In Memoriam: Country & Roots Music’s Fallen Greats of 2019
As 2019 comes to a close and we look forward to an new year, let us take a moment to remember the country and roots music greats we lost in this past year, from bona fide legends like Earl Thomas Conley, to those who left us too soon like Neal Casal, to Hall of Famers like Harold Bradley, and major influencers like Dick Dale. Along with the big names are the songwriters and side players whose importance in the music can’t be overstated, and shouldn’t be overshadowed.
Phil Thomas – January 5th
With prominent songs recorded by artists such as Johnny Paycheck, George Strait, Randy Travis, Alabama, Barbara Mandrell, and more, the fingerprints of Phil Thomas are all over the sound and style of country music from the late 70’s into the early 2000’s. Though the list of Phil Thomas’s songwriting credits is vast, most would start with the songs that helped make Johnny Paycheck famous, most notably the ode to Coors beer “Colorado Kool-Aid,” which comprised the flip side to Paycheck’s mega-hit “Take This Job and Shove It.” Thomas also penned Paycheck’s “Me and the I.R.S.”—another B-side which became a hit in itself.
But it was Gene Watson’s Top 10 “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home” from 1983 that gave Phil Thomas his greatest songwriting success, while he penned a number of other signature songs that populated many 80’s country records, including songs from Mel McDaniel, Tari Hensley’s “Hard Baby to Rock,” Barbara Mandrell’s “Mirror, Mirror,” and Randy Travis’s “My Heart Cracked (But It Did Not Break)” and “Anything.” He passed away at 74-years-old. (read more)
Whitey Shafer – January 12th
A legend of country music songwriting, and one that put the painful experience of divorce into words and song like none other, Sanger D. Shafer, known popularly as Whitey Shafer, passed away on Saturday, January 12th. A Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer, he’s known best for #1’s such as “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” and “Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” by George Strait, “I Wonder Do You Think Of Me” by Keith Whitley, and “That’s The Way Love Goes” co-written with Lefty Frizzell. Shafter also wrote songs for Connie Smith, Johnny Russell, Merle Haggard, and others.
It’s said that three Whitey Shafer divorces in the early and mid 80’s helped inspire some of the decade’s greatest songs. Whitey Shafer wrote the heartbreak that country music became known for during one of its most timeless eras. His pain was country music’s gain. (read more)
Bonnie Guitar – January 13th
Legendary and pioneering guitar player, country music star, label owner and businesswoman Bonnie Guitar passed away at the age of 95. She died in Washington State, where she was born, lived most of her life, and launched a record label that had major implications in American music, leaving a legacy that spans from country music hits, to iconic contributions to studio recordings, to discovering bands as a businesswoman.
Bonnie Guitar is best known for her big hit “Dark Moon” in 1957 for Dot Records. The song did well in Bonnie’s native genre of country, but it also became an unexpected crossover smash, surging all the way to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and putting Bonnie Guitar on the national map. But she also worked for years as a session guitarist. She also started her own record label, initially called Dolphin Records, then changed to Dolton Records with Bob Reisdorff. The label would play a pivotal role in popularizing West Coast do-wop, surf music, and pre-punk riffs. In 1959, Bonnie Guitar signed The Fleetwoods, which had multiple hits, including the well-recognized No. 1’s “Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue.” Then she signed the legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Ventures.
Bonnie Guitar truly was a woman in a man’s world for decades, and was a pioneer both as a player, performer, and label personality. (read more)
Terry Jennings – January 24th
Terry Jennings, the oldest son of country music legend Waylon Jennings, as well as an author, manager, publisher, roadie, and talent scout, passed away at the age of 62. Waylon Jennings was just 19-years-old when Terry was born on born on Jan. 21, 1957. By the age of 15, Terry had dropped out of school and was a regular roadie working for his father. He began by selling merchandise, and later became the drum tech for Waylon’s right hand man, Richie Albright, as well as a road manager.
