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Music industry obituaries from Nov. 19, 2011, to Dec. 18, 2011

Farewell to Barbara Orbison, Dobie Gray, Billie Jo Spears, Bert Schneider, Thomas Roady, Don DeVito, Willard Tyler Sr., Howard Tate, Al Vega, John Larson, Barry Llewellyn, Paul Motian and Cesaria Evora.

By The Associated Press

Barbara Orbison
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Barbara Orbison, widow of rock ’n’ roll pioneer Roy Orbison who devoted her time to keeping his legacy alive, died of pancreatic cancer Dec. 6, 2011. Her death came 23 years to the day of her husband’s death at age 52 amid a comeback in The Traveling Wilburys.

Barbara Orbison publicity image

Barbara Orbison. Publicity photo courtesy Orbison Records.

With her son, Roy Kelton Orbison Jr., she co-produced “Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll,” a four-CD box set of her husband’s 107 recordings.

In 1998, Barbara Orbison accepted the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award on her husband’s behalf; in 2010, she did the same for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Orbison’s Nashville, Tenn.-based music publishing company Still Working Music was awarded BMI’s 2010 Song of the Year for Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.”

Dobie Gray
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer and songwriter Dobie Gray, 69, known for the 1973 hit “Drift Away,” died Dec. 6, 2011, after a battle with cancer.

Gray wrote songs for an array of country and pop performers, including Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Etta James, Three Dog Night, Julio Iglesias, John Denver, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. His silky tenor was heard on such hits as “The In Crowd” and “Loving Arms.” He also sang ad-vertising jingles for companies including Clorox, Budweiser and Honda. After insisted on performing for integrated audiences in South Africa, he became especially popular in South Africa.

Gray was born into a family of sharecroppers in Simonton, Texas. He moved from Texas to California in the early 1960s where he met Sonny Bono, then an executive with Specialty Records. This led to his first record, “Look at Me,” in 1963. While in Los Angeles, Gray appeared in a production of “Hair.”

Gray willed much of his property and future earnings to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Billie Jo Spears
VIDOR, Texas (AP) — Singer Billie Jo Spears, whose performance of “Blanket on the Ground” went No. 1 on the country charts in 1975, died Dec. 14, 2011. She was 73. No cause of death was stated.

The Beaumont native was voted most promising female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1976. Her other hits included “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over” in 1969; “What I’ve Got in Mind” in 1976; “Misty Blue” in 1976; and “If You Want Me” in 1977.

Bert Schneider
LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Five Easy Pieces” producer Bert Schneider, who also co-created The Monkees with Bob Rafelson, died Dec. 12, 2011, at age 78.

Schneider produced 11 movies from 1969 to 1981, including “Easy Rider,” ‘’Five Easy Pieces” and “The Last Picture Show.” Schneider also produced the Oscar-winning 1974 anti-Vietnam War documentary “Hearts and Minds.”

Thomas Roady
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Thomas Roady, a drummer for Grammy-winning bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs was found dead in the band’s tour bus.

Roady, 62, died in his sleep from heart problems.

Don DeVito
NEW YORK (AP) — Don DeVito, a longtime Columbia Records executive who produced the key Bob Dylan albums “Blood on the Tracks” and “Desire” and also worked with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Aerosmith, died Nov. 25, 2011. He was 72.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born DeVito spent his entire career at Columbia; he started off as a trainee at CBS Records, which later became Columbia. From there, he grew into one of the label’s most influential executives and producers, helping to create albums that became a part of rock ‘n’ roll history. He also worked with James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel and Janis Joplin.

DeVito started off as a guitarist touring for Al Kooper, and had his own band, The Sabres, which later broke up mid-tour. According to Columbia, DeVito was stranded in Fort Smith, Ark., when he happened to meet Johnny Cash and developed what would become a lifelong friendship; Cash later introduced DeVito to Dylan.

DeVito won a Grammy in 1989 for his work on “Folkways — A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly.” He also helped organize “The Concert for New York City,” the all-star benefit event staged after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Willard Tyler Sr.
VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Willard Tyler Sr., 95, one of the founders and trumpeter for the Mississippi blues and jazz band The Red Tops, died Nov. 19, 2011. Tyler’s musical career began as a teenager playing trumpet in his high school band. Formed in 1953, The Red Tops performed until 1974. Their music featured a mix of blues, jazz and pop, and the group played to integrated audiences across Mississippi and neighboring states.

