Country Music Deaths of 2015

Adieu to Some of the Best and Brightest

2015 saw the passing of Grand Ole Opry stars Little Jimmy Dickens and Jim Ed Brown, of such other iconic artists as Lynn Anderson, Billy Joe Royal and Jean Ritchie and of super producer Billy Sherrill, who launched Tammy Wynette’s career and breathed new life into Charlie Rich’s music.

Gone as well this year are the writers of such country classics as “Always on My Mind,” “The Fireman,” “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” and “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” and the irreplaceable instrumental virtuosi Buddy Emmons, Johnny Gimble, Bill Keith and Tut Taylor.

Here is a list of those the country music community mourned during the past 12 months:

Lynn Anderson, 67, whose string of country and pop hits was crowned by the Grammy-winning “Rose Garden,” died July 30 in Nashville.

Bonnie Lou, 91, (real name Mary Joan Okum) country and pop singer, radio and television personality and member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, died Dec. 8 in Cincinnati.

Billy Block, 59, musician, radio host and longtime promoter of American roots music, died March 11 in Nashville.

Jim Ed Brown, 81, whose three-stage career embraced singing with the Browns trio (“The Three Bells”), recording and performing as a soloist and charting duets with Helen Cornelius, died June 11 in Nashville. The 52-year member of the Grand Ole Opry learned that he and the Browns would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame a few weeks before his death.

Anna O'Conner
Al Bunetta, 72, manager of John Prine and Steve Goodman and co-founder of Oh Boy Records, died March 22 in Nashville.

Guy Carawan, 87, folksinger, political activist and popularize of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” died May 2 in New Market, Tennessee.

Wayne Carson, 72, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member whose hits included “Always on My Mind,” “The Letter,” “Soul Deep” and “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” died July 20 near Nashville.

Don Chapel, 84, (real name Lloyd Franklin Amburgey) songwriter, singer, second husband of Tammy Wynette and brother of country gospel singer Martha Carson, died Dec. 6.

Charlie Dick, 81, widower and legacy keeper of Patsy Cline, died Nov. 8 in Nashville.

Jimmy Dickens, 94, Jan. 2 in Nashville. Billed as “Little Jimmy Dickens” because of his 4-foot-11 stature, the West Virginia native was nonetheless a powerful, emotive singer whose talents landed him on the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, where he remained until his death. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.

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Buddy Emmons, 78, steel guitar virtuoso. refiner of the instrument and co-founder of the Sho-Bud pedal steel guitar company who toured in bands led by Little Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Roger Miller and others, died circa July 21 in Nashville. He was elected to the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981.

Snuff Garrett, 77, producer of hits for Bobby Vee, Cher, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Vicki Lawrence and other pop acts and co-writer of such country standards as “Every Which Way but Loose” (Eddie Rabbitt), “Misery and Gin” (Merle Haggard) and “Another Honky Tonk Night on Broadway” (Frizzell & West), died Dec. 16 in Tucson, Arizona.

Johnny Gimble, 88, one of the most revered and awarded fiddlers in the history of country music who toured and recorded with such legendary performers as Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, died May 9 near Dripping Springs, Texas. Between 1975 and 1990, he won five musician of the year awards from the Country Music Association and nine from the Academy of Country Music.

Joe Guercio, 87, Elvis Presley’s musical director and orchestra leader from 1970 until Presley’s death in 1977, died Jan. 4 in Nashville.

Dixie Hall, 80, prolific bluegrass songwriter and wife of Country Music Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall, died Jan. 16 in Nashville.

Ted Harris, 78, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1990 and composer of such hits as “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “The Happiness of Havin’ You” and “Crystal Chandelier,” died Nov. 22 in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

Don Harron, 90, the Canadian actor who played rustic newsman Charlie Farquharson on Hee Haw, died Jan. 17 in Toronto.

John Jennings, 61, who rose to fame in the late 1980s as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s guitarist, co-producer and occasional co-writer, died Oct. 17.

