Country Greats Who’ve Passed Away So Far in 2017


We may never see a year like we experienced in 2016, when such an unmerciful parade of country greats passing away left us with a renewed appreciation for the legends while their still living. But every death, from the often under-heralded songwriters and behind-the-scenes session musicians, to the principal members of huge Southern rock bands, is significant in the way it shapes the future and how we must move forward without them.

Here are some of the greats we’ve lost so far in the country and roots world in 2017.

Tommy Allsup – January 11th, 2017

tommy-allsup-1The guitar playing native of Oklahoma is famous for losing a coin flip to Ritchie Valens and giving his seat up on the fateful plane that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Valens, and The Big Bopper in 1959, also known as “The Day The Music Died.” Tommy had met Buddy Holly in 1958 in Clovis, New Mexico and became the lead guitarist for The Crickets. At the time of the crash, Buddy Holly was also touring with Waylon Jennings in his band, who also gave up his seat in the plane.

Tommy Allsup later became a producer and A&R man for Liberty Records, producing albums from Willie Nelson, Tex Williams, Billy Mize, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Rich, Bob Wills, Waylon Jennings, Zager and Evans, and others. Allsup also produced the first United Artist Records release for Ray Benson’s resurgent Western Swing group Asleep at The Wheel in 1972, and the very last LP of Bob Wills in 1973.

Along with producing, Tommy Allsup’s guitar work can be heard on many iconic recordings of American music, including Buddy Holly’s “It’s so Easy,” The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” In total, as a session musician Tommy Allsup performed on over 6,500 recordings. (read more)

Butch Trucks – January 27th, 2017

butch-trucksIt’s still not easy to process this story behind the passing of long-time Allman Brothers drummer and founding member Butch Trucks. 69-year-olds die every day of natural causes, and when the news initially emerged, it was incredibly sad, but not instantly tragic in the way it feels when the sense is someone was taken too soon. But the revelation by the police in West Palm Beach that the preliminary cause of death is suicide is not only shocking and tragic, but hard to settle into because Butch Trucks just never came across as one who was sad, downtrodden, or one who you would expect to take his own life.

Butch Trucks had a lot of things going for him, and lots of plans for the future. This was evident in an interview he granted just hours before he would die to John J. Moser of The Morning Call. In the 30-minute interview, Trucks talked about his new band called Butch Trucks and The Freight Train Band, which had numerous shows and festival appearances planned in the short term, and was the reason for the interview. According to Moser, Trucks was jovial, talkative, excited about the new band, and proud of his garden. There was no indication of a troubled mind.

“Every night we save ‘Jessica’ until about three-quarters of the way through the set, and everybody really gets into the band, but boy, that’s when everything explodes,” Trucks bragged in the interview about his new Freight Train Band. “When we play that song, the place goes bananas every night. Every night.” 

Don Warden – March 11th, 2017

don-wardenDon Warden was one of the original members of the Porter Wagoner Trio, and spent nearly 50 years in service to Dolly Parton. As the manager and steel guitar player for Dolly, Don Warden became known as Dolly’s “Mr. Everything.” From her business affairs, to her band, to her fundamental sound, Don Warden was there every step of the way throughout her career until failing health sidelined him recently. Don’s wife Ann Ann also worked for Parton, serving on the board of the Dollywood Foundation which launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995, and also helping with the Dollywood theme park and Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home homestead.

“I’ve known and loved Don Warden since I joined The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967,” Dolly Parton said. “He was like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends. I feel like a piece of my heart is missing today. Certainly a huge piece of my life is gone. Rest in peace Don and know for sure that I will always love you.”

Don Warden was born in Mt. Grove, Missouri on March 27th, 1929, and showed a passion for music from an early age. He formed his first band in high school called The Rhythm Rangers, and was self-taught on the steel guitar. Eventually Don scored his first professional gig with an afternoon show on KWPM-AM in West Plains, Missouri. From there the Rhythm Rangers eventually made it to the Louisiana Hayride where Don played steel guitar behind The Wilburn Brothers and Red Sovine. (read more)

Izzy Cox – March 24th, 2017

Photo: Ricardo Acevedo
Photo: Ricardo Acevedo

A master of the macabre, a siren of steampunk, a vital part to the formation of underground roots, and a sister to so many artists and fans who followed her musical journey from the French-speaking regions of Canada to the forgotten spaces in Austin’s authentic underbelly, Izzy Cox was a creative burst that unabashedly explored the dark regions of the human mind and soul with courage and honesty, backed up by a divine voice carried upon billowous talent. She never fit into this world quite right, and that is what made her such a compelling and beloved artist.

Her first musical output came in the form of mix tapes she released while in custody for juvenile delinquency in Canada. Later she would become a fixture of the Montreal independent music scene, releasing multiple records and rubbing elbows with artists such as the Rufus and Martha Wainwright among others, and also spending time in New York.

