It is sometimes easy to get swept up in moments and convince yourself that it has never been as bad as it is now. But one thing is hard to argue: the amount of loss that occurred in country music in 2013 was to a degree the genre has rarely, or never experienced before. From the death of one of the most legendary country music performers of all time in George Jones, to the unexpected passing of Willie Nelson’s guitar player Jody Payne, 2013 seemed to be a year of suffering through one unfortunate news story after another. To illustrate this, just appreciate these three facts:
- Braxton Schuffert died the same day George Jones died, April 26th.
- Chet Flippo died the same day Slim Whitman died, June 19th.
- “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Jody Payne, and Tompall Glaser all died within a week of each other in early August.
Below find a collection of the unfortunate obituaries Saving Country Music was forced to write this year, and a commentary on the passing of Mindy McCready that many give credit as being one of the best-written articles on SCM in 2013.
Mindy McCready – February 17th, 2013
The dead American celebrity–whether occurring quickly and unexpectedly, or slowly over time in a downward spiral of self destructive behavior–is an eternal narrative of the American popular culture, and an everlasting disgrace on our legacy. From jazz greats overdosing on heroin, to Hank Williams dying on New Year’s Day 1953 in the back of his powder blue Cadillac, to Jimi, to Janis, to Jim, Kurt, Michael Jackson and now Mindy McCready, as long as the American culture has been united through media, we’ve been willing accomplices to murder by the act of our unhealthy obsessions with humans we both unfairly canonize and unnecessarily criticize in the idolatrous pop culture cycle.
Instilled in all of us at birth is the idea that becoming a celebrity is the apex of the human experience. We feed this philosophy to our children. We perpetuate it through media. We’ve made it a vital building block of our economy. It is enshrined and institutionalized in our educational system in the form of popularity contests. It has infiltrated our religious institutions. Yet nowhere is the philosophy of wealth and celebrity being broken promises given equal time. Nowhere are the eternal narratives held up as evidence that fame doesn’t resolve personal problems, it exacerbates them, and that wealth doesn’t resolve the downward spiral, it fuels it. We take individuals already predisposed to addiction, depression, suicide and other self-destructive behavior, and then we expect them to deal with these issues in the public eye for our entertainment.
I would be lying if I said I was a fan of Mindy McCready’s music, and I would feel remiss if I recommended it. It would also be disingenuous of me if I regurgitated certain facts here in some heartlessly-compiled obit and acted like I knew the ins and outs of Mindy McCready’s career over time. The truth is I shielded myself from Mindy McCready’s celebrity, as well as the drama that plagued her later life that played out in popular media. I did so from an inherent personal belief that this voyeuristic pursuit was unhealthy for both Mindy and myself.
Did we kill Mindy McCready? No, Mindy McCready killed Mindy McCready.
We simply sat back and watched.
Braxton Schuffert – April 26, 2013
Whether you want to go as far as to say Braxton Schuffert “discovered” Hank Williams depends on your perspective, but that Hormel delivery driver was certainly seminal to setting Hank Williams on the path to super stardom, shepherding the young man as a musician and songwriter, making critical contributions to the rise of Hank, and helping Hank as a close friend all the way up to his death in 1953. “I’d like to say I helped him out, but I didn’t give him that voice and I didn’t teach him to write those songs. That’s something you get from God.”
Braxton Schuffert was a local musician in Montgomery, AL that had his own band and a standing gig at local radio station WSFA where he would play and sing, just him and his guitar every morning from 6:00 – 6:30 AM before his Hormel deliveries. Since school was out at the time, Shuffert asked young Hank if he wanted to come with him the next day on his deliveries. “I told him we’d sing all day. That’s all he needed to hear. He was for anything to do with music.”
One of Hank Williams’ first songs “Rockin’ Chair Daddy” was co-written by Schuffert. As Hank began to get bigger, Braxton helped form Hank’s Drifting Cowboy band, and was a revolving member of the band and was part of Hank’s inner circle throughout the country star’s career. Braxton Schuffert was his own accomplished country music singer, and worked to help keep the legacy of Hank Williams alive, performing as lately as last year’s 33rd annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana at the age of 96. Schuffert has his own display case at the Hank Williams Museum.