Howard Tate
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Soul singer Howard Tate, who got a second chance at a musical career three decades after being derailed by disputes with industry executives, personal tragedy and drug addiction, died Dec. 2, 2011, at age 72.

Tate was born in Macon, Ga., and grew up in Philadelphia, where as a teenager he sang with the doo-wop group The Gainors. He was a rising star in the music world who later suffered through decades of such extreme darkness that his long-time producer figured he was dead before having a career resurgence and receiving a Grammy nomination in 2004.

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Tate had three top 20 R&B hits, including “Get It While You Can,” written by his longtime producer Jerry Ragovoy and made more famous by Janis Joplin. At his early peak, Tate toured the chitlin circuit with Aretha Franklin as her version of “Respect” climbed the charts in 1967.

Within a decade, Tate had walked away from his career, disillusioned that he wasn’t getting the royalties he thought he deserved. He took up a new career selling insurance in suburban Philadelphia. Then, tragedy struck: A daughter died in a fire, his marriage fell apart, he drank heavily, then became addicted to crack and other drugs and ended up homeless in Camden. By the mid-1990s, he got clean and decided to become a minister.
Around that time, Tate’s 1967 album “Get It While You Can,” was reissued on CD. In 2001, a chance meeting at a grocery store between Tate and a former member of Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes tipped off the music world that he was alive. In 2003, Tate returned to the Ragovoy’s Atlanta recording studio to make “Rediscovered,” which was nominated for a Grammy for best contemporary blues record the next year.

Tate said he believed it was “a call from God” that brought him back to the music industry he had “hated and despised so bad.” Over the next five years, he toured and released a live record and three more studio CDs.

Al Vega
BOSTON (AP) — Al Vega, a longtime Boston musician who played with some of the finest jazz talents through a career that spanned 70 years, died Dec. 2, 2011. He was 90.

Born Aram Vagramian in Worcester, Mass., Vega was the house pianist at the Hi-Hat jazz club. He teamed up with jazz greats including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He later led his own trio and became a fixture at Lucky’s Lounge. Vega played both the piano and the vibraphone, and had hundreds of recordings as a pianist and a backup artist. A World War II veteran, Vega was also a longtime Little League and Babe Ruth baseball coach in Everett, Mass.

John Larson
John Larson, a trumpet player known for his work with The Ides of March, died Sept. 21, 2011, according to an obituary published in the Chicago Sun-Times. He was 61.

Barry Llewellyn
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Barry Llewellyn of The Heptones died Nov. 23, 2011, at age 64. Llewellyn founded the Heptones with Earl Morgan in the late 1950s. The group was influential during the island’s rocksteady era in the 1960s. The Heptones reunited in the 1990s after a nearly 20-year absence during a worldwide ska and rocksteady revival.

Paul Motian
NEW YORK (AP) — Longtime jazz drummer and composer Paul Motian died Nov. 22, 2011, at age 80.

Motian, who grew up in Providence, R.I., and spent time in the Navy, came to the forefront while a member of pianist Bill Evans’ trio in the late 1950s and early 1960s, playing on landmark recordings such as “Waltz for Debby’’ and “Sunday at the Village Vanguard.’’ Motian’s career also included stints as a bandleader, beginning with the album “Conception Vessel’’ in 1972. He recorded nearly three dozen albums for the ECM, WInter & Winter and JMT labels.

Even after Motian stopped touring, he continued to perform and record, mostly in New York and most often at the Village Vanguard jazz club.

Cesaria Evora
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Cesaria Evora, who started singing as a teenager in the bayside bars of Cape Verde in the 1950s and won a Grammy in 2003 after she took her African islands music to stages across the world, died Dec. 18, 2011. She was 70.

Evora, known as the “Barefoot Diva” because she always performed without shoes, retired in September because of health problems. In recent years she had had several operations.

Born Aug. 27, 1941, Evora sang the traditional music of the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa, a former Portuguese colony. She mostly sang in the version of creole spoken there, but even audiences who couldn’t understand the lyrics were moved by her stirring renditions, her unpretentious manner and the music’s infectious beat. Her singing style brought comparisons to Billie Holiday.