Izzy Cox left Montreal to move to Hollywood at the age of 27, and after a stint in California, eventually settled in Austin, TX a little over 10 years ago. Izzy Cox became a fixture of the local venues on Red River and beyond, while touring the United States extensively at times, primarily as a one-woman band playing a bass drum and hollow-bodied Gretsch guitar, singing her original songs and a catalog of country, bluegrass, and Gospel standards. (read more)

Bob Wootton – April 9th, 2017

bob-woottenThe circumstances of Bob Wootton joining Johnny Cash’s band is the stuff of country music legend. Luther Perkins died in a house fire in 1968, leaving a vacant spot in The Tennessee Three. Carl Perkins filled in for a while, but brought his own style to the band as opposed to the famous boom-chicka-boom style of the early Cash recordings. On September 17, 1968, when Cash was performing in Fayetteville, Arkansas at a political rally for Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a flight delay left Cash with no guitarist at all. Wootten, who was in the audience, volunteered his services, telling June Carter he could play like Luther Perkins. Wootten took the stage with Cash, June Carter,  and drummer W.S. Holland, and stunned the crowd. The rest was history.

For the next 30 years, Bob Wootton would be much more than just Johnny Cash’s guitarist. He often worked as a double for Cash in television shows and movies. He became Cash’s brother in law when he married Anita Carter. And after Cash’s death, Wootton devoted much of his time to keeping the memory of Johnny Cash alive.

Though Cash toured rarely after 1997, and Bob Wootton was not part of Cash’s “American Recordings” era with Rick Rubin, he kept the memory and sound of the original Tennessee Three alive by touring and playing regularly with other former Tennessee Three bandmates W.S. “Fluke” Holland and others, including after Johnny Cash’s death in 2003. Bob would sing Johnny’s songs, because like Cash, he had a deep, country voice. Wootton also worked as a bus driver occasionally, piloting numerous famous bands around the United States, including a stint with The Smashing Pumpkins. (read more)

Tammy Sullivan -April 20th, 2017

jerry-and-tammy-sullivanFor decades Tammy Sullivan and her father Jerry played their unique blend of American roots music self-described as “bluegrass Gospel” at folk festivals, bluegrass gatherings, college campuses, at the Grand Ole Opry, and in front of congregations as the duo “Jerry and Tammy Sullivan.”

Born October 2nd, 1964 and a native of Wagarville, Alabama in the southern part of the state, Tammy first began to sing professionally with her father Jerry in 1978 at the age of 14. Tammy, a a mezzo-soprano, would sing lead and play upright bass, while Jerry would play guitar and sing harmony. Though the duo made some early recordings, it wasn’t until Tammy graduated high school in nearby Leroy, AL, that the duo was able to travel to play music. Tammy’s powerful, uplifting voice soon became one of the most respected and sought after in Gospel and bluegrass.

Though Jerry and Tammy Sullivan were known mostly for playing in churches and for smaller functions, their music, influence, and recognition went on to touch the mainstream of country on many occasions. Marty Stuart produced four records for the duo, and joined the duo briefly on mandolin in 1988. Jerry and Tammy Sullivan would go on to be nominated for Grammy and Dove Awards for their inspirational bluegrass gospel music, including their 1996 album At the Feet of God, which was nominated for Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel and Bluegrass Recording at the Grammy Awards. (read more)

Wendell Goodman – May 21st, 2017

wendell-goodman-wanda-jackson-1Wendell Goodman was the husband, manager, and long-time right hand man of the Queen of Rock and Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson.

Wendell Goodman met Wanda after writing Wanda’s 1961 hit “Right or Wrong.” At the time, Wendell was a computer programmer for IBM. Though not as high-profile as Wanda’s short-lived relationship with Elvis Presley, Wendell Goodman’s work and encouragement of Wanda would result in the longevity of her career. After the passing of Wanda’s father and first manager Tom Jackson, Wendell took over as manager of Jackson, and launched “Wanda Jackson Enterprises” based in Oklahoma City. The couple had two children together, and raised them in Oklahoma City.

Wanda and Wendell celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, and took a trip together to the Bahamas. In recent years, interest in Wanda Jackson has increased after Jack White produced an album The Party Ain’t Over for Jackson in 2011. Shooter Jennings manager Jon Hensley also helped revitalize Jackson’s career in later years. Wanda has become a favorite of rock & roll, country, and rockabilly revivalists, with Wendell being right at her side for club shows and festival appearances. (read more)

George Reiff – May 21st, 2017

george-reiffGeorge Reiff was the bass player who was so much more. He was a keeper of a sound that so many wanted to capture in the studio, and so many failed to do so. It was the sweat of Small Faces, and the voodoo of Tony Joe White that he was able to adhere to the tape. Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Bruce Robison, Charlie Robison, The Dixie Chicks, The Court Yard Hounds, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Band of Heathens, Lincoln Durham, Jason James, and Charlie Sexton is just a smattering of the names that George Reiff worked with over the years as the go-to bass player in Austin, TX.

At the age of 12, George Reiff was living in New York City and asked his mother for a guitar like the one Paul McCartney plays. Little did George know at the time that Paul played a bass guitar, but he fell in love with the instrument and after moving to Texas at the age of 16, playing bass became his life long pursuit. His first gig was playing with Tex-Mex star Joe “King” Carrasco.

