Skip to main content

Music industry obituaries for January 2014

Farewell to artists and innovators including singer Phil Everly, bluesman Tabby Thomas, guitarist Benjamin Curtis, drummer Ricky Lawson, composer Yusef Lateef and pianist-composer Wojciech Kilar.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Phil Everly, 74, the younger brother who took the high notes in the duo The Everly Brothers, died Jan. 3, 2014, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Along with his brother, Don, he left a towering legacy that still inspires. They sang dark songs hidden behind deceptively pleasing harmonies and were perfect interpreters of the twitchy hearts of millions of baby boomer teens coming of age in the 1950s and ‘60s, looking to express themselves beyond the simple platitudes of the pop music of the day. The brothers’ career spanned five decades, although they performed separately from 1973 to 1983. Between 1957 and 1962, the duo had 19 top 40 hits, including “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Cathy’s Clown” and “Bye Bye Love.” Phil Everly last performed in public in 2011.

Everly Brothers publicity photo

(RELATED ARTICLE: Everly Brothers' legacy will live on long after the artists themselves)

Although their number of hit records declined in the late 1980s, The Everly Brothers made successful concert tours in the U.S. and Europe. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the same year they had a hit pop-country record, “Born Yesterday.” They also are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, a nod to their heritage.

Phil Everly was born in Chicago Jan. 19, 1939, to folk and country music singers Ike and Margaret Everly, two years after his older brother. As the sons of country and western singers, The Everly Brothers had been performing since they were children and were the most country-oriented of the early rock giants. The brothers began singing country music in 1945 on their family’s radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa, and though their sound became more cosmopolitan over time, they never strayed far from their country roots.

Don Everly said in a 1986 interview that the two were successful because “we never followed trends. We did what we liked and followed our instincts. Rock ‘n’ roll did survive, and we were right about that. Country did survive, and we were right about that. You can mix the two, but people said we couldn’t.”

Their breakup came dramatically during a concert at Knott’s Berry Farm in California. Phil Everly threw his guitar down and walked off, prompting Don Everly to tell the crowd, “The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago.” During their breakup, they pursued solo singing careers with little fanfare. Phil also appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which Way but Loose.”


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Bluesman Tabby Thomas, 84, died Jan. 1, 2014, at his home.

Born Jan. 5, 1929, “Rockin’” Tabby Thomas was best known for his Louisiana-style blues, a hard-driving blues influenced by the Chicago bands. Supported by his backing band, The Mellow, Mellow Men, Thomas worked the club circuit and recorded “Thinking Blues” and “Church Members Ball” on the Delta label. Thomas finally found a hit with 1962’s “Voodoo Party,” which was released on Excello Records. The guitarist and pianist founded the Blue Beat record label in 1970, and later opened the Baton Rouge music club Tabby’s Blues Box. He teamed up with Eddie Bo and Raful Neal for The Hoodoo Kings’ self-titled 2001 album.

Bluesman Tabby Thomas


DALLAS (AP) — Benjamin Curtis, guitarist and co-founder of the popular indie-rock band School of Seven Bells, died Dec. 29, 2013, of lymphoblastic lymphoma at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was 35.


An Oklahoma native, Curtis lived in Dallas, where he played in bands including Tripping Daisy and Secret Machines before he went on to form School of Seven Bells with Alejandra de la Deheza.


LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Studio drummer Ricky Lawson, 59, died Dec. 23, 2013, following a brain aneurism.

The Detroit native learned to play drums at age 16 and jumped into the music business even before graduating from Cooley High School, developing into one of the nation’s top studio musicians in the 1980s. He collaborated with musicians including Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston, whose version of “I Will Always Love You” features Lawson’s work.

Ricky Lawson drummer

Lawson won a Grammy Award in 1986 for R&B instrumental performance for the song “And You Know That” by his crossover jazz group, Yellowjackets. He also released solo albums including “First Things 1st,” “Ricky Lawson and Friends” and “Pride and Joy.”


SHUTESBURY, Mass. (AP) — Grammy-winning musician and composer Yusef Lateef, 93, one of the first artists to incorporate world music into traditional jazz, died at his home Dec. 23, 2013.

Lateef, a tenor saxophonist known for his impressive technique, also became a top flutist, was a jazz soloist on the oboe, and played a variety of other woodwind instruments, including bassoon. As a composer, he created works for performers ranging from soloists to bands to choirs. In 1987, he won a Grammy Award for his new age recording “Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony,” on which he played all of the instruments.

In 2010, he was named an NEA Jazz Master, the nation’s highest jazz honor. He created his own music theory called “Autophysiopsychic Music,” which he described in the NEA interview as “music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self, and also from the heart.”

He held a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in music education from the Manhattan School of Music, and from 1987 to 2002, he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, from which he was awarded a doctorate in education.

Born William Emanuel Huddleston, in Chattanooga, Tenn., Lateef moved with his family to Detroit as a child. By age 18, he was touring professionally with swing bands led by Lucky Millinder, Roy Eldridge, Hot Lips Page and Ernie Fields. In 1949, he was invited to perform with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. He took the name Yusef Lateef after becoming a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Lateef became a fixture on the Detroit jazz scene in the 1950s, leading his own quintet. He first began recording under his own name in 1956 for Savoy Records. In 1960, he moved to New York and joined Charles Mingus’ band. Lateef went go on to perform with jazz greats including Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis. Lateef made more than 100 recordings as a leader for such labels as Prestige, Impulse, Atlantic and his own YAL Records, which he formed in 1992.


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Wojciech Kilar, 81, a pianist and composer of classical music and scores for films, including Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning “The Pianist,” died Dec. 29, 2013, following a lengthy illness. Although he wrote music for more than 130 movies — choosing projects based on the director, the salary and the script, in that order — Kilar’s main love was composing symphonies and concertos. That dedication cost him a commission to write the score for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He won the Best Score Composer award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1992 for his music writing for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” GM