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

May 01
Gordon Lightfoot / (Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr.) → Globally-revered, nationally-beloved Canadian folk-pop singer, songwriter and guitarist with twenty Top 40 hits at home and eight in the US, including “Sundown” (#1, CAN #1, 1974) and his signature song, the improbable Top 40 hit “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” (#2, CAN #1, 1976), performed in concert worldwide and in Canadian national celebrations over a decades long career, issued his 21st and final studio album, Solo, in 2020, two months and 54 years after his debut album, and performed live for a final time in October 2022, died from natural causes on 5/1/2023, age 84.

May 03
Linda Lewis / (Linda Ann Fredericks) → English soul singer with a five-octave voice and 10 charting singles in the UK, including the disco version of “It’s In His Kiss” (#107, UK #6, 1975), issued 10 solo studio albums from 1971 to 1999, best known for her work as a backing vocalist for David Bowie, Cat Stevens and others in the 70s and for Oasis and Jamiroquai in the 00s, performed sporadically through to her death at home from undisclosed causes on 5/3/2023, age 72.

May 09
Jon Povey → Drummer in 60s Brit beat band Bern Elliott & The Fenmen (“Money,” UK #14, 1963) before joining blues-rock The Pretty Things in 1967 as keyboardist, added flourish to the band’s musical drift to psychedelic rock during the recording of the album S. F. Sorrow, released in 1968 as the first rock opera, participated in several PT reunions and collaborations with bandmates through the 10s, acted in several films in the 10s and was working on a solo album and autobiography when he died from cancer on 5/9/2023, age 80.

May 10
Stu James / (Stuart Leslie Slater) → Founding member, lead singer and pianist in 60s Merseybeat band The Mojos, co-penned their big hit “Everything’s Alright” (UK #9,l 1964) and fronted the band through various personnel changes in the late 60s, returned to his birth name and managed a London record store in the 70s, became a record label promotions and A&R manager in the 80s, eventually as a top executive at Chrysalis Records and signed Spandau Ballet, The Proclaimers and Wet Wet Wet, shifted to Dutch dance-pop label Mega Records in 1994 and later headed Virgin Books, transforming the business into to a major publisher of non-fiction books, died from unspecified causes on 5/10/2023, age 77.

May 12
Francis Monkman / (Anthony Francis Keigwin Monkman) → Multi-instrumental rock and classical musician, composer, film score writer and co-founder of early Brit prog/avant-garde rock Curved Air (“Back Street Luv,” UK #4, 1974), left in 1972 and played with prog-rock Renaissance, pop-rock Al Stewart and art-rock Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno’s band 801 in the mid-70s, joined cross-genre instrumental Sky in 1978 as keyboardist and principal composer while working on a solo album and composing the soundtrack to the successful Brit gangster film The Long Good Friday (1980), used that experience as a springboard to a career writing film scores and playing keyboards on numerous soundtracks, including The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Riders Of The Lost Ark (1981), two James Bond films and others, returned to the music scene after a 20-year hiatus with a three solo albums in the 00s, spent his later years travelling Europe and playing harpsichord at various concerts, died after a late-stage cancer diagnosis on 5/12/2023, age 73.

May 14
John Giblin → Scottish bass guitarist and versatile session musician in multiple genres, appeared on several dozens of albums in pop-rock (Phil Collins), jazz-rock fusion (Brand X), folk-rock (John Martyn), avant-garde (Scott Walker), soul (Al Green) and many others, toured with Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and others, joined synth-pop Simple Minds for tours and three albums from 1985 to 1989, collaborated with Kate Bush on tour and for six albums at various times from 1980 to a final tour in 2014, joined the Afro-rock band Osibisa in the 10s and died after a short illness on 5/14/2023, age 71.

May 16
“Ska” Sterling / (Lester Sterling) → Trumpet and saxophone player, founding member (with nine other musicians) of legendary Jamaican ska band The Skatalites, the ten were playing sessions and occasional shows separately in and around Kingston since 1955 and finally coalesced as a band for several albums and concerts in early 1964 through mid-1965, rejoined his bandmates in 1975 and recorded and performed with various Skatalite line-ups in the U.S. and Jamaica until retiring in the 10s, awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government in 1998 for his contribution to music, was the last surviving original member of the band when he died at home in Florida after years of declining health on 5/19/2023, age 87.

May 17
Algy Ward / (Alasdair Mackie Ward) → Punk and heavy metal bassist and singer, beginning with Aussie rock The Saints in 1977 on their third single, “This Perfect Day” (UK #34, 1977) and lasting through the band’s first dissolution in late 1978, thereafter joined punk-rock The Damned for a brief stint and appearance on the LP Machine Gun Etiquette (1979), in 1980 formed New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) band Tank and fronted the band through six albums over 20 years, in the 2010s competed with a second Tank headed by former Tank bandmates and issued two more Tank albums by 2018, died in a hospital after a long illness on 5/17/2023, age 63.

