Knockin’ On Heavens Door: Notable Deaths in July 2021

Dusty Hill

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:

July 04
Sanford Clark → Country and rockabilly one hit wonder vocalist whose 50s US Army side group led to a meeting with radio DJ and future music producer Lee Hazlewood and a recording of Hazlewood‘s “The Fool” (#7, Country #14, R&B #5, 1956), left the music business and worked in construction but occasionally recorded in later decades on his own label, Desert Sun Records, died from complications of COVID-19 while receiving cancer treatments in a Missouri hospital on 7/4/2021, age 85.
Rick Laird / (Richard Quentin Laird) → Classical-trained Irish bassist, photographer, author and graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, best known as founding member and bassist in pioneering jazz/fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra in which he performed from 1971 to 1973, left the band for a variety of session and touring gigs through the 80s, later becoming an accomplished photographer, died of lung cancer on 7/4/2021, age 80.

July 10
Byron Berline / (Byron Douglas Berline) → Versatile and highly-respected fiddler in multiple music genres, including ragtime, bluegrass, Cajun, country and rock in various supporting roles, credited with introducing the fiddle to rock music, first with country-rock Dillard & Clark in the 60s and with The Flying Burrito Brothers in the early 70s, recorded The Rolling Stones‘ “Country Honk” on Let It Bleed (#3, UK #1, 1969, which later became “Honky Tonk Women”), appeared on Stephen StillsManassas and albums by Elton John, Rod Stewart, Lucinda Williams and many others, died in a rehabilitation hospital following a stroke on 7/10/2021, age 77.

July 14
Jeff LeBar → Guitarist for Philly glam-rock Cinderella (“Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” #12, 1988), worked on side projects, including Naked Beggars with bandmate Eric Brittingham, and released a 2014 debut solo album, One For The Road, on which he played all of the instruments except the drums, battled alcohol and drug addiction for years before dying from undisclosed causes on 7/14/2021, age 58.
Gary Corbett → Session and touring keyboardist with Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson and others before co-writing “She Bop” (#3, 1984) for Cindi Lauper, the song’s success opened doors to Lou Gramm‘s touring band and a 5-year stint with Kiss starting in 1987, then joined glam-metal Cinderella on keyboards and backing vocals until their breakup in 2017, battled lung cancer and died the day before his birthday and on the same day as longtime Cinderella guitarist Jeff LaBar, 7/14/2021, age 62.

July 17
Robby Steinhardt / (Robert Eugene Steinhardt) → Classical-trained violinist and founding member of prog/heartland rock Kansas (“Carry On Wayward Son,” #11, 1977) with whom he shared lead vocalist duties and acted as the MC during live performances, left in 1982 to pursue other interests and played with Rick Moon in prog rock Steinhardt Moon, and in the ’90s with the band Stormbringer, rejoined Kansas in 1997 but left again in 2006 due to the heavy touring schedule, participated in various projects and recorded with Yes and Jethro Tull when not with Kansas, was recording a solo album and preparing for a tour when he contracted acute pancreatitis and died on 7/17/2021, age 71.

July 20
Jerry Granelli / (Gerald John Granelli) → American-born Canadian jazz percussionist forever known for his subtle, effective snare drumming underneath the venerable and beloved soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas and other albums by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, with whom he played in the late 60s before leaving to perform with folk-pop Kingston Trio, psych-pop We Five and Sly Stone, eventually becoming a Canadian citizen and teaching jazz composition at Vancouver Community College, playing in multiple side projects and one-off groups in Canada and organizing an annual jazz festival in Halifax, NS, suffered a fall in December 2010 and died eight months later on 7/20/2021, age 80.
Chuck E. Weiss / (Charles Edward Weiss) → Erstwhile Denver radio DJ and session musician, songwriter and late 70s Los Angeles-based inseparable friend of Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, inspiration for RLJ‘s hit “Chuck E.’s In Love” (#4, AC #20, 1979), toured regionally and recorded an eclectic mix of blues, beat poetry, and rock and roll over the years, died from cancer on 7/20/2021, age 76.

July 26
Joey Jordison / (Nathan Jonas Jordison) → Founding member and drummer for the ghoulish, Grammy-winning alt metal/rap metal Slipknot (“Snuff,” Mainstream Rock #2, 2009), the band often credited with re-defining rock music in the 00s based on three Billboard Top 5 albums and seven Mainstream Rock Top 20 hits during the decade, co-wrote several of the group’s best-known songs and often performed wearing a crown of thorns and a silver mask streaked with black paint, formed horror punk supergroup Murderdolls in 2002 and played guitar with the band through 2013, did session work and toured with many top metal acts during his career, died in his sleep. likely from acute alcohol abuse, on 7/26/2021, age 46.

Mike Howe → Founding member and lead singer in Detroit- then LA-based metal band Heretic, left in 1988 after the band’s first LP and fronted early thrash metal act Metal Church until 1994, when he left to become a carpenter and start a family, rejoined Metal Church as lead singer in 2015 and issued four albums with the band before dying from suicide by hanging on 7/26/2021, age 55.

July 27
Willie Winfield / (Willie Lee Elijah Winfield) → Lead singer for critically recognized but commercially little known New York R&B/doo wop The Harptones, the group recorded several late 50s songs that eventually re-surfaced on R&B retrospective albums, including the oft-covered classic “Life Is But A Dream” (1955), sang with the group on the oldies circuit for nearly 65 years until his death from cardiac arrest on 7/27/2021, age 91.

July 28
Dusty Hill / (Joseph Michael Hill) → Founding member and five-decade bassist, vocalist and occasional keyboardist for venerable Texas blues/boogie rock trio ZZ Top, sang lead on the band’s first Top 20 hit, “Tush” (#20, 1975) and played in the band for every live show from 1970 through July 2021 when multiple, decades-long health issues forced an early retirement from touring, died at home from undisclosed causes on 7/28/2021, age 72.
Johnny Ventura / (Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano ) → Mayor of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic from 1998 to 2002 after a legendary career as as a singer, songwriter, bandleader and “the Elvis of Merengue,” generally credited with crafting the modern merengue sound in the 60s by fusing its traditional Caribbean beat with rock ‘n’ roll and later disco in the 70s, issued over 100 albums and won six Latin Grammy awards plus a lifetime achievement Grammy from the Latin Recording Academy, later in life earned a law degree and entered the world of business and Dominican politics, died following a heart attack on 7/28/2021, age 81.


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