From The Temptations to The Ventures, Gospel to rock, standards to hip hop… more notable musicians and music icons have gone on to that great gig in the sky. Here’s a round-up of musicians who have died in 2018.
Avicii (Tim Bergling), 28
DJ, songwriter, and record producer — died 4/20/18 by self-inflicted cuts
DJ Avicii took his name from a Buddhist term that means “the lowest level of Buddhist hell,” in which those who have committed gross misdeeds while alive can be reborn. He apparently chose the name because his real name, Tim Bergling, had already been taken on MySpace when the young producer was first creating music in 2007. His early efforts producing music and posting tracks earned him recognition in the growing EDM culture, leading to his being signed in 2010 to EMI Music Publishing. 2011’s “Levels” was his breakthrough single, and his 2012 collaboration with Pierre David Guetta (“Sunshine”) earned him a Grammy nomination. Not afraid to experiment with unconventional genres and collaborators, Pure, Avicii’s 2013 release, features collaborations with Aloe Blacc, Adam Lambert, and Nile Rodgers, and 2014’s Stories saw the young producer working with the likes of Zac Brown and Wyclef Jean. 2014 also saw the release of “A Sky Full of Stars,” a collaboration with Coldplay’s Chris Martin. In 2016, Avicii announced he was retiring from live performances, citing health issues — he had acute pancreatitis in 2012 and his his appendix and gall bladder removed in 2014. Early in 2018, he announced he was working on a third album, but died suddenly in Oman. It was later revealed by his family that Avicii had a difficult time dealing with “meaning, life, and happiness,” and that his death was a result of blood loss due to self-inflicted cuts made by a broken bottle. [Photo by The Perfect World Foundation (CC BY 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.]
Rick Hall, 85
Producer, songwriter, musician, and music publisher — died 1/2/18 after battling prostate cancer
Known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” Rick Hall endured a youth marked by poverty and emotional hardship, with his mother leaving his family when he was four, and his father and young bride both dying in 1957 in a two-week span. A guitarist and mandolin player, Hall found himself playing in country bands before staking a claim as a songwriter and producer in the quiet town of Florence, AL. In the ’50s, Hall’s early songs were recorded by George Jones (“Achin’, Breakin’ Heart”), Brenda Lee (“She’ll Never Know”), and Roy Orbison (“Sweet and Innocent”). In the early ’60s, it was his work as a producer on Arthur Alexander’s gold record, “You Better Move On,” that allowed Hall to invest and build his legendary FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) recording studio on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. For anyone who always wondered what Lynyrd Skynyrd meant by “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers” in the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” the Swampers (aka Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) were Hall’s house band at FAME Studios, who ultimately left and opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in 1969. Coincidentally, Hall’s first FAME house band did the same thing years earlier, opening a studio in Nashville, TN. Even with the exodus of studio players, FAME Studios thrived, notably because Hall embraced black artists and the burgeoning R&B movement, working with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. But artists like Duane Allman, Donnie and Marie Osmond, Paul Anka, and Tom Jones were also staples of FAME Studios, as Hall’s songwriting and publishing staff became a country music hit machine that maintained relevance into the 2010’s with artists like The Dixie Chicks, Kenny Chesney, and Tim McGraw recording albums there. Hall was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2014. [Photo by Carol M. Highsmith (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons]
Dennis Edwards, 74
R&B singer, best known as the lead of The Temptations — died 2/1/18 while being hospitalized for meningitis