During that time, Terry not only got to witness the rise of his father to the status of a country legend and a Hall of Famer, but he got to see performers like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon’s final wife Jessi Colter do the same. Though the years, Terry became less like a son, and more like a brother to Waylon, becoming one of Waylon’s closest confidants. In 2016, Terry put his memories of his father and life on the road into a memoir called Waylon: Tales of My Outlaw Dad.
Though known mostly through his dad, Terry Jennings also had an accomplished career in the music industry as well, including running the Korban Music Group, which was a full service artist management and consulting company, as well as the publishing company Waylon’s Son Publishing. Jennings also spent time working for booking agencies and other publishing companies, as well as a talent scout for major labels, including RCA where his father spent the majority of his career. (read more)
Harold Bradley – January 31st
A Country Music Hall of Famer, the brother of Hall of Fame producer Owen Bradley, and a guitar player as part of Nashville’s “A-Team,” Harold Bradley’s fingerprints are all over what became known as The Nashville Sound in the 60’s and 70’s, and was one of the last living links to the original business dealings that saw the formation of Music Row and Nashville as a music mecca.
Harold Bradley played in Ernest Tubb’s band while still in high school, and later played live with acts such as Pee Wee King and Eddie Arnold. By the 70’s he was Nashville’s go-to guitar player in studio sessions, and according to Guitar World magazine, is the most recorded guitar player in the world. If you listen to a song originating from Music Row in the 70’s, you’re likely hearing Harold Bradley play guitar. Harold also played bass, and played on rock and roll and pop records as well, including recordings by Elvis and Roy Orbison. If it was recorded in Nashville, Harold Bradley probably played on it.
Fred Foster – February 20th
A Country Music Hall of Famer, Fred Foster is known for numerous contributions to country music, most notably starting Monument Records in 1958, and helping to launch the careers of artists such as Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, Billy Joe Shaver, and many others. He also worked as a producer.
“You don’t dream about things like this,” Foster said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “If you’re involved in country music in any way, and you’re inducted into the Hall of Fame, you can’t get any higher, or any better than that. You’re at the top of the mountain. And I have to say the view is very good from up here…Country music is the real deal. The rest of it, some of it’s good, and some isn’t. But country music has been my life.”
Mac Wiseman – February 24th
Country Music Hall of Famer, Bluegrass Hall of Famer, performer, executive, songwriter, and general country music advocate Mac Wiseman and was one of the last living links to country music’s golden era when he died at 93-years-old.
Mac Wiseman became a professional musician in 1947 when he started playing upright bass in the backing band of Molly O’Day, including on her iconic tack, “Tramp on the Street.” It was during this time that he also hosted the WCYB Farm and Fun Time radio show where he worked with country music founding father, A.P. Carter. He would later play guitar for Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, tour with Hank Williams, and join the Louisiana Hayride, making Wiseman one of the last individuals who had a true connection to country’s and bluegrass music’s very founding roots. (read more)
Dick Dale – March 16th
From country to punk, from rockabilly to blues, from pioneering some of the most important sounds and modes on the most influential instrument of the last century, Dick Dale was a guitar god, a cultural icon, the soundtrack to generations of fans, and a forger of the future of all American music art forms.
Dick Dale never earned any major hit records or singles, but much of the sound of American music would shatter without his influence. In 2009, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, but an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has alluded him. Later in life and in ailing health, Dick Dale was forced to tour to survive, and skirted by through earning royalties off of use of his songs in movies, commercials, TV shows, and video games, all which sought out the iconic sound of Dick Dale, and the immediate visceral reaction they garnered in listeners and viewers.
He passed away at the age of 81. (read more)
Jenny Pagliaro – March 26th
The duo Roses & Cigarettes released their debut, self-titled album in 2015, and were scheduled to go on tour to promote the new record. It was at this time when Jenny Pagliaro was initially diagnosed with Stage II Beast Cancer. But after receiving treatment, the band chose to continue on, and eventually completed the tour. However Pagliaro’s condition continued to deteriorate, with the Cancer spreading to her bones, lungs, and liver. Nonetheless, Roses & Cigarettes recorded Echoes and Silence in 2019 and continued to try and stay positive throughout the ordeal. Just as the new record was coming out, Pagliaro’s condition became terminal.
