Guitarist/Producer Billy Strange Dies

Billy Strange, a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, has died at age 81.

Equally notable as a top studio guitarist, record producer, songwriter and music arranger, Strange was born in 1930 and raised in Long Beach, CA. He was performing with his parents by age fourteen. He initially worked as a country guitarist, backing Spade Cooley, Roy Rogers, The Sons of the Pioneers, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant in the 1950s. He also served a stint in Count Basie’s band.

He rose to become a top session guitarist in L.A., a member of the ensemble known as “The Wrecking Crew.” As such, he backed everyone from The Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Records by The Everly Brothers, Nat King Cole, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, Jan & Dean, Love, Johnny Cash, The Hondells, Doris Day, Wanda Jackson, Wayne Newton, The Ventures, Pat Boone and many more contain his guitar stylings.

Strange’s distinctive, inventive arrangements include Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the Nancy and Frank Sinatra duet “Somethin’ Stupid.”

Recording for GNP Crescendo, Billy Strange issued a dozen instrumental albums in the 1960s. He was also a member of the pop band The Avalanches.

As a songwriter, Strange co-wrote “A Little Less Conversation,” “Charro,” “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” and “Memories” for Elvis Presley, “Limbo Rock” for Chubby Checker and a number of instrumentals for Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Herb Alpert.

Billy Strange moved to Nashville in the 1970s. He initially ran Sinatra’s publishing company’s office in Music City. In the 1980s, record executive Jimmy Bowen hired him to produce a series of country comeback albums on Dot Records for Jeanne Pruett, George Hamilton IV, Justin Tubb, Helen Cornelius and other veteran stars.

Billy Strange was induced into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007. He is also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He died in Nashville on Wednesday, February 22. He is survived by his wife, singer Jeanne Black, as well as two children. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Beloved Publicist Jayne Rogovin Passes

Jayne and her horse Diva. Photo: Gina Binkley

Veteran Nashville publicist Jayne Rogovin passed away last night (2/13) from incurable breast cancer.

For eight years she ran her successful Jayne Gang PR, with most recent clients including The Americana Music Association, Sunset Grill, Cabana Restaurant, Midtown Cafe and Manuel Exclusive Clothier. A devoted publicist, she was working even in recent weeks, as her condition worsened. Friends say the decline in her health was sudden.

Proof of her courageous spirit and drive, she proclaimed in a recent interview, “I’m living, not battling.”

Best friend Kay West helped Rogovin keep on living, acting as a point person for others who wanted to help. “I met Jayne when Steve West asked her to direct the first Nashville Music Awards aka The NAMMIES 17 years ago and I wrote the script,” recalls West. “We have been dear friends since. Jayne was fearless, adventurous, insatiably curious, always learning, generous, devoted to her friends and clients and a damned fine horsewoman and dancer. She lit up a room and touched countless lives. I will miss her terribly.”

Longtime friend Kay Clary agrees, “Jayne was bursting with life and seriously had the widest circle of close friends of anyone I’ve ever known! She had an hilariously quick wit, the tenderest of hearts, and sharpest of minds. Yes, she did impassioned work as a PR and marketing exec, but she’ll be remembered most by so many as a vibrant and true friend.”

Rogovin’s more than twenty-year career included time as Pecos Films Director/Producer, as well as work in media, marketing and creative services.

The New York native graduated from the University of Florida and went into broadcast journalism. Later, after a two-month stint with a TV crew covering the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, she decided a career change was in order. She eventually landed in Nashville, and became a much-loved, hard-working member of the music community. She was passionate about horses, and indulged her caring nature with gardening, and her feisty side with salsa dancing.

Friends rallied around Rogovin during her illness, organizing the Kick the Crap Outta Cancer benefit in her honor. Held April 5, 2011 at Cabana, the event attracted performers including Raul Malo, Jim Lauderdale, Steve Cropper, and Foster & Lloyd, and raised about $30,000.

She was as devoted to the community as it was to her, working with charitable causes including UPAW (United Partnership for Animal Welfare), and Billy’s Wish Foundation, which helps children with cancer.

Ronna Rubin saw her friend as an inspiration. She says, “In good health and in bad, Jayne inspired me. I will always remember Jayne’s passion; her passion for life, for her friends, for our creative community. Those artists, songwriters and singers lucky enough to have had her as their cheerleader were gifted with a rare combination of vision and devotion.”

