In Memoriam: Country Music’s Fallen Greats of 2018

Before we get too far into 2019, let us take time to remember the country music great we lost along the way in 2018, from bona fide legends like Roy Clark, to those taken tragically too soon like Daryle Singletary, Red Dirt’s Brandon Jenkins, to George Strait drummer Mike Kennedy. Along with the big names are songwriters and side players whose importance in the music can’t be overstated, or overshadowed.

Rick Hall – January 2nd

An influential music producer, songwriter, publisher, and musician, best know for being the owner of the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music.” After playing a pivotal role developing the careers of artists such as Duane Allman, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, Rich Hall and FAME became sought after throughout music, from country, to the Rolling Stones. He passed away at the age of 85.

Lari White – January 23rd

Performer and songwriter, her hits in the 90’s included “Now I Know” and “That’s My Baby.” Over her career she also wrote songs for Travis Tritt, Lonestar, Toby Keith, Pat Green, and others. She died at the age of 52 after battling Cancer.

Daryle Singletary – February 12th

Daryle Singletary wasn’t just a “90s country star” as some have characterized. Yes, the mid-90s were the period when Singletary he enjoyed his commercial apex. But his career was so much more, and was arguably the most critically important and impacting in the here and now. Over the last few years, Daryle Singletary had found a new home among artists who make it a point to preserve the roots of the music, not just for themselves, but for future generations, and to be a counterweight to what is currently happening in the mainstream. With his 2015 record There’s Still a Little Country Left, and then with his 2017 duets record with Rhonda Vincent of mostly country standards called American Grandstand, Daryle Singletary re-affirmed his commitment to preserving the music and legacy that had given him great opportunity in his life.

Daryle Singletary was perfectly willing to bid his big mainstream country music career goodbye as opposed to compromising who he was to hold on to it—an oath and affirmation most all traditional country artists must make if they are stay true to themselves in these times. At the same time, Singletary was re-affirming other things in his life as well, including his faith, and his commitment to family by starting one of his own. When he passed away unexpectedly at the age of 46, he was the father of a 3-year-old named Charlotte Rose, a 5-year-old named Nora Caroline, and two 7-year-old twin boys, Mercer and Jonah. (read more)

Brandon Jenkins – March 2nd

Though Red Dirt is known mostly for emerging from Stillwater, Oklahoma, Brandon Dean Jenkins was one of numerous Red Dirt musicians who found their compass in music from Tulsa where he was born in June of 1969. Jenkins’ father was a well-known disc jokey in Tulsa for KELi and KMOD-FM, and his uncle was Gordon Shryock, who is a Grammy-awarded bass player and producer known for working with Tulsa music legends J.J. Cale and Leon Russell. Obviously music played a big role in Brandon’s early years. He graduated from Central High School in Tulsa, sang in the choir, and played in the jazz band.

He first met fellow Red Dirt artists such as Cody Canada, Stoney LaRue, and Mike McClure while attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and soon became known as one of the founders of the scene, becoming a beloved songwriter and performer in Red Dirt and beyond, ultimately becoming known as the “Red Dirt Legend” (which is also the name of his record label), and for his big bushy beard and the often-covered songs “My Feet Don’t Touch The Ground” (Stoney LaRue, others) and “Finger on the Trigger” (Bleu Edmondson). He died due to complications after heart surgery at the age of 48. (read more)

Ronnie Prophet – March 2nd

Though better known in Canada than the United States, Ronnie Prophet helped promote country music to a generations on both sides of the border as a musician and comedy performer, as well as the host 1970’s television shows such as Grand Old Country and The Ronnie Prophet Show.

Hazel Smith – March 18th

There were many performing artists, side players, roadies and managers that played a major part in the country music insurgency in the 70’s that came to be known as “Outlaw,” but only one can rightfully claim they coined the phrase, or saw the revolution happen from its early incarnation to its Platinum-selling peak.

