As we look back on 2023 and before we look forward to 2024, it’s important we take the time to pay tribute to the important individuals in country and roots music who left us over the last year, and who contributed to the music we love. This includes behind-the-scenes stage hands, all the way to major superstars. They all contributed, and they all matter.
Please note: Every effort was expended to make sure most everyone was included here, and any potential omissions are purely accidental. If you happen to see someone you believe belongs here, please feel free to speak up in the comments section below for the benefit of us all.
Stan Hitchcock – January 4th – Age 86
Though his name may not immediately jar your memory as one among the class of country music performers, if you were a fan of country music in the 60s through the 90s, the face very well might. Stan Hitchcock was one of the founders of Country Music Television, or CMT. He also headed the Nashville operations for the cable channel for nine years until it was sold to Gaylord Entertainment. But that’s just the beginning of Hitchcock’s contributions and enterprises in country music.
One of the many shows Stan Hitchcock was known for was called Heart to Heart, where he would have intimate, back porch-style conversations with some of the genre’s top personalities at the time: Keith Whitley, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and the like. Stan Hitchcock could get artists to open up like few others, because he was one himself. With a full career as a singer, guitar player, and touring performer, Hitchcock could speak their language. It also made him uniquely qualified to program and present the greatness of country and roots music through the television medium. (read more)
Mark Capps – January 5th – Age 54
Grammy-winning country music recording engineer Mark Capps was killed by SWAT team members of the Nashville Metro Police Department on Thursday, January 5th after an arrest warrant had been issued in his name for the alleged kidnapping of his wife and stepdaughter earlier in the day.
With scores of credits to his name for artists such as Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap and many others, 54-year-old Mark Capps was well-known throughout the country music community, and was the son of Grand Ole Opry legend and Musicians Hall of Fame member Jimmy Capps, also known as “The Man In Back” and the sheriff of Larry’s Country Diner. Jimmy Capps passed away in 2020.
Saving Country Music has been investigating the death of Mark Capps throughout 2023. (read more)
David Crosby – January 13th – Age 81
Most famous for his roles in The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (later ‘& Young’), he was right there in the middle of the counterculture revolution of America that very much became the mainstream culture in the mid and late 60s, with David Crosby’s songs being sung from coffee houses, to protest gatherings, to stadiums across the United States and world. Amid his passing, the world of music lets out a sigh, and mourns.
David Crosby will be remembered for notable songs like “Eight Miles High” from The Byrds, and “Wooden Ships” from Crosby, Still, and Nash.” But perhaps David Crosby’s most important and lasting contributions in music came through his uninhibited and sometimes uncontrollable nature to speak his mind irrespective of the outcome, even if he ultimately would go on to be proven foolish, or self-destructive.
Well before the punks of rock and the Outlaws of country the late 70s, David Crosby constituted the conscience of American music. Principled and outspoken, he was willing to sacrifice his place in a band or the popular zeitgeist if it meant taking the proper stand. He was a founding member of The Byrds with Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark, playing rhythm guitar, singing, and writing songs. But his insistence that the band should stick to original songs instead of selling out to jangle pop for success stimulated friction with the other band members. (read more)
Marshall Tucker – January 20th – Age 99
Marshall Tucker never played a lick of music in the Marshall Tucker Band. In fact, he wasn’t known for performing at all. He was in the music business though. For almost 50 years, Marshall Tucker was one of South Carolina’s most trusted piano tuners. He tuned pianos for some of the most famous piano players ever, including Lawrence Welk and Liberace. But through a twist of fate, his name became known worldwide, and synonymous with Southern Rock.
Born blind but with perfect pitch, Marshall Tucker learned how to tune pianos when attending a boarding school for the blind and deaf. When a piano tuner came to the school, he discovered young Marshall Tucker could name off any note he heard, and tell if it was on pitch or not. This led to Marshall Tucker being trained to tune pianos for a living.
In 1972, original Marshall Tucker band members Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell, Gray, Jerry Eubanks, George McCorkle and Paul Riddle rented an old warehouse as a rehearsal space. This was in the band’s nascent stages before they had an official name. One of the band members noticed that the key to the warehouse had the name “Marshall Tucker” inscribed on it, since Marshall Tucker had rented the space previously for his piano tuning business. Thinking that the name was cool and catchy, the band decided to name themselves The Marshall Tucker Band right then and there. (read more)
Roy Sturn – February 5th
If you ever needed an illustration for how the love and appeal for country music can span well past international borders, Bulgarian-born country music singer, songwriter, and bass player Roy Sturn was a good example.
From Sofia, Bulgaria, Roy Sturn’s real name was Tsetso Vlaikov, and he played and sang country music both in Bulgaria, the United States, as well as ships at sea as part of the entertainment on cruise ships. Roy Sturn also played bass in numerous bands for others. Jovial, funny, and animated, Roy Sturn became a fan favorite with anyone who interacted with him.
Roy Sturn performed in bands such as The Nashville Junction, The Delta Roosters, Medicus, and other outfits. He also fronted a band of his own called Stetson. He released numerous albums, including Tear River and Catch The Bull’s Horn with Stetson, as well as White Hot Sun. (read more)
Kyle Jacobs – February 17th – Age 49
Born Kyle Christopher Jacobs on June 26, 1973, he was originally from Bloomington, Minnesota and made a name in country music as a songwriter. Jacobs co-wrote the #1 song “More Than a Memory” performed by Garth Brooks, which became the first song to debut at #1 in Billboard country chart history.
