On the Stairway to Heaven: Notable Deaths in March 2020

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We note with sadness the February 2020 passings 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 epiodemic.

Deaths this week:

March 04
Barbara Martin / (Barbara Diane Martin Richardson) → Original member of The Supremes in 1960-1962, sang background vocals and an occasional second lead next to Diana Ross in the group’s formative days, including on many tracks on their debut album, Meet The Supremes (1962) but is not pictured with Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson on the cover as she left the group in early 1962 for a pregnancy, later earned a degree in psychology and started a career in mental health services, died from undisclosed causes on 3/4/2020, age 76.

March 06
McCoy Tyner / (Alfred McCoy Tyner) → National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master and Grammy-winning acoustic jazz pianist, key member of John Coltrane‘s influential 60s quartet and renowned solo artist with over 70 well-regarded acoustic jazz albums released over nearly 50 years, also appeared as a sideman on dozens of albums by many modern jazz greats, Milt Jackson, Stanley Turrentine and Wayne Shorter among them, died from unspecified causes on 3/6/2020, age 81.

March 07
Jim Owen → Country-pop singer and songwriter with multiple songs recorded by others, including “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” (Country #1, 1973) by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, most famous for turning an infatuation for his idol, Hank Williams Sr., into a career impersonating the legend on stage and screen through a variety of tribute concerts and broadcasts, including an Emmy for the 1980 film Hank Williams:The Man And His Music and a nationwide 10-hour radio show on New Year’s Day 1985, continued to write and perform in Branson, MO theaters until a few years before his death from undisclosed causes on 3/7/2020, age 78.
Keith Olsen / (Keith Alan Olsen) → Bass guitarist for one hit wonder garage rock quintet The Music Machine (“Talk Talk,” #15, 1966), turned to production and sound engineering in the 70s, produced the album Buckingham Nicks (#28, 1973) for Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, later introduced them to Mick Fleetwood and produced the eponymous Fleetwood Mac (#1, 1975), followed by more than 100 albums and dozens of awards for records by Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead, Eddie Money, Whitesnake and many others over a 20 year career, in the 90s moved into sound equipment product development and manufacturing and served on industry trade groups, died from cardiac arrest on 3/9/2020, age 74.
“Little Charlie” Baty / (Charles Baty) → Electric blues guitarist and co-founder of blues-rock/swing revival Little Charlie & The Nightcats in 1976, spent over 30 years with the band, released nine albums on Alligator Records between 1987 and 2008 and 14 in total, developed a widely-acclaimed virtuosity with his broad repertoire and manic style, semi-retired in 2008 but continued to perform with the Nightcats at festivals and in collaborations with others, including the Golden State/Lone Star Revue and Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, died unexpectedly from a heart attack on 3/7/2020, age 66.

March 09
Eric Taylor → Americana, folk and blues singer and evocative, literary songwriter whose works were covered by Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and others, issued nine well-received albums and garnered accolades from critics and peers such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt but never achieved mainstream success, died from liver disease on 3/9/2020, age 70.

March 14
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge / (Neil Andrew Megson) → Controversial, anti-establishment, contrarian, gender-neutral English performing artist and songwriter, co-founder and lead signer of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle from 1975-1981 and frontperson for experimental band Psychic TV from 1981-1991, relocated to New York City in the early 90s following false accusations of child sexual abuse, married and began an attempt to unite as a “pandrogyne”, or single entity, with he/r wife, Jacqueline “Lady Jaye” Breyer, through surgery so as to physically resemble one another, retired from music in 2009 to focus on he/r avant-garde painting and sculpting but continued to record and tour in Psychic TV reunions, with whom s/he ultimately released over 100 albums, died from leukemia on 3/14/2020, age 70.

March 16
Jason Rainey → Co-founder and rhythm guitarist for heavy metal Sacred Reich, one of the leading bands in the second wave of thrash metal music during the late 80s, played and toured as a key member of the group from 1985 to their 2000 break-up, rejoined in 2006 but replaced for medical reasons before their 2019 comeback album Awakening was recorded, died from a heart attack on 3/16/2020, age 53.

March 20
Kenny Rogers / (Kenneth Ray Rogers) → Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and hugely successful country-pop crossover star with dozens of pop and country Top 10 hits, including a pair of double-#1s, “Lady” (#1, Country #1, 1980) and “Islands In The Stream” (#1, Country #1, 1983), started as a solo artist in the 50s, joined folk-revival The New Christy Minstrels (“Green, Green,” #14, 1963) in the mid-60s, co-founded and fronted country-pop The First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” #6, 1969) from 1967-1976, resumed his solo career and scored nine Top 10 pop and 17 #1 country hits, starred in films (Six Pack, 1982) and the 1980-1994 TV series based on his signature song, “The Gambler” (#16, Country #1, 1978), co-founded a chain of fast-food restaurants, recorded and performed until retiring for health reasons in 2017, died from complications related to the COVID-19 virus on 3/20/2020, age 81.
Jerry Slick / (Gerald Slick) → Aspiring filmmaker, rock drummer, first husband of singer Grace Slick and co-founding member of San Francisco 60s acid rock The Great Society, the group recorded dozens of songs but released only one single, “Someone To Love” (1965) during their brief existence which ended in 1966 when Grace left to join Jefferson Airplane (and release the re-titled “Somebody To Love” (#5, 1967)), joined psych-rock The Final Solution for a brief stint before re-focusing on filmmaking, divorced Grace and won a Clio award in 1971 for an advertisement recruiting San Francisco police officers, died from undisclosed causes on 3/19/2020, age 80.

