Skip to main content

Obituaries: Jimmy Dean, Calvin Leavy, Stuart Cable, Garry Shider, Bill Dixon

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Jimmy Dean (left), 81, a country music legend for his smash hit about a workingman hero, “Big Bad John,” and an entrepreneur known for his sausage brand, died June 13, 2010.


His wife, Donna Meade Dean, said her husband died at their Henrico County, Va., home. She told The Associated Press that he had some health problems but was still functioning well, so his death came as a shock. Dean lived in semiretirement with his wife on their estate just outside Richmond. “He was amazing,” she said. “He had a lot of talents.”
In February 2010, Dean was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was to be inducted in October.

With his drawled wisecracks and quick wit, Dean charmed many fans. But in both entertainment and business circles, he was also known for his tough hide. He fired bandmate Roy Clark, who went on to “Hee Haw” fame, for showing up late for gigs.

Born in 1928, Dean was raised in poverty in Plainview, Texas, and dropped out of high school after the ninth grade.

His mother showed him how to play his first chord on the piano. His father, who left the family, was a songwriter and singer. Dean taught himself to play the accordion and the harmonica.
Dean’s start in the music business came as an accordionist at a tavern near Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where he was stationed in the 1940s. After leaving the Air Force in 1948, he fronted his band, the Texas Wildcats. By the early 1950s, Dean’s band had its first national hit in “Bummin’ Around.” “Big Bad John,’’ about a coal miner who saves fellow workers when a mine roof collapses, became a big hit in 1961 and won a Grammy. He wrote it in less than two hours.

His fame led him to a string of television shows, including “The Jimmy Dean Show” on CBS. Dean’s last big TV stint was ABC’s version of “The Jimmy Dean Show’’ from 1963 to 1966. Dean became a headliner at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and became the first country star to play on the Las Vegas strip. He was the first guest host on “The Tonight Show,’’ and also was an actor with parts in television and the movies, including the role of James Bond’s ally Willard Whyte in the 1971 film “Diamonds Are Forever.’’

In the late 1960s, Dean entered the hog business — something he knew well. The Jimmy Dean Meat Co. opened with a plant in Plainview. After six months, the company was profitable. He sold the company to Sara Lee Corp. in 1984.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Blues singer Calvin Leavy, whose “Cummins Prison Farm” and other songs of struggle and failure seemed to anticipate a life of turmoil, died June 6, 2010, in the Arkansas state prison system.

Spokeswoman Dina Tyler says Leavy died in a Pine Bluff, Ark., hospital, likely from complications from diabetes. Family was at his side. The 70-year-old Leavy, whose songs also include, “If Life Lasts Luck is Bound to Change,” had been locked up since 1992, when he was convicted of multiple drug-related counts in Little Rock. His life plus 25 years sentence was commuted to 75 years by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. Leavy began his sentence in the Cummins Unit, but was moved soon afterward due to his health.
LONDON (AP) — Stuart Cable, the former drummer with the British rock band Stereophonics, has died at the age of 40.

South Wales Police say Cable was found June 7, 2010, at his home in the town of Aberdare, 165 miles (265 kilometers) west of London. The cause of death has not been determined, but there are no suspicious circumstances.

Cable co-founded Stereophonics with singer Kelly Jones in the early 1990s. The band had a string of British top 10 hits, including “Have a Nice Day.” Cable left the group in 2003 amid reports of conflicts with band mates. He recently formed a new band, Killing for Company, and worked as a broadcaster, with a show on BBC Radio Wales.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Garry Shider, 56, the longtime musical director of Parliament-Funkadelic whose funky guitar work, songwriting skills and musical arrangements thrilled fans around the globe and earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died June 16, 2010, at his Maryland home.

Shider was known to millions of fans as “Starchild” or “Diaperman,” the latter because of the loincloth he often wore onstage. Shider’s son, Garrett, said that his father was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in late March. He briefly went out on tour one last time but had to stop due to failing health.

“He was a beautiful man who had a beautiful heart, who loved his fans just as much as they loved him,” Garrett Shider said. “I’m sure if he had the choice, he would have passed on a tour bus, because he loved playing music, playing for the fans.”

Shider started his musical career as a young boy, performing mostly gospel music in churches in a group that included his brother and was overseen by their father. The band also played backup for prominent gospel artists when they performed concerts in the area, but Shider’s musical taste grew more diverse.

The teenager first met P-Funk mastermind George Clinton in the late 1960s at a barbershop Clinton owned, where future P-Funk members would sing doo-wop for customers and counsel local youths. Then, when he was around 16, Shider and a friend went to Canada, where they formed a funk/rock band called United Soul, or “U.S.”

Clinton heard about the band from people in the local music business, and took the band under his wing upon learning that Shider was a member. He helped produce some of their songs and eventually invited Shider to join P-Funk, a combination of two bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. Shider soon became a mainstay of Clinton’s wide-ranging musical family, eventually serving as its musical director and co-writing some of Parliament-Funkadelic’s biggest hits.

Shider first appeared on Funkadelic’s 1971 album “Maggot Brain” and Parliament’s second album “Up for the Down Stroke,” and joined P-Funk for good in 1972. He became one of Clinton’s most trusted lieutenants, co-writing and providing vocals on some of the band’s biggest hits — including “Atomic Dog,” “Cosmic Slop,” “Can You Get to That” and “One Nation Under the Groove.”

He toured with P-Funk for many years and was still an active member of the group. He was among 16 members — including Clinton — inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, winning recognition for their musicianship, politically charged lyrics, outlandish concept albums and memorable live performances.
Trumpeter and composer Bill Dixon, died June 16, 2010, at his home in North Bennington, Vt., after a two-year illness. He was 84.

Dixon was a revered figure in the avant-garde of jazz music, and a creative force who strived at all times to place the music in ever more respectful circumstances. He developed an often-controversial profile as an outspoken and articulate defender of musicians’ rights as artists. Through five decades as a recording artist, Dixon’s music has developed a loyal worldwide following.

Dixon steered an influential through short-lived collective-bargaining movement in New York in 1964–65, the Jazz Composers’ Guild. He emerged as a composer and bandleader in a second wave of the New York avant-garde. His legacy of ensemble records frames an unparalleled body of solo music for trumpet and a subsequent series of small ensemble recordings that stand apart in texture, instrumentation, personnel and orientation from most of the numerous records of the period by Dixon’s contemporaries.

He was born William Robert Dixon on Oct. 5, 1925. An early aptitude in realistic drawing led him to advanced studies in commercial art during and after high school, before music became a serious interest. Dixon enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and served in Germany. His study of music began at the Hartnett Conservatory of music in the mid-1940s. His journeyman years as a jazz trumpet player in the ’50s involved activity as a sideman in an array of projects. He served as an international civil servant at the United Nations Secretariat and also founded the UN Jazz Society in 1959. In 1964, Dixon organized a concert series, the October Revolution in Jazz.

Starting in 1966, Dixon entered a collaborative partnership with dancer/choreographer Judith Dunn. He joined the faculty at Bennington College, where she taught, and he pushed for the creation of the Black Music Division. Active from 1975 until 1985, the program was a prototype of college-level music study. Dixon retired from teaching in 1995 and continued to perform and record, chiefly in Europe. His last years saw a dramatic increase in the frequency of his U.S. appearances and in U.S.-released recordings of his works for ensembles.
— Ben Young, courtesy of Bill Dixon’s estate