Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in January 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:

January 01
Misty Morgan / (Mary Donahue) → With husband Jack Blanchard, one-half of the country-pop vocal duo Jack & Misty, scored two crossover hits, including the Grammy-nominated “Tennessee Bird Walk” (#23, Country #1, 1970) among 15 country chart hits, continued to record and perform without chart success into the 00s, diagnosed with cancer in late 2020 and died on New Year’s Day, 1/1/2021, age 75.

January 02
Steve Brown / (Stephen D. Brown) → Teenaged UK gas station attendant who parlayed a chance meeting with Elton John into a drum tech position with the superstar, and eventually a successful career as a recording engineer and producer for Sir Elton, the Boomtown Rats, The Cult, Wham! and many others, including the Manic Street Preachers‘ debut album, Generation Terrorists (UK #13, 1992) which placed five singles in the UK Top 40, continued to produce music for a variety of artists until suffering a fall at home and dying from subsequent complications on 1/2/2021, age 65.

January 03
Gerry Marsden / (Gerard Marsden) → Younger brother of bandmate Freddie and frontman for British Invasion pop-rock Gerry & The Pacemakers, the band briefly rivaled The Beatles in the mid-60s when their first three singles topped the UK charts, after break-up in 1966 went on to a low-key TV and stage career, issued two #1 remakes of Pacemakers‘ hits in the 80s, toured on the oldies circuit until retiring in 2018, died from heart infection on 1/3/2021, age 78.

January 08
Ed Bruce / (William Edwin Bruce, Jr.) → Country music songwriter, singer and TV actor, co-wrote the Grammy-winning “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” for himself (Country #15, 1976) and covered by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson (Country #1, 1978) on the duet album Waylon & Willy (#12, Country #1, 1978), wrote and sang the theme song, and co-starred with James Garner in the TV series Bret Maverick (1981-82), scored six Country Top 10 hits in the 80s among 35 overall charting singles, died of natural causes on 1/8/2021, age 81.
Michael Fonfora → Classically-trained, Canadian blues-rock keyboardist and member of short-lived 60s psych-rock The Electric Flag, then Elektra Records pre-fab rockers Rhinoceros and later Toronto rockers Blackstone, played with Lou Reed‘s band in the 70s and in 1990 joined influential retro blues-rock The Downchild Blues Band, inspiring Dan Akroyd and comedy partner John Belushi to form The Blues Brothers, played with the band until retiring in 2015, died from cancer on 1/8/2021, age 76.

January 09
Marsha Zazula / (Marsha Jean Rutenberg) → With her husband Jonny, 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 earning the moniker “The Metal Matriarch” for nurturing the bands and individual members, also released albums for rockers Ace Frehley, Warren Haynes, Johnny Winter and others, sold the label in 2001 and retired from the industry, died from cancer on 1/10/2021, age 68.

January 11
Howard Johnson / (Howard Lewis Johnson) → Multi-instrumentalist jazz musician, primarily on tuba and baritone saxophone, who spent nearly 60 years elevating the role of the lowly tuba in jazz, rock and pop music, as a sideman with numerous jazz greats in the 60s, with Taj Mahal on The Real Thing (1971), with The Band on The Last Waltz (1978), as an original member of the Saturday Night Live house band, through various collaborations and TV performances, and as founder and frontman for tuba-based jazz fusion Gravity, which he formed in 1970 and led until just before dying at home following a long illness on 1/11/2021, age 79.

January 13
Tim Bogert / (John Voorhis Bogert III) → Bassist and vocals for psychedelic rock/proto-metal Vanilla Fudge and their heavy arrangements of pop hits, including “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (#6, UK #18, 1968), later formed boogie-rock Cactus with Fudge bandmate and drummer Carmen Appice, both then recruited by Jeff Beck in 1972 to supergroup and power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice (“I’m So Proud,” 1973), over the next three-and-a-half decades participated in various sessions and tours, issued several solo albums, taught at the Musicians’ Institute in Hollywood and rejoined Vanilla Fudge for reunion tours, retired from performing in 2010 following a motorcycle accident and died from cancer on 1/13/2021, age 76.
Stan Wade / (Stanley Wade) → Founding member and second tenor in Philly R&B disco/soul The Trammps and the big hit “Disco Inferno” (#53, Dance #1, 1977) which was re-released after appearing in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and reached #11 on the Billboard pop chart in 1978, continued to tour with the group until his death from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 1/13/2021, age unknown.
Sylvain Sylvain / (Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi) → Egypt-born, Syrian-descent Jewish guitarist and co-founder of early and short-lived, but highly influential proto-punk New York Dolls (“Personality Crisis,” 1973), one of the earliest bands in the nascent New York punk scene who mostly invented the loud, brash, campy-glam sound perfected by others in coming years, including The Ramones, Television and the Sex Pistols, after the Dolls dissolved in 1977 fronted his own groups before joining former bandmate David Johansen for Dolls reunion tours, three albums and a documentary film between 2004 and 2011, continued to perform until contracting cancer in 2019, died from the disease on 1/13/2021, age 69.

