I’m Gonna Cross That River: Musicians We Lost in 2020 | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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John Prine

I’m Gonna Cross That River: Musicians We Lost in 2020

John Prine, Little Richard, and Eddie Van Halen Are Among Those That Passed Last Year

Jan 05, 2021 By Mark Moody
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Certainly 2020 is a year best observed from the rear view mirror. If you’re reading this, you made it to the other side of what is hopefully the worst year in many of our lifetimes. Of course the ravages of COVID-19 took a global toll with over 1.7 million lost to the virus, and that’s just of confirmed cases. COVID-19 took many musicians from us too soon as well, along with other causes. And in a year not without irony, after losing legends like David Bowie and Prince in the past decade, the names on many lips over the past few years not only made it through 2020, but several put out new music, including Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

There were certainly musical giants that fell in 2020 though. Among the most well-known were, rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, legendary songwriter Bill Withers, namesake Van Halen founder/guitarist Eddie Van Halen, and Rush drummer/songwriter Neil Peart. Others in the classic rock realm included Spencer Davis, Fleetwood Mac founder, Peter Green, and Fairport Convention vocalist, Judy Dyble. And for you Pink Floyd fans out there, singer Vera Lynn, who is referenced on The Wall, passed away at 103. The genre that had one of the biggest tolls though was the singer/songwriter set. The best known, and indie beloved artist, was John Prine, lost in the early days of the pandemic. David Olney passed as well and received attention for doing so while on stage at the 30a Songwriters Festival. Texas lost a host of storied songwriters in Hal Ketchum, Jerry Jeff Walker, Eric Taylor, and Billy Joe Shaver (whose lyric was borrowed for the title of this article). And after years of struggling with addiction, Justin Townes Earle was lost as well and way too soon.

In the vein of our publication’s primary area of focus, numerous artists were lost that were on the leading edge of punk, New Wave, indie, and experimental music. Among them, Andy Gill (Gang of Four), David Roback (Mazzy Star), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Walter Lure (The Heartbreakers), Ivan Kral (The Patti Smith Group), Florian Schneider (Kraftwerk), Gabriel Delgado-Lopez (D.A.F.), Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle), Dave Greenfield (The Stranglers), Jim Smith (Cardiacs), Pierre Kezdy (Naked Raygun), David Fitzgerald (Telescopes), Chet “JR” White (Girls), Sam Jayne (Love As Laughter, Lync), and Jacob Thiele (The Faint).

Under the blanket of instrumental music, we lost jazz lost pioneers in McCoy Tyner, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Italian composer and soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone passed away at 91. And ambient/avant-garde composer Harold Budd, known by some for his collaborations with Brian Eno and Cocteau Twins, was lost as well. Notable hip-hop artists lost during the year included Pop Smoke, Huey, King Von (a week after his debut album was released), and The Roots’ founder Malik B. Somewhat surprisingly, on New Year’s Eve MF Doom’s (Daniel Dumile) wife announced that the underground hip hop artist had died in October. Reggae music lost Johnny Nash. While Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and longtime Toots & The Maytals guitarist Hux Brown died within weeks of each other.

Given the early roots of country music, the genre loses legends every year. 2020 was no exception with the passing of Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, and K.T. Oslin. And perhaps most heartbreaking, groundbreaking artist Charley Pride passed of COVID-19 shortly after his appearance and performance on the Country Music Association awards show.

These losses are ultimately inevitable, but were made more challenging by the isolation we all had to cope with over the year. And early COVID-19 losses, like Prine and Schlesinger, gave the virus a face before any of us quite had a grasp on what was going on or what lay ahead. Flipping forward to the early days of COVID-19 vaccine administration, there is hope that at least the pandemic will take a lesser toll in 2021.

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