Country Music Deaths of 2016

Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Sonny James, Jean Shepard, Guy Clark Leave Major Legacies

Some of the most cherished voices in country music went silent in 2016, chief among them those of Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Sonny James, Jean Shepard and Guy Clark.

Gone, too, were the writers of such emotional treasures as “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” “The Closer You Get,” “Drift Away,” “From a Jack to a King,” “Daddy’s Hands,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” “Looking for a Place to Fall Apart,” “Green, Green Grass of Home” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Three of Elvis Presley’s compadres made their final bows — his original guitar player, one of his favorite background singers and his longtime road manager.

Look at their ages and works, and you’ll see the passing of country’s own greatest generation:

Bonnie Brown, 77, youngest member of the singing trio and Country Music Hall of Fame members the Browns, whose “The Three Bells” topped both the country and pop charts in 1959. She died July 16 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Guy Clark, 74, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and writer of such heavily imagistic songs as “L. A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” and “Rita Ballou,” May 17 in Nashville.

Andrew Dorff, 40, writer of hits for Kenny Chesney, Hunter Hayes, Blake Shelton, Martina McBride, Ronnie Dunn and others, Dec. 19 at location not disclosed.

Holly Dunn, 59, writer and singer of “Daddy’s Hands,” former disc jockey and a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Nov. 15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Joe Esposito, 78, Elvis Presley’s close friend and road manager, Nov. 23 in Calabasas, California.

Richard Fagan, 69, songwriter whose hits included “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” “Be My Baby Tonight” and “Real Good Feel Good Song,” Aug. 5 in Nashville.

Joey Feek, 40, of the husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory, March 4, in Indiana.

Mark Gray, 64, recording artist, former member of the band Exile and co-writer of the hits “Take Me Down,” “The Closer You Get” and “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy,” Dec. 2 in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Jerry Greer, 19. son of recording artist Craig Morgan, drowned July 10, in Kentucky Lake in Humphreys County, Tennessee.

Gib Guilbeau, 78, pioneer musician in California’s country-rock scene and member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, April 12 at location not disclosed.

Merle Haggard, 79, one of the most towering and influential figures in country music history, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and scorer of 38 No. 1 singles within a 22-year span, April 6 (his birthday) in Palo Cedro, California. He was commonly called “the poet of the common man.”

Pete Huttlinger, 54, composer, recording artist, former lead guitarist for John Denver, National Fingerpick Guitar Champion and inspirational speaker, Jan. 15 in Nashville.

Sonny James (born James Hugh Loden), 87, member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, topper of the pop and country charts with “Young Love,” frequent TV variety show guest with his band, the Southern Gentlemen, and record holder for the most consecutive No. 1 country singles — 16 –until Alabama broke his record in 1985, Feb. 22 in Nashville.

Kacey Jones (born Gail Zeiler), 66, songwriter, producer, humorist and founding member of Ethel & the Shameless Hussies (in which she performed as “Ethel Beaverton”), Sept. 1 in Nashville.

John D. Loudermilk, 82, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member whose hits included “Abilene,” “Waterloo,” “Indian Reservation” and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” Sept. 21 in Christiana, Tennessee.

Ned Miller, 90, recording artist and writer of “From a Jack to a King,” “Dark Moon,” “Behind the Tear” and “Do What You Do Do Well,” March 18 in Medford, Oregon.

Chips Moman, 79, producer, studio impresario and co-writer of “Luckenbach, Texas,” “The Wurlitzer Prize” and the Grammy-winning “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” June 13 in LaGrange, Georgia.

Scotty Moore, 84, Elvis Presley’s original guitar player and early manager and exemplar for later rock guitar giants, June 28 in Nashville.

Joe Moscheo, 78, former BMI executive whose long career in music included singing with Elvis Presley as a member of the gospel group the Imperials, Jan. 11 in Nashville.

Freddy Powers, 84, jazz and country singer and guitarist, co-producer of Willie Nelson’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow album and co-writer of the Merle Haggard hits “Natural High,” “Let’s Chase Each Around the Room” and “Looking for a Place to Fall Apart,” as well as George Jones’ “I Always Get Lucky With You,” June 21 at location not disclosed.

Curly Putman, 85, Grammy-winning composer and member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame who wrote or co-wrote “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “My Elusive Dream,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Blood Red and Goin’ Down,” Oct. 30 in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Leon Russell, 74, singer-songwriter, studio and concert musician, producer and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, who sang under the country music pseudonym Hank Wilson, Nov. 13 in Nashville.

Jean Shepard, 82, Grand Ole Opry star, member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and fierce champion of traditional country music, Sept. 25 in Nashville.

Red Simpson, 81, singer who built his entire chart identity on truck songs and was an early exponent of the “Bakersfield Sound,” Jan. 8 in Bakersfield, California.

Ralph Stanley, 89, singer whose high, mournful voice implanted the stark Appalachian sound in bluegrass music, multiple Grammy winner, Grand Ole Opry star and younger member of the pioneering Stanley Brothers (1946-1966), June 23 in Coeburn, Virginia.

Kay Starr, 94, pop singer who made successful forays into country music in the early 1950s with duet partner Tennessee Ernie Ford, Nov. 3 in Los Angeles.

Craig Strickland, 29, lead singer of Backroad Anthem, disappeared in a storm Dec. 27, 2014 on Haw Lake, Oklahoma, and his body found there Jan 4.

Gordie Tapp, 94, actor and writer on Hee Haw throughout its 25-year run and member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, Dec. 18 in Burlington, Ontario.

Kim Williams, 68, songwriter whose hit compositions included “Three Wooden Crosses,” “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets,’ “Ain’t Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up” and “It’s Midnight Cinderella,” Feb. 11 in Florida.

Mentor Williams, 70, writer of the crossover hit. “Drift Away,” as well as “When We Make Love,” “She’s Gonna Win Your Heart” and “A Few Ole Country Boys,” Nov. 16 at location not disclosed.

Steve Young, 73, writer of the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road” and Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” March 17 in Nashville.

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