Gone But Not Forgotten – Musicians We Lost in 2023

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Here are some of the musicians and singers who left us in 2023. Check my blog for entries on several of these artists.

Denny Laine – Co-Founder of two major British rock groups. He was the guitarist for the early years of The Moody Blues, singing lead vocals for their first hit Go Now in 1964. In 1971, he joined Paul McCartney to form Wings, which had five #1 albums and six #1 singles from 1971 to 1981. He is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Moody Blues. He died of lung disease at the age of 79.

Rudolph Isley – Founding member of soul/funk group The Isley Brothers. Four Isley’s have died, and two remain. The group won two Grammy awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Their songs Shout and Twist and Shout are both in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Rudy and his brothers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Rudy died of a heart attack at the age of 84.

Roger Whittaker – British folk and country singer whose whistling skills became a trademark in his songs throughout his career. He won over 250 silver, gold and platinum awards during his lifetime. He released over 85 albums in the U.S., many of which were compilations and Christmas albums. He was 87 when he died.

Gary Wright – The Dream Weaver himself, Wright had two massive hits in 1976 – Dream Weaver and Love Is Alive, both of which peaked at #2 on the Hot 100. Wright suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and he died at the age of 80.

Steve Harwell – Frontman for the 90s power pop band Smash Mouth. Both songs reached #1 on the Adult Top 40 chart in the late 90s, and the albums that included these singles were multi-platinum. He died of liver disease at 56 years old.

Jimmy Buffett – Leader of his Parrothead fan club, Buffett took a catchy, easy going, island-inspired song called Margaritaville and turned it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. He leveraged his laid back and fun-first personality with the country music world later in his career, reaching #1 on the Country charts with Alan Jackson on It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere and with the Zac Brown Band with Knee Deep. His years of fun in the sun did him in – he died of skin cancer at age 76.

Robbie Robertson – When Bob Dylan moved away from an acoustic sound and into music that featured electric guitar, Robertson was his guitarist. Robertson was the guitarist and songwriter for The Band, a major influencer in the creation of the Americana music genre. Their self-titled second album makes many GOAT lists – it includes the Robertson-written Americana classics The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up On Cripple Creek. He and his group were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He passed away from cancer at age 80.

Sinéad O’Connor – A complicated artist who lived with mental and physical illnesses throughout her life, the Irish singer had a massive hit with 1990’s Nothing Compares 2 U. It reached #1 on more than 20 global charts, and it was ranked at #184 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Songs list in 2021. The video for the song won three MTV Music Video awards, including Video of the Year – O’Connor was the first woman to ever receive this honor. The cause of her death remains mysterious – she had threatened suicide several times, particularly after her son died from suicide in 2022. O’Connor was 56 years old when she died.

Randy Meisner – In 1971, Meisner was a founding member of the Eagles. He was a member from 1971 to 1977, leaving due to the exhaustion that came with touring with the band. He co-wrote or sang lead vocals on songs from each of the band’s first five albums, including the Hotel California album (certified 26x platinum). Meisner’s best known song that featured his lead vocal was Take It To The Limit. Meisner was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Eagles. He died of COPD at the age of 77.

Tony Bennett – Bennett holds the distinction of being the second oldest winner ever of a Grammy Award – he won a Grammy in 2022 at the age of 90 along with Lady Gaga for the album Love For Sale. (The oldest winner was Pinetop Perkins, who won a Grammy at the age of 97). It was Bennett’s last of 20 Grammy awards – his first was for I Left My Heart In San Francisco in 1963. The 59 year gap also is a record. Due to Alzheimer’s disease, he stopped performing in August 2021 on his 95th birthday. He was 96 when he died.

George Winston – A master of New Age piano music, Winston won a Grammy award and had three platinum albums. His most popular albums utilized a folk piano style, though his favorite style was New Orleans R&B. He also recorded in a stride jazz style. Winston was my first interest in New Age music. He died of cancer, age 74.