She passed away Friday, March 26th from complications due to Stage IV Breast Cancer. She was 35-years-old. (read more)
Jim Glaser – April 6th // Chuck Glaser – June 10th
Of course Tompall is where the attention usually dwells when bringing up the three siblings from Spalding, Nebraska known collectively as the Glaser Brothers. But youngest brother Jim, who died of a heart attack on April 6th at the age of 81, was the only one of the Glaser legacy to land a #1 hit in the form of 1984’s “You’re Gettin’ to Me Again.” And Chuck Glaser, who died June 10th at the age of 83, wrote hit songs and ran the family’s publishing company that included some of the greatest songs of the era. Both Jim and Chuck were also part owners of the Glaser Sound Studios in downtown Nashville, which later became known as Hillbilly Central. And now with the recent passing of Chuck and Jim, the story of these three brothers who helped shape the legacy of country music in so many different ways has officially come to a close.
First discovered on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Show in 1957, and then signing a record deal with Marty Robbins, the Glaser Brothers became the traveling backup singers for Robbins who helped put them on the country music map. As performers, Tompall and the Glaser Brothers put together a proud legacy of ten studio albums released between 1959 and 1982, fourteen Top 30 hits, and two Top 10’s, including their biggest hit, “Loving Her Was Easier (than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” which hit #2 in 1981. But it was the voice of the Glaser Brothers, and their renegade spirit that lingers as thick influences in the music even today. (read more)
Earl Thomas Conley – April 10th
Earl Thomas Conley was one of the most successful country music artists through the 80’s decade, and was known for his “thinking man’s country” style of country where heartbreak, story, and character played a critical role in creating the deep appeal for his music Conley was 77-years-old, and had been suffering from a condition similar to dementia.
Conley helped define country music in the 80’s when he charted more than 30 singles, including 20 that went #1 between 1981, and 1989. “Holding Her and Loving You,” “Fire and Smoke,” “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong,” “Love Out Loud,” and many others became staples of country radio in the 80’s decade, with the only factor to Conley commonly being overlooked as one of country music’s greatest contributors of all time being his almost immediate disappearance from the format in the aftermath of the “Class of ’89” when country took a strong commercial turn.
Due to the limited era of his impact, Earl Thomas Conley’s contributions to country music have never been given their proper due. But his influence on the genre goes much farther than the 80’s. His embrace of strong, thoughtful songwriting is still the benchmark for many writers today, and he helped define country music as the genre of not just twang, but storytelling. (read more)
Phil McCormick – April 26th
Phillip Wallace McCormack first appeared in the Southern rock scene with The Roadducks in the early 80’s, appearing on their 1987 album Get Ducked, as well as singing on two tracks on their 1992 album Let It Ride. Originally formed in 1976, The Roadducks were perennial openers for numerous bands in the Southern Rock scene, including The Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, The Allman Brothers, and Molly Hatchet. When original Molly Hatchet singer Danny Joe Brown left the band briefly in 1992, Phil McCormick filled in. Then in 1995 when Danny Joe Brown left the band permanently for health reasons, McCormick became the Molly Hatchet lead singer all the way until his death.
Phil McCormick passed away at the age of 58. (read more)
John Starling – May 2nd
They were Seldom Scene, but they were wildly influential. And that’s how five men who accidentally formed a bluegrass band went onto help form the sect of bluegrass music known as Newgrass, and now another one of the founding members is picking and grinning on that back porch in the sky.
