They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Well, 2015 was much the same as any other year. Here’s proof.
Badasses: Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead and The Head Cat), Rowdy Roddy Piper (WWE and “They Live”), Ken “The Snake” Stabler (NFL quarterback).
Baseball greats: Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso.
Baseball voices: Darryl Hamilton (Brewers), Milo Hamilton (Astros and Cubs), Lon Simmons (Giants).
Basketball greats: Moses Malone, Harvey Pollack (NBA statistician extraordinaire), Dean Smith.
Bass players: Andy Fraser (Free), Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson’s “Thunder Thumbs”), Chris Squire (Yes).
Behind the camera: Ed Sabol (NFL Films), Tony Verna (TV director who introduced instant replay), Haskell Wexler (cinematographer).
Clint Eastwood’s co-stars: Richard Dysart (“Pale Rider”), Geoffrey Lewis (“High Plains Drifter” and six other films), Dick Van Patten (“Joe Kidd”).
Columbia Records connections: Sam Andrew (Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist), John Berg (art director designed some of those great covers and signed off on R. Crumb’s “Cheap Thrills” cover), Bob Johnston (produced Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel).
Commercial stars: Monica Lewis (jazz singer who voiced the Chiquita Banana), Windell Middlebrooks (actor who played Miller High Life delivery guy; he helped us at the Super Bowl), Darrell Winfield (Wyoming rancher who was the Marlboro Man for 20 years).
Crushes: Yvonne Craig (“Batman”), Donna Douglas (“The Beverly Hillbillies”), Melody Patterson (she was just 16 when cast in “F Troop”).
CTE is killing football players: Frank Gifford (Giants) was 84. Mike Pyle (Bears) was 76. Adrian Robinson (four NFL teams in two years) was 25.
Designers: Jerry Dior (Major League Baseball logo),Michael C. Gross (“National Lampoon” dog and gun cover), Betty Willis (Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign).
Drummers: John Bradbury (The Specials), Bob Burns (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Phil Taylor (Motorhead).
Fame’s dark side: Judy Carne (“Laugh-In,” but also drugs and sex, as told by Aerosmith’s Joe Perry), Kim Fowley (Runaways producer who eventually faced sex assault allegations), Amanda Peterson (“Can’t Buy Me Love,” but also drug problems).
Globetrotters: Marquis Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, the Washington Generals (disbanded after last game on Aug. 1, a 90-88 loss).
Gone country: Lynn Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Gimble.
Gonged: Milton DeLugg (bandleader), Eugene Patton (Gene Gene the Dancing Machine), Gary Owens (host).
Guitar players: Dave Ball (Procol Harum), Peggy Jones (or Lady Bo, from her work with Bo Diddley), Gary Richrath (R.E.O. Speedwagon).
Guys I admired: Ron Blomberg (Milwaukee Bucks announcer who ran their camps, which I never got to attend), Stan Erickson (ran the New Frontier Record Exchange, which I visited once), Phil Pepe (New York sportswriter wrote “Winners Never Quit,” one of my favorite books as a kid).
Having fun with Elvis: Jack Carter (comedian played himself in “Viva Las Vegas”), Joe Guercio (musical director), Dean Jones (“Jailhouse Rock” co-star).
Hollywood royalty: Christopher Lee, Maureen O’Hara, Omar Sharif.
Hot rodders: George Barris (designed the 1966 Batmobile and other kustom kars), Hot Rod Hundley (NBA player and broadcaster), John “Hot Rod” Williams (NBA player).
Inventive: Gary Dahl (Pet Rock), Don Featherstone (plastic pink flamingo), Vic Firth (drumsticks).
Irreverent: Darryl Dawkins (NBA’s “Chocolate Thunder”), Stan Freberg, Leon Varjian (legendary college prankster).
Keyboard players: Bobby Emmons (Memphis session man), Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream), Ralph Sharon (Tony Bennett).
Liberal voices: Beau Biden (Delaware), Mario Cuomo (New York), Robert Kastenmeier (Wisconsin).
Made in Wisconsin: Michael Ariens (Ariens snowblowers and lawn mowers), Bob Nueske (Nueske’s bacon and smoked meats), Karl Ratzsch Jr. (Karl Ratzsch’s German restaurant).
