The following is a list of some of the notable musicians who passed away in 2012, including a few who performed in the Santa Barbara area in recent years. Some are well-known, many are not, but all are worthy of our respect. R.I.P. — Rock In Peace.
» Whitney Houston — With her hits including “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and especially the worldwide smash “I Will Always Love You” from the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, Houston enchanted millions with her exceptional vocal talents. Sadly, in her later years she became better known for her bad life decisions than her singing.
» Etta James — A legendary singer known for “At Last” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” James struggled with drug and other problems before a late career resurgence that included a number of well-deserved honors and awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.
» Ravi Shankar — Often described as the non-Western musician who is best known in the West, in large part because of his association with George Harrison, Shankar was the world’s greatest sitar player. Shankar performed at watershed events including the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, Woodstock in 1969 and the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Shankar gave a riveting performance at the Arlington Theatre in 2009.
» Davy Jones — The Monkees offered a fun, zany and sanitized take on the emerging youth culture in the 1960s, with a hugely popular TV show and a number of hit recordings. A favorite Monkee for many, Jones was a child actor in England before joining the group. When The Monkees played at the Chumash Casino Resort in 2011, Jones joked that Justin Bieber stole his haircut and Axl Rose stole his dance. When The Monkees played at the Arlington Theatre in November after Jones had passed away, his signature song “Daydream Believer” was touchingly led by two audience members.
» Levon Helm — Helm was the drummer and often the lead vocalist for The Band, including for their beloved songs “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Helm and other future members of The Band also toured with Bob Dylan after he controversially “went electric.”
» Adam “MCA” Yauch — Yauch was a founding member of the Beastie Boys, the New York City hip-hop group that was arguably the first important white rap group. Their debut album, Licensed to Ill, included the classics “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” but their next album, Paul’s Boutique, is generally hailed as their masterpiece. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortly before Yauch died of cancer.
» Donna Summer — Known as the “Queen of Disco,” Summer had hits including “Hot Stuff,” “MacArthur Park,” “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love,” the latter of which had an all-electronic backing track that was hugely influential to disco music and beyond.
» Earl Scruggs — Recently talking about Scruggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band multi-instrumentalist John McEuen said, “It’s not very many people that have a style of playing music named after them.” “Scruggs style” is a three-finger banjo-picking style associated with bluegrass music, and is heard on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” from The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
» Doc Watson — Watson, who became blind at age 2, was a giant in bluegrass and traditional folk music. A master of flat-picking and finger-picking guitar styles, his influence crossed genres and generations.
» Robin Gibb — The Bee Gees, consisting of brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, are among the most popular recording artists of all time. Nowadays, they are best known for their disco hits, especially from the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever” and “How Deep Is Your Love.”
» Hal David — The team of Burt Bacharach and David brought us songs such as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “The Look of Love.”
» Johnny Otis — Often called the “Godfather of Rhythm and Blues,” Otis discovered Etta James, co-wrote and produced “Hound Dog,” and had R&B hits such as “Double Crossing Blues,” “Cupid Boogie” and his best-known song “Willie and the Hand Jive,” later a hit for Eric Clapton.
» Donald “Duck” Dunn — Dunn played bass guitar for Booker T. & the M.G.‘s, and was a session musician for Stax Records. You can hear him on recordings by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Blues Brothers and many more.
» Bob Babbitt — Babbitt played bass guitar for the Motown Records studio band The Funk Brothers. You can hear him on recordings by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, and many more.
» Marvin Hamlisch — Hamlisch was a composer and conductor who won three Oscars, four Grammys and four Emmys. His work includes the music for A Chorus Line and The Sting (“The Entertainer”), and the songs “Nobody Does It Better” and “The Way We Were.”
» Dave Brubeck — An amazing jazz pianist and composer, Brubeck is best remembered for the song “Take Five” and the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out, which was a milestone in jazz music because of its pieces with nonstandard time signatures. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 1996, and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009.
Other notable 2012 musician deaths:
» Kitty Wells (pioneering country music singer)
» Robert Sherman (wrote “It’s a Small World After All,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee”)
» Scott McKenzie (sang hit single “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”)
» Andy Griffith (actor, gospel singer)
» Terry Callier (guitarist, singer-songwriter)
» Michael Dunford (guitarist and composer for Renaissance)
» Jenni Rivera (Mexican-American singer)
» James T. Ellis (sang “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps)
» Chuck Brown (guitarist and singer known as the “Godfather of Go-Go”)
» Jimmy Little (Aboriginal musician)
» Joe South (songwriter best known for “Games People Play”)
» Big Jim Sullivan (English session guitarist)
» Cleveland Duncan (sang “Earth Angel”)
» Tony Martin (crooner, film star)
» James “Sugar Boy” Crawford (wrote “Jock-A-Mo”)
» Billy Scott (R&B singer)
» Pete Namlook (ambient/electronic musician)
» Doug Dillard (banjo player for The Dillards)
» Fontella Bass (sang “Rescue Me”)
» Jimmy McCracklin (R&B singer and pianist, wrote “The Walk”)
» Dick Kniss (co-wrote “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” played bass with Peter, Paul and Mary)
» Jimmy Castor (funk saxophonist)
The following people who also passed away in 2012 were either not musicians or were not well known for being musicians, but they were still hugely influential on the evolution of modern music:
» Howard H. Scott (helped develop the LP format)
» Frank Barsalona (agent who influenced modern music touring)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.