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Singer; songwriter; actress; disco diva; glamour icon
By Jason Shawhan
It's January 2011, and mourners stand outside the basement of a rural Gallatin chapel, grieving the death of Juri Bunetta, the 19-year-old son of music industry veteran Al Bunetta. It is a horrible day, but in the midst of heavy silence, a sound of unearthly beauty turns heads upward toward the church: a version of "Amazing Grace" sung a cappella, as if sorrow had found its pitch. Those who cannot see inside ask who could possibly be singing. When the answer comes back, they nod, all explained.
With Donna Summer, there was always the voice. Sprung from Boston gospel, musical theater and polyglot barroom gigs all throughout Europe, the artist born LaDonna Gaines was one of the great musical personalities of the latter 20th century. Whether fate, circumstance or the hand of a merciful God brought Summer together with the musicians who would become the Munich Machine, it began a collaboration that would personify the revolution of sound, sass and sex sweeping the world. Donna Summer didn't necessarily need disco, and disco didn't necessarily need her, but together they made history. "Love To Love You Baby," written with producers-musicians-collaborators Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder, took the nascent idea behind what would become the remix and made it the centerpiece of that holiest thing of all that is Rock — the album.
The tension between embodying the sound of a sensual, strobelit revolution and a religious rebirth led Summer away from the sultrier, moan-based subdivisions of the nightclub world. With Bellotte and Moroder, in 1977, she galvanized dance music by welding the energy of the 4/4 disco strut to the synthesizer. It is impossible to overstate the influence of “I Feel Love,” from that year's I Remember Yesterday album. Conceived as a whirlwind through the styles of several decades' hit parade, served up with some accented hi-hats and sequenced boom-boom, that LP revealed the musical versatility of both the Bellotte/Moroder/Summer songwriting team and Summer as an artist. And what they'd designed to represent the sound of the future — “I Feel Love” — became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Never a force of nature like Grace Jones or a powerhouse belter like Loleatta Holloway, Summer nevertheless became the perfect incarnation of the disco era. She was a Broadway diva in her ability to move between personae and performances, changing moods and tones with a versatility splendidly suited to the producer-driven era of disco. She kept her sound broad and evolving, so that even before the shamefully homophobic and racist disco backlash of the early '80s she was already keeping radios humming and dancefloors moving with rock, reggae, new wave, and proggy flourishes. Summer's body of work is the single degree of connection between Jon & Vangelis and Stock Aitken Waterman, between Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton, between Barry Manilow and Jimmy Webb.
She never stopped having hits. That's not the ultimate measure of any artist's success, but it is something to keep in mind. Even in the 17-year stretch between albums of all original material, she maintained her presence on the charts — a new single added to a hits compilation, a promo 12” here and there, just to let the dance floor know that the Queen was still aware and feeling it.
When Donna Summer died earlier this year from lung cancer, she left behind a career distinct from so many others who worked in the pop/dance idiom. She was a star, and always on her own terms. You can see the throughline between the classic output of the Moroder/Summer/Bellotte team and hear its syncopated pulse in the work of countless contemporary artists — the monster hooks of Lady Gaga, the glitter-stained and whiskey-soaked arpeggios of Ke$ha, the serrated waves of The Knife. It's nearly impossible to conceive of modern electronic music without the inciting catalyst of “I Feel Love.” Today's marketplace would let that one song serve as a career before moving on to something new. Summer never stopped finding stories to tell and songs to sing.
A periodic resident of Nashville and Franklin, Donna Summer is buried here. And though her career was built on weaving in and out of the nonstop thump of night rituals, you need only look to her performance of the Oscar-winning song “Last Dance" (in 1978's Thank God It's Friday) to realize the effectiveness and power of a graceful finish.
Someday cybernetic intelligence will happen upon the remnants of this world, long after human life is gone. In its attempt to reconstruct the tangled histories of human and mechanical development, it will come across "I Feel Love," or Act Two of 1977's Once Upon a Time. Awestruck at the soul arising from all those synthetic components, it will hail the one called Donna Summer as a prophet — the voice of interface. The sound of synthesis. The ghost in the machine.
