Classic Hits & Oldies

The Year in Music 2021: Charlie Watts, Dusty Hill, Mike Nesmith among the music greats we lost

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Jim Dyson/Getty Images; Phillip Massey/Getty Images; Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The music world said goodbye to many influential and beloved artists in 2021, including two Rock & Roll Hall Fame inductees who both spent more than a half century with their respective bands, and a singer and songwriter who came to fame as the member of a pop-rock group created for a 1960s TV show.

On August 24, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died at the age of 80. Watts played his first show with the band in February 1963 and went on to keep the beat for the British rock legends for more than 58 years. Shortly before his death, it was announced that Watts had undergone a medical procedure that would likely force him to miss the Stones planned 2021 U.S. tour. Veteran session drummer Steve Jordan was handpicked by Charlie to step in for him on the trek.

Less than a month before Watts’ death, on July 28, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away at his home in Houston at age 72. Hill joined the legendary Texas trio in 1970, shortly after the band’s formation. At the time of his death, Hill was forced to take a break from the band’s 50th anniversary tour to attend to a medical issue with his hip. ZZ Top’s longtime guitar tech, Elwood Francis, had been tapped to fill in for Dusty, and he’s has continued to play bass with the group.

On December 10, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees died of natural causes at age 78. Just a few weeks earlier, Nesmith had completed a farewell Monkees tour with the only other surviving member of the group, Micky Dolenz. Created as a fictional group for the hugely popular comedy series The Monkees, the band members wound up eventually contributing some original songs and playing instruments on some of their recordings. Both in and outside of The Monkees, Nesmith established himself as a respected artist who pioneered the country-rock genre.

Here’s a list many of the music figures who died in 2021, in chronological order:

Gerry Marsden — January 3 — Frontman of popular Liverpool, U.K., band Gerry and the Pacemakers. Died of a heart infection at age 78.

Michael Fonfara — January 8 — Keyboardist for The Electric Flag and Rhinoceros, also played on many Lou Reed albums. Died after a long battle with cancer at age 74.

Sylvain Sylvain — January 13 — Guitarist with the influential glam-punk band The New York Dolls. Died of cancer at age 69.

Tim Bogert — January 13 — Bassist with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and the supergroup Beck, Bogert & Appice. Died of cancer at age 76.

Stanley Wade — January 13 — Founding singer and bassist with disco/R&B group The Trammps. Died from complications of COVID-19.

Phil Spector — January 16 — Influential producer known for his “Wall of Sound” recording technique. Convicted of shooting and killing actress Lana Clarkson at his California mansion in 2003. Died of natural causes at age 81 while serving a 19-year prison sentence.

Hilton Valentine — January 29 — Founding guitarist of British Invasion group The Animals. Died at age 77.

Jim Weatherly — February 3 — Songwriter best known for writing some of Gladys Knight & the Pips‘ biggest hits, including “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Died of natural causes at age 77.

Mary Wilson — February 8 — Founding member of legendary Motown group The Supremes. Died of cardiovascular disease at age 76.

Chick Corea — February 9 — Acclaimed jazz keyboardist. Died of cancer at age 79.

James Burke — February 19 — Member of the soul group The Five Stairsteps. Died of pneumonia at age 70.

Gene Taylor — February 20 — Boogie-woogie piano player who played with Canned Heat, The Blasters, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and other artists. Died at age 68.

Bunny Wailer — March 2 — Reggae singer, last surviving founding member of the late Bob Marley‘s band The Wailers. Died of a stroke at age 73.

Alan Cartwright — March 4 — Bassist for Procol Harum from 1971 to 1976. Died of stomach cancer at age 75.

Michael Stanley — March 5 — popular heartland rocker from Cleveland. Died of lung cancer at age 72.

Malcolm Cecil — March 28 — British synthesizer pioneer who collaborated with Stevie Wonder on three of Wonder’s classic 1970s albums. Died after a long illness at age 84.