Marvin Gaye’s collaborators: Al Abrams (Motown Records’ first publicist), Marlene Barrow-Tate (The Andantes, then backup for Gaye and the Four Tops, the Temptations and The Supremes), Mel Farr (NFL player sang backup on “What’s Going On”).
Memorable partners: William Guest (Gladys Knight and the Pips), Cynthia Lennon (John’s ex-wife), Gail Zappa (Frank’s widow).
Mighty singers: Andrae Crouch, Ronnie Gilbert, Mighty Sam McClain.
Music royalty: B.B. King, Ben E. King, Billy Joe Royal.
New Orleans funerals: Skip Easterling (singer), Frankie Ford (singer), Paul Prudhomme (chef).
Notorious women: Madame Claude (French madam), Carol Doda (San Francisco topless dancer), Anne Nicol Gaylor (atheist).
Panelists: Jayne Meadows, (“I’ve Got A Secret”), Anne Meara (“The Match Game”), Betsy Palmer (“I’ve Got A Secret”).
Rock singers: Jack Ely (The Kingsmen), Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Stevie Wright (The Easybeats).
Sax players: Ornette Coleman, Wilton Felder (The Crusaders), Steve Mackay (The Stooges).
Songwriters: Michael Brown (“Walk Away Renee,” “Pretty Ballerina”), Wayne Carson (“The Letter,” “Soul Deep,” “Always On My Mind”), P.F. Sloan (“Eve Of Destruction,” “Secret Agent Man”).
Soul singers: Errol Brown (Hot Chocolate), Don Covay, Percy Sledge.
“Star Trek” originals: Bruce Hyde (Lt. Kevin Riley), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand).
Storytellers: Vincent Bugliosi (“Helter Skelter”), George Clayton Johnson (“The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” “Logan’s Run,” “Ocean’s Eleven”), Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter” and “What’s Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A.”).
The producers: Harve Bennett (“The Mod Squad,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Star Trek” films), Jerry Weintraub (concert tours, “Nashville,” “Diner,” “The Karate Kid”), Bud Yorkin (“All In The Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son”).
They wore a badge on TV: James Best (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), Martin Milner (“Adam-12”), Al Molinaro (“The Odd Couple”).
Three Dog Night: Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboards), June Fairchild (actress who named the band), Cory Wells (singer).
Trailblazers: Julian Bond (civil rights leader), Stanley Kutler (Wisconsin historian who got the Nixon tapes released), Earl Lloyd (the first black NBA player).
Trumpet players: Ben Cauley, (the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the Otis Redding plane crash in 1967), Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone), Lew Soloff (Blood, Sweat & Tears).
TV’s cool cats: Robert Loggia (“The C.A.T.”), Patrick Macnee (“The Avengers”), Wayne Rogers (“M*A*S*H”).
Unforgettable singers: Cilla Black, Natalie Cole, Lesley Gore.
Wrestling legends: Nick Bockwinkel, Verne Gagne, Dusty Rhodes.
The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. This year, it was Allen Toussaint, the great New Orleans arranger, producer, pianist and singer, and one of the nicest performers I ever met. A gentle, delightful man with a sparkle in his eyes (and his tie and his shoes), Toussaint nodded hello as he walked past me and onto the stage on a cold winter night in 2008.
My friend Todd, who worked at the venue at the time and now runs Rock n’ Roll Land, one of our local indie record stores, also has a cool Allen Toussaint story:
“I got the pleasure to pick up Allen at the airport in February. He was flying from Chicago to Green Bay and the flight was on a small plane, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’ So I greet him and ask, ‘How was your flight?’ He says, ‘Interesting, I enjoy those little planes.’ Made small talk with him on the way over to the hotel.
“Couple days later, I go pick him up from his room to head down to the show. Again making small talk, I ask him if he did anything during the day, you know, did you go outside at all? Mind you, it’s February, temperatures below zero, and he looks at me and says, ‘Now why would I do that?’
“He was one of the nicest, coolest guys I ever met, always dressed in a suit.”
When Allen Toussaint performed here on that cold winter night, we were in the presence of greatness.
— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2015. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.
— I am remiss in not crediting three prime sources for this list each year.
First, the folks at Wikipedia who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.
Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.
Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.