It was Hazel Smith’s pen stroke portraying Tompall Glaser, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and others as Outlaws that was the marketing push that put the music over-the-top, and allowed country music its most commercially-successful era up to that point. The compilation album Wanted: The Outlaws was the first million-selling album in country music history, and both Willie and Waylon would go on to legendary Hall of Fame careers. Along with being the publicist for Hillbilly Central, Hazel Smith was also a long-time journalist and columnist in Nashville, writing for ‘Country Music Magazine,’ and later ‘Country Weekly’ and CMT.

Something not well known about Hazel, she also was a prolific songwriter, penning some 175 original compositions, including songs that went on to be recorded by Tammy Wynette, and Dr. Hook among others. All of this and more is what led to Hazel being awarded the the Country Music Association’s Media Achievement Award in 1999. (read more)

Kenny O’Dell – March 28th

Kenny O’Dell wrote such memorable country standards as the #1 “Mama He’s Crazy” recorded by The Judds in 1984, had a Top 10 hit of his own with 1978’s “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’”, and penned songs for Dottie West, Loretta Lynn, Mac Davis, Tom Jones, Sammi Smith, Charley Pride, Tanya Tucker, Kenny Rogers, and others.

But it was “Behind Closed Doors” that would bring Kenny O’Dell his greatest recognition. The song is an undisputed country music and American standard. It won both Single of the Year and Song of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards in 1973, with the Song of the Year distinctions going directly to O’Dell. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1973. According to BMI, “Behind Closed Doors” ranks among the Top 50 most-played songs in country music history. (read more)

Randy Scruggs – April 17th

Among the deep list of accomplishments, awards, and accolades Scruggs amassed during his career, he was the CMA Musician of the Year in 1999, 2003 and 2006, won four Grammy Awards for his instrumental work on “Amazing Grace” in 1989, “Soldier’s Joy” in 1994, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” in 1998, and “Earl’s Breakdown” in 2001, received dozens of producer credits, hundreds of songwriting credits, even more hundreds of instrumental performances in studio and on stage are credited to his name, as well as being known as the owner and operator of a studio in Nashville that among other things, hosted the recording of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken projects, earning Randy Scruggs a CMA for Album of the Year as a producer in 1989.

Other artists who relied on Randy Scruggs to act as producer included Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam, Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Diamond Rio, John Denver, Toby Keith, New Grass Revival, Leftover Salmon, Lisa Loeb, Steve Wariner, and Russ Taff among others. But what Randy Scruggs was arguably best known for was as a go-to session musician for many years, both for the records he produced, and for music from artists across country music. (read more)

Sammy Allred – May 9th

A mandolin player for the Geezinslaw Brothers who played on The Ed Sullivan Show and once opened for Elvis, Sammy Allred would go on to be known for much more in the Austin, TX area and beyond. He was a performer, country music humorist, DJ, and radio personality. A member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, Allred worked for local stations KVET and KOKE.

Glenn Snoddy – May 21st

An important and influential recording engineer and producer, Glenn Snoddy was behind the controls for important recording such as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and Hank Williams Sr.’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Known as one of the architects of “The Nashville Sound” and also invented the Maestro Fuzz-Tone effect, Glenn Snoddy’s fingerprints can be heard on many of country music’s classic recordings.

Wayne Secrest – June 2nd

Bass player and founding member of Confederate Railroad, Wayne Secrest died after a lengthy illness. “We shared millions of miles, thousands of concerts and a lifetime of memories,” the band said upon his passing. “Wayne’s memory will live on in every note we play for as long as you allow us to continue.”

DJ Fontana – June 13th

Dominic Joseph Fontana was the drummer for Elvis Presley for over 14 years, and started his career as the house drummer on The Louisiana Hayride where Elvis got his start. He was inducted in both the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman.

