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In Memoriam: 50 Musicians Whose Deaths Rocked Music in 2010

Stop The Presses!

If each man's death diminishes us, as John Donne once said, how much more diminished are we after the demise of so many legendary musical figures in 2010? 

Three decades after getting the Knack, we lost it again, via the passing of frontman Doug Fieger. The children by the million who used to sing for Alex Chilton now cried for him. Country fans fell to pieces over the death of songwriter Hank Cochran. For Ronnie James Dio devotees, it wasn't just a black sabbath, but a black year. Captain Beefheart broke hearts. The loss of Lena Horne made our weather that much stormier. But even in death, Teena Marie won't stop being anyone's "Lovergirl."

Here, we salute 50 musicians whose deaths left a void this past year—in the order of their passing, from Al Green producer Willie Mitchell and soul superstar Teddy Pendergrass in early January to the odd couple of Captain Beefheart and Teena Marie in the days surrounding Christmas. 

WILLIE MITCHELL, 81

born 3-1-1928, died Jan. 5

The Memphis-based producer of Al Green's greatest records, and impresario of Hi Records, also worked with Ann Peebles, Bobby Blue Bland, and others.

JAY REATARD, 29

born 5-1-1980, died Jan. 12

The punk-rock cult figure played in a number of bands—including, of course, the Reatards—and founded Shattered Records.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS, 59

born 3-26-1950, died Jan. 13

After a stint singing lead with Harold Melvis and the Blue Notes, Pendergrass went on to a highly successful career as a solo balladeer in the late '70s. He continued to perform after becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a 1982 auto accident.

BOBBY CHARLES, 71

Born 2-21-1938, died Jan. 14

The Lousiana-based singer-songwriter was best known for penning hits like Bill Haley's "See You Later Alligator" and Fats Domino's "Walking to New Orleans."

CARL SMITH, 72

Born 3-15-1927, died Jan. 16

Perhaps best known to younger country fans as June Carter Cash's first husband, Smith was highly popular in the '50s and was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

KATE McGARRIGLE, 63

Born 2-6-1946, died Jan. 18

Keeping it all in the family, the Canadian singer was originally renowned for being half of a duo with sister Anna... and later for being the (ex-) wife of Loudon Wainwright III and mother of singers Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

DALE HAWKINS, 63

Born 8-22-1936, died February 13

The rockabilly singer's breakout hit was "Suzy Q."

DOUG FIEGER, 57

Born 8-20-1952, died February 14

Thanks to the lusty "My Sharona," Fieger's the Knack was the breakthrough rock band of 1979 and exemplified the skinny-tie era of new-wave/power-pop crossover.

T-BONE WOLK, 58

Born 12-24-1951, died February 27

A popular session musician, Wolk had been Hall & Oates' bassist since the early 1980s, in addition to being a member of the Saturday Night Live house band during G.E. Smith's reign.

MARK LINKOUS

Born 9-9-1962, died March 6

Linkous recorded several acclaimed albums under the band name Sparklehorse beginning in the mid-'90s, and spoke openly of his depression and past overdoses before his suicide.

ALEX CHILTON, 59

Born 12-28-1950, died March 17

As a teenager, Chilton enjoyed top 40 success with the Box Tops ("The Letter," "Cry Like a Baby") before founding rock's most notorious cult band, Big Star, in the early '70s. In the late 1980s, the sometimes crotchety but always beloved figure was immortalized in the Replacements' alt-rock hit "Alex Chilton."

MALCOLM McLAREN, 64

Born 1-22-1946, died April 8

The Svengali behind the Sex Pistols in the mid-'70s came out from behind the curtain to release his own high-concept records in the 1980s, including "Buffalo Gals" and an opera-inspired album.

PETER STEELE, 48

Born 1-14-1962, died April 14 

The 6'8" lead singer and bassist who'd founded goth-metal group Type O Negative in 1989 had been known for his drug problems, so it came as a surprise to fans who were aware of his recent sobriety when Steele passed away of heart failure. 

GURU, 48

Born 7-17-1966, died April 19

One of the most progressive spirits in hip-hop, Keith Elam was half of the duo Gang Starr with DJ Premier. As part of the duo or on his own, Guru formed a number of historic alliances with jazz musicians, working with Roy Ayers, Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Ramsey Lewis, and others on two highly influential Jazzmatazz albums in the mid-'90s.

LENA HORNE, 92

Born 6-30-1917, died May 9

One of the towering figures of 20th century entertainment, Horne became a movie star after signing with MGM in the early 1940s, though her singing career pre-dated and post-dated her film work—culminating in her signature song, the title track from the film Stormy Weather. The light-complexioned entertainer's refusal to bow to film executives' ideas about fudging her race helped make her a heroine of the civil rights movement.

