2012: A Year of Loss in the Music World
Every end-of-year award show, from the Grammys on down, takes
the time to remember notable artists who died over the previous 12 months.
When the pictures are shown or the list of names is published, there are always a few surprises when it comes to artists you did not realize had left us.
This year, however, has been an unprecedented time of loss in the music community. Just when the lists were being finalized came the news last week of the passing of the legendary bluegrass dobro player Mike Auldridge on Dec. 29.
Auldridge was a true innovator when it came to playing the instrument known as the square neck resonator guitar. And, to go along with the instrument he played, while backing up artists like Emmylou Harris and many others, Auldridge was also a member of one of the most influential bands in the American roots music genre with the original Seldom Scene.
A little less than a year ago, 2012 began with the loss of the veteran country and bluegrass music musician Charlie Collins in January, who backed up Roy Acuff for more than 20 years. From then on, the number of fallen musicians accelerated.
The names include: TV host and mogul Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, blues great Etta James, the Godfather of Go Go music Chuck Brown, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, Donna Summer, original Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, Queen of Country Music Kitty Wells, award-winning composer and musician Marvin Hamlisch, Joe South, Larry Reinhardt of Iron Butterfly and Captain Beyond, renowned Motown bassist Bob Babbitt, rhythm and blues great Johnny Otis, legendary singer Andy Williams, Don Cornelius of “Soul Train,” Davy Jones of The Monkees, lyricist Hal David, Chris Ethridge of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Robert Nix of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, inventor of Marshall guitar amplifiers Jim Marshall, rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose, R&B singer Fontella Bass, jazz greats Teddy Charles, John Levy, Red Holloway and Lionel Batiste, gospel singer Isaac “Dickie” Freeman of the Fairfield Four, jazz genius Dave Brubeck, world music legend Ravi Shankar and so many more.
The roots music world was rocked by the deaths of Levon Helm, a member of The Band who was known for his own wonderful music, and Bluegrass Hall of Famers Everett Lilly and Doug Dillard.
Our state of North Carolina was especially hit hard in 2012, with the deaths of Joe Thompson, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Rosa Lee Watson and Andy Griffith.
Fiddler Joe Thompson kept the black fiddling tradition alive and was a mentor to the wonderfully hot roots music band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Earl Scruggs, of course, invented bluegrass three-finger style banjo. While Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe had all of the pieces in places but one when searching for a new sound, when Scruggs came into the group in 1945, that was truly when bluegrass music was invented. The banjo legend went on to form Flatt and Scruggs with Lester Flatt, a group that hit the stratosphere as far as popularity goes in the 1950s and '60s.
Doc Watson was simply the Moses of American Roots Music, an innovative musician whose gravitas garnered respect from even the most famous of musicians who crossed his path. One night, he was playing guitar in a dance band as a young man and the fiddler didn’t show up, so Watson decided to play the lead fiddle parts on guitar, and the rest, as they say, is literally music history.
His wife, Rosa Lee, died several months later. She was always by his side and even co-wrote the much-recorded song, “Your Long Journey.”
Finally, Andy Griffith died this year, as well, an actor and musician whose work perhaps touched more people than anyone else. Basing his still-popular 1960s TV program, “The Andy Griffith Show,” on his upbringing in nearby Mount Airy, Griffith always made the point of bringing a bluegrass band onto the show now and then to highlight the music he loved.