Ed King – August 22nd

Along with playing and writing the opening riff of “Sweet Home Alabama”—which is considered to be one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock ‘n roll history and has been sampled and mimicked in popular culture countless times—Ed King also wrote or co-wrote “Workin’ For MCA,” “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” “Mr. Banker,” Railroad Song,” and the anti-pistol song “Saturday Night Special” as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Often Ed King would write the music to the songs, and Ronnie Van Zandt would contribute the lyrics. That was the case with “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd went through a highly-publicized tragedy when the band’s plane crashed on October 20th, 1977, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitar player Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Cassie Gaines, and others. But Ed King had left the band in 1975 after spats with Ronnie Van Zandt and infighting in the band. He was replaced by Steve Gains. This left Ed King as one of the last surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and he would reunite with the band in 1987, where he would continue to play with them until 1996 when congestive heart failure sidelined him from touring. (read more)

Mike Kennedy – August 31st

Mike Kennedy played with Ricky Skaggs for five years before being hired by George Strait, who Kennedy played with all the way up until his death. Mike also occasionally played for Jamey Johnson, and had an unusual left-handed style drumming technique he attributed to legendary studio drummer Steve Gadd.

Mike Kennedy was one of the newer members of the Ace in the Hole Band, which originally formed in the mid 70’s in San Marcos, TX where George Strait attended college. When original drummer Tommy Foote left the Ace in the Hole Band in 1983 to become George Strait’s official road manager, Mike Kennedy replaced him right as George Strait’s Hall of Fame career was taking off. Along with playing every live show with George Strait since 1983, Mike Kennedy was also prolific in the studio, earning credits behind Jamey Johnson, Johnny Bush, Gene Stewart, Bill Anderson, and Ricky Skaggs among others. (read more)

Burt Reynolds – September 6th

By the bullet points on the resume, Burt Reynolds had little to do with country music. Sure there was his overdubbed singing parts with Dolly Parton on Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, or that silly song “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial” he released as part of the Smoky and the Bandit II soundtrack (it actually charted briefly on Billboard). But the guy was an actor; a leading man. He wasn’t a musician. Yet Burt Reynolds arguably did just as much or more to make country music cool as any other non performer, and many performers too.

Not since Gram Parsons did a figure in American pop culture act like a bigger bridge to country music, and proved how it could be cool. Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed and others validated Burt’s authenticity, and Burt upped their appeal in return. He didn’t just perform with these people. Burt and Jerry Reed were close friends. Burt had a big friendship with Tammy Wynette, and helped make sure Mel Tillis made it into Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run. Songs sung by Don Williams were all over Burt Reynolds movie soundtracks. (read more)

Randall Clay – October 11th

Originally from Apopka, Florida near Orlando, and frequenting Nashville as a songwriter, Randall Clay would perform at places such as The Douglas Corner Cafe, and the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, TX, making him a well-respected songwriter in both the Nashville and Texas music scenes.

Randall Clay had recently received some of the widest recognition of his career when Warner Bros. recording artist Ashley McBryde cut the songs “American Scandal,” “Tired of Being Happy,” and “El Dorado” co-written by Clay for her recent album Girl Going Nowhere. Randall Clay also wrote or co-wrote songs for other notable artists such as William Clark Green, Josh Ward, Hannah Aldridge, Curtis Braly, The Lacs, Taryn Papa, Jason Cassidy, and others. Clay’s time as a “circus roustabout” (as described by William Clark Green) was part of the inspiration behind the title track of Green’s 2015 record Ringling Road, which was co-written with Clay and Ross Cooper. (read more)

Tony Joe White – October 24th

The influence of Tony Joe White’s work can be heard in the songs and sound of many artists of the era, directly and indirectly. He wrote songs covered by Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, and others. The name “Tony Joe White” became synonymous with a vibe that everyone tried to emulate, but few could duplicate. He was a denizen of cool, and a master collaborator of multiple strains of roots music. This led to White’s services as a producer becoming in high demand over his career as well.

Possibly White’s most coveted work was his 1969 debut album Black and White produced by Billy Swan in Nashville. Along with including his Tony Joe’s version of “Polk Salad Annie,” which later become a live staple for Elvis, it put White on the popular music map, and allowed him to tour with such diverse acts as Credence Clearwater Revival, Sly and the Family Stone, and Steppenwolf. (read more)

Freddie Hart – October 27th

Known mostly for his huge country and crossover hit “Easy Loving,” which won the CMA Song of the Year award in both 1971 and 1972, he also penned important songs such as Carl Smith’s “Loose Talk,” Patsy Cline’s “Lovin’ In Vain,” and Porter Wagoner’s “Skid Row Joe.” He also spent time playing in Lefty Frizzell’s band, and would later own his own publishing company. Hart’s later career centered mostly around Gospel music.

