Knocking on Heaven’s Door: Notable Deaths in August 2021

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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:

August 01
Paul Cotton / (Norman Paul Cotton) → Stalwart member, guitarist, songwriter and vocals for premier country-rock Poco, joined the band in 1970 (replacing founding member Loggins & Messina) and stayed for nearly 40 years (except for a few short breaks), wrote Poco‘s second biggest hit “Heart Of The Night” (#20, Easy #5, 1979) and other memorable tracks, issued four studio albums in the 00s and 10s, died unexpectedly from undisclosed causes on 8/1/2021, age 78.

August 03
Allan “Blaze” Blazek / (Allan Blazek) → Vietnam War-enlistee in a unit of actors and musicians touring bases using comedic skits, emulated legendary record producer Bill Szymczyk and connected with him after discharge, ascended to produce, mix and engineer albums by Glenn Frey, REO Speedwagon, Elvin Bishop, Michael Stanley and many others, including The Who‘s Face Dances and the EaglesHotel California, left the industry in the late-80s and died from undisclosed causes on 8/3/2021, age 71.

August 06
Johnny Worth (aka John Worsley, Les Vandyke) / (Yani Panakos Paraskeva Skoradalides) → English pop music songwriter, actor and comedian variously operating as John Worsley, Johnny Worth and/or Les Vandyke, best known for penning 19 Top 20 hits in the UK in the 60s and early 70s, including “What Do You Want?” (Adam Faith, UK #1, 1969) and “Jack In The Box” (Clodagh Rodgers, UK #4, 1971), his last Top 20 hit was recorded by his then-wife Catherine Stock, “To Have And To Hold” (UK #17, 1986), retired into relative obscurity and died at home from natural causes on 8/6/2021, age 90.

August 07
Dee Tee Thomas / (Dennis Thomas) → Founding member and sharped-dressed saxophonist for jazz-fusion then R&B/funk Kool & The Gang, the band recorded 21 Top 40 hits between 1973 and 1987, including “Jungle Boogie” (#4, R&B #2, 1973) and the enduring dance/party hit “Celebration” (#1, R&B #1, 1980) plus 25 studio albums through 2021, stayed with the band through multiple line-up changes over 57 years, played a last performance with the band on July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and died in his sleep from undisclosed causes a month later on 8/7/2021, age 70.

August 09
Walter Yetnikoff / (Walter Roy Yetnikoff) → Law school graduate who joined Columbia Records in 1962 as a staff attorney and rose to become president of the parent company’s international division in 1971 and to president of parent CBS Records itself in 1975, along the way helping create the successful joint venture between CBS and Sony, as president of CBS Records took an instrumental role in propelling to superstardom the careers of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and many other lesser artists, known for his hard-working and hard-partying style in professional circles, his brash, abrasive persona caught up and got him fired from CBS Records by the senior management at Sony just three years after the full merger of the two he helped engineer, operated largely out of the limelight in later years in charitable pursuits, including as a volunteer in addiction programs, died of bladder cancer on 8/9/2021, age 87.
Joey Ambrose / (Joseph D’Ambrosio) → Saxophonist and original member of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Bill Haley & His Comets, played on two big hits, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (#7, 1954) and “Rock Around the Clock” (#1, UK #1, 1955) before leaving in a salary dispute with other bandmates to form late-50s, mildly-successful pop-rock quartet The Jodimars, later worked as a Las Vegas casino pit boss and appeared on the oldies circuit with Comets revival groups, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and died from unstated causes on 8/9/2021, age 87.

August 11
Mike Finnigan / (Michael Kelly Finnigan) → Top-shelf freelance studio and touring keyboardist, played on Jimi Hendrix‘s landmark album Electric Ladyland (#1, UK #5, 1969) and dozens of other albums over five decades, including those by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bonnie Raitt and Dave Mason, issued two solo albums and collaborated with Les Dudek and Jim Krueger in jazz-rock DFK in the late 70s, performed and won awards with Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band in the 00s, his 50-year marriage ended when he died from kidney cancer on 8/11/2021, age 76.

August 13
Nanci Griffith / (Nanci Caroline Griffith) → Grammy-winning country-folk (“folkabilly”) singer, songwriter and guitarist with seven minor hits, including “Lone Star State Of Mind” (Country #36, 1987), best known for penning “Love At The Five And Dime” (Country #3, 1986) by Kathy Mattea, for the 1994 Grammy-winning covers compilation LP Other Voices, Other Rooms, and for touring and recording duets with numerous top artists, including John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson, died from undisclosed causes on 8/13/2021, age 68.