John Starling didn’t set out to be a world-renown bluegrass musician, though growing up in Durham, North Carolina and learning how to play bluegrass guitar, it can’t be too surprising that’s where life took him. But his primary passion was as a physician and surgeon. Happenstance is what led him to becoming a legend in bluegrass circles, and eventually to being enshrined in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
He died of congestive heart failure at his Fredericksburg, Virginia home. He was 79-years-old. (read more)
Leon Rausch – May 14th
Fans of country music most all recognize the name of Bob Wills as the King of Western Swing. But if you’re listening to the music of Bob Wills, it’s often Leon Rausch you hear singing. A fixture of Western Swing for some 60 years and known as “The Voice of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys,” Leon Rausch passed away at the age of 91.
Leon Rausch played in the Texas Playboys throughout the 60’s until briefly joining the band of Johnnie Lee Wills, and then forming his own group called the New Texas Playboys based out of Ft. Worth. Rausch would later reunite with Bob Wills in 1973 after the ailing country legend contacted him about making a final record called For The Last Time. When Bob Wills died in 1975, Leon Rausch took over as the leader of the legendary Texas Playboys. Under the leadership of Leon Rausch, the Texas Playboys helped keep the legacy of Western Swing alive, continuing to record albums and perform. (read more)
Leon Redbone – May 30th
If you’re a fan of old time music, then you’re a fan of Leon Redbone. The last of the pure Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley performers who mixed together blues, ragtime, jazz, and other roots styles that would have fit perfectly on the early vestiges of the Grand Ole Opry stage, he was a living, breathing, musical preservationist, who dazzled audiences with his rich voice, splitting humor, and possessed on the the most recognizable warbles in the 80’s singing television theme songs and appearing in soundtracks to movies.
Leon Redbone died May 30th at the age of 69. In typical Leon Redbone fashion, the official press release announcing his passing professed he was 127. Witnessing him perform and how he single handedly helped keep the old time songs and musical styles of the teens and 20’s alive, and breathed new life into timeless compositions, you could almost believe him (he would regularly joke he personally penned songs first heard 30 years before his birth). (read more)
Jerry Carrigan – June 22nd
If there was every a drummer who would qualify to be considered as an inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame, it would be Jerry. Simply put, he might be the most accomplished and prolific drummer in country music history. With his handiwork featured on iconic songs such as George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” Waylon Jennings’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler,” Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” not to mention songs from Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Ray Stevens and so many more, no wonder Jerry was considered the drummer in Nashville for decades.
During his peak, Carrigan was in such high demand, he was playing twelve three-hour sessions per week. To top Nashville producers such as Larry Butler, Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, and Billy Sherrill, he was their go-to man behind the skins as part of Nashville’s ‘A-Team.’ Along with fellow A-listers like guitarist Grady Martin and piano player Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Jerry Carrigan helped forge the sound of country music.
Jerry Carrigan died in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was 75-years-old. (read more)
Russell Smith – July 12th
Russell Smith was a solo country music artist, #1 hit songwriter for multiple performers, and best known as the singer and frontman for the Amazing Rhythm Aces. Russell Smith was the face and voice of the band which became a cult favorite from their genre-blending sound and offbeat lyrics
Russell Smith was also a solo artist who was signed to Capitol and Epic, and released five solo albums. He was also the songwriter behind big country music hits, including the #1 singles in 1986 “Heartbeat in the Darkness by Don Williams and “Don’t Go To Strangers” by T Graham Brown, “Keep It Between The Lines” by Ricky Van Shelton in 1991, and “Look Heart, No Hands” by Randy Travis in 1992. He also penned the #3 hit “Big Ole Brew” for Mel McDaniel in 1982. Kenny Rogers, Pam Tillis, Sammy Kershaw, the Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, and many others also recorded Russell Smith songs.
The 70-year-old died after a prolonged battle with Cancer. (read more)
Neal Casal – August 26th
Songwriter, guitar player, and producer Neal Casal took his own life at the age of 50. It was a shock to the roots music world where he was highly revered. A week before Neal Casal’s death, he’d been working in the studio with his band Circles Around the Sun on their new record. Casal had other projects lined up to produce or play on in the future. Earlier this year he produced the soon-to-be-released sophomore record from classic country artist Zephaniah OHora, and had played on the upcoming record from Jaime Wyatt.