Herb Remington – October 27th

One of the legendary steel guitar players for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Herb Remington played with the outfit starting in 1946 and was one of the band’s most revered and influential members. Later he would play with Hank Penny, and become a prolific session player, performing on tracks for George Jones, Willie Nelson, Slim Whitman, Asleep At The Wheel, and many others.

Dave Rowland – November 1st

The lead singer of the country pop trio Dave & Sugar, Rowland comprised the “Dave” portion, with a revolving cast of women comprising the “Sugar” backup singers. The trio scored a number of hits in the mid and late 70’s, including  “The Door Is Always Open,” “Tear Time,” and “Golden Tears.” He died at his home at the age of 74 after suffering from a stroke.

Roy Clark – November 14th

Though Roy Clark had a few big radio hits such as “I Never Picked Cotton,” “Thank God and Greyhound,” “Come Live With Me,” and “Honeymoon Feelin’,” his main contribution would be as one of the most recognizable TV personalities in country music. First starting in television in a recurring part on the Beverley Hillbillies, he became the face of Hee-Haw with Buck Owens when the program first started in 1969. For decades, the voice, banjo, and wise cracks of Roy Clark brought the everyman appeal of country music into millions of homes.

For 21 years, Roy Clark entertained as both a member of Hee-Haw‘s “Million Dollar Band,” and a frequent performer in the show’s signature cornpone sketches. Clark became one of the most-recognizable faces in America, and his banjo picking made him a superstar in country music and beyond, including headlining the Montreux International Jazz Festival—the first country artist to every receive the distinction. His accomplishments led to Clark becoming an official member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987, and an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009. Roy Clark was also the very first individual to open his own dedicated theater in Branson, Missouri in 1983, becoming the cornerstone of the country music tourist town. (read more)

Clarence “Casey” Anderson – November 26th

Along with being the father of country legend Lynn Anderson, and husband of singer and songwriter Liz Anderson, Casey founded the important Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). He was a songwriter himself, including co-writing Merle Haggard’s first #1 hit, ““The Fugitive” in 1967.

“Super” Frank Cipra – November 27th

Beginning in 2008, “Super” Frank Cipra worked for multiple artists in the Texas music scene and beyond, including as tour manager for Hayes Carll, tour manager for Canadian country artist Corb Lund, as well as the merchandise manager and guitar tech for the Old 97’s. In the summer of 2009, Cipra started working as the tour and stage manager for Roger Creager, where he spent nearly two years. Starting in April of 2012, he worked as the production manager at the Concrete Street Amphitheater and Brewster Street Icehouse in Corpus Christi, TX.

Beyond his regular gigs, Super Frank worked at many Texas and Red Dirt music festivals such as Medicine Stone and the Lone Star Jam, becoming a fixture of the Texas music scene at the side of the stage, and recognized and appreciated throughout the industry by artists and fellow road personnel, journalists, DJs, and fans alike.

Floyd Parton – December 6th

More than just the brother of Dolly Parton, Floyd was a successful songwriter. He penned “Rockin’ Years,” which was recorded by George Jones, and as a duet with Dolly Parton and Ricky Van Shelton. He also wrote “Waltz Me to Heaven” that Dolly recorded in 1984, “Smooth Talker” with sister Stella Parton, and other notable compositions. He passed away at the age of 61.

Joe Osborn – December 14th

Joe Osborn was a well-beloved bass player who was a member of the famous Wrecking Crew studio ensemble, first starting in Los Angeles, and eventually becoming a studio fixture in Nashville. Joe Osborn can be heard playing on recordings of The Mamas & the Papas, The Grass Roots, Simon & Garfunkel, and later Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr., and Mel Tillis.