In recent months Rogovin continued her longtime work with the Americana Music Association, including at its September Festival and Conference. She was one of the most devoted and earliest supporters of the organization and the genre it represents. According to her blog, she also enjoyed traveling to see family in the months before her passing.

Read more about Rogovin’s history here and her recent interview here.

Arrangements have not been announced.

Americana Music Association Executive Director Jed Hilly shared this moving letter today.

Dear Jaynie,

Your friendship was unconditional. Your love was unconditional. Your professionalism unsurpassed. I am so grateful for the gifts you shared.

You never once let me down. You not being here today is unimaginable and I am figuring out how to deal with this… It’s tough. Happened too fast.

I have no doubt you would have already pulled into my driveway by now to listen and comfort me, and to advise me on how to deal with this situation. You would likely be telling me that I have to grieve, and then you would, at the right time, tell me I needed to stand up, pull it together and leave the house. You’d tell me I needed a statement. It’s making me laugh and cry.

How lucky we all have been to be your friend. You gave us such confidence. Your belief in greatness and kindness in all of us is one I cherish.

I love you and miss you so much Jayne Rogovin. Happy Valentine’s Day sweetheart.

Friends rallied aroud Jayne Rogovin at the Kick The Crap Outta Cancer benefit. (L-R): Steve Cropper, Jonell Mosser, Jayne Rogovin, Harry Stinson and Beth Hooker. Photo: Alan Mayor

Superstar Whitney Houston Dies In Los Angeles

Pop superstar Whitney Houston passed away at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Saturday, Feb. 11. She was 48 years old. Cause of death has not yet been determined.

One of the greatest singers to step in front of a microphone, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born in 1963 to a musical family that included her gospel singer mother Cissy Houston, cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, and godmother Aretha Franklin. She was discovered by Arista Records head Clive Davis in New York City, who helped propel her on to stardom.

Over the course of her career, she released seven studio albums and three movie soundtracks, all of which have Gold or higher sales certifications. Her numerous accomplishments include earning six Grammys, two Emmy Awards, and many other awards. Houston’s run of seven consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100—”Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”—is still unmatched.

Houston landed her first acting role as the star of The Bodyguard (1992). Her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” featured on the blockbuster soundtrack, went on to become the best-selling single of all time. The soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

“Mine is only one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston,” commented Dolly Parton. “I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.”

Houston’s work also intersected with Nashville’s gospel community on The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack, one of the best-selling gospel albums in history. Houston starred in the film and performed songs on the soundtrack that were penned by Kirk Franklin and Dottie Rambo, among others.

She married R&B singer Bobby Brown in 1992, and gave birth to her only child Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown in 1993. Their tumultuous relationship was beset by rumors of drug use, and the couple divorced in 2007. Houston mounted a comeback in 2009 with singles “I Look To You” and “Million Dollar Bill,” coming clean about her past drug use in an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Houston had performed at Grammy nomination party in Los Angeles for R&B singer Kelly Price on Thursday (Feb. 9), and was slated to attend a pre-Grammy party Saturday thrown by Clive Davis in the hotel where she died. Bobby Brown was scheduled to perform with his group New Edition in Nashville Sunday night (Feb. 12), but pulled out of the show last minute to join his daughter in Los Angeles.

No funeral arrangements have been announced.

Producer and Songwriter Larry Butler Passes

Award-winning producer, songwriter, and musician Larry Butler passed away in his sleep yesterday (Jan. 19) at home in Pensacola, Florida. He was 69 years old.

The first and only Nashville producer to win the Grammy for Producer of the Year, Butler experienced his greatest successes as Kenny Rogers’ producer. Their collaboration resulted in landmark hits for Rogers, including “Lucille,” “She Believes In Me,” “The Gambler,” “Love Or Something Like It,” and “Coward of the County.”

Pensacola native Larry Lee Butler’s musical career began at age six when he joined the Harry James Orchestra. He moved to Nashville in 1963, after encouragement from publisher Buddy Killen.

He began landing session work, playing piano on hits like Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin” and Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” His musical contributions also appear on cuts by Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and many, many more.

In the late 1960s, Butler moved to Memphis and began working with songwriter Chips Moman in the group the Gentrys, who scored hits with “Keep On Dancin’” and “Every Day I Have To Cry Some.”

Butler later returned to Nashville and joined United Artists Records as head of the label’s Nashville office. Under his guidance, the label helped launch the successful careers of Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle, Dottie West and the Kendalls.

