On the Stairway to Heaven: Notable Deaths in September 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:

September 02
Ian Mitchell → Seventeen-year-old bass guitarist for tartan-clad Scottish pre-punk, teen-pop Bay City Rollers, replaced founding member Alan Longmuir in 1976 as the first bandmember not born in Scotland, left after a nine-month stint and several hits at the end of the band’s peak, including the cover of “I Only Want To Be With You” (#12, UK #4, 1976), returned to his native Northern Ireland and co-founded pop-rock Rosetta Stone, the Ian Mitchell Band and La Rox, none of which were successful beyond Ireland, announced he had throat cancer and died from undisclosed causes less than two months later on 9/2/2020, age 62.

September 03
Bill Pursell / (William Whitney Pursell) → Classically-trained pianist, composer and one hit wonder pop musician, served in the U.S. Air Force Band during World War II then performed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, taught at Tennessee State and Vanderbilt universities and worked as a session pianist in Nashville studios in the 50s, released the surprise instrumental piano hit “Our Winter Love” (#9, Easy #4, R&B #20, 1962) but subsequent singles met with little success, continued in the 60s and 70s as a “countrypolitan” session musician and arranger for Patsy Cline, Johnny Paycheck and Willie Nelson, among others until returning to academia in 1980 and teaching at Belmont University in Nashville to 2017, contracted the COVID-19 virus and died from resulting pneumonia on 9/3/2020, age 94.

September 06
Bruce Williamson / (Bruce Alan Williamson, Jr.) → Child gospel vocal prodigy, journeyman R&B and soul singer on the Las Vegas nightclub circuit in the 80s and 90s joined soul giants The Temptations in 2007, sang lead vocals on two albums and on the oldies circuit until leaving in 2015, contracted the COVID-19 virus and died from complications of pneumonia on 9/2/2020, age 79.

September 08
Simeon Coxe / (Simeon Oliver Coxe III) → Singer, songwriter, inventor and one half of the 60s psychedelic electronic music duo Silver Apples, their minimalist, droning and repetitive music produced on a drum kit and a home-built collection of oscillators was among the first to employ electronics in rock and pop music and a precursor to synth-pop music of the 80s, released two albums and became a brief fixture in the New York City underground music scene before breaking up in 1968, reformed in the 90s and continued as a solo act after the death of his partner Danny Taylor in 2005, died from pulmonary fibrosis on 9/8/2020, age 82.

September 09
Ronald “Khalis” Bell / (Ronald Nathan Bell) → With his brother Robert “Kool” Bell and five other, co-founding member, saxophonist, co-songwriter and singer for jazz-fusion then R&B/funk Kool & The Gang, “Jungle Boogie” (#4, R&B #2, 1973) plus nearly 30 other R&B Top 10 singles in the 1970s and 80s, including the enduring, wedding party standard “Celebration” (#1, R&B #1, 1980), continued to perform and record with his band until a sudden death from undisclosed causes on 9/9/2020, age 68.

September 11
Toots Hibbert / (Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert) → Six-decade performing artist, frontman for The Maytals and one of a select few who brought reggae music to a global stage, defining the fundamental blend of American jazz and soul with traditional Jamaican folk/mento music and socially-conscious lyrics over upbeat tempos, often labelled the “Father of Reggae” and first to use the term in a record on “Do The Reggay” (1968) but never achieved the recognition afforded to Bob Marley and other peers, continued to record and tour extensively until 2013 when a fan tossed a bottle on stage that caused a concussion, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 9/11/2020, age 77.

September 12
Edna Wright → Mid-60s back-up singer for Ray Charles, the Righteous Brothers and Cher, in 1968 formed a trio with friends to sing in a one-off performance in an Andy Williams TV special, signed to Holland-Dozier-Holland‘s Hot Wax Records and became R&B girl group Honey Cone with four Top 40 hits in the early 70s, including “Want Ads” (#1, R&B #1, 1971), recorded a solo album in 1977 and returned to back-up singing for U2, Kim Carnes, Aaron Neville and her sister Darlene Love, suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and died following a heart attack on 9/12/2020, age 72.