Morris “B.B.” Dickerson — April 2 — Original bassist of War. Died after a long illness at age 71.

Ralph Schuckett — April 4 — Former keyboardist with Todd Rungren’s Utopia, also played with the ’60s psychedelic groups Clear Light and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and on some of Carole King‘s early albums. Died at age 73.

Rusty Young — April 14 — Co-founder, singer and lap-steel guitarist with pioneering country-rock group Poco. Died of a heart attack at age 75.

Mike Mitchell — April 16 — Founding lead guitarist of legendary garage-rock band The Kingsmen, known for their classic cover of “Louie Louie.” Died on his 77th birthday.

Jim Steinman — April 19 — Songwriter known for his long association with Meat Loaf, also wrote memorable hits for Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply and Celine Dion. Died at age 73.

Les McKeown — April 20 — Lead singer of 1970s Scottish pop band The Bay City Rollers. Died suddenly at age 65.

Joe Long — April 21 — Played bass with The Four Seasons from 1965 to 1975. Died from complications of COVID at age 79.

Al Schmitt — April 26 — Grammy-winning studio engineer who worked on memorable albums by Steely Dan, Toto, Natalie Cole, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney and many others. Died at age 91.

Lloyd Price — May 2 — Influential R&B singer and songwriter whose hits included “Stagger Lee” and “Personality.” Died at age 88.

Pervis Staples — May 6 — Co-founding member of the lauded family gospel and soul group The Staple Singers. Died at age 85.

Roger Hawkins — May 20 — Drummer for famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section collective of session musicians, a.k.a. The Swampers, contributed to recordings by dozens of famous artists. Also co-founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Died after a long illness at age 75.

B.J. Thomas — May 29 — Pop and country singer whose best-known hits include “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “Hooked on a Feeling” and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Died of lung cancer at age 78.

Jeff LaBar — July 14 — Longtime guitarist for glam-metal band Cinderella. Died at age 58.

Gary Corbett — July 14 — Keyboardist and songwriter who toured with KISS and Cinderella, co-wrote the Cyndi Lauper hit “She Bop.” Died of lung cancer.

Robby Steinhardt — July 17 — Longtime violinist and singer with Kansas. Died of acute pancreatitis at age 71.

John “Hutch” Hutchinson — July 25 — British guitarist who played with David Bowie during the early years of Bowie’s career. Died after a long illness.

Dusty Hill — July 28 — Bassist, singer and songwriter for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top for more than 50 years. Died at his home in Houston at age 72.

Paul Cotton — August 1 — Former singer, guitarist and songwriter for influential country-rock band Poco. Passed away unexpectedly at age 78.

Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas — August 7 — Founding member and longtime saxophonist for Kool & the Gang. Died at age 70.

Mike Finnigan — August 11 — Session keyboardist who played on recordings by Jimi Hendrix, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, Cher, Crosby, Stills & Nash and many others. Died of liver cancer at age 76.

Nanci Griffith — August 13 — Grammy-winning folk-country singer/songwriter. Died at age 68.

Don Everly — August 21 — With his brother Phil, one half of the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll duo The Everly Brothers, among the first artists to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Died at his home in Nashville at age 84.

Brian Travers — August 22 — Founding sax player for U.K. reggae band UB40. Died of brain cancer at age 62.

Fritz McIntyre — August 24 — Original keyboard player for British pop-soul group Simply Red. Died at age 63.

Charlie Watts — August 24 –Drummer for the iconic British rock band The Rolling Stones from February 1963 until his passing. Died at age 80.

Lee “Scratch” Perry — August 29 — Jamaican singer and producer hailed for breaking boundaries for reggae and dub music during the ’60s and ’70s. Died of an unspecified illness at age 85.

Ron Bushy — August 29 — Longtime drummer of psychedelic band Iron Butterfly. Died at age 79.

John Drake — August 29 — Original lead singer of Michigan psychedelic band The Amboy Dukes, which was led by guitarist Ted Nugent. Died from complications of cancer at age 74.