Kyle Jacobs also wrote songs for wife Kellie Picker, George Strait, Randy Travis, Ruston Kelly, Scotty McCreery, Trace Adkins, Jo Dee Messina, Craig Morgan, Tim McGraw, Clay Walker, Eli Young Band, and more. As a musician, Jacobs regularly performed on the albums from Lee Brice, of whom he was close friends with.
Kyle Jacobs died of an apparent suicide. (read more)
Michael Rhodes – March 4th – Age 69
Everybody wanted him, on their albums and on their tours. But only the lucky could get him because he was so high in demand. His name was Michael Rhodes, and he was the bass player for countless artists, sessions, and tours over a nearly 50-year span, playing on some 60 Gold and Platinum albums, and racking up six ACM Awards. Though country was his epicenter, the whole world of music benefited from his presence.
If you don’t recognize the name from the liner notes of a who’s who of country artists from the ’80s well into the 2000’s, you might remember Michael Rhodes as a member of the country music supergroup The Notorious Cherry Bombs with Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill. Rhodes was also part of Crowell’s other backing band The Cicadas with Eddie Bayers and others, and played on The Highwaymen recordings. (read more)
Gary Rossington – March 5th – Age 71
As is often the case with legacy bands, the name of Lynyrd Skynyrd will live on in live performances, and likely for years to come. But the final living piece and last original member of what most consider the premier and most defining Southern rock band has passed on. Guitarist Gary Rossington, who founded Lynyrd Skynyrd with Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns, died at the age of 71 on March 5th, marking the end of an era in American music.
Gary Rossington was like the baby of Lynyrd Skynyrd, being three years younger than singer Ronnie Van Zant and drummer Bob Burns. When the band formed, the older boys taught Rossington about the ways of life. In the summer of 1964, Ronnie Van Zant injured Bob Burns with a ball he hit in a baseball game in Jacksonville, Florida. Since Van Zant was no longer able to play, they decided to set up a jam session instead. Gary Rossington was invited along, and later guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom joined the group, and eventually they came to be known as The Noble Five. (read more)
Bobby Lee (b0b) – March 7th – Age 73
Maybe you have heard the name before, or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you remember him from his online handle “b0b”. But whether he was behind the most beautiful and confounding musical contraption known to man, or behind a screen helping to promote that contraption to a vibrant community of like-minded players, fans, and artists, Bobby Lee played a crucial role in keeping the sound of the pedal steel guitar alive for over half a century.
First learning the instrument in 1972, Bobby Lee started playing steel guitar in bands in and around the San Francisco area in 1975. But it was Bobby Lee’s proximity to Silicon Valley that would ultimately facilitate one of his greatest contributions to the instrument, and it had nothing to do with playing it live in front of people. Even before the advent of what we consider the “Internet” today, Bobby Lee was using computers to connect with other steel guitar players, and to connect other steel guitar players with each other.
Bobby Lee started his first computer-based Bulletin Board System or “BBS” for steel guitar players all the way back in 1983. He managed his own BBS system called The Nite Owl Motel, which later would network with Prodigy as the early incarnations of the Internet were beginning to form. In 1997, he started The Steel Guitar Forum, which is not only still in operation today, it remains a robust community for steel guitar players, and general enthusiasts for guitar playing and traditional country with 23,000 registered users. (read more)
Tom Leadon – March 22nd – Age 70
In the founding era of country rock, guitarist Tom Leadon was right there witnessing and participating in some of the most important moments and projects. He just happened to be overshadowed in many respects by the bigger names that country rock would launch. But upon his death, many friends and bandmates of Tom Leadon remebered a man that contributed big, and deserves to be remembered fondly.
Tom Leadon was the brother of Benie Leadon, who was the guitar and banjo-playing founding member of The Eagles, and also played with the Flying Burrito Brothers. Tom Leadon was also the lead guitarist for Tom Petty’s original band Mudcrutch. Though Leadon spent most of his later life as a quiet guitar teacher in Nashville, his contributions in the country rock world were quite numerous. (read more)
Chris Johnson – April 19th – Age 60
Chris Johnson was a barbecue pit master, vinyl records enthusiast, festival founder, and all around important individual to help keeping a distinct dialect of American roots music alive. The quintessential fan turned organizer, through his various ventures, Chris Johnson became one of the most beloved and valued members of the Deep Blues community, and the country blues scene overall. His loss leaves a gargantuan hole in the world of roots music, but the legacy he leaves behind will live on from the vital work he did.
Chris Johnson founded Deep Blues Festival Inc. in 2006, and held the inaugural festival in 2007 in Minnesota. It grew to become one of the biggest alternative blues festivals in the world. It became the first live event to try and offer national support to Deep Blues artists. The original Deep Blues Festival ran until 2010 before financial concerns did the gathering in. But in 2010, Chris Johnson opened Bayport BBQ in Bayport, Minnesota, which along with being an award-winning eatery, also dubbed as a live music venue where scores of artists from the Deep Blues scene to underground and independent country would play to a supportive audience, and eat their fill. (read more)
Keith Gattis – April 23rd – Age 52
He wasn’t destined to have the big superstar career that he initially set out for, or that his talent deserved. But over his 40 years in the trenches as a songwriter, player, and producer, Keith Gattis became a superstar to those who knew him in the business, from Texas, to Nashville, to Los Angeles, and parts in between. And eventually, the music Keith Gattis made went on to be heard by millions.
