Country Artists We’ve Lost in 2014
Some may have stepped away from the spotlight, but none of these country artists who died in 2014 will be completely forgotten. It is never easy to say goodbye to some of the greatest artists, songwriters and musicians of our time. Whether expected or not, their passing leaves a void no one else can fill. In 2014 we have sadly already lost several extremely talented, legendary figures in country music. Their influence on the style and culture of the industry will remain for generations to come.
Velma Smith was a talented guitar player as well as a pioneer for women and she is best known for being one of the first women to work as a session player in Nashville. Hank Snow, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Eddy Arnold were among the legends the Kentucky native recorded with, but it was Chet Akins who discovered her talent. Most of her credits at AllMusic are for her guitar playing, but she did write at least one song for a hitmaker — ‘Shoes’ for Patsy Cline. Smith was inducted into the Musicans Hall of Fame in Nashville six short months before her death on July 31, 2014. Smith was 87 when she died at her hospice.
Don Lanier, who wrote ‘Here We Go Again’ for Ray Charles, died on July 23, 2014. The Texas native’s career really began when he joined Jimmy Bowen for the Rhythm Orchids. He helped Buddy Knox in the studio, playing on ‘Party Doll’ and although he didn’t help pen that song, he did help on others. Lanier lived in Los Angeles for a while and there he became a highly sought after in-studio guitar player and arranger. He also wrote hits for some big name artists in various genres. After moving to Nashville, Lanier began to find songs for other artists, including Reba McEntire, George Strait, Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless.
Singer/songwriter George Riddle is probably best known for his role as the original Jones Boy. He backed George Jones in his band, and it was just the two of them when they first started. Riddle also played the fiddle regularly at the Grand Ole Opry. He is also credited for penning songs for artists like Jones, Ray Charles and Tammy Wynette — among many others. He wrote 13 songs for Jones alone. The Indiana native served in the U.S. Army before moving to Nashville to pursue music. It’s there where he formed his friendship with Jones. The influential musician died on July 19, 2014 following a battle with throat cancer. He was 78.
Jimmy C. Newman
After a brief battle with cancer, Jimmy C. Newman died on June 21, 2014 on June 21, 2014 at the age of 86. The Louisiana native was most famous for performing at the Grand Ole Opry. He was the first Cajun singer to do so and he added the ‘C’ to his name to represent the heritage he was so proud of. Newman met J.D. Miller, music producer and songwriter, and he eventually helped Newman nab the hit ‘Cry, Cry Darling. He also sang alongside Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton. His biggest hit though was ‘A Fallen Star,’ which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country chart. Newman is also credited with helping Dolly Parton jumpstart her career when she was a teenager, letting her join him on his Opry stage time.
James Alan Shelton
After being diagnosed with stage four liver and pancreatic cancer at the age of 53, Grammy award winning bluegrass guitarist James Alan Shelton died on June 3, 2014. When he was 12 years old, he began playing guitar and banjo, aspiring to play like the late George Shuffler. His talents led him to the Clinch Mountain Boys and he played his first show with them on March 4, 1994. For 20 years, Shelton served as the band’s guitarist and road manager. He released 10 albums in his name as well as his did work on Stanley and Jim Lauderdale’s ‘Lost in the Lonesome Pines,’ which earned Shelton a Grammy in 2003.
A steel guitar player from the age of six, Weldon Myrick caught the attention of the legendary Bill Anderson, who became a catalyst for Myrick’s success. Anderson was so impressed by his talents, he invited him to play with his Po’ Folks band. The world got a taste of Myrick’s talents in ‘Once a Day’ in 1964 but his steel guitar can also be heard in tunes by Alan Jackson, George Strait, Ronnie Milsap and many more. Myrick died on June 2, 2014 after suffering a stroke.
Kevin Sharp was a fighter, through and through. He got his start in country music via a true blessing-in-disguise. Having been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer as a teen, he was granted a wish by the Make-a-Wish foundation and met producer David Foster. He went on to overcome the disease and release several hits — the most well-known being “Nobody Knows” and “If You Love Somebody.” The singer passed away April 19, 2014 at the age of only 43, due to complications from several stomach surgeries to remedy issues caused by the aggressive cancer treatments he underwent as a teen. Sharp was an inspiration to many — having advocated for sick children, authored a book and worked as a motivational speaker in addition to his music career.
