Notable 2012 deaths in country music
What do Marilyn Monroe, Levon Helm, a honky cat, a rockin' crocodile, and life and death on the African savanna have in common? Okay that was a no-brainer - Elton John has sung songs about all of them. But the fact that Bernie Taupin and Elton John used to really like The Band pales in comparison to Levon Helm's other accomplishments. It was in an early rock group that Helm helped Dylan "go electric" in 1965, before they all took up residence in a big pink house in Woodstock, New York, and became known locally as "the band," a name which stuck.
Born to cotton farmers on May 26, 1940 in Elaine, Arkansas, Mark Lavon (Levon) Helm's parents dabbled in music and exposed their children to plenty of it; Levon's first show was seeing Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys at the age of six, an experience which, according to his 1993 autobiography, "really tattooed my brain." The influences both of this region and of his early exposure to country music remained imprinted on Helm's career, and thus remain imprinted on country-rock history forever. Helm died in April at the age of 71, after battling cancer for over a decade.
Country music isn't much without its songwriters. Danny Morrison was respected enough as a songwriter that he wrote a book on the subject, and was well-known and well-liked in Music City before dying in February at the age of 67, after having a heart attack. In addition to songs by Alabama, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Reba McEntire and Johnny Paycheck, he wrote "Blaze of Glory" for Kenny Rogers, and "Is it Cold in Here" for Joe Diffie, whom he also produced and managed.
Cois "Pee Wee" Moultrie
The fact that members of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys backing band still continue to perform today serves as an indelible link to a time (and a man) long gone, but we lost another of them this year. Cois "Pee Wee" Moultrie was an original member of the Drifting Cowboys, performing with Williams when they were still in their teens, from 1938 to 1940. Moultrie joined the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and served a lengthy career ending in his 1971 retirement. He continued to appear in later incarnations of the Drifting Cowboys, performing his accordion and singing at music festivals and Hank Williams events in his later years, and contributing artifacts to the Hank Williams museums in Montgomery and Georgiana, Alabama, and in Nashville. He died of a heart attack in Fort Walton Beach, Florida in January, at the age of 89.
Seems fitting that the aforementioned Doug Dillard would pass on in the same year as his idol, Country Music Hall of Famer, elder statesman of country and bluegrass and banjo crossover king Earl Scruggs, who died March 28 in a Nashville hospital at the age of 88. Scruggs, who along with Lester Flatt comprised one of the most influential bluegrass outfits of all time, started his career as Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys' signature three-finger banjo picker. His style not only transformed traditional bluegrass, but also inspired generations of country and country-rock performers. His enthusiasm for adopting genre- and generation-bending styles, especially rock and folk, is said to have alienated Flatt; he pushed for the two to cover early Dylan, and as a result, Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys was not long for the world. From there, Scruggs formed the progressive (and Flatt-less) Earl Scruggs Review.