September 16
Roy C / (Roy Charles Hammond) → Southern soul singer starting as tenor vocal for 50s R&B vocal group The Genies (“Who’s That Knocking’,” #72, 1958), went into military service but reappeared in 1965 with the risqué, sexually-charged novelty hit “Shotgun Wedding” (R&B #14, UK #6, 1965), his outspoken social and political views created recording career hurdles in the late 60s but hooked with unknown teenage boyband The Honey Drippers and recorded the anti-Nixon funky protest song “Impeach The President” (1973), an oft-sampled gem now recognized as an integral track in early hip hop music of the 80s, died from liver cancer on 9/16/2020, age 81.

September 18
Georgia Dobbins / (Georgia Dobbins Davis) → Founding member and original lead singer for teenage R&B girl group The Marvelettes, reworked an obscure blues song for use in a Motown Records audition for the fledging group (then known as the Marvels), after additional flourishes by several other writers, the song became “Please Mr. Postman” (#1, 1961), the group’s signature song and the first Motown single to reach Number 1 on the Billboard pop chart, thus launching the label’s hugely successful run in the 60s, left the group after the audition to obey her father’s demand that she stay out the music industry, spent the remainder of her life playing down her contribution to pop culture until outed by the writer of a 2005 Marvelettes retrospective theater play, died from cardiac arrest on 9/18/2020, age 78.
Pam Hutchinson / (Pamela Rose Hutchinson) → Temporarily replaced her older sister Jeanette in R&B/soul-disco sister trio The Emotions just as the group was shifting record labels and teaming up with producer Maurice White in the early 70s, the successful collaboration netted four charting albums and four R&B Top 10 hits, among them the Grammy-winning “Best Of My Love” (#1, R&B #1, 1977) and “Boogie Wonderland” (#6, R&B #2, 1979) with White‘s Earth, Wind & Fire, recorded backing vocals for other artists after break-up in 1980 and became a permanent member in 1990 when the group reformed as a quintet, suffered from unspecified health issues for several years and died on 9/18/2020, age 61.

September 19
“The Bear” Kerslake / (Lee Kerslake) → Hard rock drummer and backing vocals on ten albums for the mid-70s line-up of prog/hard rock Uriah Heep, “Easy Livin'” (#39, 1972), “Easy Livin'” (#39, 1972), after 1978 played on Ozzy Osbourne‘s Blizzard Of Ozz (1980) and Diary Of A Madman (1981) but received no credit and no royalties, losing a lawsuit against Osbourne for recovery, rejoined a new Heep lineup in 1982 and stayed through 2007, all the while playing in various side gigs and hard rock collaborations, announced he had advanced prostate cancer in 2018 and died from the disease on 9/19/2020, age 74.

September 21
Tommy DeVito / (Gaetano DeVito) → Founding member, guitarist and baritone vocals for 50s R&B vocal group The Variatones, which became The Four Lovers in 1956 and, from 1960, Top 40 pop vocal quartet The Four Seasons, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (#1, 1962) and over three dozen other charting hits, left in 1971 and sold his stake in the group to cover gambling and tax debts, worked odd jobs through the 80s then rejoined the group for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1990 and at the 2005 opening of Tony Award-winning documentary-style musical Jersey Boys chronicling the group’s early days, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on 9/21/2020, age 92.
Roy Head / (Roy Kent Head) → Dynamic, eccentric country and rock musician with the one hit wonder blue-eyed soul single “Treat Her Right” (#2, R&B #2, 1965) and a stage presence envied and copied by many later rock and rollers, especially for his smooth moonwalks, effortless ground flops, microphone twirls and other acrobatic antics, recorded through the 80s with 25 charting country singles, performed on the oldies circuit into the 00s, died from a heart attack after years of poor health on 9/21/2020, age 79.

