On the Stairway to Heaven: Notable Deaths in December 2020

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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:


December 04
Kenny Jeremiah / (Kenneth Scott Jeremiah) → Original member and lead vocals for one hit wonder Philly blue-eyed soul vocal group The Soul Survivors (“Expressway To Your Heart,” #4, R&B #3, 1967), after break-up in 1970 continued to perform on the oldies circuit and recorded “Shame Shame Shame” (#12, R&B #1, 1975) with disco group Shirley & Company, appeared in occasional Soul Survivors reunions in the 00s and 10s, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 12/4/2020, age 78.

December 07
Howard Wales / (Howard David Wales) → Rock keyboardist and session musician for James Brown, Muddy Waters and others, best known for his contribution to The Grateful Dead album American Beauty and work with Jerry Garcia on Hooterroll? (1972), released eight solo albums over 40 years, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in late November 2020 and died on 12/7/20, age 77.

December 09
Jason Slater → Founding member, first bass guitarist and backing vocalist for alt rock Third Eye Blind, left in 1994 after one year and before the band’s megahit debut album, founded several other rock bands including Snake River Conspiracy and produced four albums for heavy metal Queensrÿch in the 00s and 10s, died from liver failure on 12/9/2020, age 49.

December 12
Charley Pride / (Charley Frank Pride) → Son of Mississippi sharecropper and semi-pro baseball player who became the most successful African-American country music star ever, releasing 36 number one hits among 65 charting singles, including the crossover “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'” (#21, AC #7, Country #1, 1971), awarded a lifetime Grammy in 2017, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 12/12/2020, age 86.

December 16
Carl Mann → Child prodigy rockabilly singer and pianist, issued several non-charting singles as a young teen, then became “The Last Son of Sun” when signed to a contract at the legendary Sun Records in the waning years of the label’s influence on rock ‘n’ roll’s development, released a rockabilly cover of Nat King Cole‘s “Mona Lisa” (#25, R&B #24, 1959) at age sixteen but never had another hit in the Top 40, disappeared from the music industry in the 60s but occasionally reappeared over the decades, touring Europe during the 70s rockabilly revival, accepting induction into the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2006 and performed sporadically in Las Vegas and Nashville until his death from unspecified causes on 12/16/2020, age 78.

December 19
Pelle Alsing → Drummer in Swedish pop duet Roxette‘s backing band from the group’s founding in 1986 through their first five albums and “It Must Have Been Love” (#1, SWE #6, 1990), one of several US Top 40 hits during his tenure, returned for recording stints and tours through 2019, during intervals performed with Lisa Nilsson, Niklas Strömstedt and Ulf Lundell, among others, died from unspecified causes on 12/19/2020, age 60.
Dieter Horns → German bass guitarist, backing vocalist and founding member of hard rock/proto-metal Lucifer’s Friend in two stints, 1970-1982 and 2014-2020, the band had minimal commercial impact but became a major cult force in early progressive rock and doom metal, in between performed and recorded with multiple German and European rock acts, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 12/19/2020, age 76.

December 20
Chad Stuart / (David Stuart Chadwick) → Vocals and guitar with Jeremy Clyde in 60s strings-backed, British Invasion light folk-pop duo Chad & Jeremy, scored seven US Top 40 hits in less than four years, including “A Summer Song” (#7, 1964) before breaking up and fading into obscurity, resurfaced on the oldies circuit in the 80s and reunited again in the 00s to tour and record until his death from pneumonia on 12/20/2020, age 79.

December 21
K.T. Oslin / (Kay Toinette Oslin) → Bit-part Broadway theater actress and advertising jingle singer who enjoyed a later career as a Grammy-winning country singer and songwriter with a repertoire sung mostly to baby boomer women entering their mid-lives, released seven Country Top 10 hits among 25 charting singles, including the neo-feminist, anthemic “80s Ladies” (Country #7, 1987), the first written by a women to earn song of the year honors from the Country Music Association, following quadruple heart bypass surgery in 1995 recorded only sporadically into the 10s with her last album, Simply (2015) coming before the onset of Parkinson’s disease which, along with a positive COVID-19 test, caused her death on 12/21/202, age 78.

