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

May 02
Tommy West / (Thomas Picardo, Jr.) → Singer/songwriter, producer, member of 50s doo wop The Criterions (“I Remain Truly Yours,” 1959) and one half of the early 70s folk-pop duo Cashman & West (“American City Suite,” #27, 1972) with Dave Cashman, the two also co-wrote songs for The Partridge Family and produced three award-winning albums for Jim Croce plus the hits “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (#1, 1972) and “Time In A bottle” (#1, 193), also worked with Mary Travers, Henry Gross and others, after splitting from the partnership moved to Nashville and wrote country music and produced albums for multiple artists, including several for singer Anne Murray, died of complications associated with Parkinson’s disease on 5/2/2021, age 78.

May 03
Lloyd Price → New Orleans R&B/soul vocalist with five R&B Top 10 hits in the early 50s, including the rock ‘n’ roll precursor “Lawdy Miss Clady” (R&B #1, 1952), returned from a stint in the Army in 1954 to find Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others had outpaced him in bringing white kids to R&B in the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll, formed his own record label and released “Stagger Lee” (#1, R&B #1, 1958) and “Personality” (#2, R&B #1, 1959), followed his recording career with successful turns as a real estate manager, pro boxing promoter (with Don King and the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” match between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974), businessman (Southern-style food products company under the Lawdy Miss Clawdy brand) and oldies tour organizer, died from complications of diabetes on 5/3/2021, age 88.
Ed Ward / (Edmund Osbourne Ward) → Highly respected rock music historian, critic and NPR radio host, started in the 70s as a staff writer for Crawdaddy!, then record review editor for Rolling Stone and later Creem magazines known as one of the first to write seriously about rock ‘n’ roll, relocated and wrote wrote for newspapers in Austin, TX (where he was 1987 co-founder of Austin’s South by Southwest music festival), joined NPR for the national roll-out of the program Fresh Air on which he was music historian and commentator for 30 years through 2017, wrote several books on rock ‘n’ roll music and “Let It Roll,” a 24-episode podcast between 2018 and 2020, found dead at home from undisclosed causes on 5/3/2021, age 72.

May 06
Pervis Staples → Grade school, street corner singing pals with Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls, toured the gospel circuit in the late 50s and early 60s with his father, Roebuck “Pops” and sisters Mavis and Cleotha as The Staple Singers, left before the group transitioned to soul-funk music with non-religious lyrics and a string of Top 40 hits, including “I’ll Take You There” (#1, 1972), became an agent for R&B girl-group The Emotions (“Best Of My Love,” #1, R&B #1, Dance #11, 1977) and operated a Chicago night club, died from unspecified causes on 5/6/2021, age 85.

May 16
Patsy Bruce / (Patsy Ann Smithson Bruce) → Country-western and country-pop songwriter best known for co-writing with her then-husband, Ed Bruce, the country standard “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” which he recorded (Country #15, 1975) and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson covered (#42, AC #33, Country #1, 1978), partnered with Ed in a Nashville talent agency and co-wrote other songs with him, following divorce in 1987 started an event management company, served on the the Tennessee State Board of Probation and Parole for 10 years, and launched a songwriting-focus tour business in Nashville in 2017, died from unspecified causes on 5/16/2021,age 81.

May 19
Alix Dobkin / (Alix Cecil Dobkin) → Folk singer-songwriter and activist in the folk revival scene in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 60s, issued her debut album, the groundbreaking Lavender Jane Loves Women, in 1973 describing a lesbian separatist utopia, later became the first American lesbian feminist musician to tour Europe, continued to tour and perform through the 00s, suffered a brain aneurysm in April 2021 and died following a stroke on 5/19/2021, age 80.

May 20
Roger Hawkins / (Roger Gail Hawkins) → Drummer, session musician and founding member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as The Swampers), the renowned studio musician ensemble that recorded hundreds of songs and albums at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama, including hits by The Staple Singers, Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wilson Pickett and countless others, took over as manager of the studio when he and his co-owners sold the business in the 1990s and ran the operation for many years, suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in his last years and died on 5/20/2021, age 75.

May 24
John Davis → Pop singer best known for actually singing the vocals for Milli Vanilli, the scandalous, lip-synching dance-pop vocal duo whose frontmen Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were stripped of their 1989 Grammy award when in 1990 it was revealed that they never actually sang on their albums or in concert, formed The Real Milli Vanilli in 1991 with other former Milli Vanilli singers to issue the duo’s second album, which had been recorded in 1990 but not released after the scandal hit, performed occasionally with Fab Morvan in Europe over the ensuing years and died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 5/24/2021, age 66.

May 25
Rusty Warren / (Ilene Goldman) → Scandalous, bawdy singing comedian best known for her sex-themed songs including “Knockers Up!” and “Bounce Your Boobies,” mostly written from a female’s perspective and generally credited with helping advance the sexual revolution in American society in the late 50s and early 60s, performed in Las Vegas and other cities’ nightclubs through the 80s, moved to Hawaii and dropped from sight until releasing a DVD chronical of her life in 2008, died in her sleep on 5/25/2021, age 91.

May 26
Patrick Sky / (Patrick Leon Linch, Jr,) → Folk musician and singer, one of many associated with the folk revival movement centered in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 60s, dated singer Buffy Sainte-Marie who recorded his folk standard “Many A Mile” in 1965, issued the politically-charged, satirical album Songs That Made America Famous in 1973, founded Green Linnet Records that year and immersed himself in building and playing the Irish uilleann pipes, spent the next decades mastering the difficult instrument and performing at piper’s festivals until retiring in 2018, died from prostate and bone cancer on 5/26/2021, age 80.

May 29
B. J. Thomas / (Billy Joe Thomas) → Five-time Grammy-winning light pop-rock singer with the Grammy Hall of Fame “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (#1, 1970) plus “Hooked On A Feeling” (#5, 1968) and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” (#1, 1975), turned to gospel and country music later in his career and scored hits with “New Looks From An Old Lover” (Country #1, 1983) and others, performed on the oldies circuit and in nightclubs, sang commercial jingles and issued twelve studio albums after 2000, announced in March 2021 that he was suffering from lung cancer and died from the disease on 5/29/2021, age 78.


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