March 22
Eric Weissberg → Multi-instrumentalist bluegrass musician as a member of folk-pop The Tarriers (“The Banana Boat Song,” #4, 1956) in the 50s and as a sessionman in the 60s, recorded with Judy Collins, John Denver, Bob Dylan and others, famously arranged and played the banjo solo on a version of Arthur Smith‘s “Dueling Banjos” in the film Deliverance (1972) and on the follow-on single (#2, Country #5, 1973) in his own name, toured as a bandleader and recorded as a session player through the 00s, died in a nursing home from Alzheimer’s disease on 3/22/2020, age 80.
Julie Felix / (Julie Ann Felix) → American-born folk singer who relocated to London and became, for a time, “Britain’s first lady of folk,” a successful performer, TV personality, fixture on the London hippie/folk scene and the first solo folk artist signed to a major British record label (Decca, 1964), issued 22 solo albums and several charting singles (“If I Could (El Cóndor Pasa),” UK #19, 1970), appeared regularly on BBC television with the satirist David Frost before hosting her own show, Once More with Felix, on BBC Two from 1967 to 1970, performed at the first Isle Of Wight Festival (1969), released her final album in 2018 and performed at festivals until just prior to her death following a brief illness on 3/22/2020, age 81.

March 24
Bill Rieflin / (William Frederick Rieflin) → Multi-instrumentalist, primarily drums and percussion, in a range of bands over a 40-year career, including local Seattle rock bands in the 70s, industrial/metal Ministry in the 80s, the Pigface artists collective and German industrial/techno KMFDM in the 90s, indie rock R.E.M. in the 00s and prog rock King Crimson for several stints in the 10s, along the way recording his own solo albums and participating in various music side projects, died after a nine-year bout with unspecified cancer on 3/24/2020, age 59.
Manu Dibango / (Emmanuel N’Djoké Dibango) → Cameroonian saxophonist and bandleader best known for his international disco-funk “Soul Makossa” (#35, R&B #21, 1973), with lyrics in the native language Duala, that was covered nearly 20 times and adapted on dozens of songs Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Black Eyed Peas and others, also widely acclaimed for collaborations with others and over 70 albums released during a 50-year career, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 3/24/2020, age 86.

March 28
Jan Howard / (Lula Grace Johnson) → Twice-divorced mother of three who met and married country music songwriter Harlan Howard in 1957 and began a singing career by recording demo tapes for other artists, eventually becoming one of the pioneering women in country music in the 1960s, released 17 studio albums with 22 charting singles (“Evil On Your Mind,” Country #5, 1966) over a four-decade career, plus four Country Top 10 duets with Bill Anderson (“For Loving You,” Country #1, 1967), largely retired from recording in the 1980s, wrote her autobiography and continued to appear as a cast member at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville into her 80s, died from pneumonia on 3/28/2020, age 91.

March 29
Alan Merrill / (Allan Preston Sachs) → American musician, singer and actor best known for co-writing and recording the first version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” (1975), his career starting as a teen pop idol in Japan with a hit single (“Namida (Teardrops),” 1971), as a model in commercials and as a Tokyo TV host, formed Japanese-American glam-rock Vodka Collins (“Sands Of Time,” 1972) but relocated to London during a contract dispute and founded pop-rock Arrows, who recorded “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” (not promoted by the RAK record label and thus did not chart) plus “Touch Too Much” (UK #8, 1974) and two other UK Top 40 singles, after Arrows disbanded in 1977 returned to recording and performing in Japan with Vodka Collins reunions and in the US and UK with Arrows, issued fifteen solo albums from 1985 through 2019, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 3/29/2020, age 69.
Joe Diffie / (Joe Logan Diffie) → Country and crossover pop singer and guitarist with 33 charting singles – fifteen of them Country Top 10 hits with five Country #1s – during country music’s resurgence in the 90s and early 00s, including his most successful, “Pickup Man” (#60, Country #1, 1994), wrote songs for others such as Tim McGraw (“Memory Lane,” Country #60, 1993) and Jo Dee Messina (“My Give a Damn’s Busted,” #63, Country #1, 2005), won a Grammy for best country collaboration with several other superstars for “Same Old Train” (1998), issued his 14th studio album, Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie! (2019) before dying from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 3/29/2020, age 61.