Along with touring as a bass player and his studio work, George Reiff owned The Finishing School—an analog/digital recording studio where Ray Wylie Hubbard, Shinyribs, Lincoln Durham and others recorded albums. Reiff was also admired around Austin as a pastry chef, and was utilized as a food consultant for numerous restaurants in Austin.

Jimmy LaFave – May 21st, 2017

jimmy-lafaveJimmy LaFave was known just as much as one of the pillars of Austin music as he was an important part to Oklahoma and the Red Dirt sound. Born in Wills Point, TX and raised in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, he started early as a drummer, but quickly transitioned to a singer and songwriter where the musical legacy of Woody Guthrie would play a huge role in his career, helped along by a move to Woody’s home state of Oklahoma where LaFave attended high school in the Red Dirt stronghold of Stillwater.

For the next 30 years, Jimmy LaFave would help form Austin music into the “Live Music Capital of the World.” LaFave helped start the famed songwriter nights at Austin’s Chicago House, and started recording albums that would be the cornerstone of the Austin sound in the early and mid 90’s including Austin Skyline and Highway Trance. Later his music would embody more of his Oklahoma roots and influence in albums like Buffalo Return to the Plains and the influential Texoma from 2001, drawing a bridge between his two musical homes.

Jimmy LaFave did tremendous work preserving the legacy of Woody Guthrie in Oklahoma and beyond. He performed on Austin City Limits and made numerous appearances on NPR’s Mountain Stage while touring nationally and internationally, and gaining a wider recognition beyond the Texoma region.

Gregg Allman – May 27th, 2017

gregg-allmanGregg Allman, a towering pioneer of Southern rock, roots jazz, blues and country, has died at the age of 69. Allman had been recently suffering from numerous health ailments, including a diagnosis of hepatitis C in 1999, and he underwent a liver transplant in 2010. Earlier in 2017, Allman had canceled all tour dates due to health concerns. He passed away peacefully at his home.

Along with his brother Duane who died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 1971, Gregg Allman fronted one of the most pioneering bands in American music history, straddling the lines between rock, improvisational jazz, blues, and country roots. His death leaves a gaping hole in the Southern rock and American roots scene.

Gregg Allman is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is the owner of multiple Grammy Awards. He was primarily known as a keyboardist, but also played guitar, was an accomplished songwriter, and was once named #70 on Rolling Stones’ “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

The Allman Brothers Band performed their final show on October 28, 2014 at the Beacon Theatre in New York, but for the many fans who have followed the outfit through its trials and tribulations, they knew to never call it the end as long as Gregg Allman was still around. Now, the “Mountain Jam” has finally come to an end after an extended, storied, inspiring, and influential performance. (read more)

Bobby Boyd – June 2017

bobby-boydSongwriter and performer Bobby Boyd was known for writing numerous hits, including the Garth Brooks #1 “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” Aaron Tippin’s “Working Man’s PHD,” as well as songs for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Earl Thomas Conley, Billy Dean, Martina McBride, Vern Gosdin, Patty Loveless.

Bobby Boyd was a staff writer for Jimmy Bowen at Elektra Asylum Publishing, starting his professional songwriting career in Nashville in 1980. A native of Dunlap, Tennessee, Boyd began playing in his first band in Tennessee at the age of 12 called The Boyd Brothers. Bobby cut his teeth in the late 60’s and early 70’s performing residencies at a club called The Castaways in Chattanooga, TN, sometimes playing five hours each night, six hours a week, and learning his way in the music business.

Later in his career, Bobby Boyd relocated to Spicewood, Texas, just outside of Austin and near Willie Nelson’s Luck ranch, and was well-known throughout the Austin music scene. Though he’s mostly known for his country music contributions, Bobby Boyd also had a deep influences with the blues and R&B. Early in his career, he played shows opening for Little Richard, The Coasters, and The Platters. After moving to the Austin area, he worked with artists such as Stephen Bruton and W. C. Clark, as well as the local country music talent. (read more)

Other Notable Deaths:

• 21-year-old James Stockdale and 54-year-old Kathryn Stockdale of the Stockdale Family Band

• Norro Wilson – June 8th, 2017 – Noted songwriter and producer

• Naomi Martin – May 31st, 2017 – Songwriter

• Bob Forshee – May 11th, 2017 – Songwriter

• Joy Byers – May 10th, 2017 – Songwriter

• Corki Casey O’Dell – May 11th, 2017 – Respected guitarist and session player

• Kelley Sallee Snead – May 10th, 2017 – Singer/songwriter

• Ben Speer – April 7th, 2017 – Gospel legend

• Chuck Berry – March 18th, 2017 – Rock and roll founding father

• Hurshel Wiginton – March, 2017 – Singer in Nashville Edition

• Greg Trooper- January 15th, 2017 – Songwriter

• Hayward Bishop Jr. – January 4th, 2017 – Studio musician


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