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2011 In Memoriam

A tribute to Clarence Clemons, Amy Winehouse, Heavy D and other artists we lost this year

gerry rafferty

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As the frontman of Scottish folk rock Stealers Wheel, Gerry Rafferty sang the immortal classic "Stuck In The Middle With You." The trippy song reached Number Six on the Billboard Hot 100, but many people thought it was actually by Bob Dylan – and the band splintered not long after. In 1978 Rafferty released his solo LP City to City, which sold 5.5 million copies on the strength of the sax-powered hit "Baker Street." Rafferty faded away from the pop scene by the 1980s, though his music remains in heavy rotation on oldies radio. 

By Andy Greene

don kirshner

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Don Kirshner – January 17th

Don Kirshner is best remembered by a generation of rock fans for the 1970s ABC series Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, but he made his mark behind the scenes in the 1950s and 1960s as the co-owner of Aldon Music – the publishing company that had contracts with Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and many other of the most important songwriters of the era. Kirshner also set the Monkees up with many of their most enduring hits, though the group grew to resent his influence over their work. 

charlie louvin

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Charlie Louvin – January 26th

Charlie Louvin was one half of the country-gospel duo the Louvin Brothers. The group popularized the concept of close-harmony signing, and introduced the art form to the Everly Brothers and many other hugely successful rock and roll acts. The Louvin Brothers toured with Elvis Presley in the 1950s, and scored hits with "I Don't Believe You've Met Me Baby" and "When I Stop Dreaming." Louvin went solo in the 1960s and began putting his own hits on the charts. There was a tremendous revival of interest in Louvin's career over the past decade as groups like the Raconteurs acknowledged his influence. He played at Bonnaroo in 2007. 

gary moore

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Gary Moore – February 6th

Guitar virtuoso Gary Moore played with Thin Lizzy off and on during the 1970s, most memorably on their 1979 LP Black Rose: A Rock Legend. He never became a household name, but his long catalog of solo LPs has influenced generations of guitarists. "He is definitely in my list of top five guitar influences, right up with Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Michael Schenker," Metallica's Kirk Hammett told Rolling Stone. "His influence is strong to the point that the opening lick of the guitar solo of 'Master of Puppets' is a variation of a lick that Gary Moore played a lot."

mike starr

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Mike Starr – March 8th

Mike Starr was the original bassist in Alice in Chains, playing on all of their early hits including "Man in a Box" and "Rooster." He left the band in 1993 due to his growing drug addiction. Starr appeared on VH1's Celebrity Rehab, but ultimately was unable to conquer his demons. He died of a prescription drug overdose. 

pinetop perkins

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Pinetop Perkins – March 21st

Pinetop Perkins, a boogie-woogie piano player who was one the last surviving first-generation Mississippi Delta Blues musicians, played with Muddy Waters and countless other legends during his extraordinarily long career. Perkins didn't release a solo album until he was 75, but during the final two decades of his life, he released over a dozen. His influenced everyone from Gregg Allman to Billy Joel. In 2005 he won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

poly styrene

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Poly Styrene – April 25th

Like many in her generation, Poly Styrene was inspired to form a band after seeing an early concert by the Sex Pistols. In 1975 she founded X-Ray Spex, whose debut single "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" is one of the most acclaimed songs of the era. The band only released a single LP before dissolving, but they have periodically reformed over the past 20 years. 

gil scott-heron

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Gil-Scott Heron – May 27th

Gil Scott-Heron is best remembered for his 1970 work "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," but it was just one of this many scathing, satirical spoken-work poems that laid the groundwork for hip-hop – even though the artist adamantly refused to take any credit for helping to create the genre. Scott-Heron's career was derailed in the 1980s by his drug addiction, though in recent years he had begun touring and recording again. 

andrew gold

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Andrew Gold – June 3rd

In the late 1970s Andrew Gold scored massive with "Lonely Boy" and "Thank You For Being A Friend." The latter was used as the theme song to Golden Girls. His pop career faded away by the 1980s, though he continued to write songs for TV shows. His song "Final Frontier" was used as the theme to Mad About You.

carl gardner

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Carl Gardner – June 12th

Coasters co-founder Carl Gardner was one of the key voices in the 1950s R&B vocal group the Coasters. He sang on "Poison Ivy," "Charlie Brown," "Yakety Yak" and many other classics. He spent the last few decades performing, and battling numerous groups falsely billing themselves as the Coasters. 

clarence clemons

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Clarence Clemons – June 18th

For 40 years Clarence "Big Man" Clemons played saxophone alongside Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band. His sax work defined the sound of the E Street Band, and can be heard on "Thunder Road," "Born To Run," "Badlands," "Dancing In The Dark" and too many other songs to mention. He toured with the band during the final decade of his life, despite incredible back and knee pain during the last couple of tours. He died of complications from a stroke on June 18th. 