Originally from New Jersey, Neal Casal started his career with the band Blackfoot in 1988. He might be best known as the guitarist for The Cardinals behind Ryan Adams from 2005 to 2009 when he put himself on the national map as a respected guitar player. From there he would collaborate with a host of who’s whos in alt-country and rock, including Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Hard Working Americans, The Skiffle Players, GospelbeacH, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead, and Shooter Jennings. He also released 12 solo albums of his own. (read more)
“Smilin’ Bob Lewis” – July 19th
“Smilin’” Bob Lewis of the Ben Miller Band, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, and other projects passed away after suffering from Stage 4 Cancer. He was a Vietnam veteran, who also worked for the railroad and was a karate instructor, but was best known for playing music in a host of Arkansas-based outlets. With performer Rachel Ammons, he formed the duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken, and then in 2016 when The Ben Miller Band was retooling, the duo came in as full-time members of the gut bucket/string band/deep blues project with a punk bite.
As the wily music veteran in the band, Smilin’ Bob brought legitimacy to the projects he worked with, along with being a revered guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, and a historian of American roots music. (read more)
Kylie Rae Harris & Maria Elena Cruz – September 4th
Mother, designer, and revered songwriter, performer, and women of Texas country Kylie Rae Harris died in Taos, New Mexico in an automobile accident at the age of 30-years-old. 16-year-old Maria Elena Cruz also passed away in the crash.
With strong songwriting influences such as Walt Wilkins and Patty Griffin, Kylie Rae Harris released her first EP Taking It Back in 2013, putting her on the radar of Texas music that is often criticized for not including enough women. Off the strength of this release, Harris won the 2014 Female Vocalist Of The Year from the Texas Regional Radio Music Awards. Then her career took a pause when she gave birth to her daughter, which also became the inspiration for what many believe was her best song called “Twenty Years From Now.”
Maria Elena Cruz was a student at Taos High School, and was from nearby San Crostobal. Maria Elena Cruz’s father, Pedro Cruz, was a deputy fire chief for the San Crostobal Volunteer Fire Department, and was one of the first responders to the accident where he learned his daughter had been killed. Kylie Rae Harris was found to be drunk and responsible for the accident. (read more)
Chuck Dauphin – September 18th
Chuck Dauphin was a veteran country music writer, well-respected journalist, and radio broadcaster. Well known for his work at Billboard as a ‘615’ columnist where he began writing in 2011, Chuck Dauphin also wrote for Rolling Stone, At Home Nashville, Roughstock, and most recently Sounds Like Nashville, along with other periodicals. Chuck authored over 1,000 articles over his career that started in 1991, and was recognized and revered throughout the country music industry as an authoritative voice, a good man, and a mentor to up-and-coming journalists. In 2014, Chuck Dauphin was awarded the CMA Media Achievement Award for his work with Billboard and other outlets. He was 45-years-old.
Originally from Burns, TN, he was known by some as “Crazy Chuckie.” He was recently living in Centerville and was a radio personality on local stations WNKX in Centerville, and WDKN in nearby Dickson. (read more)
Larry Junstrom – October 6th
Bass player Larry Junstrom was one of the founding members of preeminent Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the long-time bass player for .38 Special. He passed away at the age of 70. Larry helped form Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 with Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Bob Burn, playing bass with the band until 1971 when he was replaced by Leon Wilkeson before the band released their first major album.
Though Junstrom was not with Lynyrd Skynyrd during their heyday, he was always considered part of their extended Southern rock family, especially as the longtime member of sister band .38 Special with Ronnie Van Zandt’s younger brother, Donnie. Larry Junstrom appeared on all of .38 Special’s twelve studio albums before retiring from the group in 2014 due to a hand injury. (read more)
Steve Cash – October 13th
Steve Cash, an original member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and co-writer of the band’s two biggest hits “If You Wanna Get To Heaven” and “Jackie Blue,” passed away at the age of 73 after a prolonged illness. The first original member of the iconic and influential band to pass away, Steve Cash was best known as the band’s spirited harmonica player that made songs like “If You Wanna Get To Heaven” part of the American musical lexicon.
