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.
Marshall Grant, 83, on Aug. 7.
The man behind the Man in Black in some ways, Grant was Johnny Cash’s road manager and bass player for decades and was key in the early development of Cash’s musical style.
Wade Mainer, 104, on Sept. 12.
He brought an added tunefulness to the banjo by inventing a two-finger picking style and was crucial in linking old-time country to bluegrass.
Bert Jansch, 67, on Oct. 5.
From his ‘60s folk revivalism to his 2000s collaborations with the likes of Devendra Banhart, the acoustic guitarist was an inspiration to countless and was included in Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Pop Through the Years
Jean Dinning, 86, on Feb. 22.
It was intended as a joke, a parody of a brief teen-death-song craze – but “Teen Angel,” which Dinning co-wrote in 1959 and got her brother Mark Dinning to sing, became a surprise smash with lasting power: Sha Na Na performed it at Woodstock, and it was revived in the 1973 film American Graffiti.
Rob Grill, 67, on July 11.
The Grass Roots may have been nameless and faceless popsters, but as their lead singer, Grill lent a strong voice to a dozen or so gold singles, including the Top 10 smash “Midnight Confessions.”
Dan Peek, 60, on July 24.
As one-third of America, he gave us such soft-rock staples as “Lonely People” and “Today’s the Day” before moving on to contemporary Christian music.
Roger Williams, 87, on Oct. 8.
A major figure in easy-listening piano balladry, Williams scored with light fare like the falling-arpeggios-laden “Autumn Leaves” and the title theme from Born Free.
Paul Leka, 68, on Oct. 12.
Best known as the writer of the sports-arena staple “Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye,” Leka also penned another one-hit-wonder No. 1 — the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine” — and produced several Harry Chapin albums.
Andrea True, 68, on Nov. 7.
Born Andrea Truden, the actress and pop singer worked in the adult-film industry before breaking through with the alluring 1976 disco smash “More, More, More,” which was later sampled by the band Len on its Top 10 hit “Steal My Sunshine.”
Scorers and Other Performers
John Barry, 77, on Jan. 30.
Orchestral swells and other big, kicky moments punctuated the 11 scores Barry created for James Bond films, including Diamonds Are Forever; he also scored The Knack … and How to Get It, Born Free, Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves on his way to five Oscars and four Grammys.
George Shearing, 91, on Feb. 14.
The jazz standard “Lullaby of Birdland” was penned by Shearing, a blind pianist of worldwide renown who was further immortalized in a passage in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road describing his band’s live performance.
David Mason, 85, on April 29.
With a piccolo trumpet, the classical musician elevated the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” from McCartney confection to pop perfection; along with appearing on other Fab Four recordings, he was featured in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia for years.
Fred Steiner, 88, on June 23.
The prolific Steiner composed dozens of famous themes for TV and film, including the Perry Mason and Bullwinkle Show themes and the score for The Color Purple.
Producers and Other Nonperformers
Don Kirshner, 77, on Jan. 17.
Known as the Man with the Golden Ear for his ability to spot a hit song in a haystack, Kirshner, a successful publisher of Brill Building songcraft, supplied the Monkees with many of their early songs and woodenly hosted (as rendered immortally by Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live during the Blues Brothers days) the mid-’70s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
Stan Ross, 82, on March 11.
A producer and engineer with scores of hits to his credit, Ross co-founded the Gold Star recording studio, near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, where Phil Spector installed his famed Wall of Sound; the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album was among the many important recordings made there.
Roger Nichols, 66, on April 9.
Not many studio soldiers could have handled working with the exacting Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, but Nichols was more than up to the task, earning a half-dozen Grammys for his engineering of Steely Dan’s masterly later albums.
Randy Wood, 94, on April 9.
As the founder of Dot Records, Wood distributed white covers of 1950s R&B songs, like Pat Boone’s airless take on Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” that gave exposure to the black artists who initially recorded while stealing some of their thunder.
Joseph Brooks, 73, on May 22.
A songwriter and producer, he lit up your life; he gave you hope to carry on; he committed suicide after being accused of deviant misuse of the casting couch.
John Carter, 65, on May 10.
The lyricist of the psych-rock classic “Incense and Peppermints,” Carter had a long career in scouting and developing talent and played a key A&R role in reviving Tina Turner’s career with her Private Dancer album.
Martin Rushent, 62, on June 4.
Bringing advanced synthesizers and technologies to the studio, Rushent crafted a massive, pioneering hit for the Human League in “Don’t You Want Me”; he also produced records for the Buzzcocks and numerous other British bands.
Robert Whitaker, 71, on Sept. 20.
The celebrated photographer is notorious for shooting the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album cover, which featured them as butchers amid chunks of dismembered dolls; it was quickly recalled and has since become a collector’s item.
Barry Feinstein, 80, on Oct. 20.
The longtime chronicler of rock shot hundreds of album-cover photos, most notable among them Janis Joplin’s Pearl, Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.