Country Greats Who’ve Passed Away So Far in 2015

2015 so far has been an especially dark year for deaths in the greater country music world. From the passing of legends such as “Little” Jimmy Dickens and Jim Ed Brown, to the tragedy of lives ended too soon like in the cases of Randy Howard and Jon Hensley. We don’t always take to proper time to honor all of those that have passed, so as we enter the second half of 2015, let’s reflect back on who we have lost so far.

Tom Skinner – July 12th, 2015

tom-skinnerYou may not be comfortable with how exactly to define the quasi country, quasi-rock music that comes out of the Texas / Oklahoma region known as Red Dirt, but what you can be confident in is that it would never have come to life like it did without a man named Tom Skinner.

Along with Jimmy LaFave and the late Bob Childers, Tom Skinnner was one of the founding fathers of the music nicknamed for the clay-laced earth deposited throughout the region that gives the Red River dividing Texas and Oklahoma a burnt red hue. More of an attitude than a sound, the term “Red Dirt” encompasses the rock music of Cody Canada and the hard country of Jason Boland all the same. The only constant is they all got their start in Stillwater, Oklahoma, under the tutelage of Tom Skinner and others.

Bass player, songwriter, and father of Red Dirt music Tom Skinner passed away July 12th after a long bout with health issues. He was 61-years-old. He will leave a hole in the Texas / Red Dirt music scene the size of Oklahoma. (read more)

Jim Ed Brown – June 11th, 2015

jim-ed-brownCountry Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown passed away June 11th at the Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, TN after a long battle with lung Cancer. Though Jim Ed’s Cancer originally diagnosed in September of 2014 had gone into remission earlier this year, the country star recently announced it had returned.

James Edward Brown was born April 1, 1934, in Sparkman, Arkansas. He was a member of the family band The Browns with his two sisters Maxine and Bonnie. It was just announced in March that The Browns would be the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Grady Martin and the Oak Ridge Boys.

In 1965, Jim Ed Brown signed a solo contract with RCA and began to record and release music outside of The Browns band, including numerous successful hits. This slowly caused the band to dissolve, eventually disbanding officially in 1967. However over the years, The Browns have reunited on many occasions and continue to perform together today. he had become a mainstay of the Grand Ole Opry over the last few years, and also was the DJ of a radio show. In 2015, he released a new album called In Style Again his first record in 40 years. (read more)

Randy Howard – June 9th, 2015

randy-howardRandy Howard released two major label records, All American Redneck for Warner Bros. in 1983, and the self-titled Randy Howard for Atlantic in 1988. He released seven records overall, including two titles for for Utopian Records, including his debut Now and Then in 1976. It included the protest song, “God Don’t Live in Nashville” and Howard was considered to be a pioneer of the Outlaw country movement. “All American Redneck” became his signature song and an underground hit.

As a performer, Howard shared the stage with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jr., and many others. Later in life he might have been best known for penning songs for Hank Williams III, including the 3rd generation country star’s “I Don’t Know” off of his debut album Risin’ Outlaw, and “My Drinking Problem” from Hank3’s opus Straight to Hell. Howard also toured with Hank3 as an opener early in Hank3’s career.

Randy Howard was killed by a bounty hunter serving a bench warrant. The case is still under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. (read more)

Jon Hensley – June 1st, 2015

jon-hensleyJon Hensley is given credit for helping to revitalize the career of Wanda Jackson when the Queen of Rockabilly began to perform and record again after a lull in her career. Wanda Jackson recorded an album with Jack White called The Party Ain’t Over in 2011, and worked with Justin Townes Earle on 2012’s Unfinished Business, putting her back into national prominance. “Jon’s very valuable to me and the resurgence of my career,” Wanda Jackson is quoted as saying. “We’re kindred spirits.”

Hensley also managed Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and The Dirt Daubers two acts involving performer JD Wilkes, and also managed Gary Bennett of BR549, and Goose Creek Symphony. John previously worked under the management, publicity, and distribution company Thirty Tigers.

Recently Hensley was best known as the manager and right hand man of Waylon Jenning’s son Shooter Jennings. (read more)

Johnny Gimble – May 9th, 2015

johnny-gimbleBy the late 60’s Gimble was a sought after session player, and played on Merle Haggard’s Bob Wills tribute record, and recordings from Chet Atkins. Gimble also played mandolin in both live and studio sessions. He was also known for being one of the very few five-string fiddle players adding an extra lower string to hit lower notes.

Johnny Gimble’s most high-profile position may have been as a member of the Million Dollar Band an All-Star group of session musicians that most notably appeared on the television variety show Hee-Haw. He also toured with Willie Nelson as his fiddle player from 1979 to 1981 after moving from Nashville back to Texas, and in 1983 assembled a Texas Swing group that featured Ray Price on vocals that had a hit with the song “One Fiddle, Two Fiddle” after the song was featured in the Clint Eastwood move Honkytonk Man.

Beloved as a fiddle virtuoso in Texas and beyond, Johnny Gimble will the deeply missed in the country music community. He was 88 years old. (read more)

Drummer Bob Burns  – April 4th, 2015

bob-burnsBurns slipped off the road on a tight turn and hit a mailbox and a tree just before midnight. He died on the scene. Georgia State Patrol authorities say Burns was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident.

Bob Burns helped form Lynyrd Skynyrd with Gary Rossington and Larry Junstrom in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964 when he was just 14-years-old. He would appear on many early recordings, as well as the band’s two first major releases, (Pronounced ‘LÄ•h-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) and Second Helping, making Burns the drummer on some of the most iconic songs in Southern rock history, including “Free Bird,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Simple Man.” Burns officially left the group in 1974 citing the rigors of road life, and he often took time off from the band during his tenure as drummer. Burns was replaced by Artemis Pyle who became a well-recognized member of the iconic Southern rock outfit. (read more)

Bobby Emmons – February 23rd, 2015

bobby-emmonsKnown for writing such iconic songs as the #1 hits by Waylon Jennings  “Luckenbach, Texas”  and “Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You),” Tanya Tucker’s hit “Love Me Like You Used Too,” “So Much Like My Dad” by George Strait, and many more, he was also a well-respected musician in some of American music’s most important studio and touring bands.

