Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in January 2023

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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 died last month:

January 01
Fred E. “Freddie” White / (Frederick Eugene Adams) → Session drummer on numerous albums and on tour with Little Feat in the early 70s, joined brothers Maurice and Verdine in 1974 at age 19 in R&B/soul-dance-pop Earth, Wind & Fire and stayed though the group’s peak years and widely popular hits, including “Shining Star” (#1, R&B #1, 1975) and the enduing “September” (#8, R&B #1, 1978), left in 1983 and largely dropped out of sight for 40 years except for an appearance when Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. died of undisclosed causes on 1/1/2023, age 67.

January 03
Alan Rankine → Guitarist for Scottish post-punk New Romantic art-glam-dance-pop The Associates (“Party Fears Two,” UK #9, 1982), left in 1982 for a career as a producer for Cocteau Twins and others, as a solo artist with four late 80s albums, and as a college music lecturer through 2010, died in his home from undisclosed causes on 1/3/2023, age 64.

January 05
Gordy Harmon → Founding member, songwriter and vocals in L.A. R&B/soul quintet The Whispers, wrote “The Time Will Come” (R&B #17, 1969) and several other early singles, left in 1973 after damaging his larynx in a car accident and missed the group’s big hits in the 80s, lived in relative obscurity until dying in his sleep at home from natural causes on 1/5/2023, age 79.

January 06
Jeff Blackburn / (Jeffrey Reid Blackburn) → Singer, songwriter, guitarist and, with Sherry Snow, one half of the 60s San Francisco electric folk-rock duo Blackburn & Snow, briefly joined the third incarnation of psych rock Moby Grape in the mid-70s before forming short-lived, harder rock supergroup The Ducks with Neil Young and Bob Mosley (Moby Grape founder), credited with penning the lyrics to Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of the Blue)” (#79, 1979), continued to perform from the 80s on as frontman to his own bands, died from unspecified ailments on 1/6/2023, age 77.

January 09
Les Brown,, Jr. / (Lester Raymond Brown, Jr.) → TV actor in the 60s, Music of Your Life and Sirius XM radio program host, musician, and son of Big Band frontman Les Brown, took over The Band of Renown after his father’s death in 2001 and continued to perform on international stages and on a regular basis in Branson, Missouri, produced albums and promoted concerts in Branson for Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and many others over the years, died from lung cancer on 1/9/2023, age 82.

January 11
Dennis Budimir / (Dennis Matthew Budimir) → As a 50s teenager in L.A., played jazz guitar and piano with future jazz great Don Cherry and other jazz luminaries passing through the city, added pop and rock to his skillset as a for-hire sideman and later a member of the acclaimed Wrecking Crew group of L.A. studio musicians, played on hundreds of rock, pop and jazz albums, thousands of songs and scores of Top 40 singles, plus over 900 movie theme songs over a nearly 50-year career, died from unspecified causes on 1/11/2023, age 84.
Yukihyro Takahashi → Japanese musician, singer, record producer, actor and veteran of the 70s rock music scene in Japan as a member of Sadistic Mika Band and The Sadistics, best known internationally as the drummer and lead vocalist of pioneering electronic music trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (“Computer Game,” #60, UK #17, 1979), the band influenced techno, synthpop, J-pop and hip hop artists in the 80s, 90s and 00s, continued to record and perform in collaborations and YMO spin-offs, and release two solo albums through the 10s, died from aspiration pneumonia, a complication of a brain tumor on 1/11/2023, age 70.

January 12
Robbie Bachman / (Robin Peter Kendall Bachman) → With his brothers Randy and Tim, drummer for 70s Canadian blue-collar hard rockers Bachman-Turner Overdrive, co-wrote “Roll On Down The Highway” (#14, CAN #4, 1975, one of six US Top 40 hits and 11 in Canada) and played on all eight BTO studios albums through 1979, left and declined to rejoin for a 1984 reunion due to licensing disputes with Randy, relented in 1988 and played with BTO through 2004, sued Randy for misuse of the BTO name in 2009 but joined his bandmates at their 2014 induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, died from unspecified causes on 1/12/2023, age 69.
Lisa Marie Presley → The “Princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” pop singer, occasional TV actress, and the only child of Elvis Presley, issued three solo albums in the 00s and a lone chart hit, “Lights Out” (#34, Adult Top 40 #18, 2003), married four times, including to actor/musician Danny Keough (1988-1994) and pop superstar Michael Jackson (1994-1996), suffered an opioid-addiction cardiac arrest and died a few hours later on 1/12/2023, age 54.

January 16
Johnny Powers / (John Leon Joseph Pavlik) → Early rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and singer with a performing career starting at age 15 in a Detroit country band, issued several late 50s rockabilly singles as a solo artist. including “Long Blond Hair, Red Rose Lips” (1957) plus two others for Sun Records, in 1960 became the first white male musician signed to Motown Records but worked primarily as a producer and writer, left in the late 60s to co-own and manage several Detroit-area record labels, recording studios, and music publishing entities, continued to perform on the oldies circuit and retired a few years before his death following declining health on 1/16/2023, age 84.