During Freeman's later days with The Fairfield Four, after a 1980s reunion, they performed with such rock and country notables as Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Lyle Lovett, Amy Grant and Johnny Cash. They gained new fame and cachet with contemporary audiences through an appearance in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and on the film's soundtrack. They earned a Grammy for the spectacular album I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray.
Despite The Fairfield Four's crossover success during Freeman's latter years, neither they nor Freeman have gotten the widespread mainstream fame given other seminal groups from their era — The Soul Stirrers, Blind Boys (both Mississippi and Alabama), Swan Silvertones, Pilgrim Travelers or Dixie Hummingbirds. The Four are in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. But they have not yet been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an influence, despite their noticeable impact on numerous R&B groups. Author/historian/journalist Bruce Nemerov says they were unquestionably the equal of any ensemble, but maintains that Freeman's devotion to gospel was such that he didn't actively seek that type of attention.
Irrespective of crossover success, Freeman was a singular vocalist.
"As a singer, he was incredible," Nemerov says. "His tone was pure, his range vast, and his sound impeccable. They used that voice to ensure the group stayed in key, and the harmonies were right. He was the complete bass singer."
Although Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys had been pushing the limits of traditional string band music for several years, it was the addition of the 21-year-old Earl Scruggs to the band in late 1945 that solidified the musical style soon to be known as bluegrass. It was the same year as the start of the Atomic Age, and when Scruggs first unleashed his three-fingered rolls on the Grand Ole Opry stage one cold December night, an A-bomb might as well have hit the Ryman.
In a way Scruggs launched an arms race in the ranks of hillbilly music, as bands and record companies scrambled to find the secret of this new style. Banjo players who had long ago mastered the traditional two-fingered picking styles suddenly found a use for their middle finger that didn't start fights. After a little over two years with Monroe, Scruggs left to form the world's second bluegrass band with guitarist Lester Flatt.
Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys soon became the most popular bluegrass act in the world by tapping into the growing folk music scene and through many television appearances. Along the way, the "Scruggs Style" became the standard for almost all other banjo players.
But Scruggs' instinct for innovation didn't allow him to sit still. After a successful 22-year run, Scruggs split with the more traditionally inclined Flatt and formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons. He became a mentor for a new generation of bluegrass musicians. He filled that role with class and generosity until his last days, constantly expanding the vocabulary of the instrument he taught to talk.
Inside, there was a feature story on Bob Babbitt. It recounted his entire career: playing on many hits as a member of The Funk Brothers, the Motown label's house rhythm section, and for other Detroit labels; then a move to New Jersey, which started a busy decade of session work in New York and Philadelphia, with more hits, more classic recordings; in the 1980s, a move to Nashville and more recording and touring. I found it really inspiring. This one guy had been in recording studios for decades working on great records, including some of my favorite music. Before reading this, I didn't even know that you could do that as a job.
Just before I moved from Detroit to Nashville in 2002 to find work as a bass player, I contacted Bob Babbitt through his website. He was very nice and suggested that I call him during my visit, which I did. We ended up meeting for lunch, and he told me really great stories about his time in Detroit, New York and Philly. And he passed along some valuable professional advice:
• Always be on time, be prepared and wear clean clothes.
• No drinking or drug use while working. He was very adamant about this, and said he'd seen it ruin a lot of lives and careers.
• If you're on the road and get called for a session, just say you're booked. They don't have to know where you are. "You could be in China for all they know!" he yelled.
After lunch, we hung out at his place and I got to check out his basses, including The Bass — the late-'60s sunburst Fender Precision that he played on hit records such as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," "Inner City Blues," "Band of Gold," "Midnight Train to Georgia" and a whole lot more.
Bob was much more kind and humble than he had to be, and to a young bass player he barely knew. After his death, the outpouring of support locally and around the world proved that experiences like mine weren't uncommon. As impressive as his professional accomplishments were, his generosity made a lasting impression as well.