Born Bobby Gene Emmons on February 19, 1943 in Corinth, Mississippi to Elmer and Minnie Emmons, Bobby was a self-taught player who became a professional songwriter and musician in 1959. As a member of Bill Black’s Combo, he toured all around the country playing keys until he joined The Memphis Boys the iconic studio band for the American Sound Studio in Memphis, TN. Considered one of the top two hit factory studios of the time, The Memphis Boys played on more hit records in a six month period than any other group of studio musicians in history according to Billboard, including scoring hits in four different genres: country, jazz, R&B, and pop. They had 122 hits in all, including many with Elvis.

Emmons also lent his talents to other studios, including Fernwood, Hi Studios, Sun Studios, Phillips International, Sounds of Memphis, Stax, Ardent and Elvis Presley’s “The Jungle Room.” Bobby played on the Willie Nelson albums Always on My Mind, City of New Orleans, Take It to the Limit, WWII (with Waylon Jennings), Pancho and Lefty (with Merle Haggard), the first two records for the supergroup The Highwaymen, and played Hammond B3 in The Highwaymen backing band. Bobby Emmons had just turned 72-years-old. (read more)

Joe B. Maudlin – February 7th, 2015

buddy-holly-and-the-cricketsJoe Benson Mauldin, Jr. was born on July 8th, 1940 in Lubbock, TX, and joined Buddy Holly early on along with drummer Jerry Allison, and later guitarist Niki Sullivan. The Crickets were taking a hiatus from Buddy Holly on that fateful February 3rd in 1959 when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, forever memorialized as “The Day The Music Died.” At the time a young upstart musician named Waylon Jennings was filling in for Maudlin. The Crickets were in a minor spat with Holly at the time, but were hoping to patch things up when the bespectacled star returned home. Joe B. was one of the pall bearers at Buddy Holly’s funeral.

Beyond The Crickets, Joe B. had a notable career as a musician and sound engineer. Mauldin worked at the Gold Star Studio in Los Angeles in the 1960’s that was used by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and Phil Spector among others. He also played on many country records. Joe B. Mauldin is also a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, and is memorialized on the West Texas Walk of Fame in his hometown of Lubbock. In 2012, a committee made sure that Maudlin and the other original Crickets were formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being overlooked when Buddy Holly was first inducted in 1986. (read more)

“Little” Jimmy Dickens – January 2nd, 2015

little-jimmyJames Cecil Dickens was born in Bolt, West Virginia, and began his musical career performing on WJLS radio while attending college. In 1948, Roy Acuff heard Dickens on the radio, and introduced him to Columbia Records and The Grand Ole Opry, and soon “Little” Jimmy was a mainstay on the radio show and releasing studio records. The “Little” came from his small stature, but Hank Williams later nicknamed him “Tater” after one of his most recognizable early hits “Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait).” Hank originally penned his song “Hey Good Lookin’” for Jimmy, but later recorded it himself, saying it was “too good” for his Opry friend.

Dickens formed his band the Country Boys in 1950, and was best known for his novelty songs, or songs that incorporated comedy such as “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” “I’m Little But I’m Loud,” and “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” He became the first country act to circumvent the globe while on tour in 1964, and in 1965 scored his first #1 hit with “May The Bird of Paradise”¦” Jimmy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.

Later in life “Little” Jimmy became a fixture of The Grand Ole Opry, many times as the comic relief character of the sainted stage, and despite his loss of commercial prominence, was well-recognized and beloved even by younger audiences who knew “Little” Jimmy from appearances on awards shows, videos for Brad Paisley, and other notable cameos.

Other Notable Deaths:

” Red Lane – July 1st – Songwriter of “Til’ I Get It Right,” “Darling You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” & more.

” Jack Eubanks – July 1st – Session guitarist who played on records from Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Charley Pride, & more.

” Rumer Rain Rogers – June 9th – Newborn daughter of Texas country artist Randy Rogers.

” Toni Dae – June 3rd – Songwriter for Alan Jackson, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and others.

” Jean Ritchie – June 1st – Folk Queen who wrote songs for Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, and more.

” Bob Stegall – May 27th – steel guitar player, and father of Keith Stegall.

” Dottie Dillard – May 6th -Singer and member of The Anita Kerr Quartet.

” Herb McCullough – May 5th – Songwriter.

” Dan Wilson, Jr. – April 21st – Publisher and songwriter for Ricky Skaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Reed, and others.

” Tut Taylor – April 8th – Bluegrass virtuoso who played dobro, mandolin, banjo, and guitar.

” Sandy Mason – April 1st – Songwriter.

” Don Robertson – March 16th – Nashville Songwriter Hall of Famer who penned classics for Hank Snow, Elvis, Eddy Arnold, and Charley Pride.

” Billy Block – March 11th – Americana founding father, up-and-coming music enthusiast who launched numerous artists through his radio and stage presentations.

” Wayne Kemp – Songwriter for “Love Bug,” “Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double,” Conway Twitty’s #1 “Next in Line,” and many more.

” James “Spider” Wilson – February 26th – Guitar player who spent from 1953 to 2006 in the Grand Ole Opry band.

” Dixie Hall  – January 15th – Well-known bluegrass songwriter and wife of Tom T. Hall.

” AJ Masters – January 12th – Songwriter.


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