Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in February 2024

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

February 02
Wayne Kramer / (Wayne Stanley Kambes) → Co-founding member and guitarist in the dueling guitar attack of influential Detroit proto-punk/garage rockers MC5 (“Kick Out The Jams,” #82, 1969), their radical, left-wing politics and obscenity-laced recordings spawned widespread controversy with record labels and radio stations, after breakup fell into a life of drug abuse and crime, arrested and jailed in 1975, released after four years and returned to music in a multitude of bands, gigs, and tours, many in support of various social justice causes, founded the non-profit Jail Guitar Doors USA in 2009 to aid inmates with donated instruments and music workshops in prisons, died from pancreatic cancer on 2/2/1975, age 75.
Derrick McIntyre → Session bassist for a long list of British artists, including Cliff Richard, Roy Ayers, Beverley Knight, Will Young and many others, played bass on funk/jazz-rock Jamiroquai’s album Dynamite (2005), died in a car crash on 2/2/2024, age 66.

February 03
Aston “Family Man” Barrett / (Aston Francis Barrett) → Jamaican musician and Rastafarian best known as the musical director and bandleader for reggae legend Bob Marley’s backing band before and after Marley’s death in 1981, played a large role in bringing reggae music’s hypnotic rhythms to the world stage, continued to front the band and mentor new generations of reggae bassists until retiring in 2016, turned the reins over to his son Aston Jr. who played his father in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love (2024), suffered as series of strokes and died of heart failure on 2/02/2024, age 77.

February 05
Toby Keith / (Toby Keith Covel) → Neo-traditionalist country singer/songwriter, producer and business tycoon with 21 studio albums and 65 charting singles, including the post-9/11 politically charged “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)” (#25, Country #1, 2002), “I Love This Bar” (#26,Country #1, 2003) and “Made In America” (#40, Country #1, 2011) plus an extraordinary 37 other Country Top 10 hits, earnings from music, a franchised chain of restaurants, a line of clothing and other business ventures led to a Forbes Magazine article “Country Music’s $500 Million Man” in 2013, continued to record and perform despite battling stomach cancer until a final Las Vegas show in December 2023, died from the disease on 2/5/2024, age 62.

February 06
Donald Kinsey → Guitarist, singer, and one of three sons of the Chicago blues great Big Daddy Kinsey, joined Bob Marley & The Wailers in 1975 and performed and recorded with the band off-and-on over 40 years, in between formed The Kinsey Report in 1984 with his brothers and Ron Prince, played in Peter Tosh’s Word Sound And Power band, and toured and recorded with Albert King, Roy Buchanan and others, rejoined The Wailers Band for their first album in 25 years, One World (2020), died from complications of the respiratory disease COPD on 2/6/2024, age 70.

February 07
Henry Fambrough / (Henry Lee Fambrough) → Original member, baritone and occasional lead vocals for Motown and later Atlantic R&B/soul quintet The Spinners, recorded and performed with the group starting in 1954 and was the last original member at retirement in 2023, the group scored “I’ll Be Around” (#3, R&B #1, 1972), “Then Came You” (#1, R&B #2, 1974) plus eleven other Top 20 hits in the 70s and was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2023, died from unspecified causes on 2/7/2024, age 85.
Mojo Nixon / (Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr.) → Satirical comedy/novelty singer, songwriter and guitarist, beginning as a duo with Skid Roper (Richard Banke) and “Elvis is Everywhere” (1987), went solo and released the controversial “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child” (Modern Rock #16, 1989), “Don Henley Must Die” (Modern Rock #20, 1990) and other songs lampooning celebrities and American culture, appeared in several feature films, including the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls Of Fire (1989), worked as a radio DJ in the 90s and on Sirius XM Radio from 2008 to 2016, was the subject of a documentary film, The Mojo Manifesto (2014), and died from a “cardiac event” while on board a country music cruise on 2/7/2024, age 66.
Tony Middleton → Lead vocals for Harlem-based doo wop vocal quintet The Willows and their lone hit, “Church Bells May Ring (#62, R&B #14, 1956), left the group in 1965 and enjoyed a long and varied career in Broadway shows and screen films, as a backing vocalist for Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones and others, as a jazz singer in nightclubs in Paris, London and New York, and as a member of several Willows reunions over the years, performed with a new version of The Willows until his death from chronic kidney disease on 2/7/2024, age 89.

