Country Music Sustains Major Losses in 2003

Johnny Cash Among Six Hall of Fame Members Who Died

The circle remains strong, but there’s no denying that the year 2003 took a heavy toll on the country music family. The loss of Johnny and June Carter Cash dominated the national news although the past 12 months marked the deaths of more than a dozen people who made significant contributions to country music.

Johnny Cash was just one of six Country Music Hall of Fame members to pass away in 2003. Others include:

• Felice Bryant: Felice and husband Boudleaux Bryant wrote some of the most famous songs in country and pop music, including “Rocky Top,” “Love Hurts” and the Everly Brothers’ hits “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Bye, Bye Love.”

• Bill Carlisle: A Grand Ole Opry member since 1953, Carlisle was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. Carlisle, 94, made his last Opry appearance just five days before suffering a stroke in March.

• Don Gibson: If he had only written “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Gibson’s place in the history books would be secure. However, he was a successful artist and wrote other classics, including “Oh Lonesome Me,” “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time” and “Blue Blue Day.”

• Sam Phillips: Phillips changed the world of music in 1954 when he produced Elvis Presley’s first commercial record at Sun Studios in Memphis. He also discovered and produced early recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and others.

• Floyd Tillman: An artist recognized for his distinctive vocal style, Tillman is best known for his songwriting. The catalog includes “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” “I Gotta Have My Baby Back,” “Slipping Around,” “It Makes No Difference Now” (co-written with Jimmie Davis) and “They Took the Stars out of Heaven.”

Johnny Paycheck — who died in February — hasn’t yet achieved Hall of Fame status, but he was one of country music’s most successful artists during the ’70s. And while other country artists were considered “outlaws,” Paycheck could literally claim that identity. With hits such as “Take This Job and Shove It,” “She’s All I Got” and “Someone to Give My Love To,” Paycheck will remain one of the most distinctive and enduring voices in country music history.

Other losses in 2003 include:

Rosalie Allen: A singer and radio pioneer, Allen became one of the first female disc jockeys as host of her Prairie Stars show on WOV-AM/New York in 1944.

Wilma Burgess: A ballad singer from the Nashville Sound era of Decca Records, Burgess’ hits included 1965’s “Baby,” 1966’s “Misty Blue” and 1967’s “Tear Time.”

Paul Burlison: Burlison’s guitar work with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette in the Rock ’n’ Roll Trio set a standard for rockabilly and influenced a generation of musicians including Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.

Dave Dudley: The deep voiced singer popularized truck driving songs with hits such as “Six Days on the Road” and “Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun.”

Slim Dusty: Australian country music pioneer who recorded more than 100 albums.

Jim McReynolds: Guitarist-vocalist who found fame with brother Jesse McReynolds in the bluegrass duo Jim & Jesse.

Gary Stewart: Honky-tonk singer who melded country with southern rock on hits such as “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” and “Your Place or Mine.”

Speedy West: The pedal steel guitar pioneer changed the public’s perception of the instrument during the ’50s on a series of blistering recordings with guitarist Jimmy Bryant.

Teddy Wilburn: Wilburn and his late brother Doyle took country music to the masses during the ’50s with their syndicated Wilburn Brothers Show. In addition to a successful recording career at Decca Records, the brothers also found success with their music publishing and talent booking agencies.

Sheb Wooley: Best known for recording the 1962 smash, “The Purple People Eater,” Wooley was also known for his acting roles in such notable films as High Noon and Giant. Wooley also scored a series of comedy hits under the name of Ben Colder.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.