January 18
David Crosby / (David Van Cortlandt Crosby) → Guitarist, singer, songwriter, and founding member of two important rock acts, seminal 60s folk-country-rock The Byrds (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” #1, 1965) and 70s harmony folk-pop supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Just A Song Before I Go,” #7, 1977), released three albums in the mid-70s (and a fourth in 2004) as a duet with Graham Nash, including Wind On The Water (#6, 1975), as a solo artist issued eight albums altogether and eleven singles, including “Drive My Car” (Mainstream Rock #3, 1989), the last album being For Free (2021), suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and resultant health issues, for decades until his death following a long, undisclosed illness on 1/18/2023, age 81.

January 23
Top Topham / (Andreew Topham) → Teenaged founding member and first lead guitarist for 60s English blues-rock The Yardbirds, left the band in late 1963 after five months and under pressure from his parents, returned to art school and formed various local bands with schoolmates Duster Bennett, Marc Bolan and others, became a session musician for Blue Horizon records and recorded a solo album in the late 60s, worked as an interior designer and played sporadically with ex-The Yardbird drummer Jim McCarty through the 00s, rejoined the group officially in 2013, left for a final time in 2015 and died from dementia on 1/23/2023, age 75.

January 26
Dean Daughtry / (William Dean Daughtry) → Keyboards, songwriting and vocals for 60s soft rock quartet Classics IV (“Spooky, #3, 1968), which morphed into 70s Southern rock Atlanta Rhythm Section, co-wrote the band’s two big hits, “So Into You” (#7, 1977) and “Imaginary Lover” (#7, 1978), played on every recording and at every live performance by the band for 49 years before retiring in 2020 due to health issues, died from natural causes on 1/26/2023, age 76.
Peter McCann / (Peter James McCann) → One hit wonder singer (“Do You Wanna Make Love,” #5, AC #22, 1977), prolific songwriter with multiple hits recorded by others, and music rights activist supporting other songwriters, formed folk-rock sextet The Repairs and recorded two albums for Motown in the mid-70s, took a staff writer position with ABC Records in 1975, moved to Nashville in 1978 and wrote or co-wrote scores of songs for others, most notably “Right Time Of The Night” (#5, EZ #1, 1977) for Jennifer Warnes and “Nobody Falls Like A Fool” (Country #1, 1985) for Earl Thomas Conley, spent over 25 years lobbying for songwriters’ rights and lecturing on copyright law in law schools across the U.S. until just prior to dying from undisclosed causes on 1/26/2023, age 74.

January 27
Floyd Sneed / (Floyd Chester Sneed) → Canadian drummer recruited by then-brother-in-law Tommy Chong (of stoner comedy act Cheech & Chong) to play in Chong’s rock band in the Vancouver, BC area, relocated to L.A. in 1966 and joined pop-rock hitmakers Three Dog Night with “Joy To The World” (#1, 1971) and nine other Top 10 hits between 1969 and 1973, left in 1977 to tour with the Ohio Players and other groups, as well as former TDN bandmate Chuck Negron the oldies circuit in the 90s and 00s, died from undisclosed causes on 1/27/2023, age 80.

January 28
Barrett Strong / (Barrett Strong Jr.) → One hit wonder R&B/soul singer credited with Tamla/Motown Records’ first big hit, “Money (That’s What I Want)” (#23, R&B #2, 1960), found lasting success as a Motown songwriter, often in collaboration with Norman Whitfield, co-wrote R&B classics “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” for Gladys Knight & The Pips (#2, UK #47, 1967) and “War” for Edwin Starr (#1, R&B #3, 1970), plus “Just My Imagination” (#1, R&B #1, 1971) and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (#1, R&B #5, 1972) for The Temptations, left Motown when the company moved to L.A. in 1972, issued two unremarkable solo albums in the mid-70s and started short-lived Blarritt Records in the 90s, died from undisclosed causes on 1/28/2023, age 81.
Tom Verlaine / (Thomas Miller) → Guitar and vocals for early 70s New Jersey punk-rock The Neon Boys with high school chum Richard Hell (nee Meyers), assumed the stage name Verlaine and alongside Hell formed highly influential New York art/punk rock Television, co-produced the recognized punk classic LP Marquee Moon (Rolling Stone 500 #128, 1977) and became an icon of the downtown New York “cool” scene for over 40 years, produced folk-rock Jeff Buckley’s album My Sweetheart The Drunk (1998) before the singer-songwriter’s death by drowning, released several solo albums from 1979 through 2006, occasionally reunited with Television, recorded with punk diva and former lover Patti Smith on several occasions over the years, died from metastatic prostate cancer on 1/28/2023, age 73.

January 31
Charlie Thomas / (Charles Nowlin Thomas) → Original member, tenor and occasional lead vocalist for R&B/doo wop The Five Crowns, who changed their name in 1958 and became the second incarnation of The Drifters, the most recognizable 50s and 60s R&B/soul vocal group, sang lead on “Sweets For My Sweet” (#16, R&B #10, 1964), performed as a Drifter for more than 60 years, including as frontman for Charlie Thomas’s Drifters from 1971 until the COVID pandemic in 2019, died from liver cancer on 1/31/2023, age 85.

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