Drummer, Jason and the Scorchers; singer; songwriter; former Tennessean archivist
By Jason Ringenberg
Perry Baggs left us this year after a long series of illnesses involving diabetes. He came down with the disease in 1989, and somehow managed to rock all those stages with Jason and the Scorchers through the '90s and into the new millennium. Looking back on all that, I have to consider it one of the most impressive stories I have seen in the performance world. Even with those terrible health issues, he attacked the drums with a power equal to any 18-year-old. He never failed to give it his best.
Perry was a West Nashville native. As the Scorchers' drummer, he defined and owned the elusive drum spot where real rock 'n' roll and authentic country music meet. No one did that better, and I doubt anyone ever will. You knew it when Perry was playing. He had an instantly identifiable style.
He also was a brilliant harmony singer and naturally gifted musician. He grew up in the church singing gospel music, and his love for that never left him, to the end of his life. He had a beautiful voice filled with soul and personality. He had the rare ability to make whoever he was singing with actually sound bigger and better. He could match the lead vocal with uncanny accuracy. He could play guitar, bass, trumpet and piano. He didn't play music: He was music.
Within all that talent beat the heart of a true songwriter. Perry co-wrote many of our signature songs, such as "White Lies," "If Money Talks" and "Victory Road." My favorite of his was "Somewhere Within." To this day it never ceases to move me. I will never forget him singing the chorus to me while driving down a 4 a.m. highway in rural Texas. He also recorded many wonderful solo songs from his post-Scorcher efforts. I hope they someday see the light of day.
Perry is survived by a daughter, Faith Baggs, who inherited his grace and charm. He also leaves behind legions of friends, fans and colleagues who will remember his spirit and work. Every time I sing "White Lies" I will hear that voice singing with me.
ROLAND GRESHAM SR.
By Annie Sellick
Thank you, Mr. Gresham, for igniting me with jazz when I was 22 and hanging out in bars.
For a decade, Sunday night with the Roland Gresham Trio was a ritual for many who wandered in and out of The Boro Bar and Grill in Murfreesboro. On that night each week, candlelight diffused the harsh neon and confusing barrage of band bumper stickers decorating the venue walls. There was jazz, new for many of us, and Roland served it up on guitar with rough-edged sophistication.
He sang us "The Ugly Woman Song," laughing as he shot out a beaming smile. He strummed and soloed with his thumb, and wore plaid polyester pants. He dressed "The Girl From Ipanema" in Wes Montgomery guitar stylings. Gresham's ham-it-up personality, bluesy-side-of-jazz repertoire and melodic solos made the genre accessible and compelling to newbies. It was loud and it was loose, but it cooked.
In the 1960s, Roland moved in Nashville blues circles where the likes of Etta James and Jimi Hendrix made his acquaintance. Through the following decades he would remain in Middle Tennessee, trading blues for jazz and thereafter preaching its gospel, hanging out with Jack Pearson, Larry Pinkerton or Chet Atkins, playing in restaurant bars and teaching from back rooms in music shops. He simply loved to play, and would often do it just for tips in the most unlikely places — a billiard and bowling room, a Rutherford County sports bar, a college dive. A two-or-three-set job might become a five-hour affair where happy fans stomped the hardwood floor in an upstairs room on a small-town square. Fame and money meant nothing to him.
Rumor has it Roland declined a Ray Charles tour. Maybe it was because he wouldn't play on Saturdays.
At some point, he became a devout Seventh-Day Adventist and rejected the mainstream. Self-made and God-reliant, he built his own house and kept a strict vegetarian diet of food from his own garden. He didn't believe in doctors. Fit as an ox until developing lung cancer, Roland jogged to break a fever or chomped a handful of raw cashews, raisins and pearl onions to battle stomach problems — then he would throw his guitar in the car and go play.
His simple ways kept him local and available to us. He loved us back by letting us jam with him and taste old-school improvisation. He hired some of us and changed the courses of our lives. He remembered everybody's name.
Toward the end of his life, Roland lamented his involvement with secular music. But many of us first noticed jazz because of the charisma and passion he infused it with.
Which came first — our love for Roland or love for his music? They were one and the same.
