2011 Deaths You May Have Missed – Music Edition (Part One of Two)

by M.C. Antil on January 3, 2012

Among the, literally, hundreds of musicians and others in the art and/or the business of making music who once had a moment in the sun (or longer),  and whose passing may have slipped your notice

Nickolas Ashford
Legendary Motown composer and arranger (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Your Precious Love), who with his songwriting partner and wife, Valerie Simpson, struck gold in the 80’s as performers (Solid)

Kenny Baker
International Bluegrass Hall of Famer who was a virtuoso on the fiddle, and who played behind dozens of the most storied names in the business, among them country great Don Gibson, Flatt & Scruggs and the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe

John Barry
Known in some circles as a composer (Born Free, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice), in some as the one-time London flatmate and fellow pub-crawler of not-yet acting legends Michael Caine and Terrence Stamp, and in others still as the first husband of legendary 60’s vixen and sometime muse Jane Birkin

Joseph Brooks
Composer of the 70’s-vintage Debby Boone weeper and unlikely pop sensation, You Light Up My Life, which first drew breath as the title song of a cheesy made-for-TV movie

Odell Brown
Composer of the Marvin Gaye’s late-career 1982 hit, the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer, Sexual Healing

Ray Bryant
Legendary jazz pianist, uncle of Tonight Show band leader, Kevin Eubanks, and a guy who may have met his wife at a jazz club in my hometown of Syracuse

Carl Bunch
Drummer for Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, Buddy Holly and his Crickets; portrayed in the terrific 1978 Oscar-nominated bio-pic by Don Stroud

Grady Chapman
Lead vocalist for the 50’s-era doo-wop group, The Robins

Clarence Clemons
Bruce Springsteen’s larger-than-life “big man,” whose throbbing, powerful saxophone helped early anthems like Thunder Road and Born to Run soar to levels very few rock songs are ever able to reach

Wilma Lee Cooper
Widow and longtime singing partner of old-time country great, Stoney Cooper, and who with Stoney had a remarkable string of country hits as Opry regulars in the 50’s and 60’s

Cornell Dupree
Guitar master who played on most of Bill Withers’ eclectic hits, and who many might know for both his beautiful melodic fills on Brook Benton’s timeless Rainy Night in Georgia and his powerful, hard-driving chords that tear open Aretha Franklin searing classic, Respect

Esther Gordy Edwards
Berry Gordy’s
sister, who saved so many seemingly insignificant artifacts from Motown’s early days – not to mention the building where the label once operated, and the studio where all its early hits were recorded – she eventually opened the Motown Museum, one of the great collections of musical history and memorabilia in the world

Wild Man Fischer
Arguably, the most famous street musician of all time, despite his insanity; a guy praised by Frank Zappa, a guy who both amazed and incensed critics, a guy who once appeared on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and a guy whose tune, “Go To Rhino Records,” proved so popular that it helped turn a tiny L.A. record store into one of the biggest labels in the world

Keith Fordyce
Original host of the groundbreaking and star-making 60’s-vintage British TV rock and pop music show, Ready, Steady, Go

Andrew Gold
Brilliantly talented, sometime-solo artist whose best work probably came on Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel, and its #1 hit, You’re No Good, a song on which he and Eddie Black played, arguably, the two most stunning guitar parts ever heard in the same piece of music

Rob Grill
Drop-dead handsome bass player drafted by songwriters Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan to be lead singer of their faux group, The Grass Roots, who went on to deliver some of the most compelling vocal performances of the era, including Midnight Confessions, Temptation Eyes, Live For Today and The River is Wide

Jack Hardy
Greenwich Village-based folk pioneer who never became a big name in his own right, but whose passion, dedication and mentorship influenced countless young, would-be folkies, including Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, John Gorka and Christine Lavin

Johnny Harra
In the opinion of those in a position to know, perhaps the most famous and hardest-working Elvis impersonator of all time, and a guy who played the late, jowly, jumpsuit-wearing, towel-wiping, Vegas version of the King — and some cynics might argue, appropriately so — in the entertaining and vastly underrated 1981 docu-drama, This is Elvis

Gladys Horton
For a brief time, the 16-year old lead singer of The Marvelettes, whose Please Mr. Postman proved to be such a smash hit in the summer of 1961 that it not only became young impresario Berry Gordy’s very first #1 record, it just might have saved his tiny and yet-unproven Motown label from bankruptcy in the process

Ferlin Huskey
A Country Music Hall of Fame honky-tonk singer and sometime crooner whose hits in late 50’s and early 60’s included the crossover gospel smash, Wings of a Dove

Bert Janisch
Guitarist and co-founder of the long-running and critically lauded, Pentangle, a British folk-rock – and every so often, folk-jazz – band

Don Kirshner
One sentence hardly seems sufficient for the guy called “the man with the golden ear;” the co-founder of legendary Aldon Publishing of Brlll Building fame, the originator of the 70’s-era rock concert TV series which bore his name, and the man who, for at least two amazing albums, chose the songs that made the Monkees matter musically far more than they probably had the right to

Jerry Leiber
One of the most important names in the history of American R&B; a white, Jewish guy from Baltimore who heard black and wrote black, but who with songwriting partner, Mike Stoller – and on the strength of such original compositions as Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock and Kansas City – helped make what had always been sexually charged, gyrating and ultimately off-limits “race music” suddenly accessible to millions of white kids all across suburbia

Charlie Louvin
Clean-living, God-fearing, mandolin-playing half of The Louvin Brothers, a yin-and-yang brother act who wrote, sang and played some timeless old-time gospel/country music from the 40’s on through to the 60’s, and a guy who, along with his late hell-raiser of a brother, Ira, laid down some of the most astounding two-part harmonies in the history of American popular music

Paul Koonce
Drummer and one-time band mate of Creed Bratton and the above-mentioned Grill in the 60’s-vintage Barri/Sloan creation, The Grass Roots

Hugh Martin
Composer extraordinaire from Alabama, probably best known for Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis, who also achieved some measure of fame for writing one of my all-time faves, Jeri Southern’s terrific little 50’s-era ditty about female pleasure-seeking, An Occasional Man

David Mason
British reed player who came to the fore on a number of Beatle tracks, most notably his piccolo solo on Penny Lane

Mel McDaniel
Gravelly voiced Okie country singer who had a bunch of honky tonk jukebox hits in the 80’s, one of which, Big Ole Brew, earned a nano-second of screen time when Bill Murray was singing it just before his car fell prey to the repo man in the 1981 comedy, Stripes

Gene McDaniels
Talented soul singer and songwriter known for his composition, A Hundred Pounds of Clay, which sold a million and went to #3 for him in 1961, and his composition, Feel Like Makin’ Love, which sold a million and went to #1 for Roberta Flack in 1974

Part Two of Two.  More 2011 deaths in music you may have missed.

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