February 09
Damo Suzuki / (Kenji Suzuki) → Free-spirit Japanese musician best known as the lead vocalist for pioneer Kraut rock group Can on their first three albums in the early 70s, left the group in 1973 and became a Jehovah’s Witness, returned to music in the mid-80s to front his own avant-garde/improv group Damo Suzuki’s Network and 19 albums through 2017, plus another two dozen in collaboration with other artists, diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 and lived with the disease until he died from unspecified causes on 2/9/2024, age 74.
Jimmy Van Eaton / (James Mack Van Eaton) → Sun Records’ in-house drummer from 1956 to 1959, kept the beat on dozens of hit records by rock ‘n’ roll luminaries of the day, including Jerry Lee Lewis (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” #3, R&B #1, 1957), Bill Justis (“Raunchy,” #2, UK #11, 1957), Johnny Cash and others, toured with Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty and joined Billy Lee Riley’s band in 1960, then left the industry for a career as a vending machine salesman and financial advisor, returned occasionally for gigs with Lewis and other Sun Records acts, released a solo album, The Beat Goes On in 1998 and did session work at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios into the 20s, died from complications of kidney disease on 2/9/2024, age 86.

February 11
Randy Sparks / (Lloyd Arrington Sparks) → Influential folk and pop musician, founder (1961) and frontman of the clean-cut, iconic Americana singing group The New Christy Minstrels (“Green, Green,” #14, AC #3, 1963) at the dawn of the 60s folk revival movement, the group had 12 charting albums and three Adult Contemporary Top 20 hits in the 60s, including the Grammy-winning Introducing The New Christy Minstrels (#19, 1962), alumni of the group include Kim Carnes, John Denver, Steve Martin and dozens of others, formed a second group, The Back Porch Majority, as a “farm team” for the NCM in 1963, the BPM went on to release seven albums into the 70s and appeared on TV and at the White House, sold his interest in the groups in 1965 and started a 30-year collaboration with singer Burl Ives, re-purchased The New Christy Minstrels in 1995 and managed and performed with the group into the 20s, died from heart failure on /11/2024, age 90.

February 12
Steve Wright / (Stephen Richard Wright MBE) → Phenomenally popular English radio personality, author and occasional TV program host, aired Steve Wright in the Afternoon weekdays on BBC Radio 1 from 1981 through 1993, a similar morning program from 1994 to mid-1995, and the BBC Radio 2 afternoon show from 1999 through 2022, each program featuring a revolving “zoo” format of multiple characters, guests, discussion topics, news and music, in between authoring five books of trivia, presenting the BBC-TV program Top of the Pops from 1980 to 1989, and issuing six novelty-song charting singles under various spoof band names, including “I’ll Be Back” (UK #10, 1991), hosted Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs from 2022 until poor cardiac health and grieving over his ex-wife’s 2020 demise from COVID caused his death from a “broken heart” on 2/12/2024, age 69.

February 14
Ian “Tich” Amey / (Ian Frederick Stephen Amey) → Lead guitar for 60s “freakbeat” Brit pop-rock quintet Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, the group had eight UK Top 10 hits from 1966-1968, including “The Legend Of Xanadu” (#123, UK #1, 1968) but limited success in the US, played in the group in three stints over five decades, in between gigging with other bands and for a short period with The Troggs in the late 70s, retired in 2014 and died from undisclosed causes on 2/14/2024, age 79.

