Along with the widely observed deaths of Amy Winehouse and Gil Scott-Heron, a number of lesser-known musical figures passed away in 2011. They didn’t get as much recognition, perhaps, but they made valuable contributions to popular music. Here, 50 of the latest members in that band in the sky:
Rhythm & Blues Mainstays
Steve Mancha, 65, on Jan. 8.
An unfamiliar name to all but the most devoted of Northern Soul fans, Mancha (born Clyde Wilson) sang lead on two funky Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned smashes in 1970-71: with 100 Proof Aged in Soul on “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and with 8th Day on “She’s Not Just Another Woman.”
Gladys Horton, 66, on Jan. 26.
She sang lead on Motown’s very first No. 1 pop hit – “Please Mr. Postman” – as a member of the Marvelettes, with whom she also sang on such tracks as “Don’t Mess with Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.”
Bernard St. Clair Lee, 66, on March 8.
With a sparkly headband he wore onstage to reflect his partial Blackfoot roots, Lee cut a memorable figure as one-third of the Hues Corporation, famed for their 1974 No. 1 hit “Rock the Boat.”
Ray Bryant, 79, on June 2.
A jazz pianist and composer who worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and countless others at Philadelphia’s Blue Note club, Bryant is perhaps best known for the eminently danceable “Madison Time.”
Carl Gardner, 83, on June 12.
“Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown” were just a few of the Coasters songs founding member Gardner sang lead on; he kept the Hall of Fame vocal group alive for decades even as other outfits toured as “the Coasters.”
Fonce Mizell, 68, on July 5.
The Jackson 5’s first hits – “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” – were written and produced by Mizell and three others known together as the Corporation; he later produced A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”
Jerry Ragovoy, 80, on July 13.
As R&B writer-producers go, he was one of the best, coaxing inimitable performances out of Lorraine Ellison (“Stay with Me”), Howard Tate (“Get It While You Can”) and Garnet Mimms (“Cry Baby”); Janis Joplin was a big fan, memorably covering the latter two songs as well as his “Piece of My Heart.”
Gene McDaniels, 76, on July 29.
The multifaceted singer and songwriter had his own smash with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” before writing hits for others: Roberta Flack’s “Feel like Makin’ Love,” Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ “Compared to What?” and the oft covered “Before You Accuse Me.”
Wardell Quezergue, 81, on Sept. 6.
The “Creole Beethoven,” as Allen Toussaint once dubbed him, arranged a slew of New Orleans R&B hits, including the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” and “Iko Iko,” King Floyd’s “Groove Me” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.”
Marv Tarplin, 70, on Sept. 30.
An underrated member of the Miracles, Tarplin co-wrote several of their hits with Smokey Robinson, and his guitar riffs were crucial to such songs as their “Going to a Go-Go” and “Tracks of My Tears” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.”
Howard Tate, 72, on Dec. 2.
With a falsetto that made him a favorite of songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy, who supplied him with the defining “Look at Granny Run, Run” and “Get It While You Can,” Tate dusted the edges of the pop and R&B charts in the late 1960s before succumbing to drug abuse; after a period of homelessness, he reunited with Ragovoy in the early 2000s and recorded several albums, including 2003’s Grammy-nominated Rediscovered.
Hubert Sumlin, 80, on Dec. 4.
The Chicago blues man was Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist for many years; his incendiary work on such tracks as “Smokestack Lightning” placed him in Rolling Stone’s recent poll-driven list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Dobie Gray, 71, on Dec. 6.
Born Lawrence Darrow Brown, the singer was best known for “Drift Away,” the hopeful Mentor Williams song he took to No. 5 in 1973; a 2003 version he performed as a duet with Uncle Kracker topped the Adult Contemporary chart for a record 28 weeks.
Gerry Rafferty, 63, on Jan. 4.
The Scottish singer-songwriter fronted Stealers Wheel on the tune “Stuck in the Middle with You” and scored massive hits on his own with the world-weary “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line.”
Gary Moore, 58, on Feb. 6.
A bluesman from Belfast, Moore played guitar off and on with the rambunctious rockers Thin Lizzy and was highly influential on the ‘80s generation of metal guitarists.
Mike Starr, 44, on March 8.
Substance abuse had already claimed one member of ’90s grunge stars Alice in Chains (lead singer Layne Staley in 2002), and in 2011 they took another, as bassist Starr, who had appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew a year earlier, overdosed on prescription drugs.
Gerard Smith, 36, on April 20.
The bassist for critically acclaimed Brooklyn experimental rock band TV on the Radio passed away after a battle with lung cancer.
Poly Styrene, 53, on April 25.
A true nonconformist, the former Marianne Joan Elliot-Said formed the punk-rock band X-Ray Spex and was a central figure in the ’70s British punk scene.
Andrew Gold, 59, on June 3.
“Thank You for Being a Friend,” he declared, and millions of fans (and four Golden Girls) listened; besides writing that song, he was a much sought after studio musician in the ’70s, arranging and playing instruments for Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel and many others.
Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, 66, on June 16.
Talented but tortured, the paranoid-schizophrenic Fischer was discovered by Frank Zappa on the Sunset Strip and encouraged to let his outsider-artist freak flag fly; later, he was the subject of the documentary Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Wild Man Fischer.
Laurie Hoyt, 53, on Aug. 25.
As Laurie McAllister, she played bass for punk band the Runaways alongside Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Sandy West; she later played for another all-girl band, the Orchids.
George Green, 59, on Aug. 28.
The longtime friend of John Mellencamp collaborated with him for years on such songs as “Hurts So Good,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First).”
Joel “Taz” DiGregorio, 67, on Oct. 12.
For over 40 years he played keyboards with the Charlie Daniels Band, and he co-wrote their smash “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Cory Smoot, 34, on Nov. 3.
The last person to play the character Flattus Maximus in the garish, cartoonish metal band Gwar, Smoot, the group’s lead guitarist, died of a heart attack hours after a show.
Moogy Klingman, 61, on Nov. 15.
The keyboardist, whose name bore no relation to the Moog synth, played with Todd Rundgren in the band Utopia and co-wrote Bette Midler’s enduring theme “Friends.”
Figures in Country, Folk and Roots
Johnny Preston, 71, on March 4.
Written by J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson shortly before his death in the Buddy Holly plane crash, an intertribal-romance teen tragedy called “Running Bear” became a No. 1 hit for Preston, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Ferlin Husky, 85, on March 17.
A Country Music Hall of Famer, the rich-voiced Husky scored a 1957 crossover hit with the million-selling “Gone” (later revived by Joey Heatherton) amid his dozens of C&W charters.
Hazel Dickens, 75, on April 22.
A friend of Pete Seeger and a staple at the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Dickens was a widely respected women’s- and workers’-rights activist as well as folk and bluegrass performer.