Born in Alabama, Dennis Edwards showed an affinity for singing at the age of two and became the choir director of the church for which his father was the pastor in Detroit, MI. He studied at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, and briefly started his own jazz/R&B group, Dennis Edwards and the Fireballs, before signing to Motown Records and taking the frontman position in The Contours. The Contours toured with The Temptations in the late ’60s, which caught the attention of the group as they began considering replacing singer David Ruffin, who was becoming unreliable. Between 1968 and 1989, Edwards fronted the band (on and off), and is featured on a number of the groups hits, including “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Edwards did have some success as a solo artist in the late ’80s, and in the ’90s and beyond, Edwards performed with “The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards,” which was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. [Photo by Bernie Ilson, Inc. (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons]
Dolores O’Riordan, 46
Singer, songwriter with The Cranberries — died 1/15/18 of unreported causes
When Dolores O’Riordan auditioned to replace the singer for the Cranberry Saw Us in Limerick, Ireland, she came with lyrical and melodic ideas for the song “Linger,” and wisely the band hired her there and then. That song, along with “Dreams,” is featured on (the renamed) The Cranberries’ 1993 debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? An international hit, the album went double platinum, bolstered by the band’s touring with The The and Suede and “Linger” gaining momentum as an MTV staple. The Cranberries followed up with an even more popular sophomore effort, 1994’s No Need to Argue, which featured the harder-edged hit, “Zombie.” O’Riordan, who struggled with anorexia and anxiety as The Cranberries were at the height of their renown, had her sights on a solo career as The Cranberries lost steam at the turn of the century, and she released two solo albums, Are You Listening (2007) and No Baggage (2009). The mother of three, O’Riordan was diagnosed as bipolar in 2014 after admissions of trying to overdose on pills, head-butting a police officer, and canceling a tour due to back problems. She made it through, and in 2016, she released Science Agrees as part of a New York-based synth-pop trio D.A.R.K. But at the time of her death, O’Riordan was in London, preparing to record a new album with The Cranberries amidst talk of a tour, while also trying to wrap up a second D.A.R.K. album. She was found dead in her hotel room, and while no cause of death has been released, police say they are not treating it as suspicious. [Photo by Nat Ch Villa (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons]
Edwin Hawkins, 74
Gospel singer — died 1/15/18 of pancreatic cancer
Best known for the crossover and entirely surprising hit, “Oh Happy Day,” Edwin Hawkins was steeped in gospel and church music, joining his church choir in Oakland, CA when he was five and graduating to being the pianist in his family’s gospel group when he was seven. In 1967, Hawkins co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir, and in 1968, they recorded and released Let Us Go Into The House of the Lord, which featured “Oh Happy Day.” By the spring of 1969, thanks to play on FM stations in California and around the country, the song went on to sell a staggering seven million copies and won a 1970 Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance (the group was at this point called The Edwin Hawkins Singers). While Hawkins never matched the widespread popularity of that first single, he did continue to record and scored another three Grammy Awards: Best Soul Gospel Performance for “Every Man Wants to Be Free” (1971), Best Soul Gospel Performance, Contemporary for “Wonderful!” (1977), and Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album (1993).
Eddie Clarke, 67
Guitarist with Motorhead and Fastway — died 1/10/18
After playing guitar in numerous bands trying to get a record contract, “Fast” Eddie Clarke had given up on the music industry in the mid-’70s. But when drummer Phil Taylor suggested he audition for Motörhead, who was looking to expand to a two-guitar outfit, Clarke picked up his axe and gave it a go. Larry Wallis, who was playing guitar with the band at the time, quit on the spot, and Motörhead continued as a trio. That configuration — Lemmy Kilmister, Taylor, and Clarke — has gone down in history as the “classic” Motörhead line-up, recording Motörhead (1977), Overkill (1979), Bomber (1979), Ace of Spades (1980), No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981), and Iron Fist (1982). After a disastrous effort with The Plasmatics (Stand By Your Man EP), Clarke left Motörhead — though he claims he was ousted — and formed Fastway. Clarke also released two solo efforts, It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over (1994) and Make My Day: Back To Blues (2014).