He won a Song of the Year Grammy for “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” another Chips Moman co-write that B.J. Thomas took to No. 1 in 1975. In 1979, Butler earned his Grammy for Producer of the Year. He launched a publishing company in 1984, signing writers Mickey Newbury, Dean Dillon and Julie Didier and landed the George Strait hits “The Chair” and “Ocean Front Property.” For his multitude of accomplishments, the University of West Florida awarded him with an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts.

He is survived by his wife Peggy Maultsby Butler, daughter Schanda Butler Olsson, grandson Justin, sister Alva Chop and numerous other extended family members and friends.

Memorial services will be held in Pensacola, Florida Tuesday, January 24 at 11:11 AM at Perdido Bay United Methodist Community Center. A celebration of Butler’s life will be held in Nashville at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Belmont University, Don Gant Scholarship, Office of Development, 1900 Belmont Ave., Nashville, TN 37212.

Soul Queen Etta James Dies

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member Etta James, one of the greatest soul singers in history, has died in Los Angeles at age 73.

A frequent visitor to the studios of Nashville, she was renowned for such searing performances as “The Wallflower” (1955), “All I Could Do Was Cry” (1960), “At Last” (1961), “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” (1962), “Stop the Wedding” (1962), “Pushover” (1963), “Tell Mama” (1967), “I’d Rather Go Blind” (1967) and “Security” (1968).

She was also notable as an interpreter of such country classics as “Almost Persuaded” (1969), “Loving Arms” (1975). “Sweet Memories” (1969), “When I Stop Dreaming” (1969), “Don’t Touch Me” (1997) and “Lovesick Blues” (1978).

In 1963, Etta James became one of the earliest major r&b stars to travel to Nashville to record. Her landmark Etta James Rocks the House LP was recorded at Music City’s New Era nightclub.

She returned to Nashville to record her 1988 comeback LP Seven Year Itch with producer Barry Beckett. Stickin’ to My Guns (1990), How Strong Is a Woman (1993) and Love’s Been Rough on Me (1997) were also recorded in Music City. Nashville’s Curb Records issued her 2002 two-volume Greatest Gospel Hits CDs.

During the second half of her career she recorded the works of such Nashville songwriters as Tracy Nelson, Dan Penn, Dobie Gray, Tony Joe White, Russell Smith, Kenny Greenberg, Greg Barnhill, Gretchen Peters, Troy Seals, Fred Knobloch, Steve Bogard, Mike Reid and Al Anderson.

She never knew her father, but believed him to be the legendary billiards player, Minnesota Fats, a longtime resident of Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. He neither confirmed nor denied it when they met, saying that he couldn’t remember.

During her lifetime, Etta James won six Grammy Awards. She was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy in 2003. She was also given a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

Her death today, January 20, was due to complications from leukemia, and she also suffered from hepatitis C and dementia. She is survived by her husband, two sons and numerous grandchildren.

The Opry’s Charlie Collins Passes

Charlie Collins (L) with Brother Oswald on the cover of the Rounder Records album "That's Country."

Grand Ole Opry sideman and world-class flat-top guitarist Charlie Collins has died at the age of 78.

Also an excellent fiddler and mandolin player, Collins came to prominence when he joined Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys band in 1966. The Tennessee native had previously been the fiddler in The Pinnacle Mountain Boys, 1960-66.

Following Acuff’s death in 1992, Collins continued to entertain on the Opry stage in a duo with Dobro player and fellow Acuff alumnus Brother Oswald (Beecher Kirby). The two recorded several albums together, including Os and Charlie and That’s Country for Rounder Records. Collins also recorded as a sideman with Jim & Jesse, Norman Blake, Sam Bush and others.

Brother Oswald retired in 1999 and died in 2002. Collins continued to perform on the Grand Ole Opry in the band backing the Opry Square Dancers.

On Saturday, Jan. 7, Collins performed on the show backing the dancers. He reportedly returned home that night and played his fiddle until around midnight. He suffered a massive stroke on Sunday morning. His death four days later, on Thursday, Jan. 12, was as a result of complications from that stroke.

Charlie Collins is survived by his wife Mary Agnes, daughter Teresa Lynn, three brothers, four sisters, three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and a great-great granddaughter. His burial is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 16 at Spring Hill Cemetery.

Road Manager Rick “Crabber” Crabtree Passes

Longtime road and production manager Rick “Crabber” Crabtree passed away on Dec. 21, 2011. He had been battling cancer for two years but was in remission when he died in his sleep.