RICHARD FARRELL MORRIS
Percussionist; visual artist
By Mark Edwards
Have you ever known someone who made the word "creative" seem totally inadequate? For me, that person was Farrell Morris.
Farrell was an insanely talented and versatile percussionist: In addition to his stint with the Nashville Symphony, he recorded or performed with the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, J.J. Cale, George Jones, Kenny Chesney and Dolly Parton, to name a few.
When illness forced Farrell to give up his music career, he just shifted creative gears and moved seamlessly into the art world. Painting, sculpture, he was able to do it all. And he did it with the same passion and whimsy that was so overwhelming in his music.
Farrell's collection of percussion instruments was legendary. He had cases of objects he could play, from all over the world. If he heard a sound in his head that he wanted to use on a record session, he would reach into one of those cases and grab something. If he couldn't find the right instrument, no matter — he would just build something that would make that sound. It could be frightening and exhilarating at the same time to see that level of inspiration coming out of one person.
I knew Farrell for almost 40 years. One incident exemplified his creativity for me. While it may seem like a tiny thing, I've never forgotten it. In the early to mid-1970s, there was a band in Nashville made up of local studio musicians that went by the name "2002." Farrell was the percussionist. Their music was pretty indescribable, but it was mostly a jazz band. The tunes could be anywhere from three to 20 minutes long. One night at a gig, Farrell did one of the most amazing things I've ever seen: He cut a plastic milk jug in half and filled the bottom half with water. Then he took a cowbell and proceeded to strike it with a small metal mallet as he moved it up and down in the water, changing its pitch. It was the damnedest jazz solo I've ever heard.
Farrell pretty much owned Table 2 at the Nashville Jazz Workshop's Jazz Cave. He and his lovely wife Bobbie always sat at that table when they attended a concert at the workshop. I was fortunate enough to join them on many occasions. Farrell always made the event special, either through his musical knowledge or his razor-sharp sense of humor. I've not been able to sit at that table since Farrell passed away. There will always be something missing.
Farrell was a good friend and an amazing person, and I will miss him terribly.
By Edd Hurt
Susanna Clark came to Nashville in the early 1970s with her husband, Guy Clark, and both began writing songs that pushed country music's boundaries.
Around this time, as Nashville lore has it, the likes of Mickey Newbury, Larry Jon Wilson, Townes Van Zandt and many others gathered at her home to try out their new material. Energized by this hothouse atmosphere, she began writing songs.
Born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1939, Susanna Clark met Guy Clark in the late '60s, and the couple moved to Nashville in 1971. Married the following year on the houseboat of fellow songwriter Mickey Newbury, the couple began writing and recording.
Hitting with "I'll Be Your San Antone Rose" — a 1975 hit for country singer Dottsy — Susanna Clark went on to write songs that were covered by Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and Miranda Lambert. With Richard Leigh, Clark wrote "Come From the Heart," a 1989 hit for Kathy Mattea.
A former art teacher, Susanna Clark used her training profitably, creating album-cover art for Willie Nelson's 1978 Stardust and Guy Clark's Old No. 1. With Carlene Carter, Susanna Clark wrote "Easy From Now On," which Carter recorded on her 1990 full-length I Fell in Love. The song later appeared on Lambert's 2007 full-length Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. "Easy From Now On" is your typical piece of genius songwriting, right down to the way Carter and Clark tease you with the song's title hook, which takes its time making its appearance.
In poor health in recent years, Susanna Clark died in Nashville on June 27. The songs and the art she created will endure, and will serve as reminders of that glorious, life-affirming period in which Nashville songwriters created the Texas-Tennessee hybrid that artfully balanced sentimentality and realism, and looked back over its shoulder at those wonderful 10-cent towns.
Songwriter; sound engineer, The End
By D. Patrick Rodgers
Generously proportioned, unapologetically vociferous, and easily one of the finest sound guys in Music City, Brad Baker was known to playfully mock the bands that showed up to play The End, sometimes even critiquing them on mic or contributing unasked-for background vocals right in the middle of their set. Seriously. Into a microphone, right in the middle of the set. He'd bark orders at bands as they set up and tore down, or he'd recline out front in his pickup, eating a Styrofoam tray full of to-go food and hollering a jocular greeting at anyone who passed him by.