Keith Gattis signed as a major label artist to RCA Nashville in 1996 and released a debut self-titled album. Despite earning critical acclaim and praise by country traditionalists, it was too critically acclaimed and traditional for its time, with none of the singles cracking the Top 40, and failing to gain traction. But undeterred, Keith Gattis continued in the music business and found his home, which was enhancing the music of others in a host of capacities.
As a songwriter, Keith Gattis wrote and co-wrote tracks for the likes of George Strait, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, Randy Houser, Charlie Robison, Randy Rogers Band, Jack Ingram, Wade Bowen, Cory Morrow, and Sara Evans just to name a few. As a studio player, he worked with George Jones, Jon Pardi, Brandy Clark, Bruce Robison, and Sunny Sweeney among others.
In 2002, Gattis joined Dwight Yoakam’s band as the band leader, and played guitar and bass on the album Blame The Vain. As a producer, he worked with Wade Bowen, Randy Houser, Waylon Payne, Cory Morrow, Jason James, Micky and the Motorcars, and more. (read more)
Claude Gray – April 28th – Age 91
He stood 6’5″ tall, which is why people referred to him as “The Tall Texan.” He wrote, recorded, and performed songs for decades in country music. He was the first performer to record and release the song “Family Bible” written by Willie Nelson, and the success of the song helped put Willie Nelson on the country music map. His real name was Claude Gray, and for many years he was beloved for his classic country and Countrypolitan songs.
Claude Gray’s recording of “Family Bible” was the native Texan’s first hit, and came in 1960. The story of the song is one of country music legend, where a struggling and hungry Willie Nelson sold the song for $100 to Paul Buskirk shortly after moving from Vancouver, Washington to Houston, Texas. Willie had no money and needed to feed his family, so he “sold” the song, meaning that Willie agreed to let Paul Buskirk claim he wrote it with Claude Gray and partner Walt Brelin. The rest is history.
The success of “Family Bible” was not only partially responsible for inspiring Willie Nelson to move to Nashville to become a professional songwriter, it also got the attention of Mercury Records, who signed Claude Gray and released the album Songs of Broken Love Affairs in 1961. The album included “I’ll Just Have a Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)” that hit #4 on the charts, followed by “My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About)” at #3, and suddenly Claude Gray was one of the most promising voices in country music. (read more)
Gordon Lightfoot – May 1st – Age 84
It would only take a small penthouse to accommodate the amount of music artists who if you disappeared their legacies in their entirety, it would irreparable and forever change the very fabric of music as we know it today. In a world teeming with interpreters, reenactors, imitators, and outright frauds, only a few select songsmiths truly touched music in foundational manners integral to audio expression, and irrespective of genre. Start and end that list with whomever you wish. But damn well make sure you include Gordon Lightfoot within that small and exclusive company.
Gordon Lightfoot was a Canadian, not a Statesman. He was only country in spurts, or by accident. But even the shit kickers and the honky-tonkers out there will conclude that Gordon Lightfoot was undeniably essential, at least the ones who know their stuff, are worth their salt, and honest. And the others? Well screw them. It’s their loss if they don’t know the gold they’re missing in a catalog rendered timeless and awesome through tales of the land and the people upon it, and how those people love, and live, and eventually, and tragically, die.
No matter who you were, or where you were from, Gordon Lightfoot told your story. And he did it in a way that pulsated with the magic and mystery in life that only life itself could match in emotion, memory, and ferocity. Folk traditions were the underlying foundation that Gordon Lightfoot utilized to express his inspirations, always putting the words before the music, and the message ahead of the melody. But if electric or eclectic instruments expressed the sentiment more accurately, Lightfoot accommodated. The muse was always in charge. Lightfoot was only the vessel. (read more)
Tina Turner – May 24th – Age 83
Tina Turner was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, not far from Memphis and the Mississippi River, and lived in Knoxville for a time as well. She grew up in rural communities and picked cotton at an early age, singing in the church on Sunday like so many Southerners. When she sang the steamboat song “Proud Mary,” she had more credibility to sing it than the songwriter John Fogerty. So when it came time for Tina Turner to release her debut solo album, she turned to her country roots for inspiration.
While still part of the Ike & Tina Turner Review with her notoriously abusive husband, Tina recorded the album Tina Turns The Country On! and released it in September of 1974. The idea was to expose Tina Turner to a wider audience by broadening her repertoire into country and folk. Turner sang Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” and Dolly Parton’s “There’ll Always Be Music” among others. The legendary James Burton played guitar for the sessions.
Tina Turns The Country On! has been one of the more forgotten entries in the Tina Turner catalog, and is regularly overlooked when running down Black contributions to country music. It was never released on CD, and streaming platforms only have some of the songs available due to permissions disputes. But those who have a copy will tell you that the album is a quality cross-genre effort, while remaining historically important as Turner’s first solo album. (read more)
Lee Clayton – June 12th – Age 80
Lee Clayton was a well-regarded Outlaw country songwriter who released eight solo albums as well, including his debut self-titled album for MCA in 1973, and three more for Capitol Records into the early ’80s.
Clayton is perhaps best know for writing some of the most iconic songs during the Outlaw era, including the Waylon Jennings title track to his 1972 album Ladies Love Outlaws. Clayton also wrote Willie Nelson’s “If You Can Touch Her At All” (1978), Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Lone Wolf“ (1978), and The Highwaymen’s “Silver Stallion” (1990).