RONNIE JAMES DIO, 67

Born 7-10-1942, died May 16

As the most famous of the singers to follow in Ozzy Osbourne's footsteps as Black Sabbath frontman, Dio had no trouble forging at least as individual an identity when he assumed the position in 1980, with more powerful chops and a penchant for even more grandiose imagery and mythology. Prior to Sabbath, Dio already enjoyed a successful career fronting Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, and post-B.S., he alternated solo recordings with Sabbath reunions or spinoffs.

PAUL GRAY, 38

Born 4-8-1972, died May 24

The self-taught bassist for Slipknot singer died from a morphine overdose in an Iowa hotel room, possibly exacerbated by a heart condition.

MARVIN ISLEY, 56

Born 8-18-1953, died June 6

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1992, bassist Marvin became an official member of the Isley Brothers in the 1970s after earlier touring with other members of the famous family.

DANA KEY, 56

Born 12-30-1953, died June 6

Key was one of the pioneering figures of a then-novel genre, Christian rock, in the mid-1970s, as half of the duo DeGarmo & Key.

JIMMY DEAN, 81

Born 8-10-1928, died June 13

Younger music fans knew him for his signature sausage enterprise, or his bizarre turn as a villain in the 1971 Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. But Dean was a Country Music Hall of Fame member known for '50s and '60s hits including "Big Bad John."

GARRY SHIDER, 56

Born 7-24-1953, died June 16

Sometimes known as "Diaper Man" for one of his frequent stage costumes, Shider was a musical director and guitarist for George Clinton's Parliament, Funkadelic, and eventually the P-Funk All Stars.

PETE QUAIFE, 66

Born 12-31-1943, died June 24

As the founding bassist of the Kinks, Quaife stayed with the band through most of their original heydey, quitting in 1969.

HARVEY FUQUA, 79

Born 7-27-1929, died July 6

As a singer in the R&B/doo-wop group the Moonglows, which thrived through the late 1950s, Fuqua was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

WALTER HAWKINS, 61

Born 5-18-1949, died July 11

The brother of fellow gospel singer Edwin Hawkins co-founded the Edwin Hawkins Singers, of "Oh Happy Day" fame. His Love Alive series, recorded at the Oakland church he pastored, frequently topped Billboard's gospel album sales charts.

HANK COCHRAN, 74

Born 8-2-1935, died July 15

One of Nashville's most successful songwriters. Cochran wrote "I Fall to Pieces" and "Make the World Go Away," among other classics, and had his songs recorded by Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, George Strait, Linda Ronstadt, and countless others.

FRED CARTER JR., 76

Born 12-31-1933, died July 17

Eventually known as Deana Carter's dad, Carter made his own name in the '60s and '70s as a Nashville-based session guitarist on tracks ranging from Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" to Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay."

ANDY HUMMEL, 59

Born 1950, died July 19

It was not a great year to be a Big Star member or alumnus. Besides Alex Chilton's death, there was the passing of Hummel, the cult group's 1971-73 bassist, leaving Jody Stephens as the sole surviving original member.

DOUG OLDHAM, 79

Born 11-30-1930, died July 21

Oldham's 60-year career as a gospel singer, during which he was frequently seen on evangelist Jerry Falwell's weekly broadcast, peaked with his recording of Bill Gaither's "He Touched Me."

BEN KEITH, 73

Born 3-6-1937, died July 26

Though he had scores of other studio credits—including coproducing Jewel's debut album—the steel guitarist was best known for his 40 years of work backing up Neil Young, beginning with the Harvest album. 

MITCH MILLER, 99

Born 7-4-1911, died July 31

Those of a certain age remember TV's "Sing Along With Mitch," which aired on NBC from 1961-64. The orchestra leader and onetime Columbia Records A&R chief was known for the pop novelty smashes he produced or guided for singers like Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney before being swept aside by the tide of the rock 'n' roll he so despised.

GEORGE RICHEY, 74

Born 11-30-1935, died July 31

Best known in later years as Tammy Wynette's husband and manager after she split from George Jones, Richey was a behind-the-scenes musical success in his own right in earlier years, with Wynette's "Til I Can Make It On My Own" among his songwriting credits.

MITCH JAYNE, 80

Born 7-5-1930, died August 2

Janye was a member of the Dillards, the bluegrass band frequently seen on The Andy Griffith Show.

BOBBY HEBB, 72

Born 2-6-1946, died August 12

One of the rare successful black pop songwriters to come out of Nashville, Hebb had his own biggest hit with "Sunny" in 1966.