Mark E. Smith, 60
Singer, songwriter with The Fall — died 1/24/18 after battling lung and kidney cancer
Taking their name from a book by Albert Camus, Mark E. Smith is the only constant member of Manchester, England’s cult post-punk band, The Fall. Formed in 1976, the band had 60 musicians come and go, released 32 studio albums, and lasted 42 years, right up to Smith’s death. Inspired by the likes of Captain Beefheart and The Sex Pistols, The Fall’s music changed, predominantly due to the ever-changing line-up of musicians. While widely influential, Smith was notoriously difficult to work with, and apparently wasn’t easy to be married to, either, as he was married and divorced three times (all three of his wives were involved with the band in some capacity). A heavy drinker, smoker, and periodic drug user, Smith performed numerous times in a wheelchair, including multiple shows in 2017 leading up to his death. [Photo by samsaundersleeds (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons]
John Morris, 95
Film/TV/Broadway composer, conductor, and concert pianist — died 1/25/18 following complications from a respiratory infection
John Morris’ list of composition credits is long and includes numerous stage productions and movie soundtracks. In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Morris helped compose dance numbers and incidental music for a number of shows, producing his own musical, A Time for Singing in 1966. His more prominent work came via the silver screen, particularly his work with Mel Brooks, for which Morris composed songs and music for 20 of Brooks’ massive filmography. Highlights include his arrangement for “Springtime for Hitler,” Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. [Photo by Cerys Handschumacher (CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikimedia Commons]
Pat Torpey, 58
Drummer, known best for his work with Mr. Big — died 2/7/18 from complications from Parkinson’s disease
From the start, Pat Torpey constantly caught the eye (ear) of performers who were billed with him, which kept him climbing the ladder up to his gig with the ridiculously talented musicians in Mr. Big. From his early work on American Bandstand, Torpey played with John Parr in 1985 (“St. Elmo’s Fire”), which led to a gig with Belinda Carlisle. Carlisle opened for Robert Plant on her first tour, and when Plant’s drummer was injured, Plant tapped him to join his tour. Around the same time, he had been asked to join The Knack, after the band’s drummer had left, but his most enduring contributions are with the recorded (and live) discography with Mr. Big. Formed in the late ’80s, Mr. Big featured Paul Gilbert on guitar, Billy Sheehan on bass, Eric Martin on vocals, and Torpey’s powerful, intricate drumming. The band scored hits early on, though the shifting musical landscape limited the band’s appeal in the US. The band’s success in Japan never waned, and Mr. Big continued to perform and release albums here and abroad, including 2017’s Defying Gravity.
John Perry Barlow, 70
Lyricist (Grateful Dead) — died 2/7/18 in his sleep
Poet, essayist, and founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, John Perry Barlow was known as a Technolibertarian focused on minimizing government regulation, censorship, and anything in the way of a “free” World Wide Web. He also was good friends with The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, whom he met when he was 15, and is credited with introducing Weir and his band to Timothy Leary in the early ’70s. Barlow co-wrote a number of songs with Weir for Weir’s solo projects, and is credited on nearly 30 Dead songs between 1971-1995, including “I Need A Miracle,” “Estimated Prophet,” “Throwing Stones,” and “The Music Never Stopped.” [Photo by Mohamed Nanabhay from Qatar (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons]
Weslia Whitfield, 70
Jazz and cabaret singer — died 2/9/18 of complications of bladder cancer
Trained as a coloratura soprano — an operatic soprano specialized in singing agile runs, leaps, and trills — Weslia Whitfield was more enamored with music that focused on the story the lyric had to tell and was drawn to standards. The story goes that in the early years of her career she would sneak off after a classical performance to moonlight in piano bars. Tragically, in 1977 in San Francisco, Whitfield was randomly shot by a young boy, the bullet striking her spine and paralyzing her from the waist down. She returned to music soon afterward, meeting pianist Mike Greensill in 1981. Greensill became her pianist and arranger, and then her husband in 1986. The duo has released 16 albums since then, mostly of classics and standards by the like of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and a host of contemporary and classic artists.
Patrick Doyle, 32
Guitarist, bassist, drummer, songwriter — died 3/3/18 of undisclosed causes
Patrick Doyle, Scottish indie-pop multi-instrumentalist who played with an astonishing array of bands, died March 3rd, though little information is available regarding his death. His brief career has a long history, including playing bass with Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson in Correcto, who released one album; forming Veronica Falls in 2009, playing drums and singing on the band’s two releases; playing guitar in his first indie pop band, the Royal We; then forming Sexy Kids, who had one release in 2008; and finally forming his “own” band, Boys Forever, multi-tracking all the parts for the 2016 eponymous release before putting a live band together.
