2016 In Memoriam: Country Stars We Lost This Year
Friday, 30 December 2016
Merle Haggard and Joey Feek were among the country-music personalities who died in 2016.
As just this past week proved with the deaths of Carrie Fisher and George Michael, 2016 was a brutal year for the arts. And country music was not immune. The genre lost legendary performers, cornerstone songwriters and even young artists over the past year. We look back at the careers of some of the top country-music personalities who died in 2016.
Ralph Stanely was bluegrass music. A pioneer of the genre, along with old-timey Appalachian mountain music, the singer with the inimitable deep voice died on June 23rd at 89 after a bout with skin cancer.
Andrew Dorff was one of contemporary Nashville's most successful songwriters. As well as one of the town's most beloved figures – Twitter tributes poured in from Shelton, Martina McBride and the Cadillac Three's Jaren Johnston when Dorff passed at age 40 on December 19th.
Few singers plied hardcore honky-tonk music as their stock-in-trade longer and more effectively than Jean Shepard. A 60-year veteran of the Grand Ole Opry, Shepard, who died September 25th at age 82, specialized in gutsy, vibrant performances on record and on stage, and was one of the Opry's longest-serving members before retiring in November 2015.
Had Claude "Curly" Putman Jr. only penned the classic George Jones weeper "He Stopped Loving Her Today," his status as a songwriting icon would be cemented in country-music history. Adding to his renown, however, are the hugely successful "Green, Green Grass of Home" (a worldwide hit for Tom Jones, among many other artists) and Tammy Wynette's unforgettable "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." Putman died of congestive heart failure on October 30th, just three weeks short of his 86th birthday.
Holly Dunn, who released a string of memorable country singles in the late Eighties, died November 14th in Albuquerque, New Mexico, following a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 59. Dunn first found success as a songwriter, scoring a Top 10 hit with Louise Mandrell's "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet."
"Spread your arms and hold your breath, and always trust your cape," Guy Clark sang on "The Cape," his classic tale of finding vigor, hope and courage in the most ordinary of places. Until his death from cancer in May at 74, the Monahans, Texas, native brought this nuanced, visceral prose into his breed of Southern folksong and became one of country's most revered and treasured songwriters.
Although not as much of household name as the artist he helped launch into the stratosphere, Scotty Moore altered the course of American music forever. Best known as Elvis Presley's lead guitarist, Moore was instrumental in creating rock & roll. He played on Presley's first hit, "That's All Right (Mama)," as well as classics like "Heartbreak Hotel," "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Jailhouse Rock." Moore is credited with inventing power chords and forming the lead-guitarist archetype in rock music.
Born with a heart defect, Pete Huttlinger battled health problems throughout his life, balancing hospital stays with a career spent onstage and in the recording studio. As a country flatpicker and award-winning finger-style guitarist, he logged time in a number of bands, including the touring lineups for John Denver, LeAnn Rimes and Hall & Oates.
Blessed with a warm, heavenly voice and compassionate spirit, Joey Martin Feek waged a valiant battle with cervical cancer, shared in unflinchingly honest detail through husband-songwriter Rory Feek's cathartic blogging and filmmaking. Married in 2002, the couple released their debut LP as Joey + Rory in 2008, and were named the ACM's Top New Vocal Duo in 2010. While cancer took Joey's life March 4th at just 40 years old, the couple's love story has continued with Rory's heartbreaking yet inspirational documentary To Joey, With Love.
Merle Haggard, the "poet of the common man," was also a real-life outlaw. Born during the final years of the Great Depression, he turned an early predilection for crime into an otherworldly ability to write songs that spoke to the broke and brokenhearted, taking himself from the cells of San Quentin Prison to the top of the Billboard Country Charts. A road warrior for more than half a century, he was playing shows up until the month he entered the hospital with an ongoing case of double pneumonia, which claimed his life on April 6th.
In a tragedy that played out publicly via social media and news reports, the body of Backroad Anthem singer Craig Strickland was found January 4th in Oklahoma after more than a week of search and rescue efforts.
An unsung hero from the early days of Californian country-rock, songwriter Steve Young made his public debut with 1969's Rock Salt & Nails, an album that sported cameos from Gram Parsons and Gene Clark. e died March 17th.
Chips Moman was one of Memphis' most famed producers and songwriters, collaborating with legends like Willie Nelson, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley, for whom he produced "In the Ghetto." Born in LaGrange, Georgia, in 1937, Moman moved to Memphis as a teenager and, after a brief stint as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, returned to lend a hand in the founding of famed label Stax Records.Moman passed away June 13th in his hometown at the age of 79.
Determining how Alabama-born farm boy James Hugh Loden, whose first musical instrument was made from a molasses bucket, became country-pop superstar Sonny James is easy once you hear his dreamily sophisticated vocals on such hits as 1957's crossover smash "Young Love." He died February 22nd at age 87 of natural causes.
Born into the same family that produced the Louvin Brothers, John D. Loudermilk, a cousin to Ira and Charlie, kicked off his career as a rock & roller, releasing a string of solo albums for Columbia and RCA Victor. It was his work as a songwriter that left a bigger mark, though. He was still living in the outskirts of Nashville this past September, when he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 82.
This is only the tip of the iceberg but to all those country legends that we have lost this year RIP.