Wade Jessen, 53, Billboard’s senior chart manager and radio host on Willie’s Roadhouse channel on Sirius XM, died March 5 near Nashville.

Bob Johnston, 83, producer of albums by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Flatt & Scruggs and others, died Aug. 14 in Nashville.

Ramona Jones, 91, old-time fiddler, radio and TV performer and frequent musical accompanist to her husband, Country Music Hall of Fame member Grandpa Jones, died Nov. 17 in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.

Bill Keith, 75, innovative banjo stylist, former member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and member of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, died Oct. 23 in Bearsville, New York.

Wayne Kemp, 74, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame who penned such hits as “The Fireman,” “One Piece at a Time” and “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” died March 9 in Lafayette, Tennessee.

Red Lane, 76, (real name Hollis Rudolph DeLaughter) member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame whose hits included “New Looks From An Old Lover,” “Til I Get It Right,” “My Own Kind of Hat” and “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa,” died July 1.

Tex Logan, 87, (real name Benjamin Franklin Logan Jr.) former fiddler in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys band and writer of the bluegrass standard “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’,” died April 24 in Morristown, New Jersey. He also held a doctorate in electrical engineering from Columbia University.

Sandy Mason Theoret, 71, composer of “When I Dream” and “Two Pina Coladas,” died April 1 in Ormond Beach, Florida.

Alan Mayor, 65, photographer who chronicled the Nashville music scene for nearly 40 years, died Feb. 22 in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Joe B. Mauldin, 74, bass player for Buddy Holly’s Crickets and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died Feb. 7 in Nashville.

Daron Norwood, 49, recording artist for Giant Records whose chart singles included “Cowboys Don’t Cry” and “If It Wasn’t for Her I Wouldn’t Have You,” died July 22 in Hereford, Texas.

Tommy Overstreet, 78, country artist who scored a string of Top 10 hits in the 1970s, died Nov. 2 in Hillsboro, Ore.

Don Pfrimmer, 78, songwriters whose hits included “My Front Porch Looking In,” “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning” and “Meet in The Middle,” died Dec. 7

Tandy Rice, 76, talent booker and manager whose clients included comedian Jerry Clower, ”First Brother” Billy Carter, Tom T. Hall, Jim Ed Brown and Dolly Parton, died Aug. 3 in Nashville.

Jean Ritchie, 92, folksinger and songwriter whose songs were recorded by Kathy Mattea, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and the trio of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, died June 1 in Berea, Kentucky.

Don Robertson, 92, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame whose hits included “Born to Be With You,” “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” and “I Really Don’t Want to Know,” died March 16 in Lake Sherwood, California.

Billy Joe Royal, 73, pop and country recording artist who numbered among his hits “Down in the Boondocks,” “I Knew You When,” “Tell It Like It Is” and “Til I Can’t Take It Anymore,” died Oct. 6 in Morehead City, North Carolina.

Billy Sherrill, 78, songwriter and producer whose studio mentorship and composing boosted Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker and David Houston, among others, to the top of the charts, died Aug. 4 in Nashville. He was a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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Patsy Stoneman, 90, daughter of Country Music Hall of Fame member Ernest V. Stoneman and a musician in the Stonemans band, died July 23.

Tut Taylor, 91, flatpicking Dobro player and progressive bluegrass pioneer, died April 8 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Jeff Walker, 65, record executive, publicist, music publisher, talent manager and pioneer in music video promotion, died Aug. 24 in Nashville. He was also active in promoting country music internationally.

James “Spider” Wilson, 79, longtime Grand Ole Opry staff guitarist and studio musician, died Feb. 26 in Nashville.

Joe Wilson, 77, executive director of National Council for the Traditional Arts from 1976 to 2004 and ardent supporter of folk music, died May 17 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Bill Yates, 78, bassist for the Country Gentlemen, died Jan. 26

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