Craig Mack, 46
Rapper, producer — died 3/12/18 of undisclosed causes
Craig Mack’s Project: Funk Da World was the first release on Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy label, and with the success of the single “Flava In Ya Ear,” Mack scored a platinum hit that cracked the top 10 on the pop charts and hit number one on the rap and dance charts. But as the Notorious B.I.G. was the next Bad Boy artist to soar to new heights, Mack and Combs’ relationship was strained, and three years later, when Mack returned with Operation: Get Down, enough time had elapsed that he was sidelined and never released another album. He apparently had a religious conversion after his rap career stalled, and reports of a religious rap video (“Praise The Lord”) featuring Mack are online.
Matt Dike, 56
Producer, founder of Delicious Vinyl — died mid-January 2018 of salivary gland cancer
Matt Dike, who founded the Delicious Vinyl label after relocating from New York City to Los Angeles, had a part to play in rap’s acceptance by mainstream audiences. Known for his massive record collection, from which he would pick samples, it was Dike who helped craft Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina,” both of which relied on guitar samples from rock hits. Dike also produced Young MC’s “Bust A Move,” and The Beastie Boy’s critical (and popular) Paul’s Boutique was largely recorded in Dike’s apartment. Dike left the label in 1992.
Nokie Edwards, 82
Guitarist of The Ventures — died 3/12/18 after complications after hip surgery
Incredibly, between their 1960 debut, Walk Don’t Run, and 1972, the instrumental surf-guitar quartet The Ventures had 28 albums hit the Billboard 200 and 14 songs reach the Billboard Hot 100, including their two biggest singles, “Walk Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O.” The band continued recording and playing well into the current century, though they stopped charting in the US in the early ’70s, and the original members had either retired from the band or had permanently retired by the mid-’90s. Even after their heyday in the US, the band’s popularity continued into the ’80s in Japan, led by the lead guitar playing of Nokie Edwards. Edwards began his life in the band as the bassist, but in 1962, he and guitarist Bob Bogle swapped instruments, and Edwards took over lead guitar duties. Edwards left the band in 1968 to pursue a solo career, but was back in the late ’70s before leaving again in 1984. Edwards list of solo releases is no less impressive, just the sheer number of albums credited to him is incredible, and his influence over guitarists — not to mention the cultural influence the band had in the ’60s — makes Edwards and The Ventures true pioneers in popular music. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. [Photo by Dumontierc (CC BY-SA 3.0) from Wikimedia Commons]
Russ Solomon, 92
Founder of Tower Records — died 3/4/18 while drinking whiskey and watching the Academy Awards
Established in 1960, Tower Records was the one-stop shop to buy CDs, cassettes, DVDs, electronics, video games, and more. Russ Solomon built the empire from his father’s Tower Cut Rate Drug Store, opening a store in San Francisco in 1960, Los Angeles in 1970, and then 26 new locations around the US by 1980. In 2006, Tower ceased its retail operations, though Solomon attempted a reboot, christening his original store in Sacramento “R5 Records.” Three years later, that store was sold to Dimple Records, which currently has six stores in the Sacramento area.
Daryle Singletary, 46
Country music singer, guitarist — died 2/12/18 of undisclosed causes
The way his bio reads, you don’t get a more quintessential Country-music story than Daryle Singletary’s. Born in Georgia to working-class parents, Singletary started singing gospel music before he got the itch to be a Country-music star — so he picked up and moved to Nashville, TN. He performed in open mic nights and landed a gig singing demos, one of which made its way to Randy Travis, who took the song (“An Old Pair Of Shoes”) and recommended Singletary to his management team. Singletary then went on to release a self-titled album in 1995, which produced two big hits, “Too Much Fun” and “I Let Her Lie.” Between 1996 and 2017, Singletary released seven more records, including a couple of “covers-only” efforts and a duet album, American Grandstand, with Rhonda Vincent. [Photo by Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA (CC BY 2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]
Lovebug Starski, 57
Pioneering rapper — died February 2018
According to his Wikipedia entry, Lovebug Starski “could” be the first person to use the term “hip hop.” Whether that’s true or not, no one doubts Starski’s early involvement in the genre, rapping over the music he played DJing around the Bronx. He released a single, “Positive Life,” in 1981, and released a full-length LP, House Rocker, in 1896. [Photo by Majikonline (CC BY-SA 4), from Wikimedia Commons]
Bob Dorough, 94
Bebop jazz pianist, vocalist, and composer — died 4/23/18
While perhaps under-appreciated for his vocalese ability and innovative music and recordings, Bob Dorough influenced, inspired, and indeed taught a generation of American children through his contributions to the Schoolhouse Rock! videos that aired on ABC in the ’70s and ’80s. Dorough composed and performed on many of the recordings, including “Three Is A Magic Number,” “Conjunction Junction,” “My Hero, Zero,” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.” But Dorough got the Schoolhouse Rock! gig as he was a legend in jazz circles, which started with his stints in New York City and Paris playing the club circuit, and with his first recording, Devil May Care, released in 1956. Though his releases were sporadic, he managed to release over 20 albums between 1956 and 2015, when the Bob Dorough Trio released But for Now when the performer was in his nineties.