August 17
Gary “Chicken” Hirsh / (Gary Hirsh) → Drummer on the first four albums by legendary psych-rock Country Joe and The Fish and at their immortal appearance at Woodstock ’69, played on their lone charting single “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” (#98, 1967) and the anthemic Vietnam protest song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” (1967), left the band in late-1969 for a Bohemian lifestyle as a painter, art shop owner/manager, t-shirt printer and collaborator in jazz and folk/skiffle bands as well as occasional stints with a reformed Country Joe Band, died from unstated causes on 8/17/2021, age 81.

August 20
Tom T. Hall / (Thomas Hall) → Grammy-winning country music songwriter known as the “Storyteller” for his deep and inciteful lyrics, wrote 12 Country #1 hits, including the crossover “Harper Valley P.T.A.” for Jeannie C. Riley (#1, Country #1, 1968) and, as a solo artist, recorded 21 Country Top 10 hits, including “I Love” (#12, Country #1, 1973), later in life transitioned to bluegrass music and was inducted in 2018 with his wife Dixie Hall into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, died at home from undisclosed causes on 8/20/2021, age 85.

August 21
Don Everly / (Isaac Donald Everly) → Older brother of Phil and one-half of the influential, close-harmony Nashville folk-rock duo The Everly Brothers, released 58 charting singles, nearly 30 of them Top 40 hits, and seven crossover Country/Pop Top 10 hits, including the enduring “Wake Up Little Suzie” (#1, Country #1, 1957) and “All I Have To D Is Dream” (#1, Country #1, 1958), most of their success coming before a stint in the Marine Corps starting in late-1961 and the British Invasion in 1964, pursued a mildly successful solo career in 1973-1984, rejoined Phil for recording and touring, including backing vocals on Paul Simon‘s “Graceland” (#81, Main #38, 1986), performed solo following Phil‘s death in 2014 and died at his Nashville home from unspecified causes on 8/21/2021, age 84.

August 22
Brian Travers / (Brian David Travers) → Saxophonist, arranger, lyricist and founding member of multiracial reggae-pop UB40 (“Red Red Wine,” #34, UK #1, 1984 and #1, UK #1, 1988)) and 15 other UK Top 10 hits, stayed with one offshoot of the band after it splintered in 2008 and remained active until a diagnosis of brain cancer in 2019, died from the disease on 8/22/2021, age 62.
Eric Wagner → Heavy metal lead vocalist and co-founder of doom metal pioneers Trouble, left in 1997 for a decade of solo work and collaborations, including an appearance in Dave Grohl‘s heavy metal side project Probot in 2004, rejoined Trouble for a seventh album in 2007 and left again shortly after, fronted metal bands The Skull and Blackfinger in the 00s, died of complications from COVID-19 on 8/22/2021, age 62.

August 24
Fritz McIntyre → British keyboardist best known as a founding member (1985) of soul-pop Simply Red (“Holding Back The Years,” #1, UK #1, 1986) and co-writer with Mick Huffnall of several of the bands songs before leaving in 1995 for a solo pop album, a Christian music album released in Canada, and a later career as the music director for a Florida church, died from undisclosed causes on 8/24/2021, age 62.
Charlie Watts / (Charles Robert Watts) → Unassuming, pop-icon-eschewing, jazz-rooted, dapper-dressed drummer for early British blues-rock Blues Incorporated and then, for over 50 years from 1963, the essential rhythm behind pop-rock’s greatest band ever, The Rolling Stones (“Honky Tonk Woman,” #1, 1969 and 11 other US and/or UK #1 hits), inarguably one of rock’s greatest drummers of all time, celebrated for his wide breadth of rhythms supporting superstar band leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, over the years variously fronted boogie-woogie Rocket 88 and several incarnations of jazz-rock the Charlie Watts Band while breeding Arabian horses on his English farm, reported to have had a “successful” heart procedure but died three weeks later on 8/24/2021, age 80.

August 29
Lee “Scratch” Perry / (Rainford Hugh Perry) → Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and pioneer in the development of the “dub” subgenre of reggae music as well as hip hop and dance music, fronted the Upsetters on 17 albums from 1969 to 1978 before releasing dozens of solo albums, mentored and produced Bob Marley & The Wailers, Junior Murvin, The Heptones and others, worked with The Clash, Paul and Linda McCartney, the Beastie Boys, among many others, all while performing in a carefully cultivated image of a pot-smoking, alien-breeding madman with a four track tape recorder, became a national treasure in Jamaica and received an Order of Distinction award, appeared in several documentary films, performed and recorded until his death in a Jamaica hospital following an undisclosed illness on 8/29/2021, age 85.
Ron Bushy → Drummer for hugely-important, proto-metal 60’s psych-rock Iron Butterfly and the only bandmember to play on all of the band’s six albums, forever immortalized for his long drum solo during the 17-minute, major rock classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (#30, 1970), played with Iron Butterfly for over 40 years and issued several solo albums during his career, died after losing a battle with esophageal cancer on 08/29/2021, age 75.

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