Among the artists he worked with on the road were Ricky Van Shelton, Tammy Cochran, Lorrie Morgan, Tanya Tucker and Johnny Paycheck. His career also included time as production manager at the Wildhorse Saloon and the Mohegan Sun Casino.

He is survived by wife Kate.

A memorial service is scheduled for Wed., Dec. 28, 11:00 a.m. at Dickson Presbyterian Church, 500 Hwy 70 E, in Dickson, Tenn.

Music Philanthropist Warren Hellman Passes

Warren Hellman, musician and founder of the popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival died Sun., Dec. 18 in San Francisco. He was 77 and had been battling leukemia.

Hellman built a very successful career in finance during his time with Lehman Brothers in New York, and eventually continued his career in his hometown San Francisco. The billionaire’s community endeavors included starting the city’s free bluegrass festival. Last year it attracted more than 750,000 people over three days, and showcased such a diverse lineup as Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris.

Hellman also enjoyed performing with his band The Wronglers. The San Francisco Chronicle expects thousands of mourners to turn out for today’s (12/21) memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the Hellman family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, The Bay Citizen or the San Francisco School Alliance.

TV Editor Terry Climer Passes

Television/video editor Terry Climer died at home on Sun., Dec. 18. He was 60. A memorial service was held last night (12/20) at Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon, Tenn.

The Lebanon native began his career at the town’s local radio station WCOR and eventually made his way to the television industry, working in Los Angeles and Nashville. He was nominated for two primetime Emmys.

Climer enjoyed spending time with family and friends, and following the sports teams of his alma mater Western Kentucky University. He was also a dog lover.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Humane Society of Wilson County or Western Kentucky University.

Arrangements by Sellars Funeral Home, 313 W. Baddour Pkwy, Lebanon TN (615) 444-9393.

Billie Jo Spears Passes

Billie Jo Spears, one of the most consistent female country hit-makers of the 1970s, has died in Texas at age 74.

She was famous for her 1975 international smash hit “Blanket on the Ground,” as well as for working-girl anthems and for songs that fused country and disco. Spears was extremely popular in Great Britain and was a fixture in Branson, Mo. for a time.

Born in 1937 in the shipyard city of Beaumont, Texas, she was the daughter of a truck driver father. Her mother was a welder in the shipyards, as well as a guitarist in the Light Crust Doughboys western-swing band. Billie Jo Spears began singing professionally at age 13. She first recorded in Houston at that age and also appeared on the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, La.

After working as a drive-in restaurant carhop and as a secretary, she moved from Texas to Nashville in 1964. Signing with Capitol Records, she first hit the top-10 on the country charts with 1969’s “Mr. Walker It’s All Over,” the saga of a downtrodden secretary. She followed it with “Pittsburgh General,” which stood up for nurses. Other early singles included “Stepchild” (1969), in which a boy kills his abusive stepfather, and “Marty Gray” (1970), which dealt with teen pregnancy.

She faded from the hit parade and underwent vocal-cord surgery, then scored a huge comeback on United Artists Records with the toe-tapping “Blanket on the Ground.” It became her first and only No. 1 hit, both in the U.S. and abroad.

She fused country songs with danceable pop rhythms in such big hits as 1976’s “What I’ve Got in Mind,” 1977’s “If You Want Me,” 1978’s “57 Chevrolet” and 1979’s remake of Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive.” Spears was also distinctive in that she rarely recorded female “victim” material. Almost all of her hit ballads are about women asserting themselves. These include “Standing Tall” (1980), “I’ve Got to Go” (1978), “I’m Not Easy” (1977), “Never Did Like Whiskey” (1976) and her revival of Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” (1981).

Her other hits include 1976’s “Misty Blue” 1978’s Love Ain’t Gonna Wait for Us” and 1979’s “Livin’ Our Love Together.” She also recorded several notable duets with the late Del Reeves. Throughout her career, she sang with a tangy Texas accent and a feisty attitude. Her last appearance on the national country charts was in 1984.

Billie Jo Spears was married five times. In later years, she retained her popularity in the U.K. and recorded several albums for that market. She continued to tour stateside, despite triple-bypass heart surgery in 1993. Her most recent album was released in 2005. She had 22 British shows booked for 2012 at the time of her death.

She died of cancer on Wednesday morning, December 14. Survivors and funeral details were not available at press time.