February 16
Cynthia Strother / (Cynthia Sue Strother) → With younger sister, Edith Kay Strother, singer in early 50s teenaged singing duo The Bell Sisters (from their mother’s maiden surname) and writer of their big hit “Bermuda” (#7, 1952), the two also had hits with a cover of “Wheel Of Fortune” (#10, 1952) and “Rutza Rutza” (#26, 1952), issued nine albums on RCA Records from 1951-55, and appeared in two feature films and on numerous TV and radio programs during their brief fling with stardom, left show business in the late 50s and taught swimming to handicapped children and adults, died of heart failure on 2/16/2024, age 88.
Etterlene DeBarge / (Etterlene Louise Abney Debarge Rodriguez) → Gospel singer and matriarch of the DeBarge family and the R&B/soul group DeBarge featuring five of her 10 children, divorced her first husband, Robert DeBarge, Sr., in 1974 after years of domestic abuse, remarried in 1980, released a gospel music album Back On Track in 1991 and a second in 2005, published a memoir Other Side Of The Pain in 2007 about her childhood and the DeBarge family entertainment history, suffered from dementia in later years and died from undisclosed causes on 2/16/2024, age 88.

February 19
Bobby Tench / (Rober Tench) → Respected guitarist, songwriter and soulful vocalist over a 50 year career fronting his own bands (Gass and Hummingbird) and touring and recording as a sideman with multiple British rock luminaries, including Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, Ginger Baker and Eric Burdon, also recorded with Freddie King, Junior Marvin, Humble Pie and many others, the Gibson guitar he sold to Mark Knopfler in the mid-90s sold at auction for over $850,000 in 2024, just days before he died from undisclosed causes on 2/19/2024, age 79.

February 20
David Libert / (David Baer Libert) → With his high school classmates, founding member of sunshine pop vocal quartet The Happenings, the group had four Top 40 hits in 1966-67, including covers of “See You In September” (#3, 1966) and “I Got Rhythm” (#3, 1967), left in 1970 to pursue a career in music talent management, first as road manager for Rare Earth, then Alice Cooper from 1971-75, and a long list of artists for the next forty years, including George Clinton, Parliament/Funkadelic, Vanilla Fudge, Prince and The Runaways, published an autobiography Rock And Roll Warrior in 2022, died in his sleep on 2/20/2024, age 81.

February 22
John “Duff” Lowe / (John Charles Lowe) → English pianist invited by school chum Paul McCartney to play piano in pre-Beatles skiffle band The Quarrymen, stayed for two years and appeared on the only two Quarrymen recordings, both of which ended up remastered and included on The Beatles’ album Anthology 1 (1995), left the group in 1959 to join a competing Liverpool band and largely dropped out of sight, joined several non-Beatles original members of The Quarrymen for a reunion and lone album in 1994, continued to tour and perform at Beatles events worldwide through 2017, died from undisclosed causes on 2/22/2024, age 81.
Roni Stoneman / (Veronica Loretta Stoneman) → The “First Lady of Banjo,” virtuoso banjo player, member of The Stoneman Family Band in the 50s and 60s, first woman to play modern bluegrass banjo on a phonograph record (1957), and cast member of the long-running country music variety TV show Hee Haw from 1973 until 1991, published a memoir, Pressing On: The Roni Stoneman Story, about overcoming poverty and abusive husbands, continued to perform into the 20s at bluegrass festivals and state fairs, often with her mandolinist sister Donna, died from undisclosed causes on 2/22/2024, age 85.

February 28
Bob Heil / (Robert G. Heil) → Teenage pipe organ player and amateur radio operator, two avocations which led to a career in sound engineering, starting with designing and operating sound systems for tours by the Grateful Dead, The Who, Jeff Beck and others in the early 70s and continuing with the expansion of Heil Sound company in the 80s into the home theater market, best known for inventing the Heil Talk Box used initially by Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh, concentrated on the amateur radio market and microphones in the 90s and 00s, performed organ music on a weekly program on international shortwave radio until selling the business and retiring in 2022 left the died from cancer on 2/28/2024, age 83.

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