Country Music Mourns Its Losses

Ray Charles, Skeeter Davis, Martha Carson Among Those Bowing Out This Year

2004 witnessed the passing of some of country music’s most beloved and influential songwriters and vocal stylists, many with roots in other genres. Here is a partial listing arranged chronologically:

Gospel singer Jake Hess, 76, Jan. 4, of a heart attack, in Opelika, Ala. He was a member of the Statesmen Quartet and a founding member of the Imperials who sang on several Elvis Presley records.

Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw, 59, Jan. 5, of brain cancer, in Nashville. The baseball legend was the father of country superstar Tim McGraw.

Songwriter Lorene Allen, 78, Jan. 9, of cancer, in Nashville. In addition to writing songs that were recorded by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold and others, she managed Loretta Lynn Enterprises for years until her retirement in 1994.

Songwriter Max D. Barnes, 67, Jan. 11, of pneumonia, in Nashville. He co-wrote “Look at Us,” “Chiseled in Stone” and “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” among many other standards.

Singer and songwriter Randy VanWarmer, 48, Jan. 12, of leukemia, in Seattle, Wash. In 1979, he scored the Top 5 pop hit, “Just When I Needed You Most.” VanWarmer began recording as a country artist in the late 1980s and charted two singles, “I Will Hold You” and “Where the Rocky Mountains Touch the Morning Sun,” both in 1988. Other writing credits include the Oak Ridge Boys’ “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes” and Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why).”

Gene Hughes, 67, Feb. 3, in Nashville of complications from a car accident. He was a founding member of the Casinos, whose one big hit was “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” in 1967. In the last decades of his life, he worked as a country record promoter in Nashville and occasionally performed on oldies shows.

Roy “Pop” Lewis, 98, March 23, in Washington, Ga. He was the patriarch of the gospel/bluegrass group the Lewis Family and a member of the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame.

Niki M. Sullivan, 66, April 6, at his home near Kansas City, Mo. Sullivan was the former rhythm guitarist for Buddy Holly & the Crickets. He played on 27 of Holly’s records, including “That’ll Be the Day,” “Oh Boy” and “Not Fade Away.”

Songwriter and guitarist Dave Kirby, 65, April 17, of cancer, in Branson, Mo. He co-wrote “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Memories to Burn” and was married to singer Leona Williams.

Musical giant Ray Charles, 74, June 10, of liver disease, Beverly Hills, Calif. Next to Elvis Presley, Charles probably did more than any other artist to popularize country music beyond its traditional fan base.

Mattie J. T. Stepanek, 13, June 22, of muscular dystrophy in Washington, D.C. His poems were the basis of Billy Gilman’s 2003 album, Music Through Heartsongs.

Songwriter Sam Hogin, age undisclosed, Aug. 9, in Nashville. Hogin was twice nominated for the Country Music Association’s song of the year award — in 1981 for the Don Williams hit “I Believe in You,” which he co-wrote with Roger Cook, and in 1998 for Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing,” a co-composition with Cook, James House and Phil Barnhart. Other hits included Crystal Gayle’s “Too Many Lovers” and “Livin’ in These Troubled Times,” Shenandoah’s “I Want to Be Loved Like That” and Shania Twain’s “Dance With the One That Brought You.”

William Herbert “Lum” York, 85, Aug. 15, in Baton Rouge, La. He was a bassist and comedian for Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys band between 1944 and 1949.York later performed in bands with Bill Monroe, Lefty Frizzell, George Morgan, Marty Robbins and others.

Singer and songwriter Melvin Endsley, 70, Aug. 16. Among his best-known compositions were “Singing the Blues” (a hit for Marty Robbins), “Love Me to Pieces” (Jill Corey, Janis Martin), “I’d Just Be Fool Enough” (the Browns), “I Like Your Kind of Love” (Andy Williams) and “Why I’m Walkin'” (Stonewall Jackson).

Charlie Waller, 69, Aug. 18, of a heart attack, in Gordonsville, Va. He was the founder and leader of the bluegrass supergroup the Country Gentlemen, whose 1960-64 edition was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor in 1996.

Songwriter and musician L.E. White, 74, Sept. 7, in Hendersonville, Tenn. His best-known hits include the Grammy-winning “After the Fire Is Gone” for Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, as well as Twitty’s “I Love You More Today,” “To See My Angel Cry” and “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet.” He and his recording partner, Lola Jean Dillon, charted in 1977 with “Home, Sweet Home” and “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” His son, Michael White, recorded briefly for Reprise Records in the early ’90s. Before turning to songwriting, White played with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper’s Clinch Mountain Clan.

Guitar string-maker Ernie Ball, 74, Sept. 9, at his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif. At the urging of guitarists, he developed a variety of lighter-gauge strings that gave them greater playing flexibility. Among those who endorsed his strings were Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Merle Haggard.

Drummer Kenny Buttrey, 59, Sept. 12, of cancer, in Nashville. A much-in-demand session player, Buttrey’s work can be heard on such classics as Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.” Buttrey got his start playing with Charlie McCoy and the Escorts and subsequently worked in such short-lived but critically lauded ensembles as Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615.

Grand Ole Opry star Skeeter Davis, 73, Sept. 19, of cancer, in Nashville. Although her musical credentials were thoroughly country, Davis developed a pop following in the early 1960s with such crossover hits as “The End of the World” and “I Can’t Stay Mad at You.”

Grand Ole Opry star Roy Drusky, 74, Sept. 23, in Portland, Tenn., after a long illness. A fixture on the country charts from 1960 until 1977, his biggest hits were “Yes, Mr. Peters” (with Priscilla Mitchell, 1965) and “Three Hearts in a Tangle” (1961).

Angela L. Herzberg, 36, Oct. 25, at her home in Hendersonville, Tenn., of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was the wife of singer Gary Allan.

Jerry Scoggins, 93, Dec. 7, in Heritage Village, Calif. He sang the theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” for the long-running Beverly Hillbillies TV series.

Country and gospel singer Martha Carson, 83, Dec. 16, in Nashville. Famed for her dynamic vocals and stage presence, she cultivated a pop following during the 1950s and was greatly admired by Elvis Presley, with whom she toured early in his career. Her signature song was the rousing “Satisfied.”

Singer and songwriter Mack Vickery, 66, Dec. 21, of a heart attack in Nashville. Working mostly with other writers, Vickery penned such hits as “The Fireman” (for George Strait), “Rockin’ My Life Away” (Jerry Lee Lewis) and “The Jamestown Ferry” (Tanya Tucker).

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to