rob grill

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Rob Grill – July 11th

For four decades Rob Grill fronted folk-rock group the Grass Roots. He's the lead singer on their 1960s hits "Let's Live For Today," "Midnight Confession" and "Temptation Eyes." Though other members of the classic Grass Roots line-up – including The Office's Creed Bratton – left the group long ago, Grill remained with the band and toured extensively with them until shortly before his death. 

amy winehouse

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Amy Winehouse – July 23

Without a doubt, Amy Winehouse was one of the most talented singers of the past decade. The troubled British songwriter reached a national audience with her 2006 LP Back to Black, featuring "Rehab," "You Know That I'm No Good," "Back to Black" and "Love Is A Losing Game." Sadly, her growing drug addiction prevented her from recording a proper comeback and she died at the age of twenty-seven.  

jani lane

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Jani Lane – August 11th

As the frontman of 1980s hair metal group Warrant, Jani Lane (whose real name was John Kennedy Oswald) wrote and sang their hits "Cherry Pie," "Down Boys" and "Heaven." The group fell out of favor in the 1990s, and Lane struggled with alcoholism. He reunited with Warrant a couple of times, but he left for good after a brief tour in 2008. He died on August 11th of alcohol poisoning. 

jerry leiber

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Jerry Leiber – August 22nd

As half of the songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, Jerry Leiber co-wrote "Stand By Me," "Hound Dog," "Poison Ivy," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City" and dozens of other rock & roll standards. Broadly speaking, Stoller wrote the music and Leiber wrote the lyrics. Their partnership endured for over six decades. "Jerry was an idea machine," Stoller says in their 2009 memoir Hound Dog. "For every situation, Jerry had 20 ideas. As would-be songwriters, our interest was in black music and black music only. We wanted to write songs for black voices. When Jerry sang, he sounded black, so that gave us an advantage . . . His verbal vocabulary was all over the place – black, Jewish, theatrical, comical. He would paint pictures with words."

nick ashford

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Nick Ashford – August 22nd

Alongside his wife Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford co-wrote some of Motown's most enduring hits, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing." In the 1970s, they began scoring their own hits such as "Solid" and "Don't Cost You Nothing." The duo continued to record until shortly before Ashford's death, which occurred within hours of his fellow songwriting genius Jerry Leiber. 

david honeyboy edwards

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David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards – August 29th

David "Honeyboy" Edwards was a Delta blues guitarist, and one of the final living links to the legendary Robert Johnson.  He was a close friend of Johnson's, and was even present on the night in 1938 when he drank poisoned whiskey and died. Edwards recorded many blues classics in the 1950s, and toured regularly well into his 90s. 

sylvia robinson

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Sylvia Robinson – September 29th

In 1956 Sylvia Robinson's R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia released the immortal classic "Love Is Strange." The group didn't make much money from their massive hit (later used in Dirty Dancing), but Sylvia used what she learned from the experience when she co-founded Sugar Hill Records. The label released pioneering rap songs "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message." The songs introduced rap to a mainstream audience, as well as the concept of sampling. 

mikey welsh

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Mikey Welsh – October 8th

Mikey Walsh replaced original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp in 1998 and played on their comeback LP The Green Album, featuring "Hash Pipe," "Island In The Sun" and "Photograph." He left the group in 2001 after suffering from a nervous breakdown. He worked as an artist during the final decade of his life. 

cory smoot

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Cory ‘Flattus Maximus’ Smoot – November 3rd

Gwar Guitarist Cory Smoot, known to fans of the metal band as "Flattus Maximus," died while the band was on tour in November. He joined the band in 2002, and played on their albums War Party, Lust In Space and Bloody Put of Horror. The band retired the long-running character after Smoot's death. 

heavy d

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Heavy D – November 8th

Jamaican-born rapper Heavy D fused  R&B with hip-hop on classic hits like "Mr. Big Stuff," "Now That We Found Love" and "Is It Good To You." He also rapped the theme song to In Loving Color, and duetted with Michael Jackson on "Jam." In recent years he was seen on the big screen in Tower Heist and Cider House Rules

hubert sumlin

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Hubert Sumlin – December 4th

Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin played on "Wang Dang Doodle," "Spoonful" and "Back Door Man." His playing influenced an entire generation of guitarists, and Rolling Stone named him the 43rd Greatest Guitar Player of All Time. After Howlin' Wolf's death in 1976, Sumlin toured with other members of his backing band as the Wolf Gang. Sumlin was a friend of Keith Richards, and the Rolling Stones guitarist reportedly helped him with his medical bills in recent years. 

dobie gray

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Dobie Gray – December 6th

Dobie Gray is best remembered for his 1973 soft rock hit "Drift Away," though he had a handful of other hits during his 40-year career.  Gray often said that he could have been more popular had the music industry known how to market a black man performing country music. In 2003 Uncle Kracker recorded a cover of "Drift Away," and recorded Gray to sing the final verse. It once again charted around the globe.