Obituaries: Tim Hart, James Owen Sullivan, Vic Chesnutt, Chris Feinstein, Rip Spencer, Harmon Bethea, Shelby Singleton

Tim Hart, a founding member of the British folk-rock group Steeleye Span, died of lung cancer Dec. 24. He was 61.

Hart was a star of the 1960s folk scene in Britain, first gaining fame in a musical partnership with singer Maddy Prior in 1966.

In 1971, Hart and Prior joined Ashley Hutchings, who had left Fairport Convention, to form a new band. The new project, at Hart’s suggestion, was named Steeleye Span after a character in a Lincolnshire folk song, “Horkstow Grange.”

Hart left Steeleye Span in 1983 but appeared at a charity concert with the group in 1995. Last year, he appeared with Prior at a BBC concert in London.

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James Owen Sullivan, a drummer and backup vocalist for the Southern California metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold, was found dead at his home Dec. 28. Police Lt. John Domingo said the 28-year-old Sullivan, who went by the stage name The Rev, appears to have died of natural causes. The Orange County coroner’s office is investigating the death.

Avenged Sevenfold formed in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 1999 and won Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2006.

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Vic Chesnutt, a folk-rocker whose sometimes dark reflections on life were influenced in part by a car wreck that left him paralyzed, died Dec. 25 at age 45.

Chesnutt worked with such notable artists as R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe and guitarist Guy Picciotto of the punk band Fugazi. He recently had toured with his Vic Chesnutt band, which featured members of Canadian bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, as well as Picciotto.

He released two albums in the past year, including At The Cut.

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Bassist Chris “Spacewolf” Feinstein, a member of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, died Dec. 14. He was 42.

Feinstein played on The Cardinals’ final albums Easy Tiger, Follow The Lights and Cardinology.

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Veteran Los Angeles-area R&B singer Sheridan “Rip” Spencer, who recorded with a multitude of vocal groups dating back to the mid-1950s, was shot and killed Dec. 9 in Compton, Calif. He was 70. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported that Spencer was shot just after 1:30 p.m. in a residential area and was pronounced dead at the scene. A police investigation is ongoing.

In 1957, Spencer, his cousin Brice Coefield, Billy Storm and former Squires’ member Chester Pipkin formed The Valiants and signed with the Keen label. The group’s debut for the label, “This Is The Night,” became a national hit following its November 1957 release, hitting #69 on the Pop chart and #43 on Billboard’s R&B list.

Rechristened The Untouchables, the group teamed with former Keen producers Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, recording four singles for Madison and two for Liberty in 1960 and ’61.

In 1963, Spencer took over the Marvin & Johnny name from his uncle, Marvin Phillips, and kept the duo active into the 21st century in live concert appearances. In later years, he remained active as a booking agent and music publisher, in addition to concert performances.

— Todd Baptista
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Harmon Bethea of The Cap-Tans and Maskman And The Agents died Dec. 18. He was 86.

A World War II veteran, he recorded and performed gospel and rhythm and blues with the Progressive Four and the Corinthian Singers for Lillian Claiborne’s D.C. label in 1947 and ’48. In late 1949, Claiborne paired Bethea with another of her local acts, The Cap-Tans.

In the midst of the British Invasion and the surge of Motown Records, Bethea took on the persona of “The Maskman.” His backing group evolved from the Cap-Tans to The Agents. The Bethea continued recording and performing well into his 60s.

— Todd Baptista
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Nashville producer Shelby Singleton died Oct. 7 at age 77.

Working for Mercury Records in the early ’60s, Singleton oversaw the careers of such artists as Roger Miller and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In 1969 he purchased Sun Records and reissued many recordings by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and other artists.


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