Knockin’ On Heavens Door: Notable Deaths in December 2021


We note with sadness the following contributors to rock and pop music from the 50s to the 80s – the BEST music ever made! – who passed away last month:

December 02
Richard Cole → For-hire tour manager in the mid-60s (The Who, Yardbirds and others) and one of the first to specialize in American tours by British acts, joined Led Zeppelin in 1968 and served as tour manager for the band until being fired for substance addiction in 1980, later served as tour manager for Eric Clapton, Black Sabbath, Three Dog Night and others, authored the tell-all book Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored (1992), reconciled with the band in the 00s and appeared at Led Zeppelin events into the 10s while managing various other UK bands, died from cancer on 12/32/2021, age 74.

December 03
Melvin Parker → With his older brother, saxophonist Maceo, drummer in R&B/soul-funk giant James Brown‘s backing band for three stints in the 60s and 70s, keeping rhythm on major hits “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” (#8, R&B #1, 1965), “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (#3, R&B #1, 1965) and others, also played in spin-off funk band Maceo & All The King’s Men in the 70s, left the industry to become a teacher and school counselor, rejoined Maceo and other former members of Brown‘s band for brief tours in the 90s, died from undisclosed causes on 12/3/2021, age 77.
Denis O’Brien / (Danis James O’Brien) → Financial consultant hired in 1973 by ex-Beatle George Harrison to manage his personal and business affairs, the two created a partnership, Handmade Films, in 1978 to finance and produce the Monty Python film Life Of Brian (1979) and subsequent comedy films including Time Bandits (1981), the relationship soured following several box office bombs in the 80s and a 90s lawsuit by Harrison for mismanagement (dismissed in 2001 when Harrison, sickened with cancer, failed to show for a court hearing just months before his death), retired from financial consulting in the early 00s and died from intra-abdominal sepsis on 12/3/2021, age 80.

December 04
Stonewall Jackson → Honky-tonk “hard” country singer with a 60-year membership in the cast of musicians at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, charted 22 Country Top 20 hits from 1958 to 1971 and four crossover country-pop singles, including “Waterloo” (#4, Country #1, 1959), successfully sued The Opry in 2006 for age discrimination and performed there through the 00s, struggled with vascular dimentia after retiring in 2012 and died from the disease on 12/4/2021, age 89.

December 05
John Miles / (John Errington) → British singer/songwriter and MOR balladeer with two major UK hits, “Music” (#88, UK #3, 1976) and “Slow Down” (#34, Dance/Club #2, UK #10, 1977), the former becoming the anthem to the annual, worldwide Night of the Proms concert series, later toured with and did session work for Tina Turner, Alan Parsons Project, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder and others, co-wrote scores to stage musicals in the 00s and 10s, died after a short illness on 12//5/2021, age 72.

December 07
Steve Bronski / (Steven William Forrest) → Scottish singer-songwriter, founding member and keyboardist for openly gay synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, their songs (including the debut hit “Smalltown Boy,” #48, Dance/Pop #1, UK #1, 1984) addressed homophobia and gay-related issues at a time when such subjects were uncommon in mainstream music, after the group disbanded in the 90s continued to perform and record as a solo act for two decades, suffered a stroke in the 10s and died from smoke inhalation in a fire at his London apartment on 12/7/2021, age 61.

December 08
Ralph Tavares / (Ralph Edward Vierra Tavares) → Vocals and oldest of five brothers in R&B/funk-disco Tavares with ten R&B Top 10 hits in the mid-70s, including the crossover “It Only Takes A Minute” (#10, R&B #1, 1976), left the band in 1984 to become a Massachusetts municipal court officer, retired in 2015 and rejoined his brothers in Tavares until his death from undisclosed causes on 12/8/2021, age 79.
Robbie Shakespeare / (Robert Warren Dale Shakespeare) → Record producer, reggae bassist and, with creative partner Sly Dunbar, one half of the innovative studio duo Riddim Twins, produced albums for Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer and others, recorded with multiple top acts, including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Grace Jones, in all estimated to have had a part in over 200,000 recordings in a 45-plus year professional partnership, either on their own as a musical duo or as backing musicians or producers for other artists, died from complications following a kidney transplant on 12/8/2021, age 68.
Gil Bridges / (Gilbert Bridges) → Co-founder and saxophone for R&B/blue-eyed rock-and-soul Rare Earth, the first all-white Motown act to have a hit record, “Get Ready” (#4, R&B #20, 1970), followed with eleven other charting singles in the 70s, including “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (#7, R&B #20, 1970) and “I Just Want to Celebrate” (#7, R&B #30, 1971), performed with the band on stage and in the studio for six decades, appearing on every Rare Earth record ever recorded, and was the sole original member still standing at his death from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 12/8/2021, age 80.

December 09
David Lasley / (David Eldon Lasley) → Four-octave pop vocalist, musician and songwriter best known for his 40-year membership in James Taylor‘s backing band and session vocals for a host of top artists, among them Ringo Starr, Boz Scaggs and Bette Midler, at one point in the late 70s sang on 13 of the Top 25 singles on the Billboard Hiot 100 chart, also co-wrote dozens of songs recorded by Patti LaBelle, Bonnie Raitt, Sheena Easton and others, issued eight solo albums through 2006 and charted four singles, including “If I Had My Wish Tonight” (#40, 1982), died of cancer on 12/9/2021, age 74.