Baker — known to some as "Porque," pronounced "Porky" — was for many years shrouded in mystery and in local legend. He served as a touring technician for bands including REO Speedwagon, Journey, Loverboy and Prince; that part's definitely true. Appropriately enough, Baker — known for his hard-partying rock 'n' roll lifestyle — penned the tune "Wasted Rock Ranger," which proved to be pretty successful for Great White; that part's true as well. But the bit that we End-frequenting rock fans often heard and never quite believed was that he also wrote Guns N' Roses' "Night Train." Fairly certain that one's not entirely accurate.
But it wasn't just the dubious rock 'n' roll anecdotes that Baker was known for. In addition to being a genuinely talented sound engineer — honestly, the juxtaposition of Baker's pristine front-of-house mixes against the charmingly junky atmosphere of The End was a sound to behold — he was a surprisingly giving and likable figure beneath his playfully antagonistic exterior. As noted by local concert promoter and sound guy Jesse Baker (no relation) in his obituary from our Sept. 13 issue, "[Baker] even did insanely generous things like buying my groceries and helping with car trouble costs on a consistent basis. There are a couple years there that I definitely owe my comfort and sanity to Brad's generosity. And it wasn't just me."
Baker had a devil-may-care sensibility and a big appetite for life, and in recent years, health issues landed him in the hospital for stretches at a time. He was in his extended-stay hotel room in the Super 8 on Spence Lane when he died on Aug. 31 at the age of 58. Gone with him is not only some of the best sound mixing any local club could ever hope for, but also a stentorian voice and a surly exterior, and the great big heart underneath.
Country music legend
By Jewly Hight
When a queen dies, a nation stops to grieve. For country music, the passing of Queen Kitty Wells was no less an event.
So far removed are we from the postwar early 1950s — and so used to the presence of formidable female voices in the country landscape — that it's hard to fathom a time when there were none to hear, outside of family groups. Wells was the first true country superstar who was also a woman, and the song for which she's best remembered, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," was the first recording by a solo female singer ever to top the country charts.
A Nashville native, she wasn't actually born Kitty Wells — a name borrowed from a folk ballad — but Ellen Muriel Deason, into a family that sang purely for enjoyment. An aspiring country singer by the name of Johnnie Wright met the Deasons through his sister, who'd moved in next door to them. Soon enough, he and Wells embarked on a 74-year partnership in marriage and music that ended only with his passing in 2011. For the first several years, they primarily placed their hopes in the musical fortunes of Johnnie and Jack, Wright's duo with Jack Anglin. Besides filling the supporting role of the duo's "girl singer," Wells cut a few gospel sides for RCA, which went nowhere.
By her early 30s, Wells was ready to wash her hands of singing and focus on raising the couple's children. That's when Wright, at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop's Midnite Jamboree, was approached by a Decca A&R man who pitched him a song for Wells. She agreed to record "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" — an answer song to Hank Thompson's hit "The Wild Side of Life" — but only so that she could earn the session fee. Before she knew it, the song was a runaway 1952 hit, the first of more than 30 Top 10s she'd chart into the '60s.
This wasn't only the story of an individual artist's success — this was Wells proving, once and for all, that a woman country performer could hold her own, sell records and headline shows, matters about which plenty of people in the music business had had their doubts.
Though "feminist" is a descriptor that people frequently attached to Wells' big hit in our time, it's not an identity she ever claimed for herself. She deserves to be confronted in her admirable complexity: a woman speaking to the realities of her time with unadorned delivery, no-nonsense emotional intelligence and a gift for empathizing with people and stories that lay beyond her own experience.
It's a marvelous thing that Wells lived to see her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976 and the museum exhibit of which she was the subject in 2008. In the case of the latter, she was the first female country act to be so honored. Many musical generations of women have followed in her footsteps since the early '50s. If today, general knowledge of her music tends to be limited to her blockbuster breakthrough song, it may be because her influence is so foundational that it's ceased to be consciously recognized. People have forgotten the solid rock on which so much has been built.