RICHIE HAYWARD, 64

Born 2-6-1946, died August 12

The highly esteemed founding drummer of Little Feat also worked with scores of other artists, including Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan.

ABBEY LINCOLN, 80

Born 8-6-1930, died August 14

The former wife of Max Roach was one of jazz music's preeminent singers from the 1960s forward, and enjoyed a particular renaissance over the last 20 years after signing with Verve.

MICHAEL BEEN, 60

Born 3-17-1950, died August 19

Been had a run of modern-rock radio hits in the late '80s and early '90s as the leader of the Call, including "The Walls Came Down," "I Still Believe," and "Let the Day Begin," the last of which became the Al Gore campaign song in 2000. His spiritually charged work was championed by Peter Gabriel, among others, and he appeared as John the Baptist in Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ. When he died, he was touring as the sound engineer for his son Robert's band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

GEORGE DAVID WEISS, 89

Born 4-9-1921, died August 23

Weiss wrote "What a Wonderful World" and "Can't Help Falling in Love," among other standards.

MIKE EDWARDS, 62

Born 5-31-1948, died September 3

The cellist for Electric Light Orchestra was a mainstay of the group's rawer early sound before Jeff Lynne switched the emphasis from strings to synths.

RICH CRONIN, 35

Born 8-30-1975, died September 8

He liked Ambercrombie & Fitch, famously, as a member of LFO, the boy band that broke through chasing "Summer Girls."

EDDIE FISHER, 82

Born 8-10-1928, died September 22

Fisher was ultimately perhaps more famous for his succession of wives (Debbie Reynolds, Liz Taylor, Connie Stevens) and his famous daughters (including Carrie Fisher, who comically targeted him in her one-woman show) than the hits that made him a star in the 1950s.

ALBERTINA WALKER, 81

Born 8-29-1929, died October 8

The "queen of gospel music" formed the Caravans in the early '50s and eventually, as a solo artist, became revered as a worthy successor to Mahalia Jackson.

SOLOMON BURKE, 70

Born 3-21-1940, died October 10

Burke was a boy preacher who returned to pastoring a church in adulthood, but not before a legendary run with Atlantic Records in the 1960s that had producer Jerry Wexler proclaiming him "the greatest male soul singer of all time." In the last decade, he'd enjoyed a critically hailed renaissance on the Anti- record label, working with producers Joe Henry and Buddy Miller and recording songs by the likes of Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, and Tom Waits.

JOAN SUTHERLAND, 83

Born 11-7-1926, died October 10

One of the great opera singers of the century, the Australian-born Sutherland bridged the gap between high art and the middle class and captivated audiences around the world during her 1960s-70s peak.

GENERAL NORMAN JOHNSON, 67

Born 5-23-1943, died October 13

The singer for the Chairmen of the Board is still remembered for the oft-revived 1970 soul smash "Give Me Just a Little More Time."

ARI UP, 48

Born 1-1-1962, died October 20

Otherwise known as Ariane Forster, the German-born singer co-founded punk's original "girl group," the Slits, in 1976. Her stepfather was musical contemporary John Lydon.

GREGORY ISAACS, 59

Born 7-15-1951, died October 25

In his 40-year career, the Jamaica native became one of the world's most popular reggae performers, peaking in the 1970s and '80s, before falling prey to drug addiction. His comeback resulted in several Grammy nominations, including a nod for Best Reggae Album in the forthcoming 2011 awards.

JAMES MOODY, 85

Born 3-26-1925, died December 9

The jazz saxophone and flute legend's recordings stretched from 1949 to the early 2000s, following a career-establishing mid-1940s stint with Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he reunited for a period in the '60s.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, 69

Born 1-15-1941, died December 17

The uncontested king of rock's avant garde hadn't recorded an album since 1982, having moved on to painting and general reclusiveness, but his absence only seemed to further his legend among young indie-rockers looking for an uncorrupted hero. Don Van Vliet was in the unusual position of making his high school buddy Frank Zappa look conventional by comparison, as albums like 1969's classic Trout Mask Replica mixed the familiar tropes of blues-rock with free-form structures and time signatures and Dadaist rantings.

TEENA MARIE, 54

Born 3-5-1956, died December 26

Her first record got shipped out in a photo-less jacket so no one would know she wasn't black. Radio and the public figured it out soon enough, but she was good enough that there was no reverse discrimination to speak of toward the most successful white R&B performer of the pre-Justin Timberlake era. The onetime girlfriend of Rick James had 29 songs place on the Billboard R&B chart, most during her 1979-88 heyday.

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