Born Billy Hugh Shotts in Russellville, Alabama, he grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, playing guitar and harmonica by the age of 7. He started playing steel guitar at 9. Clayton moved to Nashville in 1968 after serving in the Air Force. He continued to perform well into the 2010’s, garnering a cult following especially in Europe, and releasing multiple live albums.
Jesse McReynolds – June 23rd – Age 94
Jesse McReynolds was a bluegrass legend, an influential and innovative mandolin player, and the oldest living member of the Grand Old Opry.
Sometimes called The McReynolds Brothers, sometimes called Jim and Jesse, sometimes called The Virginia Boys or The Virginia Trio, Jim and Jesse McReynolds were an enterprising and important part of bluegrass beginning in the 50’s, and they never stopped. Even when Jesse McReynolds went off to fight in the Korean War, he continued to play by forming a group with Charlie Louvin who was also serving in the conflict. They called themselves the “Dusty Road Boys.”
Upon return from the military, Jesse reunited with brother Jim, and the two performed together all the way until Jim’s death in 2001. The brothers became Grand Ole Opry members in 1964 at a time when the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, was especially hard on other bluegrass acts. But Jim and Jesse enjoyed a good relationship with Monroe for the most part, even though Jesse’s mandolin style was seen as a quite progressive compared to Monroe at the time. (read more)
Bobby Osborne – June 23rd – Age 94
Bobby Van Osborne was born December 7, 1931 in Thousandsticks, Kentucky. From an early age the two brothers were performing music together. Bobby was drafted into the Marine Corps to serve in the Korean War, which put the brother duo on pause. But after Bobby’s return from the war with a Purple Heart, the two brothers went to work for the “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin, and later moved to Wheeling, West Virginia to become mainstays on the Wheeling Jamboree, which after the Grand Ole Opry was the oldest country music radio show.
After the Osborne Brothers recorded some music successfully for Gateway Records, the Osborne Brothers were later signed to MGM Records, and by the late 50’s, they were considered one of the premier acts in all of bluegrass, known for their spellbinding musicianship, and Bobby’s Osborne’s tenor. By 1964, they had received an invitation to become members of the Grand Ole Opry—something that wasn’t easy to win in that era since as a bluegrass act you needed the blessing of Bill Monroe.
The sheer musicianship of the Osborne Brothers won them many fans well beyond the country and bluegrass realm. They helped make bluegrass cool, especially after they released “Rocky Top” on Christmas Day in 1967, and the song enjoyed ubiquitous popularity that is still around today. (read more)
Duane Tabinski – June 30th – Age 53
Duane Tabinski was a Nashville-based audio specialist and Hermitage native who owned the audio company “Duane.” Tabinski died due to electrocution while setting up for “pre-race celebrations” at a NASCAR event.
During the set up process, Tabinski contacted electrical wires, and was found passed out and slumped over. Because he was in a restricted area, paramedics had to wait until power was cut to the area before they could attempt to render aid. Tabinski was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the death was caused by electrocution.
Duane Tabinski had worked previously as a a drummer and a DJ, as well as a truck driver, and also ran a restaurant. In 2006, he committed to running sound for events full time. (read more)
Thomas “Thom” Roberts – July 9th – Age 68
Thomas “Thom” Roberts, who was shot and killed by his wife on Sunday evening, July 9th, in Nashville. Police were called to the 1200 block of Howard Avenue in East Nashville at about 8:00 pm by neighbors after the wife of Thomas Roberts shot him in the chest on the front porch of the couple’s home. Roberts was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Along with working for other artists and venues, Thomas Roberts had been the beloved lighting technician for Randy Travis for 20 years, and had also supplied lighting for Vince Gill. Roberts traveled all across the country, and was well-known throughout the country music industry. Neighbors of Thom Roberts said that he was a caring man as well. Roberts had recently retired when he was killed. (read more)
Randy Meisner – July 26th – Age 77
Bass players never seem to get the proper respect. Randy Meisner suffered that fate as much as any of them. But from being a founding member of The Eagles, being there during the early formations of country rock on the West Coast, to being a session musician that played on the albums of guys like Waylon Jennings to James Taylor, Randy Meisner proved he mattered, and put together a strong legacy that is well-recognized throughout music today.
Meisner wasn’t just the bass player for The Eagles. Far from it. He contributed the songs “Try and Love Again,” “Is it True?,” “Take the Devil,” “Tryin’,” and co-wrote “Certain Kind of Fool.” He also often sang harmony vocals. Most notably, Randy Meisner both wrote and sang the Eagles song “Take It To The Limit,” which went on to be the first million-selling single from the band.
Randy Meisner’s final show with The Eagles was on September 3, 1977 in East Troy, Wisconsin. He was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit, who Meisner had beat out auditioning for Poco. (read more)
Robbie Robertson – August 9th – Age 80
Levon Helm sang them, but Robbie Robertson wrote them. Bob Dylan wrote them, but Robbie Robertson played them. There are few men that had their fingers deeper into the wet cement that would go on to form the foundations of what we consider Americana, rock, and folk music today. That rub between American country, Southern blues, Arcadian folk, and old fashioned rock and roll all came together with The Band, and with Robbie Robertson as the conductor.
