Saturday, December 29, 2012

Country Music's Final Bows of 2012

Category:  Tribute

The final curtain fell hard on country music in 2012.  Here are the losses we suffered:

Mike Auldridge (December 28, cancer, age 73):  the Dobro player for the legendary bluegrass band the Seldom Scene.

Doug Bounsall (September 1, car accident, age 61):  a former member of the Dillards.

Larry Butler (January 20, natural causes, age 69):  a man with many hats, including the songwriter of BJ Thomas' 1975 #1 country and pop hit "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."  Butler also produced numerous country music acts, but his work with Kenny Rogers brought them both phenomenal success.  In 1980 Butler became the first, and to date the only, country music producer to win the "producer of the year" Grammy award.

Tony Cianciola (January 25, aneurysm, age 87):  a Knoxville-based accordion player who followed his cousin onto the WNOX Midday Merry-Go-Round, where he performed with the likes of Chet Atkins, Archie Campbell, Don Gibson, and Johnnie & Jack.  Atkins was such a fan that he used Cianciola on some recording sessions.

Susanna Clark (June 27, illness, age 73):  the wife of legendary songwriter Guy Clark was a songwriter herself, co-writing the classic "Easy From Now On" with Carlene Carter.  She was also a gifted painter.  Her artwork adorned the cover of Willie Nelson's Stardust album.

Eddie Clerto (February 2, natural causes, age 93):  based on the west coast for most of his career, Clerto managed one minor hit, "Flying Saucer Boogie."  His band the Roundup Boys worked with numerous west coast country performers including Rose Maddox.

Charlie Collins (January 12, stroke, age 78):  A well-known east Tennessee performer in his early life, Collins joined Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys in 1966.  After Acuff's death in 1992 Collins remained on the Grand Ole Opry as part of the square dance band.

Al DeLory (February 5, unknown causes, age 82):  a session musician (the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album) who had one hit on his own, his rendition of the theme song to M*A*S*H, DeLory was the Grammy-winning producer and arranger for Glen Campbell during Campbell's rise to superstardom.

Doug Dillard (May 16, lung infection, age 75):  Sheriff Andy Taylor's favorite band was the Darlings, and Doug Darling was their banjo player.  The Dillards, of course, were a legitimate bluegrass band, inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2010.  Aside from his work with the Dillards, Doug also teamed up with one-time Byrd member Gene Clark for the duo Dillard & Clark.

Jimmy Elledge (June 10, stroke, age 69):  the man who had the first huge (million-selling) version of the Willie Nelson composition "Funny How Time Slips Away."

Chris Ethridge (April 23, pancreatic cancer, age 65):  the bassist for Gram Parson's influential country-rock band the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Andy Griffith (July 3, heart attack, age 86):  the folksy sheriff of Mayberry was a good guitarist and singer, having a comedy hit with "What It Was, Was Football" and a string of successful gospel recordings.  Griffith was one of three people from his 1960s TV series to die this year (along with Doug Dillard and George Lindsey).

Levon Helm (April 19, cancer, age 71):  from playing Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daughter to the backbone of The Band, Helm's talent and reach spanned genres and decades.  His strong ties to country music led The Band to record songs such as "The Long Black Veil" and later earned Helm Grammy awards for his solo projects Dirt Farmer and Ramble at the Ryman.

Walt Hensley (November 25, cancer, age 76):  the "Banjo Baron of Baltimore" played with many bluegrass bands including the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and the Country Gentlemen.

Stephen Hill (August 5, heart attack, age 55):  gospel singer/songwriter who frequently appeared on the Gaither Homecoming shows and taught at the Stamps Baxter School of Music.

Billy Johnson (February 27, unknown cause, age 51):  session and touring guitarist for the likes of Billy Walker, Jim Ed Brown and Porter Wagoner.

Tim Johnson (October 21, cancer, age 52):  a board member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and author of over 100 songs including "Thank God for Believers," "I Let Her Lie" and "Do You Believe Me Now."

Dick Kniss (January 27, pulmonary disease, age 74):  a one-time bassist for folk music icons Peter, Paul & Mary, he went on to work with John Denver, including co-writing "Sunshine on My Shoulder."

Charlie Lamb (March 7, pneumonia, age 90):  the "mayor of Music Row" was a pioneering journalist, becoming one of the first Nashville-based reporters for trade publications.  He also coined the term "with a bullet" to signify songs that were making a rapid move up the charts.

George Lindsey (May 6, illness, age 83):  "Goober" on The Andy Griffith Show later became a regular on Hee Haw.

Danny Morrison (February 14, heart attack, age unknown):  songwriter behind "Blaze of Glory" and "Is It Cold in Here."

Frank Peppiatt (November 6, bladder cancer, age 85):  one of the co-creators of Hee Haw.

Frances Preston (June 13, congestive heart failure, age 83):  Hall of Famer who literally worked her way to the top, she was the first female president of BMI.

Tom "Cat" Reeder (June 30, heart attack, age 78):  WAMU's bluegrass host and a Disc Jockey Hall of Fame member.

Earl Scruggs (March 28, natural causes, age 88):  the man for whom the banjo seemed to be invented, his three-finger style of playing revolutionized bluegrass music.

Dick Shelton (January 17, pneumonia, age 71):  Blake Shelton's father.

John Shuffler (December 21, illness/complications of a stroke, age 81):  the bass player in the Shuffler Family bluegrass band began his career playing with the Stanley Brothers.

Joe South (September 5, heart attack, age 72):  while his recorded sound was more rock than country, his contributions to country music as a songwriter are numerous:  "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home," "Games People Play," and "Rose Garden" are among the hits to come from his pen.

Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan (September 7, leukemia, age 93):  half of the Grand Ole Opry comedy duo Lonzo & Oscar, Sullivan was also a member of Eddy Arnold's band in the 1940s.  His mandolin work can be heard on Arnold's early recordings.

Herby Wallace (April 5, heart attack, age 64):  Steel Guitar Hall of Famer who played on over 2,000 sessions.

Doc Watson (May 29, complications from colon surgery and pneumonia, age 89):  one of the best friends a guitar could ever have.  His majestic playing thrilled audiences for decades, and his memorial to his late son, MerleFest, brought artists and fans together in North Carolina for a quarter of a century. 

Kitty Wells (July 16, stroke, age 92):  in 1952 she kicked the door down for female country singers with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," rightfully earning her the title "Queen of Country Music."

Finally, a couple of deaths related to the 1982 film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which starred Dolly Parton.  On December 12 Lawrence King, the man who wrote the original 1973 article about the "chicken ranch" and later collaborated on the play, died from emphysema at the age of 83.  Twelve days later veteran character actor Charles Durning, who absolutely stole the film as the governor who would, as he sang, "dance a little sidestep," died of natural causes at the age of 89.

Farewell, and thank you for the music.

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