Singer; songwriter; guitarist, Fleetwood Mac
By Edd Hurt
A skillful guitarist who became famous by joining the British blues band Fleetwood Mac, Bob Welch helped to steer the band, and thus '70s rock, toward a future that commercialized the blues of Elmore James by adding generous helpings of easy-rolling pop.
Born in Los Angeles in 1945 into a show-business family, Welch kicked around America before heading to Paris, and got his break with Fleetwood Mac after he had played in a succession of unsuccessful groups. By the time Welch was hired in 1971 to play rhythm guitar behind lead guitarist Danny Kirwan, the group was seeking a larger audience. Along with fellow new hire Christine McVie, Welch took Fleetwood Mac in a pop direction.
The track that pointed the way toward rock's future was Welch's "Sentimental Lady," which first appeared on Fleetwood Mac's 1972 Bare Trees full-length before Welch re-recorded it for his 1977 solo record, French Kiss. "We live in a time when paintings have no color / Words don't rhyme," Welch sings. As hit song and pop confection, "Sentimental Lady" throws over Memphis Minnie for one of those idealized L.A. ladies who populate the tunes of the Eagles, Firefall and the other American bands with whom Fleetwood Mac competed on '70s radio playlists.
Welch stayed with Fleetwood Mac through 1974, and afterwards the group went on to its greatest success with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. In 1978, Welch took "Ebony Eyes" to No. 14 on the U.S. charts, while "Hot Love, Cold World" made No. 31. The hits dried up after that, but he had a good ride. Welch was a master, and such giants should make their statements and then fade away to a life of sentimental ladies and easy times.
In later years, Welch was left out of Fleetwood Mac's lineup when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He moved to Nashville and released re-recorded versions of his signature songs, along with a jazz record. Concerned about his health — he had undergone spinal surgery a few months previously, and doctors had told him he was facing life as an invalid — Welch ended his life on June 7 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Musician, Committee for Public Safety and Raging Fire; photographer; artist
By Michael McCall
Citing Michael Godsey's talents — musician, photographer, producer, visual artist, writer — suggests what a restlessly creative spirit he had. But a list doesn't convey how powerfully he had inspired those he befriended, collaborated with and mentored over his 47 years.
Everyone who spoke at Godsey's memorial service in May recalled how his encouraging words about art and expression — always one-on-one and intensely personal — changed their lives in profound ways. He didn't advise them on how to become successful artists; he pushed them to express something distinct from within themselves.
That's the Michael Godsey his Nashville friends knew and continue to love.
Growing up in Nashville, Godsey was a founding member of Music City's punk scene. As guitarist in the band CPS — the Committee for Public Safety — he was among the teen upstarts who transformed a downtown beer hall, Phrank 'n' Steins, into the city's first underground punk venue in the early 1980s.
Godsey made his greatest musical mark in Raging Fire, where he and vocalist Melora Zaner, a Vanderbilt student from Texas, created a punk-influenced sound distinct from any other in the Nashville scene. Drawing on The Who, the Beatles and such art-punk bands as X, Godsey and Zaner co-composed songs that were sensual and literate, yet at times exploded with rage, like Flannery O'Connor teaming with Tom Verlaine and Pete Townshend.
Godsey's guitar didn't fit with the city's Southern-fried roots bands, power popsters and heavy metal firebrands. His slashing style created shards of glass, combining dart-tipped melodic notes with crashing, dramatic chords.
Godsey and Zaner eventually wed and moved to New York City, where Godsey attended the Parsons School of Design. Then it was on to Seattle, where Zaner began a career as a pioneering international leader in designing software, for which she holds several patents.
Seven years ago, Microsoft moved Zaner into a top executive position in China. Godsey, with Zaner's assistance, built a home recording studio in Shanghai, and the couple mentored an ever-widening collection of young Chinese acolytes. The two formed Popnami Records as a joint partnership, and they co-wrote and co-produced an initial series of singles for Chinese rockers. Godsey also helped produce the 2012 recording debut of RA-6600, a Nashville rock duo featuring Mark Medley, Raging Fire's drummer and Godsey's friend since childhood.