George Jones – April 26th, 2013
While in the midst of his 60-date farewell tour, Jones was hospitalized for running a slight fever and for having irregular blood pressure, canceling shows in both Atlanta, and Salem, VA. A family member told TMZ, “”He has been on oxygen for a long while now and his lungs finally just couldn’t do it anymore and they collapsed and he passed away. He couldn’t breathe anymore on his own.”
George died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was survived by four children and his wife of 30 years, Nancy. Jones was married a total of 4 times, including to fellow country music legend Tammy Wynette from 1969 to 1975.
George Jones was born in Saratoga, TX, and went on to record more than 150 country albums and have 14 #1 country hits. Dubbed “The Possum” by some for his marsupial look, and “No Show Jones” by others for a well-documented period of alcohol and drug abuse, George had one of the smoothest voices to ever grace country music. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1956, and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 2008.
Chet Flippo – June 19th, 2013
In the mid 70′s when country music was in upheaval from a new crop of rough shot artists thinking they should be able to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and keep creative control of their music, Rolling Stone Associate Editor Chet Flippo hit the streets of Nashville to help chronicle what was happening. Not nearly as off-the-wall as his more famous Rolling Stone counterpart Hunter S. Thompson, but just as willing to take an offbeat approach and embed himself amongst his journalistic subjects to get the whole story, Chet Flippo became the eyes and ears for the rest of the world enraptured by country music’s Outlaw revolution.
Beyond writing features for Rolling Stone, Flippo lent his pen to the very music of the Outlaw movement, writing the preambles and liner notes to both Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum-selling album in the history of country music, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, arguably country music’s most influential album of all time.
Flippo was born in Fort Worth, TX, and was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. He went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, and after working as Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone magazine while in graduate school, he became Rolling Stone’s New York Bureau Chief in 1974, rising to senior editor after Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.
Slim Whitman – June 19th, 2013
Yodeling became deprecated in popular country music by the late 1950′s, but not before Slim Whitman who passed away on June 19th mastered the craft and made the world a timeless catalog of it in the country music context. Slim may not be given as much credit of the formation and popularization of country music as Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers, but he sold a surprising 120 million records worldwide, primarily by appealing to Europeans just as much, if not more than the American audience.
Though Whitman never scored a domestic #1 (he did have a couple of #2′s), his song “Rose Marie” held the record for the longest UK #1 for 36 years, spending 11 weeks at the #1 spot. Whitman was right-handed, but was a left-handed guitarist, stringing the guitar upside down; a practice later adopted by Paul McCartney after seeing Whitman playing guitar on a poster. Whitman’s influence far outlasted his popular music popularity, and so do his songs that illustrate an astounding, enchanting control of the human vocal range.
Oh, and let’s not forget that moment in 1996 when Slim Whitman’s music single-handedly saved the world from invading Martians when a Kansas teenager discovered through his grandmother that Slim Whitman’s yodel would melt the brains of the invaders, eventually leading to the military broadcasting Slim around the globe, destroying the Martians.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement – August 8th, 2013
Country Music Hall of Famer, legendary producer, songwriter, musician, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement died at the age of 82, the same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jack Clement got his start working at Sun Studios in Memphis under Sam Phillips while playing steel guitar in college. He would later use this important position to become a seminal figure in the formation of both country and rock and roll music in the mid 50′s. Sam Phillips hired Jack on as an engineer, and Jack would arrange such hits as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and write Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” Jack discovered Jerry Lee Lewis when Sam Phillips was away on vacation one time, and many of those early Sun Studios recordings have Jack Clement’s fingerprints on them.
Clement would later go on to operate a renowned studio out of his home called the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.” His house became a symbol of country music’s Outlaw revolution, facilitating a relaxed environment where creativity and free expression were encouraged and cultivated with country music’s progressive artists—a sharp contrast to the authoritarian studios of Nashville’s Music Row. At Clement’s home studio, Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams was produced and recorded, as well as albums by Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, John Prine, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, and many more.
Jack Clement was also an inductee to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Music City Walk of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was considered a close friend and spiritual confidant to many country music performers.