May 19
Pete Brown / (Peter Ronald Brown) → British beat performance poet, songwriter and singer, co-lyricist for short-lived blues-rock supergroup Cream, co-wrote “I Feel Free” (1966) and “White Room” (#6, 1968) with Jack Bruce and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (#5, 1968) with Bruce and Eric Clapton, spent the ensuing 50 years co-writing most of the songs on Bruce’s 14 solo albums, issuing twelve solo albums of his own and several books of poetry, fronting various rock bands, collaborating with other musicians on their projects, writing film scripts, and publishing his autobiography, died of cancer on 5/19/2023, age 82.
Andy Rourke / (Andrew Michael Rourke) → Bassist for definitive Brit indie rock The Smiths during their most successful years and hits including “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (UK #10, UK Indie #1, 1984), left the band in acrimony and sued over back royalties, spent the ensuing decades recovering from heroin addiction and as a session musician with multiple artists, including Smiths frontman and former legal adversary Morrisey, folk-rock Sinead O’Connor and The Pretenders, moved to New York in 2009 and played in clubs and various indie rock bands, died of pancreatic cancer on 5/19/2023, age 59.

May 22
Chas Newby / (Charles Newby) → English bass guitarist whose decision to return to university and not go to Germany in 1961 as a member of The Beatles likely lost him an opportunity at superstardom, joined the Fab Four in December 1960 to replace Stu Sutcliffe, who stayed behind to study art when the band returned to Liverpool after their first tour of Germany, appeared with them for four gigs during the school Christmas break but declined former Quarrymen bandmate John Lennon’s invitation to continue as a full-time Beatle, went on to a career as a high school math teacher, played in local charity bands and in a reformed Quarrymen, died from undisclosed causes on 5/22/2023, age 81.

May 23
Ed Ames / (Edmund Dantes Urick) → Singer with his three siblings in hugely popular 50s vocal quartet The Ames Brothers, the group scored nine Top 10 hits and 42 other charting singles from 1947 to 1963, including “Rag Mop” (#1, 1950), and starred in a weekly TV variety show The Ames Brothers Show in 1956, played half-Cherokee, half-white “Mingo” in the Daniel Boone TV series (1964-1969), started a short but successful Easy Listening solo singer career in the mid-60s (“My Cup Runneth Over,” #8, AC #1, 1967 among six consecutive AC Top 10 hits), performed in regional stage productions and occasional TV programs through the 90s before retiring and living out of the limelight, was the last surviving Ames Brother at his death from Alzheimer’s disease on 5/23/2023, age 95.
Redd Holt / (Isaac Holt) → Drummer in 50s and 60s jazz ensemble Ramsey Lewis Trio and the Grammy-winning crossover hit “The ‘In’ Crowd” (#5, R&B #1, 1965), split from the trio with bandmate Eldee Young and formed jazz-pop Young-Holt Unlimited, which continued the run of pop-friendly jazz instrumentals with “Wack-Wack” (#40, CAN #44, 1967) and the enduring “Soulful Strut” (#3, R&B #3, 1969), split with Young in 1974, formed his own Holt Unlimited and played clubs in the Chicago area, and in occasional reunions with Lewis and Young, for four decades, died from lung cancer on 5/23/2023, age 91.
Sheldon Reynolds / (Sheldon Maurice Reynolds) → R&B/funk guitarist and vocalist backing Millie Jackson in the mid-70s, then recorded three albums with funk/disco Sun before joining The Commodores in 1983, appeared on two albums and the big hit “Nightshift” (#3, R&B #1, 1985), left to join a reconvened soul-funk Earth, Wind & Fire and played on the hits “System Of Survival” (#60, R&B #1, 1987) through the Grammy-winning “Sunday Morning” (#53, R&B #20, 1993), later managed Experience Hendrix, the company overseeing the estate and musical legacy of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, and contributed to Astronomy magazine, died from undisclosed causes on 5/23/2023, age 63.

May 24
Bill Lee / (William James Edwards Lee III) → Jazz-pop bassist, composer, and in-demand session musician on over 250 albums by Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger and many others starting in the 60s, played on dozens of top hits including “Puff The Magic Dragon” (Peter, Paul & Mary, #2, 1963) and “Mr. Tambourine Man” (The Byrds, #1, 1965), father of film director Spike Lee, wrote the soundtracks for his son’s first four films and had small roles in three, lived out of the music industry and fell out with his son on several occasions before dying of cancer on 5/24/2023, age 94.
Tina Turner / (Anna Mae Bullock) → R&B/soul-pop diva, first as a member of The Ikettes, husband Ike Turner‘s backing vocal group, then soul-pop duo Ike & Tina Turner, “Proud Mary” (#4, 1971), escaped an abusive and often violent husband in 1977 and pulled herself up to become a 12-time Grammy-winning soul-pop diva with eleven Top 40 singles in the 80s, including “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (#1, 1984), starred in the post-apocalyptic dystopian action film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), moved to Switzerland in 1994, finished a 50th anniversary world tour in 2009, became a Swiss citizen in 2013, appeared in a bio-documentary in 2021, and died after a long-term series of illnesses on 5/24/2023, age 83.

May 26
Jack Lee → Singer, songwriter, guitarist and co-frontman for influential L.A. power-pop trio The Nerves, the band enjoyed cult status in their home state but limited commercial success elsewhere, best known for penning “Hanging On The Telephone” for punk-pop Blondie (UK #5, 1978) and “Come Back And Stay” (#22, UK #4,1983) for blue-eyed soul Paul Young, among others, continued to write music over the next 40 years without another hit, died from colon cancer on 5/26/2023, age 71.

May 31
Dickie “Be-Bop” Harrell / (Richard C. Harrell, Sr.) → Teenaged drummer in pioneering rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll band Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps and the early rock classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula” (#7, UK #16, 1956), left the band in 1958 when Vincent went solo, played in local bands in the Tidewater, Virginia area over the years and retired from a 37-year career in the U. S. Navy, died from undisclosed causes on 5/31/2023, age 82.

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