Sarah Dash — September 20 — Singer, member of The Bluebelles and Labelle with Patti LaBelle and Nona Hendryx. Died unexpectedly at age 76.

Pee Wee Ellis — September 23 — Saxophonist, composer and arranger who played and collaborated with James Brown, Van Morrison, Ginger Baker and many others. Died from complications with his heart at age 80.

George Frayne IV, a.k.a. Commander Cody — September 26 — Veteran country-rock musician who led the group Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Died of cancer at age 77.

Alan Lancaster — September 26 — Founding bassist for popular U.K. rock band Status Quo. Died of multiple sclerosis at age 72.

Everett Morton — October 8 — Drummer for the British ska band The Beat, known as The English Beat in the U.S. Died at age 71.

Paddy Moloney — October 11 — Founder, leader and multi-instrumentalist of the popular traditional Irish band The Chieftains. Died suddenly at age 83.

Ron Tutt — October 16 — Drummer with Elvis Presley‘s TCB Band, also played on recordings by Billy Joel, the Jerry Garcia Band, Neil Diamond and many others. Died at age 83.

Leslie Bricusse — October 19 — British songwriter who co-wrote many memorable songs for movies, including the James Bond themes “Goldfinger” and “You Only Live Twice,” and the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory classics “Candyman” and “Pure Imagination.” Died at age 90.

Jay Black — October 22 — Born David Blatt, powerhouse vocalist who became the second lead singer for the 1960s pop-rock group Jay and the Americans. Died of complications from pneumonia at age 82.

Ronnie Wilson — November 2 — Founding member and multi-instrumentalist for popular R&B/funk group The Gap Band. Died after suffering a stroke at age 73.

Terence “Astro” Wilson — November 6 — Longtime vocalist, percussionist and trumpet player for U.K. reggae band UB40. Died after a short illness at age 64.

Graeme Edge — November 11 — Founding drummer of The Moody Blues, also wrote poetic interludes for the band, including “Late Lament.” Died of cancer at age 80.

Phil Margo — November 13 — Founding member of Brooklyn, New York, doo-wop group The Tokens, best known for their chart-topping 1961 hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Died after suffering a stroke at age 79.

Billy Hinsche — November 20 — One-third of the 1960s boy band Dino, Desi and Billy and longtime member of The Beach Boys‘ touring band. Died of cancer at age 70.

Stephen Sondheim — November 26 — Legendary Broadway composer and lyricist whose compositions include “Send in the Clowns,” “Somewhere” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Died at age 91.

Melvin Parker — December 3 — Lauded funk drummer who played with James Brown during the 1960s and ’70s; brother of saxophonist Maceo Parker. Died at age 77.

Robbie Shakespeare — December 8 — acclaimed reggae bassist who with Sly Dunbar made up the influential and prolific rhythm section and production team Sly and Robbie. Died following kidney surgery at age 68.

Ralph Tavares — December 8 — Original member of the sibling R&B and disc group Tavares. Died at age 79.

Gil Bridges — December 10 — Founding woodwind player and singer for the rock and soul band Rare Earth. Died of COVID-19 at age 80.

Michael Nesmith — December 10 — Member of The Monkees, also pioneered country-rock as a solo artist and with his backing group The First National Band. Died of natural causes at age 78.

Les Emmersmith — December 10 — Frontman of Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band, best known for their 1971 hit “Signs.” Died of complications of COVID-19 at age 77.

Ken Kragen — December 14 — Music manager and producer who helped organize the recording of “We Are the World.” Died of natural causes at age 85.

Phil Chen — December 14 — Veteran bassist who worked with Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, members of The Doors and many others. Died at age 75 after a long battle with cancer.

Wanda Young Rogers — December 15 — Co-lead singer of famed Motown girl group The Marvelettes, best known for their chart-topping 1961 hit “Please Mr. Postman.” Died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 78.

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