On the Stairway to Heaven: Notable Deaths in April 2020


We note with sadness the April 2020 passing of these contributors to rock and pop music of the 60s, 70s and 80s – the BEST music ever made! Several were victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 1
Ellis Marsalis / (Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr.) → Famed New Orleans jazz pianist and patriarch of the Marsalis family of jazz musicians, which includes nationally-recognized sons Branford (saxophone) and Wynton (trumpet), performed and recorded for decades and inspired others in the revival of traditional jazz in the late 20th century, along the way earned a master’s degree in music education, mentored high school students through the jazz studies program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and won a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Award, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 4/1/2020, age 85.

Adam Schlesinger / (Adam Lyons Schlesinger) → Chief songwriter, guitarist and vocalist in power pop Fountains Of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom,” #21, 2003), indie pop Ivy and supergroup Tinted Windows, enjoyed a second career writing songs for TV, theater and film soundtracks, including Academy Award-nominated “That Thing You Do” (#41, 1996) from the movie of the same name, and producing for The Monkees, Robert Plant, They Might Be Giants and others, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus at the peak of his career on 4/1/2020, age 52.

April 04
Alex Harvey / (Thomas Alexander Harvey) → Occasional R&B/country-pop crossover artist best known as a songwriter with a master’s degree in music and two hits recorded by others, “Reuben James” (Kenny Rogers, Top 30, 1969) and “Delta Dawn” (Tanya Tucker, Country #6, 1972 and Helen Reddy, #1, 1973), the two were among dozens of songs given to others to record that sold over 50 million copies worldwide, enjoyed a second career as a actor in films and the TV programs Walker, Texas Ranger, Dallas, and The Dukes of Hazzard, among others, died from unspecified causes on 4/4/2020, age 73.

April 7
Steve Farmer / (Steven Orville Farmer) → Second guitarist and songwriter with 60s one hit wonder The Amboy Dukes, co-wrote with frontman Ted Nugent 22 songs for the group, including the psych-rock anthem “Journey To The Center Of Your Mind” (#16, 1968), continued to write and record for decades until his death from unspecified coronary issues on 4/7/2020, age 71.

John Prine → Highly-influential, revered folk and country-rock singer, literary songwriter and guitarist, wrote dozens of acclaimed and oft-covered songs that chronicled Americana, social issues, love and life, including the melancholy “Sam Stone” and the now folk standard “Angel From Montgomery,” both from his debut album, John Prine (1971), won Grammy awards for albums The Missing Years (1992) and Fair & Square (2005), survived two bouts of cancer – squamous cell (1998) and lung (2013) but succumbed to complications of the COVID-19 virus on 4/7/2020, age 73.

Hal Willner → Music producer for film, TV and live events over a 40 year career, working on albums for Leon Redbone, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams and others, known most prominently as the sketch music producer for venerable TV variety show Saturday Night Live from 1980 until his death from symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 virus on 4/7/2020, age 64.

April 12
Jerry Hludzik / (Jerry G. Ludzik) → Bass guitarist and singer in Northeast Pennsylvania pop-rock The Buoys, whose sole single was a cover of Rupert Holmes‘ “Timothy” (#17, 1970), left with his Buoys co-founder Bill Kelly to start melodic rock Dakota, despite opening for glam-rock Queen on tour in 1980-81 and studio backing by horn-rock Chicago‘s Bill Champlin and Robert Lamm, the band never took off and disbanded in 1987, thereafter spent the 90s and 00s as a staff writer for MCA Records in Nashville and recording three albums using the Dakota name, reunited with Kelly and other former bandmates to issue a new Dakota album, Long Road Home (2015), died from early-onset dementia on 4/12/2020, age 68.

