Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in February 2021


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

February 03
Jim Weatherly / (James Dexter Weatherly) → College football star quarterback who walked away from a promising pro career and into 50 years of writing country-pop songs, including “Midnight Train To Georgia” for Gladys Knight & The Pips ($1, R&B #1, 1973), a 1974 Grammy winner, #439 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and one of over a dozen written for Knight, along with songs recorded by such music giants as Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers and many others, died from natural causes on 2/3/2021, age 77.
Anne Feeney → Pittsburgh-area folk-bluegrass guitarist and trial attorney representing mostly refugees and domestic violence survivors who turned to music full-time in 1989 and became an impassioned and prolific folk-protest singer and songwriter, releasing twelve albums from 1992 to 2010, touring relentlessly, sharing stages with legends Pete Seeger and John Prine among others, and participating in thousands of protest rallies, her signature song, the anthemic “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” was covered by Peter, Paul & Mary and used as a rallying cry at countless events around the world, contracted the COVID-19 virus while in physical rehab for a broken back abd died on 2/3/2021, age 69.

February 04
Gil Saunders / (Gilbert W. Saunders) → Gruff-voiced R&B singer in Philadelphia soul groups in the 70s, recruited to lead vocalist for R&B/soul Harold Melvin & The Blues Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” $#3, R&B #1, 1972) in the group’s later line-up from 1982 through one album, several modest US and UK singles and multiple tours until 1992, departed for a solo career and released four non-charting singles in the 00s, died after long battles with multiple sclerosis and lung cancer on 2/4/2021, age 68.
Freddie Porter / (Nolan Frederick Porter) → R&B songwriter and composer with two rock-tinged R&B/soul albums and three modest US chart hits in the 70s (including “Keep On Keeping On,” R&B #39, 1972), but a cult hero in clubs in the north of England during the Northern Soul craze of the time, discontinued recording in the late 70s, married Frank Zappa‘s sister Candy and maintained a presence as a musician and comedian for decades, mostly on the oldies circuit in the UK where he performed for successive generations of new soul fans, died from unspecified causes on 2/4/2021, age 71.

February 08
Mary Wilson → Founding member and singer with R&B/soul-pop megastar trio The Supremes, the best-charting female group in U.S. chart history with 12 Number 1 pop hits, including “Where Did Our Love Go” (#1, 1964), was the only original member still with The Supremes when the group broke up in 1977, left to pursue a largely unsuccessful solo career but authored two New York Times best-selling autobiographies, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme (1986) and Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together (1990), declined to participate in a 2000 Supremes reunion but remained active on stage and record, including an appearance on Dancing with the Stars in 2019, died from high blood pressure-caused heart disease on 2/8/2021, age 76.

February 09

Chick Corea / (Armando Anthony Corea) → 23-time Grammy-winning jazz and electric jazz fusion pianist, composer and bandleader, recorded over 90 albums with dozens of groups and collaborations, including as frontman for Return to Forever, pioneers in jazz-fusion in the 70s, and with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Bobby McFerrin, John McLaughlin and others, later explored classical music and performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded and performed into his late 70s until forced to stop by a rare form of cancer, from which he died on 2/9/2021, age 79.
Richie Albright / (Richard Albright) → Legendary country music drummer credited for encouraging superstar Waylon Jennings to adopt elements of rock ‘n’ roll in his “outlaw country” songs, played behind Jennings in his backing and recording band The Waylors from the early 60s to Jennings‘ death in 2002, then with other former bandmates as Waymore’s Outlaws, occasionally joined by namesake Waylon Albright Jennings, the star’s son with wife Jesse Colter, died from undisclosed causes on 2/9/2021, age 80.

February 10
Jon Mark / (John Michael Burchell) → Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, mid-60s music arranger for neophyte Marianne Faithfull, founding member of influential but short-lived Brit pop-rock Sweet Thursday, played in John Mayall‘s post-Bluesbreakers band before splitting off with bandmate and flautist/saxophonist Johnny Almond to form prog rock/jazz-pop Mark-Almond and release four acclaimed albums in the 70s and early 80s, moved to New Zealand in the late 80s and focused on Celtic, ambient and new age sounds, won a Grammy in 2004 for an album of Tibetan monk chants, died from undisclosed causes on 2/10/2021, age 77.