Tina Turner – The “Queen of Rock and Roll,” she won eight Grammy awards, plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, and three of her songs are in the Grammy Hall of Fame – River Deep – Mountain High, Proud Mary and What’s Love Got To Do With It (the first two with her then-husband Ike Turner). She was the first black artist and first woman to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The same magazine included her in their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. She was inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall Fame – first as a duo act with Ike, and later as a solo artist. She died of natural causes at the age of 83.

Gordon Lightfoot – The Canadian Troubadour was a folk-pop storyteller who wrote songs about journeys and lovers and loneliness. Considered by many to be Canada’s greatest songwriter, he had easy-listening hits in the 70s with Sundown, Carefree Highway, If You Could Read My Mind, and his most famous piece, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For what it’s worth – I have more Lightfoot albums in my record collection than any other artist, at 14. He died of natural causes at the age of 84.

Harry Belafonte – Belafonte brought calypso music into the mainstream in the 50s and 60s. His album Calypso in 1956 was the first million-selling album by any single artist. He also performed as an actor in 16 feature films and 17 documentaries. He won a Tony award in 1954, an Emmy in 1960, three Grammy awards, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2014, making him one of only 24 EGOT winners. He passed away from congestive heart failure at 96 years old.

Gary Rossington – Rossington was the last original member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He played guitar on all 14 studio albums and was with the band from 1964 until his death in 2023. He survived the 1977 plane crash that killed six people, include three members of the band. The band had 13 platinum albums. Their biggest hits are classic rock mainstays – Sweet Home Alabama, What’s Your Name and their signature song, Freebird. Rossington and other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. He died at the age of 71.

Wayne Shorter – Jazz saxophonist, composer and bandleader, he became a mainstay of jazz fusion in the 60s, performing with Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet and later co-founding the jazz fusion band Weather Report, and later still, the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Many of his compositions became jazz standards. He won 12 Grammy awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, and he received a Kennedy Center Honors award in 2018. He was 89 years old when he died.

Burt Bacharach – One of the most influential songwriters of the 20th century, over a thousand artists have recorded songs written by Bacharach. He collaborated with lyricist Hal David for many of his hits, and some of their biggest hits were recorded by Diane Warwick from 1961 to 1972. His songs reached the Top 40 in the U.S. 73 times, and his songs topped the Hot 100 chart with classics like Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, (They Long To Be) Close To You, Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) and That’s What Friends Are For. He won six Grammy awards, three Oscars and an Emmy Award. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2008, and the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize in 2012. He died of natural causes, at 94 years old.

Barrett Strong – Strong recorded the first hit single for a fledgling Motown Records in 1960 with Money (That’s What I Want). It was his only hit as a performer, but as a writer for Motown, he co-wrote some of the label’s biggest hits, including I Heard It Through The Grapevine, War, Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me) and Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone. These songs and others got him and his co-writer Norman Whitfield into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. Strong was 81 when he passed away.

David Crosby – Love harmony? Crosby and his musical partners Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young could sing harmony with the best of singers. Crosby was a founder of the psychedelic folk rock band the Byrds, as well as CSN/CSNY. His harmony hits with the Byrds included Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! His hits with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) included Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Woodstock, Our House and Just A Song Before I Go. Crosby was inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with the Byrds and CSN. He died from COVID complications at 81 years old.

Jeff Beck – One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Beck was a member of the Yardbirds (he replaced Eric Clapton and after Beck left the band, he was replaced by Jimmy Page) and he also fronted the Jeff Beck Group. He received eight Grammy awards for his guitar work, and in 2023, Rolling Stone ranked him at #5 on their list of the greatest guitarists of all time. He contributed as a session musician on dozens of songs by other artists. Beck was twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – as a member of the Byrds, and as a solo artist. He died from bacterial meningitis at the age of 78.

Great musical legacies lost in 2023, and several personal favorites of mine. One performer who was still rocking it hard at 70 years old was Tina Turner. Check out this live performance of Proud Mary – go to the 4:35 mark to see her bring it! Enjoy!

 

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