It was never particularly commercially viable or popular in the conventional sense. But the songs of The Band might have been some of the most influential music ever recorded and released. This is true for multiple generations, and in a manner that still lingers into the present day. That is why it’s not just rock fans, but fans of folk, country, Americana, and bluegrass that mourn the death of Robbie Robertson, despite what was sometimes a complicated assessment of his legacy by his former bandmates.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, considered one of the most accomplished Canadian musicians of all time, and counted among the founding fathers of the American Roots categories of modern music, Robbie Robertson is a major loss to the music world including in country, where his influence continues. (read more)
Vernon Oxford – August 18th – Age 82
Perhaps one of country music’s most authentic, and most beloved and revered performers, Vernon Oxford never became a superstar, but put together a cult-level career and catalog that continues to be relevant to this day. Born in Rogers, Arkansas and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Oxford moved to Nashville in 1964 where he met country legend Harland Howard who helped get him a recording contract for RCA Victor.
Oxford couldn’t find any success with his debut singles, and was soon dropped by RCA. But over time, songs like “Shadows of My Mind,” “Redneck (The Redneck National Anthem),” and “A Good Old Fashioned Saturday Night Honky Tonk Barroom Brawl” made him a fan favorite. He also garnered a following in the UK, and eventually RCA re-signed him and released a Best Of compilation, with “Redneck” becoming a Top 20 hit.
Vernon Oxford also worked as an actor, appearing in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter about Loretta Lynn, as well as 1993’s The Thing Called Love with River Phoenix.
Ron Gaddis – August 24th – Age 68
If you went to see George Jones for some 25 years, it was difficult to impossible to miss Ron Gaddis on stage with him. One of the most famous “Jones Boys” for the latter half of George Jones’ career, Gaddis was George’s primary backup and harmony singer, duet partner, and bass player, while also being presented as the bandleader for the Jones Boys live throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
Despite having the talent to launch a solo career, Ron Gaddis stayed loyal to George Jones for a quarter century, though at one point, Ron’s own battles resulted in his own reputation of being a “No Show,” and he was eventually fired from the George Jones outfit as Jones worked toward his own sobriety. Nonetheless, Gaddis remained like a George Jones ambassador for years, telling stories and keeping the memory of George Jones alive after the country legend’s passing in 2013.
Rob Gaddis continued recording as well, all the way up to 2020 when he released a duet with Buddy Jewell called “Grandpas Like Mine.” (read more)
Roland “Arnie” Adams – August 28th – Age 86
Many may remember him from the Mike Judge-produced Cinemax mini-series Tales from The Tour Bus, where he appeared in two episodes alongside his brothers, narrating tales of life on the road with Johnny Paycheck and George Jones. Roland “Arnie” Adams was born in rural Ohio, on June 29, 1937, in Ross County near Greenfield. Arnie, a son of local fiddler Frank Adams and wife Katharine, grew up in a large family of talented musicians.
As a member of The Adams Boys band, Arnie, along with brothers Gary and Don Adams, would form the nucleus of two of the significant honky tonk bands in history, George Jones’ band The Jones Boys, and Johnny Paychecks band The Lovemakers. Additionally, as a touring band, The Adams Brothers became a sort of go-to live band for the many stars of the day, and at a time in the early ’60s when actual touring bands were a true rarity. (read more)
Jimmy Buffett – September 1st – Age 76
Jimmy Buffet wasn’t just a musician. He was the embodiment of resetting your mood, of centering the right priorities in life, and of making sure you don’t waste your time on Earth by making sure you budget time for wasting. From certified beach bums to those who owned private islands, Jimmy Buffett was their Captain. “Margaritaville” wasn’t just a place or a song, it was a state-of-mind.
No matter your lot in life, your specific geographic location, or the time of season, Jimmy Buffett allowed us all to be spirited away to some place sunnier, warmer, more carefree, and far away from the drudgery of the moment to appreciate a respite in Paradise.
Make no mistake about it, Jimmy Buffett was country. There are most certainly qualifiers and caveats to that assessment. But country music is where he started, and country music was where his music was centered. He just happened to get so big and find his way into so many people’s hearts and catalogs, it’s hard to place him securely anywhere. But Jimmy Buffett was country first and foremost. (read more)
Charlie Robison – September 10th – Age 59
Charlie Robison was part of one of the most important families in Texas music. Along with his well-known brother Bruce Robison, his sister Robyn Ludwick is also a songwriter and performer. Charlie was also married to Emily Erwin of The Dixie Chicks for a decade, and the couple had three children together before divorcing in 2008.
This is the end of an era in Texas music—one that picked up where Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen and others left off, one that contemporaries like Charlie’s brother Bruce and Jack Ingram that had a supergroup of sorts under the “Unleashed” banner carried forward, and set the table for the new generation with artists like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers to pick up and continue singing true-to-life songs to the fans of today.
The fact that Charlie’s road ends at only 59 and right as he was making a comeback feels especially painful. But the memories and the music remain, and will resonate in Texas and beyond for generations to come. (read more)
Dave Roe – September 15th – Age 71
For decades, if you wanted to not only bring skill, but class and prestige to your recording project, you wanted Dave Roe involved if at all possible. Simply including his name in the liner notes meant whatever you were recording would enjoy an elevated stature due to Roe signing off on it. But it was also his taste and his respect for the song that made Dave Row one of the most sought after bass players in the country music industry and beyond.