Aside from a brief period in the early 80’s, Steve Cash remained a member of the band throughout his adult life, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are still active today, with original members John Dillon and Mike ‘Supe’ Granda still carrying the legacy forward. They released a new album in 2018 called Off The Beaten Path. (read more)
Tony Calhoun – November 15th
The 2nd best thing about seeing Billy Joe Shaver live behind Billy Joe Shaver himself is the band behind him, including his bass player Tony Calhoun. Big smile, big sense of humor, and one heck of a master of the lower register, he put the mustard on Billy Joe Shaver’s Outlaw style of country music for the last few years, and made crowds laugh when he would take his opportunity on the mic, singing one of the verses to Billy Joe’s silly song, “That’s What She Said Last Night.”
The 65-year-old from Waco, TX passed away after surgery due to an aortic aneurysm. Playing throughout Texas and beyond for many years, Tony Calhoun and the Pleasure went on a hiatus in 2005, but reformed in 2011 to become one of the most well-beloved bar bands in the Waco area. Calhoun played with other bands as well, including the Mojo Assassins. It was during his time as a revered local musician in Waco that he fell in with Billy Joe Shaver, joining his band officially in 2016, and quickly becoming a fan favorite from his saucy presence on stage. (read more)
Sleepy LaBeef – December 26th
Sleepy LaBeef was the workhorse of country and rockabilly music for decades, regularly playing some 300 shows a year, including festivals and club shows, and regularly touring Europe where as time went on, his true base of loyal fans emerged. Having to travel back and forth to the old continent, he was playing fewer shows into the 90’s but still was turning in itineraries with 250 shows a year. LaBeef also boasted a repertoire of music that reportedly included some 6,000 songs. Though he would later refute that figure, saying he didn’t know how many song he knew, it was still a lot, and he earned the reputation as a human jukebox who could play just about anything shouted to him from the crowd, as long as it was rockabilly, country, or old school rock and roll. LaBeef described his style as “Root music: old-time rock-and-roll, Southern gospel and hand-clapping music, black blues, Hank Williams-style country. We mix it up real good.”
No matter what you listened to or where you were, Sleepy LaBeef was there and could probably play it. He was a bulwark of American roots music. Born July 20th, 1935 in Smackover, Arkansas as one of 10 kids, he was raised on a farm growing watermelons and cotton, and received the nickname “Sleepy” for his lazy eye. LaBeef had heart bypass surgery in 2003, but never retired, continuing to play regularly, performing as recently as September at the Blues to Bop Festival in Switzerland. (read more)
Other Notable Passings:
Steve Ripley – January 3rd – Founder and primary member of The Tractors.
Guy Stevenson – January 4th – Bluegrass bass player who once played in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.
Frank Arnett – January 7th – Steel guitar player for Wynn Stewart, Rose Maddox, Marty Stuart, and others.
Carol Johnson – January 9th – Bluegrass bass player and singer for Jim and Jesse.
Shirley Boone – January 11th – Daughter of Hall of Famer Red Foley, and wife of Pat Boone.
Reggie Young – January 14th – Session guitarist.
Les Sears – January 15th – Bluegrass guitarist, DJ, and festival emcee.
Maxine Brown – January 21st – Singer in the Country Music Hall of Fame trio The Browns.
Edd Easter – January 30th – Member of the bluegrass gospel group The Easter Brothers.
Alan Perdue – February 20th – Mandolin player for Mountain Heart.
Ronald Todd Milsap – February 23rd – The son of Country Music Hall of Famer Ronnie Milsap who also worked behind-the-scenes in the music business. (read more)
Hal Blaine – March 11th – Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer who was the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry, claiming over 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles, mostly in the rock realm, but many in the country realm as well.
Dewayne “Son” Smith – Member of the Geezenslaw Brothers.