September 23
“Fluke” Holland / (W.S. Holland) → Legendary country and rock ‘n’ roll drummer, joined Carl Perkins‘ band in 1954 and played on the original recording of the rockabilly classic “Blue Suede Shoes” (#1, Country #2, R&B #3, 1956) and at the famous 1956 impromptu jam session at Sun Records studios with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Perkins dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet, moved to Cash‘s backing band in 1960, providing the backbeat on every Man in Black record for nearly 40 years, along the way appearing with Cash on Bob Dylan‘s LP, Nashville Skyline (1969), died at home from undisclosed causes on 9/23/2020, age 85.

September 24
Bill McEuen / (William Eugene McEuen) → Music and film producer known for managing the affairs of his younger brother John‘s country-folk-bluegrass-rock The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (“Mr. Bojangles,” #9, 1971), co-writing eight songs, producing several albums – including Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1972), the milestone collection of country and bluegrass songs by NGDB and other artists – and brokering their State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union in 1977, later aided the rise of high school chum Steve Martin by producing four comedy albums and the novelty song “King Tut” (#17, 1978), partnered with Martin in the Aspen Film Society, which produced ten comedy films between 1977 and 1990, including Martin vehicles The Jerk (1979) and The Man with Two Brains (1983), died from undisclosed causes on 9/24/2020, age 79.
Max Merritt / (Maxwell James Merritt) → New Zealand-born, blue eyed soul singer and frontman for The Meteors, charted eight singles in Australia and New Zealand during the 60s and 70s, including a cover of the Jerry Butler soul song “Hey, Western Union Man” (AUS #15, 1969) and the self-penned, signature R&B ballad “Slippin’ Away” (AUS #2, NWZ #5, 1975), relocated to London in 1971, Nashville in 1977 and subsequently Los Angeles but continued to tour Australia and New Zealand regularly through the 00s, died from complications of a rare autoimmune disease on 9/24/2020, age 79.

September 26
Jimmy Winston / (James Edward Winston Langwith) → Original keyboard player for Brit raunch/psych-pop-rock The Small Faces (“Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” CAN #20, UK #14, 1965), appeared on their first two albums and on tracks released after leaving in late 1965 for a brief and nominal solo career and roles on stage in the 1968 musical Hair and on TV on the 1972 Doctor Who serial Day of the Daleks, otherwise lived a life in obscurity outside the entertainment world and died from undisclosed causes on 9/26/2020, age 75.

September 29
Helen Reddy / (Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy) → The “Queen of 70s Pop,” Australian light pop/adult contemporary singer with eleven Top 20 hits in the 70s including the Grammy-winning, feminist anthem “I Am Woman” (#1, Adult #1, 1971), enjoyed a long and diverse second career in films – Airport 1975 (1974), Pete’s Dragon (1977) and others – plus on stage and in TV programs through the 90s, suffered from Addison’s disease and dementia in later years and died on 9/29/2020, age 78.
Mac Davis / (Morris Mac Davis) → 60s songwriter and session guitarist for Nancy Sinatra, wrote “In The Ghetto” (#3, 1969) and “Don’t Cry Daddy” (#6, 1970) for Elvis Presley before becoming a countrypolitan pop-rock crossover star in the 70s with 15 two-chart singles, including “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” (#1, Country #26, 1972), also appeared in films and TV programs through the 2000s, often as the host of his own variety music specials, underwent heart surgery and died shortly thereafter on 9/29/2020, age 78.
Rocco Prestia / (Francis Rocco Prestia Jr.) → Electric bass guitarist and master of the “fingerstyle funk” technique that suited him well for nearly 30 years as the bassist for R&B/funk Tower of Power (“What Is Hip,” #91, R&B #39, 1978) and on all of their albums except for a break in the 80s, fell ill and underwent a successful liver transplant in 2007, died from degenerative liver disease on 9/29/2020, age 70.


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