He leaves behind over 500 album credits, including from top-flight and diverse acts such as Sturgill Simpson, Loretta Lynn, Tyler Childers, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde, Taj Majal, Ian Hunter, Brian Setzer, Dan Auerbach, CeeLo Green, Kurt Vile, Yola, John Anderson, Carrie Underwood, Marcus King, Malcolm Holcombe, Brandy Clark, Joe Ely, Gretchen Peters, Ray LaMontagne, Faith Hill, Kathy Mattea, Rodney Crowell, and many more.
Roe got the rare opportunity to call himself a member of Johnny Cash’s legendary backing band The Tennessee Three. Cash called Roe up personally, and it was impossible for him not to accept, even though it meant learning upright bass on the fly since he’d never played the acoustic instrument previously. (read more)
Mike Henderson – September 22nd – Age 70
Even if you haven’t heard of Mike Henderson, you most certainly have heard his work. Among other songs, Mike Henderson wrote “Broken Halos” with Chris Stapleton, which went on to win Song of the Year from the CMA in 2018, as well as the Grammy’s “Best Country Song.” He’d win another Song of the Year CMA in 2021 with Stapleton for “Starting Over.”
These awards were the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and dedication in the music business that wasn’t always recognized accordingly. Mike Henderson was one of those guys who helped influence the music in a very positive direction, often behind-the-scenes, and often to little recognition. But before he passed on September 22nd, he did get to relish in the recognition at the very top of the genre via CMA and Grammy wins for songs that helped reshape that paradigm in country music to the positive. (read more)
Chance Martin (Alamo Jones) – September 27th – Age 77
Alamo Jones may have not been a chart topper. But he lived one of the most interesting lives within country music, and made country music a lot more interesting through his life. Over his diverse career, he worked as a songwriter, a DJ, a lighting specialist, and even a cue card holder. But none of these occupations speak to how important Alamo Jones was to country music. He was like a mascot for the genre for decades, and perhaps most importantly, was Johnny Cash’s right hand man for many years.
His given name was Chance Martin, but Alamo Jones is how he will mostly be remembered. Other nicknames he accrued over the years were “The Voice in Black” and “The Stoned Ranger.” A character-and-a-half to say the least, it was his personality and personable nature that made him so valuable to the country community no matter what capacity he was acting in.
Where most modern audiences know Alamo Jones from is on SirusXM radio where he started working as a DJ with Cowboy Jack Clement in 2010 on the Outlaw channel. This is where the name “Alamo Jones” became codified. When Clement passed on, Alamo Jones continued with his own show. (read more)
Buck Trent – October 9th – Age 85
When you played on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” were a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Porter Wagoner’s Wagon Masters, and racked up more awards and recognition than any mantle could handle, you could definitely say you did your part to keep the flame of country music burning for multiple generations.
This was the charmed and accomplished life that banjo maestro Buck Trent enjoyed. But perhaps he was best-known and most-recognized for his many appearances on Hee-Haw with close friend and collaborator Roy Clark. Trent’s signature catch phrase “Uh-huh, oh yeah!” with outstretched thumbs made him a fan favorite and hard to forget. (read more)
Merv Shiner – October 23rd – Age 102
Merv Shiner was one of the very last living ties to the earliest eras of country music when he passed away. He was a cast member of the Wheeling Jamboree, performed on the radio in the 1930s, recorded singles in the 1940s, and was introduced by Hank Williams when he made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1950.
Shiner’s recording of the song “Peter Cottontail” became a major hit in 1950 for kids and adults alike. The success of the song allowed Shiner to make his Grand Ole Opry debut on April 8, 1950, which was the day before Easter, and the perfect day to perform “Peter Cottontail.” Hank Williams introduced Merv on stage, which made Shiner one of the last surviving performers to have shared the stage with Hank.
Though his recording career never took off after “Peter Cottontail,” Merv Shiner continued to find success as a performer on the stage, and on screens big and small. He performed on Red Foley’s Jubilee U.S.A. and Pee Wee King’s Cleveland-based TV Show. In 1965, Shiner appeared in the movie Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar with greats like “Little” Jimmy Dickens, Lefty Frizzell, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Connie Smith, and Webb Pierce. (read more)
Shane MacGowan – November 30th – Age 65
Traditional Irish folk is a seminal building block to original country through the Appalachian influence and Irish immigrants. With the way MacGowan preserved, revitalized, and revolutionized Irish music throughout his career with The Pogues and beyond, there is definitely a cross-genre similarity between MacGowan and the post-punk revivalists of country who helped save the music and spark the independent insurgency coming out of the ’80s and ’90s.
Despite the stereotype of MacGowan and The Pogues being punk primarily, major sections of their catalog were most certainly traditional Irish folk, and exclusively in nature. MacGowan was a banjo player himself, and other traditional instrumentation is prominent throughout the music that MacGowan contributed to through The Pogues and later The Popes. Shane took a dedicated pride in preserving and popularizing his Irish roots, not dissimilar to how country and bluegrass artists do the same with their original influences, including ones brought over from the Old World. (read more)
Laura Lynch – December 22nd – Age 65
Laura Lynch was the bass player and a lead vocalist in the original version of The Dixie Chicks, and co-wrote multiple songs for the band, including “I’m Falling Again” and “Pink Toenails.” Lynch appeared on the band’s first three albums, Thank Heavens for Dale Evans (1990), Little Ol’ Cowgirl (1992), and Shouldn’t a Told You That (1993). She left the band in 1995 as the group began pursuing a more contemporary sound with new member Natalie Maines.