February 12
Russ Thyret → Record company marketing and promotions executive with a 30-year career at Warner Brothers Records that spanned the golden age at the label, starting as a national sales rep in 1971 and ending as Chairman & CEO in 2001, during which time he signed Prince and promoted artists from John Fogerty and R.E.M. to The Doobie Brothers and Madonna, left when parent-company Time Warner merged with AOL, died after a long, undisclosed illness on 2/12/2021, age 76.

February 13
Louis Clark → English keyboardist, orchestra conductor and music arranger who met Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) in a recording studio and subsequently provided the orchestration for five top-selling ELO albums and eleven UK Top 10 hits, including “Telephone line” (#7, UK #8, 1977), thereafter worked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1981 created the first album in the Hooked On Classics series that fused classical themes and rock beats, rejoined ELO and successor bands at various times into the 00s and became president of the in English Pops Orchestra in 2011, recording and performing the Hooked On Classics series to a new generation of fans, died after a long kidney-related illness on 2/13/2021, age 73.

February 15
Johnny Pacheco / (Juan Azarías Pacheco Knipping) → Dominican-born composer and bandleader known as the “godfather of salsa” for his work producing and promoting the uniquely American blend of Cuban mambo, Puerto Rican bomba, Caribbean merengue, jazz and funk, principally through his Fania Records label, which grew from humble beginnings in 1964 selling LP’s out of a car trunk in Spanish Harlem, New York City, over time hailed as the Latin Motown and home to salsa superstars Rubén Blades, Willie Colón and Celia Cruz, among others, the label folded amid legal trouble in the 80s but was revitalized in 2005 and continued to reissue energetic dance music into the 20s, died from complications of pneumonia on 2/15/2021, age 85.

February 17
Gene Summers / (David Eugene Summers) → Rockabilly singer and bandleader known as the “Texas Rebel” in a 60-year career recording and performing, first as a solo act in the 50s and then in the 60s as frontman for Gene Summers & The Tom Toms, best known for his rendition of the rockabilly standard, “Big Blue Diamond” (1964), returned to working solo in the 70s and issued over than a dozen albums, mostly to his cult fans in Europe, inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1997 and issued his last album, Reminisce Café in 2008, hospitalized following an injury at home and died on 2/17/2021, age 82.
U-Roy / (Ewart Beckford) → Reggae DJ and key figure in Jamaican “toasting,” the precursor to rap music which combined rhythmic spoken or chanted words over previously recorded songs, issued dozens of singles in the US and UK in the 70s, as well as three Top 10 hits in Jamaica and a DJ version of the John Holt-penned “The Tide Is High” (a worldwide #1 hit for New Wave pop-rock Blondie in 1980), collaborated with reggae artists and DJs through his career and influenced countless current hip hop DJs, issued toasting covers of reggae and popular music hits through the 10s, suffered from multiple health issues in his later years and died in a hospital on @/17/2021, age 78.

February 18
Prince Markie Dee / (Mark Morales) → Corpulent singer in early hip hop Disco 3, the group won a Radio City Music Hall talent contest in 1983 and became pioneering rap trio The Fat Boys (“Wipe Out,” #12, Rap #10, 1987), left in 1991 for a solo career (“Typical Reasons (Swing My Way), #64, R&B #1, 1993), production work for Mary J. Blige on her first album, What’s the 411? (#6, R&B #1, 1992) and co-wrote her hit “Real Love” (#7, R&B #1, 1992), plus albums for Mariah Carey, Lisa Stansfield and others, record label executive with Uncle Louis Music Group and South Florida radio personality until dying from congestive heart failure on 2/18/2021, age 52.

February 20
Gene Taylor → Blues, blues-rock and boogie woogie keyboardist with a long career in a variety of bands, including stints in his teens on piano for blues legends Big Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker, worked with boogie-blues Canned Heat in the 70s, toured with The Blasters and recorded with Doug Sahm and others in the 80s, joined retro-blues The Fabulous Thunderbirds (“Tuff Enuf,” #10, 1986) in 1993 through 2007, all the while issuing two solo albums and participating in various projects, including several gigs with influential retro blues-rock The Downchild Blues Band (earlier the inspiration for Dan Akroyd and comedy partner John Belushi‘s The Blues Brothers), left for Belgium in 2007 and fronted his own band on the European blues-rock circuit, returned to the US and died in his bed at home near Austin, TX, from unknown causes (but believed related to the lack of heat in the house caused by the 2021 Texas power crisis) on 2/20/2021, age 68.


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