Scott Hutchinson, 36
Singer, guitarist, songwriter for Frightened Rabbit — died 5/10/18
Born in Selkirk, Scotland, Scott Hutchinson started a band with his brother Grant and friend Billy Kennedy in 2004, and soon after forming, released a well-received indie rock album called Sing The Greys. Naming themselves Frightened Rabbit, a nickname Hutchinson’s mother had given him given his shy nature as a child, the band’s third album, 2010’s The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, saw the group expand to a quintet and expand their audience as its critical and popular appeal grew. In all, Frightened Rabbit released five studio albums, and Hutchinson also released a solo effort, Owl John, and another with his “indie supergroup,” Mastersystem. Hutchinson’s depression was not exactly a secret, it infiltrated his lyrics and music, and when he disappeared in Scotland soon after returning from a tour of North America and the UK, his bandmates sent messages on social media asking for anyone with knowledge of his whereabouts. His body was found two days after his disappearance, and the band released a statement stating that Hutchinson’s “absence will always be felt but he leaves a legacy of hope, kindness and colour that will forever be remembered and shared.” Photo by Jester Jay Goldman (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons.
Randy Scruggs, 64
Country songwriter, guitarist, and producer — died 4/17/18 after a short illness
The middle son of the country legend Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs worked with a host of artists in a career that twice earned him “Musician of the Year” at the Country Music Association Awards (1999, 2003) as well as four Grammy Awards — all for best Country instrumental, in 1990, 1999, 2002, and 2005. His solo album, 1998’s Crown of Jewels, featured Scruggs as a producer, arranger, and songwriter as much as a performer (he plays on every track), featuring notable artists like Emmylou Harris, Joan Osborne, Iris Dement, Travis Tritt, and Bruce Hornsby.
Ahmed Janka Nabay, 54
Bubu music pioneer — died 4/2/18 of a stomach ailment
A musician from Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, Janka Nabay was the “King of bubu,” an ancient folk style of music from his country that features as many as 20 musicians blowing into bamboo pipes of various sizes. Nabay was not only a star as a musician in his native country, he became a political force, which eventually necessitated his fleeing to the US and landing in Philadelphia, PA. He ended up in New York City a decade later and formed The Bubu Gang, eventually inking a deal with David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, on which he released En Yay Sah (2012) and Build Music (2017). He died in his native Sierra Leone, when visiting for the first time in 15 years.
Cecil Taylor, 89
Pianist, poet, free jazz pioneer — died 4/5/18 in his home
A truly distinctive voice on piano, Cecil Taylor was a free jazz composer, performer, and improvisationist whose approach to the instrument often had people likening his style to playing a set of “88 tuned drums.” Starting his solo career in the ’50s, Taylor’s unconventional approach often had him swimming upstream as he waited for music critics and listeners to catch up to the sounds he was making. His career hit a groove in the ’70s, which included a performance in Jimmy Carter’s White House, and Taylor released an impressive number of albums over a career that stretched from 1956 to 2010.
Images sourced from Shutterstock (editorial use only), Wikipedia commons, or from album cover art.