Knockin on Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in February 2022

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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:

February 01
“Jonny Z” Zazula / (Jonathan David Zazula) → With his wife Marsha, co-founder and co-partner of Megaforce Records, formed from a small New Jersey record shop at the outset of the 80s heavy metal boom and home to multiple metal bands in their early careers, launched Metallica (Kill ‘Em All, 1983) and worked with Raven (All For One, 1983) and Anthrax (Fistful Of Metal, 1984), along the way mentoring the bands and nurturing individual members, also released albums for rockers Ace Frehley, Warren Haynes, Johnny Winter and others, sold the label in 2001 and promoted occasional concerts until fully retiring in 2018, died from complications of a rare neuropathic disorder on 2/1/2022, age 69.

February 02
Willie Leacox / (William Robert Leacox) → Drummer with soft folk-rock America starting in 1973, played on every album and every tour for nearly 42 years, including hits “Tin Man” (#4, AC #1, 1974) and “Sister Golden Hair” (#1, AC #5, 1975), retired in 2014 and died at home from undisclosed causes on 2/2/2022, age 74.

February 03
Donny Gerrard → Canadian smooth soul vocalist with short-lived, early-70s, Vancouver-based pop-rock Skylark (“Wildflower,” #9, CAN #10, 1973), moved to Los Angeles in 1974 for an unsuccessful solo career in 1974 but found relative fame over the years as a session singer for Elton John, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and many other top artists, sang duet on the movie soundtrack title song “Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire (For Just a Moment)” (1985) and as part of the Canadian charity single “Tears Are Not Enough” (1985) in support of famine relief in Ethiopia, in later years worked with soul diva Mavis Staples on tour and in the studio until three years before his death from cancer on 2/3/2022, age 75.

February 06
Sylvester “Syl” Johnson / (Sylvester Thompson) → Chicago blues musician and singer with an out-sized ego, a cult following and 19 charting singles, including a version of Al Green‘s “Take Me To The River” (#48, R&B #7, 1975), taken from 19 R&B/funk albums released on multiple labels over 50 years from 1968 to 2017, increasing sampling by hip-hop artists in the 90s and 00s led to a lucrative late-in-life career chasing down and collecting royalties from dozens of top acts, including settlements with Jay-Z and Kanye West, died from congestive heart failure six days after the death of his older brother, blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson, on 2/6/2022, age 85.

February 09
Ian McDonald / (Ian Richard McDonald) → Multi-instrumentalist and co-founding member of two major rock bands, Brit prog/space-rock King Crimson in 1968 (“The Court Of The Crimson King,” #80, 1970) and British-American hard/arena rock Foreigner in 1976 (“Double Vision,” #2, 1978), co-wrote every song, played nine instruments and produced King Crimson‘s debut album before leaving for a short-lived solo career and playing with Foreigner until 1979, worked as a session saxophonist, formed his own touring bands, played in King Crimson spin-off group and performed with Foreigner reunions through the 2000s, died from colon cancer on 2/9/2022, age 75.
Betty Davis / (Betty Gray Mabry) → Flamboyant 60s-70s R&B/funk singer with a sexually-charged delivery in lyrics and artistry, her provocative style achieved marginal commercial success but laid the groundwork for future funk and hip hop artists, among them Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Ice Cube, released four albums of self-penned songs, including They Say I’m Different (R&B #46, 1974) plus two minor R&B chart hits, married jazz legend Miles Davis in 1968 for one year, introduced him to rock and funk artists Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, thus opening his move into jazz fusion music, appeared on the cover of MilesFilles de Kilimanjaro album (1969) and in his tribute to her, “Mademoiselle Mabry,” dropped out of music in the 80s but enjoyed a resurgence of notoriety in the 2000s as her albums and unreleased material were re-issued, penned and released her first new song in over 40 years, “A Little Bit Hot Tonight” in 2019, diagnosed with cancer and died two weeks later on 2/9/2022, age 77.

February 12
Howard “Bulldog” Grimes / (Howard Lee Grimes) → Tenacious, long-time Memphis session and touring drummer with Stax Records, at Royal Studios and as a member of the Hi Rhythm Section, the in-house band for Hi Records, in all played on dozens of pop and R&B hits, including Al Green‘s “Let’s Stay Together” (#1, R&B #1, 1972) and as such became a key figure in the development of Southern soul and the “Memphis Sound” in the 60s and 70s, continued to perform with former Hi Rhythm Section members and with other Memphis blues bands into the 00s, died of kidney failure on 2/12/2022, age 80.

February 14
Sandy Nelson / (Sander Lloyd Nelson) → Rock ‘n roll session drummer in the late 50s for The Teddy Bears (“To Know Him Is To Love Him,” #1, R&B #10, UK #2, 1958), The Hollywood Argyles (“Alley Oop,” #1, R&B #3,1960) and others, then launched a hugely successful solo career on the strength of his instrumental hits “Teen Beat” (#4, 1959) and “Let There Be Drums” (#7, 1961), releasing more than 30 albums over just 12 years despite losing his right foot in a 1963 motorcycle accident, retired early and spent his later years operating a pirate radio station from his Nevada home and playing keyboards in a backyard man-cave, suffered a stroke in 2017 and died from lasting complications on 2/14/2022, age 83.

February 17
David Tyson → Founder and tenor vocals in 80s Philly soul Final Touch, acted on a tip from his brother, Ron Tyson of The Temptations, in 1993 and auditioned for a place in a revived lineup of smooth soul The Manhattans (“Kiss and Say Goodbye,” #1, R&B #1, 1976 and “Shining Star,” #5, R&B #4, 1980), spent nearly 30 years singing tenor for the quartet, one of two groups performing using The Manhattans name in the 90s to 10s, issued a solo single, “What Would I Do” (2014), died after a short, undisclosed illness on 2/17/2022, age 62.

February 19
Gary Brooker → Co-founder, chief songwriter, multi-genre keyboardist and lead vocalist for prog/psych rock Procol Harum, co-wrote the powerful hit “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” (#5, UK #1, 1967) and wrote nearly every other song for the group and was its driving force over fifty years, during several hiatuses worked as a bandmember and/or session/touring musician for George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Alan Parsons Project, Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, released a Procol Harum album in 2017 and two new songs in 2021, died from cancer on 2/19/2022, age 76.

February 20
Joni James / (Giovanna Carmella Babbo) → The “Queen of Hearts,” Italian-American traditional pop music chanteuse with 26 Top 40 hits among 45 charting singles in the 50s, including the million-selling “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” (#1, 1952) and a country-pop version of Hank Williams‘ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (#2, 1953), at the height of her popularity in 1959 became the first female pop singer to perform a solo concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City, her passionate style and delivery influenced scores of female pop vocalists, among them Barbara Streisand and Linda Ronstadt, retired in the mid-60s to care for her ailing husband and remained out of the limelight until returning to performing in the late 90s, supervised the re-release of some of her catalog in the 00s, died of natural causes in a Florida hospital on 2/20/2022, age 91.

February 22
Mark Lanegan / (Mark William Lanegan) → Gritty yet soulful vocalist, songwriter and integral part of the Seattle-based grunge rock scene in the 80s and 90s, first as lead singer from 1984 for early grunge band Screaming Trees (“All I Know,” Mainstream #9, 1996) and later as a member of stoner metal Queens Of The Stone Age (“No One Knows,” #51, Mainstream #5, 2002) and alt. rock The Gutter Twins, released 12 solo studio albums through 2020, survived a bout with the COVID-19 virus in 2021 but died from undisclosed causes on 2/22/2022, age 57.

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