Though Jesse Winchester may not be a household name, his career is lined with hits, popularized by some of the most widely recognized country artists in the biz. His songs have been covered by artists like Jimmy Buffett, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Wynona Judd, and Emmylou Harris — just to name a few. Winchester’s most well-known songs include ‘A Showman’s Life,’ ‘Yankee Lady’ and ‘Say What.’ Though his career began in Canada — he moved during the Vietnam War when he was drafted — he spent much of his formative years in Memphis and claimed the south as his home. He survived a bout of esophageal cancer in 2011, but passed away April 11, 2014 due to bladder cancer.
Bluegrass Hall-of-Famer George Shuffler, known as “The Third Stanley Brother” due to his extensive touring with Stanley Brothers Carter and Ralph, passed away at the age of 88 on April 7, 2014. His crosspicking style allowed him to provide both rhythm and lead parts simultaneously, which became his signature technique and an unmistakable stamp left on the bluegrass genre. He was not just a guitar player, but a bass player, featured vocalist, and even humorist, as he sometimes acted as the sideman to bluegrass groups throughout the years. Shuffler will be remembered as a shaper of bluegrass music for years to come.
Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith
Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith was a legendary instrumentalist and songwriter, responsible for perhaps the most well-known banjo melody in the world. “Dueling Banjos,” originally called “Feuding Banjos” when Smith wrote it in 1955, was featured in the movie ‘Deliverance’ without his permission, but after a lawsuit he regained his songwriting credit and royalties for the song. Officially recorded in 1973, the song hit no. 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart and has been recorded by many musical icons since. Smith earned his nickname in 1945 with ‘Guitar Boogie’ — a crossover hit that rose to No. 8 on the Billboard Top Ten. He passed away at age 93 on April 3, 2014.
Comedian and musician Tim Wilson was beloved in both genres for his standup acts as well as his humorous country songs. He was well-known to many, including fellow southern-bred comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, both of whom expressed condolences upon hearing of his passing Feb. 26, 2014.
Wilson’s most widely recognized songs include ‘Garth Brooks Has Ruined My Life’ and ‘The Ballad of John Rocker,’ but he also co-wrote ‘The Redneck Twelve Day of Christmas’ with Foxworthy and Toby Keith‘s ‘High Maintenance Woman.’ He released 10 albums during his 20-year career and will be sorely missed in comedy as well as country music.
Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger was an inspiration for the masses, particularly during the turbulent times of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He recorded dozens of albums over the course of his decades-long career, winning a Grammy for ‘Pete’ in 1997. His most notable songs include ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and ‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine.’ Seeger also formed a band called the Weavers, which produced a no. 1 hit that sold more than 1 million records — a cover of Leadbelly’s ‘Good Night, Irene.’
Seeger continued his activism — including a stint with 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement — well into his later years, until he passed away Jan. 27, 2014 at age 94. His influence will live on in American culture and history as well as country music.
Texan songwriter Steve Fromholz was well known across the lone-star state and within the country music community. He wrote songs for legends like Willie Nelson, John Denver and Lyle Lovett, and was even named the poet laureate of Texas in 2007. Fromholz’ best-known song was ‘I’d Have to be Crazy,’ recorded by Nelson in 1976 . For his influence in country music, he was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
Sadly, Fromholz was fatally wounded in a freak hunting accident Jan. 19, 2014 when he dropped a gun, which then accidentally discharged. He was 68. Fromholz will be remembered as a talented and well-respected songwriter in country music.
Phil Everly was a music icon, not only in country but also rock and roll. He and his brother Don became the Everly Brothers in the 1950s at the encouragement of family friend Chet Atkins. Their first hit was ‘Bye Bye Love,’ released in 1957, which hit no. 1 on the country charts. Other notable songs include ‘Wake Up Little Suzie and ‘All I Have to Do is Dream.’
The brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Phil Everly passed away Jan. 3, 2014 at the age of 74, and is survived by his brother Don, his wife Patti, two sons and two granddaughters.