Jerry Chesnut – December 15th

An influential hit songwriter, Jerry Chesnut helped put some steam behind country music with many well-recognized hits. His career started in earnest when Del Reeves recorded “A Dime at a Time” in 1967. Chesnut also wrote “Good Year for the Roses” recorded by George Jones and Alan Jackson, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” recorded by Travis Tritt and Elvis Presley, as well as songs by Waylon Jennings, Bill Anderson, Tammy Wynette, and others.

Jimmy Work – December 22nd

One of the oldest living legends of country music, Jimmy Work was the songwriter of “Tennessee Border,” which became a hit for Red Foley, Bob Atcher, Jimmie Skinner, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Hank Williams also recorded the song. He also wrote “Makin’ Believe,” which went on to be covered by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Don Gibson, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell, Wanda Jackson, Connie Francis, Ray Charles, Anita Carter, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Social Distortion, Skeeter Davis, and many more. He died at the age of 94.

Other Notable Passings:

David Sebring – January 4th – Guitarist for The Nashville Jog Band, The Gypsy Hombres, others, and salesman at Gruhn’s Guitars.

Tom Perryman – January 11th – Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame member.

James Randolph – January 24th – Guitarist for The Bluegrass Tarheels.

Donald Sowards – January 26th – Mandolinist and tenor singer who played with Bill Monroe & others.

George McCormick – February 5th – Grand Ole Opry musician and vocalist.

Stu Basore – February 5th – Steel guitarist for Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells, and others.

Michael Wayne Jones – February 8th – Steel guitarist for Barbara Mandrell for 20+ years.

Jake Landers – February 13th – Bluegrass songwriter.

Johnny Mosby – February 19th – West coast country recording artist.

Sid Hudson – February 28th – Electric and steel guitarist.

Russ Solomon – March 4th – Founder of Tower Records.

Steve Mandell – March 14th – Guitarist, most famously played on “Dueling Banjos.”

Ron Huff – March 18th – Arranger and conductor.

Lester Woodie – March 23rd – Early fiddler with The Stanley Brothers.

Steve Stone – April 3rd – Songwriter for Eddy Arnold, Roy Rogers, and more.

Ernie Thacker – April 10th – Lead guitarist and singer for Ralph Stanley.

Rayburn Anthony – April 21 – Rockabilly Hall of Fame member, Sun Studios artist.

David Schober – May 23rd – Engineer, mixer, and producer.

Roger Clark – May 24th – Muscle Shoals session drummer.

Royce Porter – May 31st – Co-writer of “Ocean Front Property,” “Miami My Amy” and more.

Billy ThunderKloud – June 5th – Performer known for taking pride in his Native American lineage.

Delia Bell – June 5th – Bluegrass singer and guitarist.

Jerry Wiggins – June 25 – Drummer for Buck Owens backing band, The Buckaroos.

Brandon Church – June 29th – Eric Church’s brother who co-wrote two of his songs.

Dean Webb – June 30th – Member of The Dillards from 1959 to 1986.

Richard Swift – July 3rd – Bass player for The Back Keys, drummer, studio musician.

Jim Malloy – July 5th – Recording engineer for Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, others.

Pete Goble – July 25th – Bluegrass songwriter.

Ronnie Samoset – July 29th – Hit songwriter for Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Linda Ronstadt, Ricky Van Shelton, and more.

Neil Stretcher – August 16th – Keyboardist for the Opry house band for 14 years.

Gene Wardell – August 18th – “The Smokey Mountain Troubadour.”

Polly Lewis – August 19th – Bluegrass Hall of Fame vocalist.

Billy Ray Lantham – August 19th – Banjoist for The Kentucky Colonels and The Dillards.

Ben Selecman – September 12th – Alan Jackson’s son-in-law, died at 28 in a fall.

Felton Pruett – September 19th – Steel guitarist for the Louisiana Hayride who played behind Hank Williams.

Billy Poe – October 31st – Steel guitarist for Charley Pride, others.

Eddie Reeves – November 18th – Label executive and songwriter.

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