On the Stairway to Heaven: Notable Deaths in October 2020


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:

October 06
Johnny Nash / (John Lester Nash, Jr.) → Texas-born soul-pop singer/songwriter with several minor hits in the early 60s and a chart-topper with the Jamaica-tinged, million-selling, self-penned “I Can See Clearly Now” (#1, 1972), a major component in the mainstreaming of reggae music in the US and Europe in the early 70s, which he nurtured through his record label, his music and his promotion of and production work for Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh and others, largely dropped out of sight by the mid-80s and died from natural causes after a long period of declining health on 10/2/2020, age 80.
Eddie Van Halen / (Edward Lodewijk Van Halen) → Dutch-born electric guitar virtuoso and member of the small pantheon of rock guitar gods, co-founder, energetic frontman, songwriter and vocals for hugely popular hard rock megastars Van Halen, “Jump” (#1, 1984), perfected the technique of tapping on the guitar frets with two hands, collaborated with other rock acts, created film scores with his brother Alex, recorded an uncredited guitar solo on Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It” (#1, 1983), patented three guitar accessory products and appeared in TV shows, once with his then-wife actress Valerie Bertanelli, died from throat and lung cancer on 10/6/2020, age 65.
Bunny Lee / (Edward O’Sullivan Lee) → Jamaican record “plugger” (promoter) turned producer and integral figure in the development of rocksteady music in Jamaica in the 60s, his creative efforts led to international popularity for mainstream or “roots” reggae and later sub-genres dub music and dancehall in the 70s, picked and promoted numerous acts that ultimately became early stars in the genre, including Delroy Wilson, King Tubby, Eric Donaldson (“Cherry, Oh Baby,” 1971) and dozens of others, died from respiratory failure on 10/6/2020, age 79.

October 07
Ray Pennington / (Ramon Daniel Pennington) → Country music singer, songwriter and record label executive with several minor hits in the 60s, best known for penning the classic “I’m A Ramblin’ Man” for himself (Country #29, 1967) and Waylon Jennings (#75, Country #1, 1974) and co-writing Ricky Skaggs‘ “Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown” (Country #1, 1983), co-founded Step One Records in 1984 and managed Ray Price, Clinton Gregory, The Kendalls and other acts through 1998, continued to record and perform as a solo action into the 90s and produce records for other acts into the 10s, died in a fire in his Tennessee garage on 10/7/2020, age 86.

October 08
Brian Locking → Bass guitarist for Brit beat The Shadows (“Foot Tapper,” UK #1, 1963) in 1962 and 1963, during which time he appeared alongside band frontman Cliff Richard in the film Summer Holiday (1963), left the band after 18 months to devote time to activities as a Jehovah’s Witness, occasionally touring with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and others and performing in Shadows reunions over the decades, suffered from Bell’s palsy and total blindness in his later years and died from a bladder tumor on 10/8/2020, age 81.

October 15
Dave Munden → Original member, drummer and frequent lead singer in British Invasion pop-rock The Tremeloes, “Silence Is Golden” (US #11, UK #1, 1967), recorded and toured with the band as the only constant member from 1958 through 2018 when he retired due to health concerns, died from undisclosed causes on 10/15/2020, age 77.
Gordon Haskell → Folk and jazz-pop singer/songwriter, starting with 60s Brit beat League Of Gentlemen and freakbeat The Fleur de Lys before a brief stint with prog rock King Crimson for two albums in 1970, then sessions and solo work through the 80s and 90s until the breakout single “How Wonderful You Are” (UK #2, 2001) and album, Harry’s Bar (UK #2, 2002) re-energized his career, issued four more acclaimed albums, including his final The Cat Who’s Got The Cream in January 2020 before dying of cancer on 10/15/2020, age 74.

October 16
Johnny Bush / (John Bush Shinn III) → Texas honky tonk and hardcore country singer and songwriter nicknamed the “Country Caruso” for his smooth, full-range vocals, played with Willie Nelson in Ray Price‘s early 60s backing band and in Nelson‘s band The Record Men, issued several solo albums in the 70s and charted four Country Top 20 hits including the classic he co-wrote, “Whiskey River” (Country #14, 1972, which later became Nelson‘s signature song and Country #12, 1978), suffered a rare neurological disorder in the mid-70s and lost most of his voice, recovered by 1986 and resumed his performing and recording careers, including appearances at Nelson’s annual 4th of July Picnic, died from pneumonia on 10/16/2020, age 85.

October 19
Tony Lewis → Lead singer and bassist for UK power pop band The Outfield (“Your Love,” #6, 1985) which he co-founded and led with bandmate John Spinks, releasing eight studio albums over three decades but with little attention outside the US in the mid-80s, following Spinks‘ death from cancer in 2014 started a solo career and a musical partnership with his lyricist wife Carol, issued a lone solo album in 2018 and died “suddenly and unexpectedly” from undisclosed causes on 10/20/2020, age 62.
Spencer Davis / (Spencer David Nelson Davies) → Welsh guitarist and leader of popular 60s British pop-rock The Spencer Davis Group with hits such as “Gimme Some Lovin'” (#7, UK #2, 1966) and “I’m A Man” (#10, UK #9, 1967) sung my bandmate Steve Winwood, struggled to keep the band relevant after Winwood left to form supergroup Traffic, became an A&R executive with Island Records in the 70s and promoted Eddie & The Hit Rods, Robert Palmer and Winwood‘s solo career, reformed SDG on two occasions and fronted several oldies acts through the years, died from pneumonia on 10/19/2020, age 81.

October 23
Jerry Jeff Walker / (Ronald Clyde Crosby) → Military dropout, 60s Greenwich Village busker and folk troubadour turned rough-and-tumble but highly influential and much-revered “outlaw country” senior statesman, relocated from New York to Texas after penning folk standard “Mr. Bojangles” in a drunk tank for himself (#77, 1968) and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (#9, 1971), fronted the Lost Gonzo Band and released nearly 40 albums through 2018, including the classic Texas country-rock, barroom-recorded ¡Viva Terlingua! with its anthemic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and “London Homesick Blues,” later the theme song to the famous TV music program Austin City Limits, formed his own record label and publishing company in the 80s and retreated to Belize when not performing in Texas dancehalls or mentoring younger musicians, died from throat cancer on 10/23/2020, age 78.

October 28
Billy Joe Shaver → Rough-cut, pioneering Texas “outlaw country” songwriter and guitarist with 17 mostly forgotten studio albums, the last of which was the only one to chart (Long In The Tooth, #157, Country #19, 2014), but whose whose legacy in outlaw country music is deep, including essentials “Georgia On A Fast Train,” “Live Forever” and “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” nine of the 10 songs on Waylon Jennings’ non-conformist breakthrough album Honky Tonk Heroes (#185, Country #14, 1973), and cover recordings by Bobby Bare, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Presley, suffered a heart attack on stage in 2001 but recovered to continue touring and recording until his death following a massive stroke on 10/28/2020, age 81.


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