Justin Carter – March 16th – Texas singer killed in an accidental shooting during the filming of a video.
Maggie Lewis Warwick – March 29th – Songwriter who wrote for Charley Pride, Johnny Rivers, Jeannie C. Riley, and others.
Billy Adams – March 30th – Member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and noted Gospel songwriter.
Larry Carter – April 30th – “Bluegrass for Breakfast” host on WCXZ in Tennessee.
Glenn Martin – May 12th – Songwriter for George Jones, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Bill Anderson and others. He wrote “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad).”
John Goodson – May 21st – Banjo player for the Gospel Plowboys.
Dan Mitchell – May 22nd – Songwriter of Alabama hit “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You’ve Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” and other songs.
Ralph Murphy – May 28th – Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer, songwriter, and music executive.
Ray Deaton – June 4th – Bluegrass bass player for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, IIIrd Tyme Out, and others.
River Kelly Smith – June 6th – 3-year-old son of performer Granger Smith who died in a drowning accident.
John A. Hobbs – June 12th – Developer in the Music Valley region in Nashville (near the Grand Ole Opry) who founded The Fiddler’s Inn and The Nashville Palace where Randy Travis and others got their start.
Jeff Austin – June 24th – Founder and mandolin player in the Yonder Mountain String Band.
Hoyt Herbert – July 5th – Banjo player for Lefty Frizzell among others, and bluegrass DJ for WFMX.
Troy “Renfro” Proffitt – July 25th – Member of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys.
Donnie Fritts – August 27th – Long-time Kris Kristofferson side man and member of “The Swampers” Muscle Shoals rhythm section.
Doris Tillis – August 29th – Wife of Mel Tillis and mother of Pam Tillis.
Carl Knight – September 13th – Songwriter for Del Reeves, Loretta Lynn, Mel Tillis, Charley Pride, and others.
John Cohen – September 16th – Co-founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers.
David Turner – September 18th – Long-time Josh Turner sound man (not related) who died in a tragic bus accident. He was 64.
Don Hoglen – September 27th – Multi-instrumentalist and member of Mac Wiseman’s Country Boys band.
busbee – September 29th – Modern country songwriter and producer who worked with Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Garth Brooks, and most recently with Maren Morris.
Sonny Curtis – October 11th – Long time steel guitar player for George Jones
Dallas Harms – October 12th – Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer.
Kenny Dixon – October 12th – Drummer for Kane Brown who died in a car accident at the age of 27.
Raymond Fairchild – October 13th – Banjo player.
Bob Kingsley – October 17th – Long-time host of syndicated radio program America’s Country Countdown, and member of the Country Radio Hall of Fame.
Joe Sun – October 25th – Songwriter who co-wrote #1 “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You)” among other songs.
Jimmy “JAM” McFeeley – November – Austin-based bass player formerly of Reckless Kelly and other projects.
Kelley Looney – November – Bass player in Steve Earle’s backing band The Dukes. Also played with Billy Joe Shaver and Connie Smith. Died at the age of 61.
Billy Ray Reynolds – November 29th – Songwriter and the guitarist of The Highwaymen.
Raeanne Rubenstein – November 30th – Photographer of six decades who took iconic pictures of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, the cover of the album Honky Tonk Heroes by Waylon Jennings, and other notable photos.
Larry T. Wilson – December 5th – Songwriter for Sammy Kershaw and others.
Jack Scott – December 11th – Rockabilly Hall of Fame singer.
Vivian Gilley – December 13th – Manager and wife of Mickey Gilley.
Robert “Bob” James Mather – December 14th – Songwriter and executive.
Clayton Beathard – December 21st – Brother of country music singer, songwriter, and Nashville native Tucker Beathard, and of Nashville songwriter Casey Beathard.
Don Imus – December 26th – Notorious radio host who also helped promote numerous country artists, including through his Imus Ranch Record albums.
Carrigan Shields – December 30th – Keyboard player for the Scooter Brown Band
January 2, 2020 @ 12:32 pm
Who’s gonna fill their shoes?