That Godsey died amid a creative outburst fit his life. He had dealt with a heart condition throughout adulthood, but it didn't stop that heart from being as big as the world he had traveled. His heart continues to pulse today through all those he inspired over the years.
Banjo player; TV hillbilly; country rock pioneer
By Randy Fox
Doug Dillard's life changed the moment he heard Earl Scruggs' banjo playing on the radio. As he told the story, Dillard was 15 and driving the family's truck down a Missouri country road when the sound of Scruggs' three-fingered picking hit him like a lightning bolt, causing him to run the truck into a ditch.
Though the accident left no injuries, the sonic cause of the mishap was branded upon his psyche. Born into a musical family, Doug Dillard and his younger brother Rodney began their musical apprenticeship on guitar at an early age, but Doug's roadside banjo revelation pointed him in a different direction.
By 1962, with their band The Dillards, the brothers were ready to shoot for the big time. But in a move that seemed to defy all logic for a bluegrass band, they headed for the hills of L.A. instead of Nashville. They found a home in the flourishing West Coast folk scene and soon signed with one of the premiere folk-music labels, Elektra Records. They also found themselves in the role of bluegrass ambassadors to the nation when they landed a spot portraying the musical family "The Darlings" on The Andy Griffith Show.
But if the fictional Darlings were supposed to represent Hollywood's idea of traditional mountain music, The Dillards' recordings painted a different picture. The Dillards became one of the first bluegrass bands to push the limits of the genre — adopting electric instruments, adding drums and other non-traditional elements. In 1967, Doug left the Dillards to work on solo material and collaborate with The Byrds founder Gene Clark on two groundbreaking albums that helped give birth to the country-rock movement.
For the next 40 years, Doug Dillard continued to work on his own projects while collaborating with others, building his reputation as a skilled and innovative banjo player. He was also known for the wide and friendly smile he always wore onstage. It came from the satisfaction of having mastered the magic sound that inspired his reckless driving all those years ago.
Willie Ackerman, 73, drummer for Loretta Lynn and others, a staff drummer for the Grand Ole Opry and the TV series Hee Haw.
Larry Butler, 69, producer of Kenny Rogers' career-topping albums including 1978's The Gambler; only Music Row producer to win the Grammy for Producer of the Year.
Levon Helm, 71, drummer, mandolin player and vocalist for The Band, actor and de facto godfather of the Americana movement.
Margaret Ann Buxkamper, 66, one of Nashville's first female sound engineers; particularly noted for work with Nashville Children's Theatre, TPAC and Opryland.
Al DeLory, 82, producer-arranger on Glen Campbell's greatest hits, including "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston"; part of renowned L.A. session team known as the "Wrecking Crew"; played keyboards on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds; for many years fronted the Nashville Latin ensemble Salsa en Nashville.
Frank Dycus, 72, veteran songwriter whose more than 500 songs include George Jones' 1992 smash "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair."
Tim Johnson, 52, prolific songwriter whose hits included Jimmy Wayne's "Do You Believe Me Now" and Kellie Pickler's "Things That Never Cross a Man's Mind"; co-founder of The Song Trust with Joey + Rory's Rory Lee Feek.
Rita Lee, 73, co-founder with husband Buddy Lee of Nashville booking agency Buddy Lee Attractions; born Yolanda Gutierrez, later pioneering female pro wrestler under the name "Rita Cortez, the Mexican Spitfire."
Kenny Roberts, 85, known as "America's King of the Yodelers" for hits such as 1949's "I Never See Maggie Alone."
Joe South, 72, pop star, producer, songwriter and session great whose 1969 Song of the Year "Games People Play" remains a standard.
Doc Watson, 89, legendary musician. "I have seen the David, I've seen the Mona Lisa too / I have heard Doc Watson play 'Columbus Stockade Blues.' " —Guy Clark, "Dublin Blues"
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