According to the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, Lynch was killed in a head on collision near Dell City, TX, just east of El Paso. Lynch was heading east on Highway 62 when another vehicle heading westbound was trying to pass another vehicle on the two-lane highway. The westbound vehicle did not clear the lane in time, hitting the car of Lynch. She was pronounced dead on the scene. (read more)
Jeff Capps – January 3rd – Age 55 – Nashville-based roadie and stage crew worker. He passed away two days before his brother Mark Capps. Both were the sons of legendary country guitar player Jimmy Capps, a.k.a. “The Man in Back” who passed away in 2020.
Don Williams – January 6th – Age 100 – Manager for Roger Miller, Reba McEntire, and others. Performed in the Williams Brothers quartet in the 1940s.
Vivian Williams – January 6th – Age 84 – Fiddle champion and co-founder of Voyager Records.
Lisa Marie Presley – January 12th – Age 54 – Daughter of Country Music Hall of Famer Elvis Presley and solo artist.
Gary Oelze – January 23rd – Age 80 – Founder and owner of important roots music Virginia venue The Birchmere.
Peter McCann – January 26th – Age 74 – Prolific songwriter of Earl Thomas Conley’s “Nobody Falls Like a Fool” and Janie Fricke’s “She’s Single Again.” Also wrote songs for Kathy Mattea, Eddie Rabbitt, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, and many more, including in the pop and R&B world.
Pat Bunch – January 30th – Age 83 – Prominent songwriter for Kenny Rogers, Don Williams, Billy Dean, Gene Watson, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, and many more.
Dix Bruce – February 1st – Age 70 – Prolific guitar and mandolin journalist and writer. Edited Mandolin World News and wrote for Acoustic Guitar for two decades.
Joe Edwards – February 3rd – Age 75 – AP writer who covered country music for three decades, including through the popular column “Nashville Sound.”
John Snow – February 14th – Age 57 – Guitar, bass, drum, keyboard, and fiddle player in the Nashville club circuit for many years, including in the bands Dog and the Boners and Nashville North.
Dwight Diller – February 14th – Age 76 – Clawhammer banjo player with a dozen solo records. Also played bass in the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys in the ’70s.
Toru Mitsui – February 19th – Age 82 – Music scholar from Japan who wrote the first book about bluegrass called “Bluegrass Music” in 1967.
Uncle Steve Crockett / Steven M. Skold – February 23rd – Age 73 – Clawhammer banjo player for Upstate New York. Member of the Log Cabin Boys.
Ralph Land – February 24th – Age 76 – Drummer/percussionist who performed with George Jones, Sammi Smith, and others. Was a member of The Sidemen.
Melvin Sloan – February 26th – Age 82 – Leader of The Melvin Sloan Dancers, which was the resident clogger and square dance troupe for the Grand Ole Opry from 1980 to 2002.
Bill Castle – February 27th – Age 89 – Leader of the Bill Castle Band, and songwriter for Doyle Lawson, IIIrd Time Out, Lonesome River Band, Larry Sparks, The Bluegrass Cardinals, and more.
Calvin Newton – March 3rd – Age 93 – Lead singer of the Oak Ridge Quartet from 1953 to 1956, before it became known as the Oak Ridge Boys.
Bruce Osbon – March 3rd – Age 83 – Award-winning guitar player who played in Porter Wagoner’s Wagonmasters. Also played with Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Jim Ed Brown, Mel Tillis, and others.
David Lindley – March 3rd – Age 78 – Vast multi-instrumentalist best known for his contributions to rock, but also collaborated with Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and others. He played on the award-winning Trio album, as well as Parton’s “Here You Come Again.”
Marvin Glynn Russell – March 12th – Age 86 – Guitarist for Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Don Gibson, Dolly Parton, and others.
Jim Gordon – March 13th – Age 77 – Drummer who recorded with Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Everly Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot, and more. A member of the L.A.-based “Wrecking Crew,” and co-wrote Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”
Jeanie Oakley – March 13th – Age 90 – Founder of the Willie Nelson & Family General Store & Museum in Music Valley in Nashville with her husband Frank.
Paul Beasley – March 13th – Age 78 – Grammy-nominated Gospel singer who joined the Blind Boys of Alabama in 2013 after losing his eyesight.
Liz Thiels – March 19th – Age 78 – Co-founder of Nashville’s iconic Exit/In, as well as a Vice President at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum from 2002 to 2015. Thiels was also a prominent country music publicist.
Ron Spears – March 22nd – Age 69 – Well-known bluegrass musician and songwriter who performed with IIIrd Tyme Out, Bluegrass Cardinals, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, and others.
Ray Pillow – March 26th – Age 85 – Grand Ole Opry star inducted in 1966 who had many hits throughout the ’60s, including duets with Jean Shepard “I’ll Take the Dog” and “Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be.” He later worked in music publishing as well.
Rusty Russell – March 27th – Age 66 – Guitarist and songwriter who was the Nashville editor for Guitar Player magazine. Also wrote for Vintage Guitar and worked as a photographer.
John Shepherd – April 3rd – Age 85 – Lower Broadway guitarist who played in the bars and clubs for 50 years starting in 1972. He was also active with the Broadway Revitalization Committee that worked to revitalized the region after the shuttering of the Ryman Auditorium and the abandonment of many businesses.
