Bowing Out: Notable Music Business Deaths of 2009

Opry Stars, Hank Williams' Bandsmen, Noted Folklorists Make Their Exit

In 2009, country music lost “The Voice,” a Buckaroo, a Clinch Mountain Boy, a Virginia Boy, two Lynyrd Skynyrd members and the marketing genius behind “Harper Valley P. T. A.” Gone, too, are three pioneers in the study, preservation and performance of folk music as well as the most innovative guitar player and designer of his generation.

Herewith, CMT.com notes the passing and particulars of:

Ernie Ashworth, 80, member of the Grand Ole Opry, best known for his 1963 hit, “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” and the lips-emblazoned stage suit he wore to mark that achievement, March 2, in Nashville.

Leona Atkins, 85, widow of Chet Atkins and former singer (with her sister) on Cincinnati’s Boone County Jamboree, Oct. 21, in Nashville.

Butch Baldassari, 56, founder of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, former member of the bluegrass band Weary Hearts and noted music teacher, Jan. 10, in Nashville.

Barry Beckett, 66, esteemed studio musician, member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and producer of such acts as Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger and Lorrie Morgan, June 10, in Hendersonville, Tenn.

Molly Bee, 69, country singer and television personality, Feb. 7, in Oceanside, Calif.

Jay Bennett, 45, former member of the band Wilco, May 24, in Urbana, Ill.

Tom Brumley, 73, steel guitar player, former member of Buck Owens‘ band, the Buckaroos, and son of the great gospel music composer, Albert Brumley, Feb. 4, in San Antonio, Texas.

Stephen Bruton, 60, noted guitarist and songwriter, May 9, in Los Angeles.

Vernon Crawford “Jack” Cooke, 72, singer and bass player for Ralph Stanley‘s Clinch Mountain Boys band, Dec. 1, in Norton, Va.

John Dawson, 64, co-founder (with Jerry Garcia) of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, July 21, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Billy Deaton, 74, veteran talent booker and former manager of Faron Young, Oct. 31, in Nashville.

Jim Dickinson, 67, musician and producer who worked with such acts as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Replacements and Ry Cooder and whose sons Cody and Luther Dickinson are members of the North Mississippi Allstars, Aug. 15, in Memphis.

Hal Durham, 77, former announcer for and manager of the Grand Ole Opry, March 28, in Cape Coral, Fla.

Donald “Ean” Evans, 48, bass player for Lynyrd Skynyrd, May 6, in Columbus, Miss.

Vern Gosdin, 74, the singer-songwriter dubbed “The Voice” because of his strong, resonant delivery, April 28, in Nashville. A chart fixture from the late 1970s through the early ’90s, his 19 Top 10 hits included “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight),” “Set ‘Em Up Joe” and “Chiseled in Stone.”

Archie Green, 91, Canadian-born folklorist who specialized in the songs, language and customs of working-class Americans, March 22, in San Francisco.

Jon Hager, 67, of the Hager twins of Hee Haw fame, Jan. 9, in Nashville.

Dene Hallam, 56, radio programmer, Nov. 20, in Atlanta.

Loretta Johnson, 68, co-founder of the International Fan Club Organization (with her sisters, Loudilla Johnson and Kay Johnson), April 13, in Nashville. The Johnson sisters got their start in fan clubdom in 1963 when they formed Loretta Lynn‘s first official appreciation society. Subsequently, they formed IFCO to give guidance and set standards for fan organizations.

Larry Knechtel, 69, keyboard player for acts ranging from the Beach Boys to the Dixie Chicks and Grammy-winning arranger (for Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”), Aug. 20, in Yakima, Wash.

Tim Krekel, 58, guitarist and songwriter (“Cry on the Shoulder of the Road,” “Turning Away,” “You Can Feel Bad”), June 24, in Louisville, Ky.

Big Bill Lister, 86, former member of Hank Williams‘ Drifting Cowboy band, who rediscovered Williams’ original recording of “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” Dec. 1, in San Antonio.

Randall “Poodie” Locke, 56, Willie Nelson‘s stage manager, May 6, in Briarcliff, Texas.

Hank Locklin, 91, singer, songwriter and Grand Ole Opry member, March 8, in Brewton, Ala. His signature song, which he wrote, recorded and saw become a hit in 1958, was “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.” He also had the No. 1 singles “Let Me Be the One” and “Please Help Me, I’m Falling.”

Tom McEntee, age unknown, founder of Country Radio Seminar (in 1969), Sept. 24 in Florida.

Irby Mandrell, 84, father and longtime manager of Barbara Mandrell, March 5, in Nashville.

Al Martino, 82, pop singer whose repertoire and recordings included many country songs, Oct. 13, in Springfield, Pa. He also played wedding singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.The last song he recorded was Garth Brooks‘ “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”

Aubrey Mayhew, 81, producer, co-founder of Little Darlin’ Records (with Johnny Paycheck) and Paycheck’s former manager, March 22, in Nashville. He was also a major collector of memorabilia about President John F. Kennedy.

Warren “Gates” Nichols, 65, former member of Confederate Railroad, Aug. 14, in Austell, Ga.

Robert “R. D.” Norred, 90, steel guitarist who played in Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboy band in late 1946 and early 1947, Oct. 25, in Dadeville, Ala.

Les Paul (real name: Lester William Polsfuss), 94, legendary guitarist and guitar designer, recording artist and studio technician, Aug. 13, in White Plains, N.Y.

Billy Powell, 56, keyboardist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jan. 28, in Orange Park, Fla.

Billy Lee Riley, 75, rockabilly pioneer and Sun Records artist, Aug. 2, in Jonesboro, Ark.

Dan Seals, 61, singer, songwriter and half of the 1970s pop duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, March 25, in Nashville. Among his 11 No. 1 country hits were “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold),” “Love on Arrival” and “Bop.”

Mike Seeger, 75, folksinger and music scholar, Aug. 7, in Lexington, Va.

Alan Shelton, 73, banjo player who toured and recorded as a member of Jim & Jesse‘s band, the Virginia Boys, from 1960 through 1967, Nov. 21, in Nashville.

Shelby Singleton, 77, record producer, music publisher and owner of the Sun Records catalog, Oct. 7, in Nashville. It was on his Plantation label that Jeannie C. Riley scored her 1968 No. 1 country and pop hit, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Singleton was also pivotal in expanding the careers of Roger Miller, Ray Stevens and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others.

Mary Travers, 72, of the Peter, Paul & Mary folk trio, Sept. 16, in Danbury, Conn.

Rusty Wier, 65, singer and songwriter, Oct. 9, in Driftwood, Texas.

Ruby Wright, 69, recording artist and daughter of Country Music Hall of Fame member Kitty Wells and singer Johnny Wright, circa Sept. 27, in Madison, Tenn.