Country Music Deaths of 2019

Gone from Music Row this year are the instantly recognizable voices of Mac Wiseman and Earl Thomas Conley, the transformative guitar work of Harold Bradley and Reggie Young and the production wizardry of Fred Foster and busbee. Apart from their musical contributions, Bradley and Wiseman were also members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as was Maxine Brown of the vocal trio, the Browns, who made her final exit as well.

Here follows a list of those whose music we cherish and whose passing we mourn:

Harold Bradley, 93, one of the world’s most recorded studio guitarists, a founder along with his brother, Owen Bradley, of Music Row’s first recording studios, record producer, bandleader, former president of the Nashville Musicians Assn. union and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, who died Jan. 31 in Nashville.

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Maxine Brown, 87, songwriter, author and the last surviving member of the Browns vocal trio, which, in 1959, had the international crossover hit, “The Three Bells,” Jan. 21 in Little Rock, AR. The Browns were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

busbee (Michael James Ryan), 43, musician, producer and songwriter who worked with such country artists as Keith Urban, Maren Morris and Florida Georgia Line, Sept. 29, place of death not disclosed.

Jerry Carrigan, 75, first-call drummer and part of the “Nashville Cats,” helped create the Muscle Shoals sound, recorded on “The Gambler,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Behind Closed Doors,” and countless others, June 22 in Chattanooga, TN.

Keith Case, 79, talent manager and booking agent for such acoustic-based artists as Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley and John Hartford, Sept. 3 in Whites Creek, TN

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Earl Thomas Conley, 77, singer and songwriter who co-wrote Conway Twitty’s “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” and whose hits as a recording artist included “Holding Her and Loving You,” “Nobody Falls Like a Fool” and “What I’d Say,” April 10 in Nashville.

Fred Foster, 87, record label owner, music publisher and producer who fostered the careers of Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Larry Gatlin , Roy Orbison and others, Feb. 20 in Nashville. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Donnie Fritts, 76, songwriter and musician who served as Kris Kristofferson’s long-time keyboardist, Aug. 27 in Birmingham, AL.

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Chuck Glaser, 83, the last surviving member of former Grand Ole Opry act Tompall & the Glaser Brothers, whose hits included “Rings” (1971) and “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” (1981), June 10 in Lafayette, TN

Jim Glaser, 81, a member of Tompall & the Glaser Brothers who established himself as a solo artist in the 1980s via such high-charting singles as “You’re Gettin’ to Me Again,” “The Man in the Mirror” and “If I Could Only Dance With You,” April 6 in Murfreesboro, TN.

Bonnie Guitar (Bonnie Buckingham), 95, recording artist, producer, studio musician and songwriter whose hits in the 1950s and ’60s included “Dark Moon,” “I’m Living in Two Worlds” and “A Woman in Love,” Jan. 13 in Soap Lake, WA.

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Bob Kingsley, 80, fabled radio personality, former host of American Country Countdown and later host of the widely-syndicated Bob Kingsley’s Country Top 40, Oct. 17 in Weatherford, TX.

Joe Mansfield, 77, record executive crucial in Garth Brooks’ early success, Oct. 31 in Brentwood, TN.

Glenn Martin, 86, co-founder of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and composer of Charley Pride’s “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” Merle Haggard’s “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad) and “If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday,” and Tammy Wynette’s “I Still Believe in Fairy Tales,” May 12, in Nashville, TN.

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Ralph Murphy, 75, producer, pop and country songwriter (“He Got You,” “Half the Way”) and former ASCAP executive, May 28, in Nashville.

Leon Rausch, 91, former lead vocalist of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, May 14 in Fort Worth.

Billy Ray Reynolds, 79, composer of John Conlee’s “Working Man,” Tanya Tucker’s “Don’t Believe My Heart Can Stand Another You,” guitarist for Waylon Jennings, Nov. 29 in Olive, MS.

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Steve Ripley, 69, producer, engineer and leader of the country-rock band, the Tractors, Jan. 3 in Pawnee, OK.

Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer, 84, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and composer of such hits as “That’s the Way Love Goes,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” Jan. 12 in Ridgetop, TN.

Russell Smith, 70, singer, songwriter and co-founder of the Amazing Rhythm Aces and Run C&W, July 12 in Franklin, TN.

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Micheal Smotherman, 71, musician, songwriter and online humorist whose hits included Earl Thomas Conley’s “Too Many Times” and Kenny Rogers’ “Tomb of the Unknown Love,” Nov. 29 in Erick, OK.

Joe Sun (James Joseph Paulson), 76, singer, musician, songwriter, former record promoter and the first to chart the now-classic “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)” (1978), Oct. 25 in Palm Bay, FL.

Nick Tosches, 69, music journalist and biographer of such acts as Dean Martin, Hall & Oates and Jerry Lee Lewis, Oct. 20 in Manhattan.

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Mac Wiseman, 93, pop and bluegrass singer known as “the voice with a heart,” a founder of the Country Music Association, early member of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys and of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Feb. 24 in Nashville.

Reggie Young, 82, guitarist who played on sessions for Elvis Presley, B.J. Thomas, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond and dozen of other hit artists, Jan. 17 in Leiper’s Fork, TN.

Pictured at top: Country Music Hall of Fame members Harold Bradley and Fred Foster

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to