love,” “Lying Time Again,” “Your Body Is an Outlaw,” “A Million Old Goodbyes,” “Southern Rains,” “One Night Fever,” “In the Middle of the Night,” “New Patches,” “Stay a Little Longer.” Recorded duets with Nancy Sinatra, Glen Campbell. Songwriting renaissance via Ricky Skaggs’s “Honey Open That Door” (1984), “I’m Tired” (1987). Gail Davies (1976) and Holly Dunn (1982) “No Love Have I.” Juice Newton “Emotions” (1987). George Strait “Thoughts of a Fool” (1992). Sold publishing companies to Universal 1989. Opened own $23 million theater in Branson, MO 1994. Formed Old Dogs group with fellow vets Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Bobby Bare 1998. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss 2007 duet CD Raising Sand won Album of Year Grammy; included revival of “Stick With Me Baby.” Florida Artist Hall of Fame 2009. ACM Pioneer Award 2010. National Medal of Arts 2012. Autobiography Stutterin’ Boy (1984). Father of country star Pam Tillis and songwriter Sonny Tillis.
DELLA REESE, 86, died Nov. 20.
Star of the 1994-2003 gospel TV series Touched By An Angel who recorded its “Walk With You” theme song and other gospel records in Music City. Previously a pop/r&b hit maker with “And That Reminds Me” (1957), “Don’t You Know” (1959), “Not One Minute More” (1960). Began career touring with Mahalia Jackson and in gospel group The Meditation Singers in 1940s.
RONNIE BYRD, 45, died Nov. 25.
Musician/songwriter in the Nashville-area rock bands Excruciating Pain and Another Way to Bleed.
CHUCK SCHULTZ,, died Nov. 27.
Country and jazz journalist published in Country Weekly, American Songwriter, Maverick (U.K.), Country Aircheck, Music News Nashville, etc. Also promotions director at CKKI radio Montreal and weekly show host.
JOHNNY HALLYDAY, 74, died Dec. 6.
European rockabilly superstar known as “The French Elvis.” Also sang country, pop and French Chanson. Periodically recorded in Nashville. (real name; John Philip Smet)
LEON RHODES, 85, died Dec. 9.
Country guitar great. Member Ernest Tubb Texas Troubadours band 1959-1966. In Opry staff band 1967-1999. In house band of TV’s Hee Haw 1969-1984. Recording sessions backing Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Roy Clark, Crystal Gayle, Mel Tillis, Sammi Smith, Gene Watson, Jean Shepard, Larry Gatlin, Dottie West, George Morgan, John Denver, Moe Bandy, Roy Orbison, Ricky Skaggs, Reba McEntire, George Strait, etc. Super Picker Award from NARAS in 1976. Toured with Porter Wagoner, Marty Stuart. Appeared on latter’s Marty Party TV series. Formerly at Big D Jamboree, Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas and in sessions at Jim Beck Studio for Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, others.
BILL HEARN, 58, died Dec. 10.
Major gospel exec. Chairman & CEO of Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG), encompassing ForeFront, Motown Gospel, Hillsong, Sparrow, sixstepsrecords imprints, plus CCMG Publishing. World’s largest CCM company. Artists include Amy Grant, TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Hillsong United, Matt Redman, Mandisa, Crowder. Won two Grammy awards for gospel compilation production. Recording Academy President’s Merit Award 2006. Recording Academy past national trustee, Nashville chapter vice president. President Gospel Music Trust Fund. Formerly headed Sparrow Records & EMI Christian Music Group. Artists with his companies have more than 200 Gold, Platinum and Mult-Platinum certifications, 40 Grammys, 235 Dove Awards. Son of CCM founding figure Billy Ray Hearn (1929-1985).
RICHARD DOBSON, 75, died Dec. 16.
Country singer-songwriter with more than 20 albums 1977-2017. Particularly popular in Europe. His “Baby Ride Easy” popularized by Carlene Carter & Dave Edmunds. Also recorded by Johnny Cash & June Carter, Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears, Carter Family, Penny Jo Pullus, etc. His “Old Friends” was title tune of Guy Clark’s 1988 LP, and Clark also recorded “Forever For Always For Certain.” Nanci Griffith put his “Ballad of Robin Winter-Smith” on her 1984 LP Once In a Very Blue Moon. She dubbed him “The Hemingway of Country Music.” David Allan Coe, Jubal Lee Young, Rick Dinsmore recorded his “Piece of Wood and Steel.” Dinsmore released an entire CD of Dobson songs. Appeared in acclaimed 1981 documentary film Heartworn Highways. Many newsletters. Two novels, The Gulf Coast Boys, Seasons and Companions.
Naomi Martin, 89, died May 31.
Songwriter Martin is noted for such BMI Award winning songs as “My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You” by Charley Pride (1976) and “Let’s Take the Long Way Around the World” by Ronnie Milsap (1978). Both of them were No. 1 hits. She is also outstanding for her longevity in the Nashville music business. Naomi Martin’s career stretched over six decades.
Hurshel Wiginton, 79, died March 6.
As a member of The Nashville Edition, Wiginton sang on hundreds of hits in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s and was familiar to millions via the group’s long tenure on TV’s Hee Haw from 1969 to 1988. Wiginton sang backup on records by a who’s-who of Nashville’s country recording artists, including Hank Williams Jr., George Jones, Brenda Lee, Tammy Wynette, Ronnie Milsap, Waylon Jennings, Eddy Arnold, Mel Street, Gary Stewart, Gene Watson, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard. The Nashville Edition also backed such pop stars as Henry Mancini, Elvis Presley, Bobby Goldsboro, Nancy Sinatra, Dave Loggins, Tommy James and Bobby Vinton.
The group sang on more than 12,000 recordings during its heyday. Among the many hit titles where the vocal ensemble can be heard are Charley Pride’s “My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You,” Dottie West’s “Country Sunshine,” Marty Robbins’ “El Paso City,” Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn,” Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” Freddie Hart’s “Easy Lovin,’” Barbara Mandrell’s “The Midnight Oil,” Melba Montgomery’s “No Charge,” Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Billy Mize, 88, died Nov. 1
Billy Mize was a key figure on the California country scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Mize made his mark as a television personality, a steel guitarist, a songwriter, a radio broadcaster and a vocalist. His best-known song is the honky-tonk classic “Who Will Buy the Wine.” Billy Mize won three ACM Awards and was the subject of a documentary film.
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