December 10
Mike Nesmith / (Robert Michael Nesmith) → Moderately successful early 60s L.A. songwriter, wrote “Different Drum” for Linda Ronstadt (#13, 1967), answered an ad seeking actor/musicians for a TV show and found fame in 60s pre-fab pop-rock The Monkees with “Last Train To Clarksville” (#1, 1966) and four other Top 5 hits from 1966 to 1968, left in 1970 to form pioneering country-rock National Standard Band (“Joanne,” #21, 1970) and a solo career, produced numerous songs, albums and videos for other artists, produced and directed several movies, including Repo Man (1984), founded Pacific Arts Coporation and subsidiary, Pacific Arts Video, a pioneer in the home video market, created one of the earliest music videos and the MTV-precursor PopClips program on Nickolodeon cable TV, occasionally appeared in Monkees reunions over the years, wrote and produced the 1997 TV special Hey Hey It’s The Monkees, performed with bandmate Micky Dolenz in a Monkees farewell tour ending just before his death from heart failure on 12/10/2021, age 78.
Les Emmerson / (Robert Leslie Emmerson) → Guitarist, songwriter and co-lead singer for Canadian pop-rock quintet The Staccatos and seven Top 40 hits in Canada in the 60s, the band changed labels and its name, becoming one hit wonder Five Man Electrical Band based on the anthemic international hit “Signs” (#3, CAN #4, 1971), issued five solo singles before and after the band dissolved in 1976, continued to write and perform largely out of the limelight for four decades while living off royalties, issued an album of previously unreleased songs in 2007, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 12/10/2021, age 77.

December 13
Joe Simon → Gospel-trained, R&B and country-pop crossover singer who rose from a poverty-stricken childhood and adult homelessness to record 10 R&B Top 10 singles, including the Grammy-winning “The Chokin’ Kind” (#13, R&B #1, 1969) and “Get Down, Get Down (Get On the Floor)” (#8, R&B #1, 1975), along the way writing the theme song to the film Cleopatra Jones (1973), abruptly left the secular music industry in 1983 and became an ordained minister and social activist, died from unspecified causes on 12/13/2021, age 85.

December 14

Ken Kragen / (Kenneth Allan Kragen) → Music manager, TV producer and fundraising professional credited with a key role in organizing the USA for Africa charitable collaboration and the star-studded single “We Are The World” (Worldwide #1, 1985), convinced Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones and other clients to join the effort and recruit other top artists, the project raised over $64 million for African famine relief, followed in 1986 with the semi-successful Hands Across America anti-poverty fundraiser and subsequent events, earlier produced the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69) and managed The Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John and others, continued to consult for businesses and not-for-profits, and teach at UCLA and other schools before dying from natural causes on 12/14/2021, age 85.
Phil Chen / (Phillip David Chen) → Jamaican bass and rhythm guitarist who relocated to London in the 60s and played with Jimmy James & the Vagabonds (“Now Is The Time,” UK #5, 1975) before starting a long career as a top session musician, including albums by Donovan (Cosmic Wheels, 1973), Jeff Beck (Blow by Blow, 1974), Pete Townshend (White City: A Novel, 1985), Jackson Browne (Lives In The Balance, 1986) and the 1973 eponymous debut by The Doors spin-off outfit The Butts Band, member of Rod Stewart‘s backing band from 1976 to 1981, played in Brian May and Eddie Van Halen‘s one-off Star Fleet Project (1983), toured with ex-Doors Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek in Manzarek–Krieger and their Doors tribute band Riders on the Storm from 2004 to 2013, died of cancer on 12/14/2021, age 75.

December 15
Wanda Young / (Wanda LaFaye Young Rogers) → Teenage vocalist recruited in 1961 by high school chum Gladys Horton to share lead vocals in fledlging Motown girl group The Marvelettes just before recording of their debut smash hit, “Please Mr. Postman” (#1, R&B #1, 1961), sang lead on later hits “Don’t Mess With Bill” (#7, R&B #3, 1966) and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” (#13, R&B #2, 1967), after disbandment in 1970 recorded an unsuccessful solo project marketed as a Marvelettes album, rejoined Horton for a 1990 collaborative album of Marvelettes re-recordings but largely lived off royalities for decades, died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on 12/15/2021, age 78.

December 16
Terry Uttley → Co-founder and, except for a brief hiatus in the 60s, 56-year bassist and backing vocalist for Brit pop-rock Smokie, the band enjoyed twelve UK Top 20 singles and one US Top 40 hit, “Living Next Door To Alice” (#25, UK #3, 1977), collaborated with others on side projects during the 90s and 00s, was the last active, remaining original member of the band when he died following a short illness on 12/16/2021, age 70.

December 20
Paul Mitchell → With his brother, James, co-founder, vocals and occasional songwriter with Detroit-based, one hit wonder R&B/soul quintet The Floaters (“Float On,” #2, R&B #1, UK #1, 1977), their lone hit song was used in the 90s in an advertisement for Cadbury chocolates, continued to perform in periodic Floaters reunion tours and produced soul albums for other artists, died from undisclosed causes on 12/20/2021, age unknown.

December 22
Robin Le Mesurier / (Robin Mark Le Mesurier Halliley) → British guitarist and member of mid-70s TV spin-off novelty-pop band The Wombles (“Banana Rock,” UK #9, 1974), toured with soft rock Air Supply in 1977 as the opening act for Rod Stewart, eventually joining Stewart‘s band in the studio for five albums and on tour through the early 90s, played on French singer Johnny Hallyday‘s first English-language album Rough Town (1994) and served as Hallyday‘s music director for 20 years through 2016, backed former Faces members Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones in a 40th anniversary reunion tour in 2015, died of cancer on 12/22/2021, age 68.


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