December 22
Leslie West / (Leslie Weinstein) → Power chord guitarist and founding member of New York blue-eyed soul The Vagrants scoring two Northeast regional 60s hits, then joined guitarist/producer Felix Pappalardi to create pioneering hard rock/proto metal Mountain (“Mississippi Queen” #21, 1970), reformed in 1973 as power trio West, Bruce & Laing with Mountain bandmate Corky Laing and childhood rock idol, Cream bassist Jack Bruce, fronted various Mountain reincarnations until dying from cardiac arrest on 12/22/2020, age 75.

December 25
Tony Rice / (David Anthony Rice) → Renowned and influential folk, bluegrass and progressive bluegrass acoustic “flatpicking” guitarist, especially in the modern “new grass” sound he is widely credited with forging, first with the band J. D. Crowe And The New South on their eponymous debut album (1975) and later through various collaborations with Ricky Scaggs, Béla Fleck, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Norman Blake, among others, and two albums with elder brother Larry and younger brothers Wyatt and Ronnie, also fronted his own bands and issued several solo albums of acoustic jazz, folk and bluegrass music, lost his singing voice in 1994 to a disorder known as muscle tension dysphonia and ceased playing guitars in 2013 after lateral epicondylitis (“tennis elbow”) made playing painful, died from unspecified causes on Christmas Day, 12/25/2020, age 69.

December 29
Claude Bolling → French child prodigy jazz pianist and composer, by age 14 performing professionally with Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson, later collaborated with numerous artists to bridge the classical and jazz genres, including violinist Pinchas Zukerman, cellist Yo Yo Ma and others, best known in North America for his crossover album with classical flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Grammy-nominated, million-selling Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano Trio (1975), which remained on the Billboard classical Top 40 for a record 530 weeks, or just over ten years, also scripted music for over 100 motion pictures, To Catch a Spy (1971) and The Awakening (1980) among them, died from undisclosed causes on 12/29/2020, age 90.
Phyllis McGuire / (Phyllis Jean McGuire) → Youngest and last surviving of the immensely popular sibling close-harmony trio the McGuire Sisters, their 50s wholesome act produced nineteen Top 40 singles, including “Sincerely” (#1, 1955) and “Sugartime” (#1, 1958) during the early rock ‘n’ roll years, appeared on “Your Hit Parade” and other national TV variety programs, disbanded in 1968 when the group was reportedly blacklisted for her romantic ties to mobster Sam Giancana, reunited with her sisters in 1986 and performed on Las Vegas, New York and Atlantic City stages for two more decades, lived in a lavish Las Vegas mansion until her death from natural causes on 12/29/2020, age 89.

December 30
Alto Reed / (Thomas Neal Cartmell) → Rock saxophonist and 42-year member of Bob Seger‘s Silver Bullet Band, recognized for the intro to “Turn The Page” (non-charting, 1972) and the solo in “Old Time Rock And Roll” (#28, 1979), also performed and recorded with The Blues Brothers, Little Feat, Dave Mason, The Ventures and dozens of other top acts worldwide over a 50-year career, died from colon cancer on 12/30/2020, age 72.

December 31
Alexi Laiho / (Markku Uula Aleksi Laih) → Founding member and frontman for top-tier Finnish metal band Children Of Bodom, which released eight Finland Top 10 hits from 1998 to 2011, including “Blooddrunk” (FIN #1, UK #8, 2008) from the album of the same name (#22, FIN #1, 2008), one of five albums that charted in the US, ranked #96 out of 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time by Guitar World magazine (2004), participated in various side projects and collaborations in the 00s and 10s, reformed the band as Bodom After Midnight in 2019, suffered from a “long-term illness” and died on 12/31/2020, age 41.

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