January 16
Phil Spector / (Harvey Philip Spector) → Immensely influential pop music producer and convicted murderer, principal architect of the “Wall of Sound” production technique featuring layered guitars, percussion and strings in a lavish operatic instrumentation, pioneered the early 60s girl groups sound with The Crystals (“Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)),” #3, 1963) and The Ronettes (“Be May Baby,” #2, 1963), produced 18 Top 10 hits through the 70s, including The Righteous Brothers‘ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (#1, 1965) and George Harrison‘s “My Sweet Lord” (Worldwide #1, 1970), and produced albums for The Beatles (Let It Be, 1970), Leonard Cohen and The Ramones, dropped out of the industry in the 80s and led a reclusive and eccentric existence until being convicted in 2009 of 2nd degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson, sentenced to 19 years to life in prison, died in a California penitentiary from the COVID-19 virus on 12/16/2021, age 81.
Jerry Brandt / (Jerome Jack Mair) → Promoter, nightclub and music entrepreneur whose early career as a music talent agent included managing Carly Simon and booking The Rolling Stones on their first tours of the US in the mid-60s, better known for owning and operating two New York City hot-spot clubs, The Electric Circus (1967-1971) and The Ritz (1980-1989), in between failing to create an American clone to Ziggy Stardust in the form of gay glam rocker Jobriath Boone and producing a very short-lived Broadway musical to capitalize on the late 70s disco craze, settled into a later career as a less-glamorous restaurateur and died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 1/16/2021, age 82.

January 17
Sammy Nestico / (Samuel Luigi Nistico) → Highly-respected trombonist and music arranger, widely-recognized as the most prolific composer of scholastic jazz-pop anthems, scored over 600 different songs that comprise the setlists of countless high school marching bands, arranged music for the US Air Force Band in the 50s and directed the US Marine Band in the 60s, joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1968 and worked with his friend until Basie‘s death in 1984, thereafter enjoying a long career composing, arranging and conducting his own bands and those of others (Frank Sinatra among them), scoring films and TV theme songs, teaching college music courses, recording a dozen albums (the last in 2017) and writing marching band music, died from natural causes at home on 1/17/2021, age 96.

January 18
Jimmie Rodgers / (James Frederick Rodgers) → Pop and easy listening singer with numerous crossover hits in the late 50s, including “Honeycomb” (#1, Country #7, R&B #1, 1957) and 13 other Top 40 hits through the 70s, suffered a fractured skull and long-term brain damage in a 1967 beating on a California freeway allegedly carried out by an off-duty Los Angeles policeman, sued and settled with the LAPD out-of-court, attempted to resume his career with limited success beyond a handful of adult contemporary hits in the 70s, worked as a performer, producer and theater operator in Branson, MO until retirement in 2002, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus just before dying from kidney failure on 1/18/2021, age 87.

January 20
Ronnie Nasralla → Jamaican record producer and businessperson who played a big role in the development of his country’s ska music in the 50s and 60s, first as a member of the Dragonaires with his college friend Byron Lee, then as manager for the band and for The Blues Busters and The Maytals, auditioned multiple bands and selected the Dragonaires to appear in the club scene in the James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), later produced and released music on his BMN Records label, promoted ska music in the US through his marketing and PR firm as an unofficial ambassador of the Jamaican Tourism Board, awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in 2013, died following a short illness on 1/20/2021, age 90.

January 21
Randy Parton / (Randel Huston Parton) → Country-pop wannabe singer and songwriter, younger brother of megastar Dolly Parton, issued a half-dozen unimportant singles in the 70s and 80s, including “Shot Full Of Love” (Country #30, 1981) and performed live and on several albums in his sister’s shadow before entering into a lucrative but questionable and ultimately failed business deal with a North Carolina city to manage a Dollywood-like music venue, died from cancer on 1/21/2021, age 67.

January 22
James Purify / (James Lee Purify) → With cousin Robert Lee Dickey in R&B/Southern soul duo James & Bobby Purify, their debut single “I’m Your Puppet” (#6, R&B #5, 1966) mixed doo wop and Stax-style horns and sold over a million copies, issued nine other charting singles before Robert retired in 1970, attempted a solo career then restarted the duo in 1974 with Ben Moore and toured on the oldies circuit into the 80s, re-recorded “I’m Your Puppet” (UK #12, 1976), and released an album, Purify Bros. (1977), retired from music in the late 80s and died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 1/22/2021, age 76.

January 29
Hilton Valentine / (Hilton Stewart Paterson Valentine) → Guitarist for British Invasion hard/blues-rock The Animals, created the memorable opening riff on “House Of The Rising Sun” (#1, UK #1, 1964) and played guitar on a total of ten Top 20 hits in both the US and UK before the banded dissolved in 1966, left for California and produced his own solo albums in 1969 and 2004, participated in reunion tours with various incarnations of The Animals over the years and fronted his own Skiffledog band into the 10s, died from undisclosed causes on 1/29/2021, age 77.
Grady Gaines → Blues, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz tenor saxophonist with a six-decade career as a session musician, bandleader and solo artist, starting with Peacock Records in the early 50 and as frontman for The Upsetters, Little Richard‘s first backing that also played behind Jackie Wilson, James Brown and others in the 60s, did session work and toured with Curtis Mayfield and others through the 70s, quit music in 1980 and became a hotel transportation manager, reformed the Texas Upsetters in 1986, issuing three albums and playing in Houston-area clubs and festivals into the 10s, died in his sleep on 1/29/2021, age 86.


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