Ivan Tribe – April 4th – Age 82 – Bluegrass journalist and historian who published 14 books and contributed liner notes to over 70 albums. Tribe also hosted a bluegrass radio show from Ohio University.
Joe Mack Vincent – April 6th – Age 92 – Steel guitarist who toured with Marty Robbins, Faron Young, and others.
Gloria Belle – May 5th – Age 83 – Award-winning bluegrass singer who is considered one of the genre’s earliest female leads. She released eight albums, along with collaborating with numerous artists through the ’60s, and appearing on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken in 1971.
Chris Strachwitz – May 5th – Age 91 – Founder of roots music labels Arhoolie Records and Old Timey Records. Archivist and preservationist.
Betty Louvin – May 13th – Age 93 – Wife of Charlie Louvin.
Richard Landis – May 16th – Age 77 – Country producer who worked with Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, Eddie Rabbitt, The Oak Ridge Boys, Earl Thomas Conley, Kenny Rogers, Doug Supernaw, Neil Diamond, and others.
John Nova Lomax – May 22nd- Age 53 – Houston-based music and cultural journalist that wrote for Houston Press from 2000 to 2012, as well as Texas Highways and many other publications. Son of journalist, preservationist, and performer John Lomax III. Part of the Lomax lineage of roots music preservationists and historians.
Cynthia Weil – June 1st – Age 82 – Songwriter who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and wrote songs for dozens of country artists as well, including Eddy Arnold, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Lynn Anderson, Don Williams, and many more.
Les Leverett – June 2nd – Age 96 – Prolific Nashville-based photographer who won a Grammy Award for cover art. His photos appeared on over 200 albums from country legends starting in the 1960s. Recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 2001.
Sterling Whipple – June 2nd – Age 75 – Songwriter for Mac Davis, Gary Stewart, Mel Tillis, T.G. Sheppard, and many more.
Harold Leo Blair – June 20th – Age 81 – Fiddle player in multiple Nashville-based traditional country groups, along with being a violinist for the Nashville Symphony.
JD Dawson Walters – June 24 – Age 85 – Legendary steel guitarist who played with Freddie Hart, Billie Jo Spears, and others. But Walters is best known for playing in Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys for three decades.
Paul Prestopino – July 16th – Age 84 – Folk and bluegrass multi-instrumentalist who played in the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter Paul & Mary. As a studio musician, he performed on albums from John Denver, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, as well as rock acts Aerosmith, Rick Derringer, and Alice Cooper.
Jerry Bradley – July 17th – Age 83 – Country Music Hall of Famer who was the son of Owen Bradley, and headed RCA Records in Nashville from 1973 to 1983. He marketed the legendary album Wanted: The Outlaws, which became country’s first Certified Platinum country album in 1976. Bradley also held numerous other executive positions in country music, and signed numerous acts to labels and publishing deals.
Roger Sprung – July 22nd – Age 92 – Banjo player and music teacher who released eight solo albums, and taught Harry Chapin and Chad Mitchell banjo.
Robert McConnell – July 26th – Age 87 – Visual artist who designed over 300 album jackets in both the country and Gospel world, as well as designed the original CMA and Dove award trophies.
Treva Jane Cox Chrisco – August 11th – Age 98 – Journalist at Bluegrass Unlimited and North Carolina-based bluegrass concert promoter.
Chad Sellers – August 15th – Age 48 – Country songwriter for contemporary independent acts.
Don Mulkey – August 19th – Age 93 – Bass player for bluegrass band Benny & Vallie Cain.
Elvin B. Thomas – September 6th – Age 92 – Bluegrass and Gospel guitarist who appeared on The Carl Tipton Show in Nashville.
Neil Haislop – September 7th – Age 79 – Journalist and radio broadcaster wrote for American Country Countdown.
Willis Spears – September 17th – Age 83 – The Nashville Grass singer and guitarist.
Bob Siggins – September 22nd – Age 85 – Banjo player for The Charles River Valley Boys, as well as Hazel Dickens, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others.
Loyal Jones – October 7th – Age 95 – Author of Country Music Humorists and Comedians and numerous books about Appalachian culture.
Bill Rice – October 28th – Age 84 – Prolific songwriter who penned the #1 song “Lonely Too Long” by Patty Loveless, as well as songs by Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Bobby Bare, Tammy Wynette, and others.
Jim Vienneau – November 9th – Age 97 – Producer, executive, and head of MGM Nashville who worked with numerous artists including Hank Williams Jr., Conway Twitty, and Mel Tillis.
Travis Stimeling – November 15th – Age 44 – Music professor and director of West Virginia University’s bluegrass and old-time music bands.
Abe Stoklasa – November 17th – Age 38 – Contemporary country songwriter for Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Chris Lane, Michael Ray, and others.
Gary Burnette – November 23rd – Age 70 – Guitarist and producer for multiple contemporary country acts.
Terry Baucom – December 7th – Age 71 – Bluegrass banjo player in Boone Creek and other projects.
Richard Anthony Williamson – December 12th – Age 67 – Songwriter for Kenny Chesney and others.
Dave Freeman – December 25th – Age 84 – Music anthologist, producer, and label head for Sugar Hill and Rebel Records.
Tom Smothers – December 28th – Age 86 – Though mostly known in the folk realm and for the variety show The Smothers Brothers, Tom along with brother Dick hosted numerous country artists on the show over the years.