Jody Payne – August 10th, 2013
Payne was part of Willie Nelson’s legendary “Family Band” for over 3 decades until he decided to retire from the road and began teaching guitar. He was born in in Garrard County, Kentucky where he began singing at six years old. Jody first played professionally with Charlie Monroe in 1951, and then was drafted into the army in 1958. After two years of service, he settled in Detroit where he initially met Willie Nelson in 1962, but did not start playing with him until years later. Throughout the 60′s Payne played bass for Ray Price, and also played with Merle Haggard among others before eventually joining Willie in 1973.
Payne was married to country singer Sammi Smith. The couple eventually divorced. They had a son Waylon Payne who is also a musician, performer, and actor. He is also survived by another son Austin Payne, and his wife Vicki who he married in 1980.
Tompall Glaser – August 13th, 2013
Tompall Glaser was born Thomas Paul Glaser on September 3rd, 1933 in Spalding, Nebraska. He got his start in country music with his two brothers Chuck and Jim backing up Marty Robbins. They went on to form Tompall & The Glaser Brothers and eventually became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The family band released 10 albums and had 9 charting singles before breaking up in 1975.
But Tompall came to be better known for his work as one of country music’s original Outlaws. As one of Nashville’s first renegade studio owners, he was seminal to the trend of artists winning creative control of their music in the early and mid 1970′s. His “Hillbilly Central” studio became a hangout for artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and many others that eventually would lead country’s Outlaw movement to country music prominence.
Tompall most prominently appeared on the compilation Wanted: The Outlaws that became country music’s first platinum-selling album. His contribution “Put Another Long On The Fire” written by Shel Silverstein became his highest-charting hit. He released 15 solo albums over his long career, but had disappeared lately from the country music scene.
Wayne Mills – November 23rd, 2013
Wayne Mills was an Outlaw country music artists and songwriter who was shot fatally on November 23rd at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville by the bar’s owner, Chris Ferrell. Originally from the very small town of Arab in Northern Alabama, he attended Wallace State Junior College as a baseball player, and eventually played football for the University of Alabama. Mills earned his degree in education and formed the Wayne Mills Band which became one of the hottest college bands on the honky tonk circuit.
Though Mills never rose to become a household name, his influence on country music cannot be overstated. He was close personal friends with Jamey Johnson, and was on tour with Jamey the week before he died. Jamey once opened for Wayne when he was making his way up in the ranks, so did future CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Mills also shared the stage with Blackberry Smoke, and toured both Europe and Australia during his 15-plus years of touring experience. Mills received the Guardian Award by the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame just last month to recognize his “hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before.”
Ray Price – December 16th, 2013
Ray Price was born in Perryville, TX and served in the United States Marine Corps for 3 years before joining the “Big D Jamboree” show in Dallas in 1949. He then went on to manage Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboy band after the untimely death of Hank in 1952. In 1953, Ray Price formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys, which had many notable members over the years, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck , Johnny Bush, and steel guitar player Buddy Emmons amongst others.
Ray scored his first #1 hit in 1956 with the song “Crazy Arms” written by steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, and later became seminal to the 1960′s “Nashville Sound,” scoring a total of eight #1′s, including “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You,” “City Lights,” “The Same Old Me,” “For The Good Times” in 1970 written by Kris Kristofferson, and “I Won’t Mention It Again” in 1971. One of his most well-known songs is “Heartaches By The Number” released in 1959.
He released over 50 albums over his career and became a legend of country music, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Ray won two Grammys, two ACM Awards, and a CMA Award for Album of the Year from 1971. Ray continued to perform all the way up to this year, and released his last album Last of the Breed with good friends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 2007.
Other Notable Country Deaths:
- Cal Smith – best known for the song “Country Bumpkin”
- Jack Greene – Singer and performer, and first ever CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
- Patti Page – Singer of “Tennessee Waltz”
- Billy Joe Foster – Bluegrass Boy fiddle player for Bill Monroe & others
- Tony Douglas – Louisiana Hayride star that once turned down a contract for the Grand Ole Opry because he didn’t want to leave Texas.
- Johnny MacRae – Songwriter
- Patty Andrews – Of The Andrews Sisters
- Claude King- Singer, original member of the Louisiana Hayride
- Lorene Mann – Singer and songwriter
- Gordon Stoker – for The Jordanaires
- Sammy Johns – Songwriter of “Chevy Van” and other songs.