April 15
Eddie Cooley / (Edward James Cooley) → R&B singer and songwriter, co-wrote “Fever” in 1956 and enjoyed royalties from dozens of recordings of the song over the decades, including Peggy Lee (#8, UK #5, 1958) and Madonna (#6, Dance/Club #1, 1993), as frontman for R&B girl-trio backing group The Dimples scored a rockabilly hit with “Priscilla” (#20, 1956), stopped touring and recording by 1960 but wrote several minor hits for others through the early 60s, thereafter disappeared from music and died from undisclosed causes on his 87th birthday, 4/15/2020.

Gary McSpadden → Gospel and Christian music baritone singer in numerous vocal groups in the 60s, including The Oak Ridge Boys and The Imperials, left music to pastor a Texas ministry in 1967, over the ensuing decades divided time among preaching, hosting gospel music programs on TV, singing in the Bill Gaither Trio and writing as part of the Gaither songwriting team, producing albums for others and issuing sixteen of his own, died from a stroke while suffering from pancreatic cancer on 4/15/2020, age 77.

April 17
Barney Ales / (Baldassare Ales) → Rising-star sales manager in 1950s Detroit for Warner Bros. Records, left to join fledgling, black-owned Motown Records and was instrumental in bringing white teenagers to the label in the 60s, when Motown left for L.A. in 1972, stayed and formed his own label but sold it to Motown and rejoined in 1975, serving as President in the late 70s, later worked with Elton John‘s Rocket Records and other jazz and R&B labels, died from undisclosed causes on 4/17/2020, age 85.

Matthew Seligman → Bass guitarist with 70s neo-psych-pop The Soft Boys and in short stints with 80s synth-pop Thompson Twins (“Hold Me Now,” #3, UK #4, 1983) and Thomas Dolby (“Hyperactive,” #62, UK #17, 1984), in the later 80s and 90s became a successful session bassist for Sinead O’Connor, David Bowie (Live Air 1985), Tori Amos and others, earned a law degree in the 90s and practiced as a human rights and personal injury lawyer until his death from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 4/17/2020, age 64.

April 19
Ian Whitcomb / (Ian Tomothy Whitcomb) → → One hit wonder Brit singer/songwriter with the vaudevillian, British Invasion “You Turn Me On” (#8, 1965), later authored After The Ball (1972) and other books on pop music history, wrote for magazines and newspapers, recorded soundtracks and albums of varying genres from ragtime to music hall, wrote and starred in documentaries for BBC-TV and other outlets, and performed on stage and as a radio DJ through to his death from complications of a 2012 stroke on 4/19/2020, age 78.

April 24
Hamilton Bohannon / (Hamilton Frederick Bohannon) → Drummer, bandleader, producer and one of the leading figures in the rise of 70s disco/dance music, worked and toured with Stevie Wonder and other Motown acts in his early years, joined Dakar/Brunswick Records in 1972 and began releasing his own funk and R&B albums, perfected the thudding baseline and heavy rhythms of disco and went on to record and produce numerous dance-pop hits, including his own “Let’s Start The Dance” (R&B #9, 1978), issued a final album 1990 and spent the next decades producing for others, writing books and hearing modern hip hop acts sample his work, died from unrevealed causes on 4/24/2020, age 78.

March 27
Harold Reid / (Harold Wilson Reid) → Bass vocals, songwriter and de facto leader of country-gospel-pop crossover harmony quartet The Statler Brothers (Grammy-winning “Flowers On The Wall,” #4, Country #2, 1965), the group was a force on the country charts for 25 years with 32 Country Top 10 singles between 1965 and 1989 – he and his younger brother, Don, were the only brothers in the group and no one was named Statler – retired after the band’s 38th studio album and farewell tour in 2002, died of kidney failure on 4/24/2020, age 80.

March 28
Bobby Lewis / (Robert Alan Lewis) → R&B and rock ‘n’ roll singer known for his signature hit “Tossin’ And Turnin'” (#1, R&B #1, 1961) and a second Top 10 hit in “One Track Mind” (#9, 1961) but faded from the limelight thereafter, continued to perform over the next 40-plus years despite failing eyesight, died on 4/28/2020, age 95.


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