Trigger, I doubt I’ll b around to read your eulogy. I hope whoever does it does as good as you do- you sir, are one in a million.
January 2, 2020 @ 3:04 pm
I’m glad you gave Earl Thomas Conley his due. He and his sort-of namesake, John Conlee, were real bright spots in their era. Somehow I had missed John Starling’s “Long Time Gone” album until this year, and wow is it amazing.
RIP to all of these wonderful members of the country music community.
January 4, 2020 @ 11:04 am
I missed Conley and many others entirely in the 80s when I was busy listening to rock. But his weepers? He nailed them. Really good voice, and stone cold country.
January 6, 2020 @ 10:25 am
My favorite was “Honor Bound”. Great song, and his interpretation of it was wonderful.
January 3, 2020 @ 8:17 am
Thank you Trigger for all of your great work on this piece and all of your work this year. This continues to be one of my favorite sites.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:36 am
Very informative and well-written. Thanks for taking the time to do such a good job. Although it made me uncomfortable to see Kylie Rae Harris given the respect to be on a “Fallen Greats” list.
January 3, 2020 @ 11:18 am
There was no good way to handle Kylie Rae Harris here. If I hadn’t mentioned her at all, others would have taken it as an insult. Ultimately she was a country music personality who died in 2019, and so she was included here, just as I included ALL country music personalities, regardless of how myself or anyone else feels about their contributions or character. I feel I dealt with remembering her very fairly.
January 4, 2020 @ 1:20 am
Yes, it’s a difficult situation and you made an effort to handle it fairly. I don’t fault you for that. I guess I would’ve put her in the “Other Notable Passings” column, listed her name, the date, and “singer/songwriter “, period. But you showed sensitivity and memorialized the victim as well as the artist so that was good too.
January 4, 2020 @ 7:14 am
Kylie Rae Harris was a country music personality and she released one of the best EP’s of 2019. She deserves to be mentioned here. Personnally, I had no doubt when I chose her as artist of the year for my blog, Country Music France. I think that she deserved it and that we needed to remember the beautiful artist she was. Of course, what happened in New Mexico is a tragedy, not only for her and her family but also for the other victim of the accident, Maria Elena Cruz and her family. That’s why I mentioned Maria Elena Cruz on my post, that you can read here : https://countrymusicfrance.fr/2019/12/31/country-music-frances-2019-artist-of-the-year-kylie-rae-harris/. But we’re talking about country music and this tragedy doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate her and her talent. Thank you, Trigger, for having mentioned her. And congratulations for your great work, not only for this post but only for all the excellent posts you’ve written all along the year. Your blog is unique for all those who love real country music and it helps us discover new and independent artists. Happy new year to you from France!
January 3, 2020 @ 12:06 pm
Theres a great obituary in the Irish Times about guitar player and producer, Philip Donnelly.
Phillip played with Guy Clark, Don Williams, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Townes Van Zandt. Worked with John Prine, Cowboy Jack Clement, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers and many more.
January 3, 2020 @ 1:43 pm
And Mama TwoShirts, stroke.
Raymond Fairchild, Banjo player?
A bit like Walter Cronkite “was on T.V.” or Paganini “played the violin” or Shakespeare “wrote a play.”
Raymond gosh-darn-it-to-all-heck Fairchild was THE banjo player. Everybody else is a nobody.
Fairchild remains the only banjo player NOT named Earl Scruggs to bring the house down at the Opry, the ONLY person to play on said stage with a loaded firearm, the subject of a Tom T. Hall song, and a long-time banjo record holder, ran his own theatre and also just so happened to be better than any other practitioner on the instrument for over three decades, had three gold records and his own line of banjos and bla bla bla.
Banjo player, indeed.
January 4, 2020 @ 3:42 am
I’m sorry for your loss.
January 5, 2020 @ 4:01 pm
And Sadly the great Tommy X Hancock from Lubbock Texas this past Wednesday at 90 years young. Rest in Peace all of Ya’ll!