In Memoriam – Country Music Greats We Lost in 2017

Country music lost many great artists and musicians in 2017, including Troy Gentry, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis, and more.

Written by Chuck Dauphin
In Memoriam – Country Music Greats We Lost in 2017
Troy Gentry, Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images; Glen Campbell, Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/WireImage; Mel Tillis, Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

To say that 2017 has been a sad year in terms of artists and personalities that we lost in country music would be very much an understatement. Among those whose obituaries have sadly made our news feeds include three of the format’s most iconic stylists who are also members of the Country Music Hall of Fame – and one of the genre’s biggest and most-beloved hitmakers of the past twenty years.

Here is a look back at some of the losses to hit the country music industry this year.

Sam Lovullo – January 3

L to R: Sam Lovullo, Buck Owens, Roy Clark

In this world of the Internet and hundreds of television channels at our grasp at any given moment, the importance of TV producer Sam Lovullo can’t be underestimated. As one of the creative forces behind the series Hee Haw, he was responsible for helping to grow the country format greatly during a time when the show was THE outlet for performers in the genre.

Greg Trooper – January 15

Greg Trooper was far from a household name in the world of country music, but a very talented Americana singer who worked over the years with such acts as Vince Gill, Robert Earl Keen, and Steve Earle.

Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman – January 29 and May 27

Fans of the Allman Brothers Band had two reasons to shed tears this year. On January 29, founding member Butch Trucks passed away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 69. Just four months later, Gregg Allman – one of the greatest voices of this – or any – generation died after a long battle with cancer – also at the age of 69. For any fan of Southern Rock music – such as former President Jimmy Carter – who attended Allman’s funeral – these losses will be felt forever.

Don Warden – March 11

The name of Don Warden definitely wasn’t a household name. However, were it not for his business acumen – and musical talents – the careers of two Country Music Hall of Fame members would never be the same. Warden was a longtime steel player for Porter Wagoner, and when Dolly Parton left Wagoner’s stage show in 1974, Warden became her manager – helping her to become one of the biggest artists of all time.

Bob Wootton – April 9

As part of The Tennessee Three, Bob Wootton played guitar in the band of the late Johnny Cash, becoming an integral part of the sound of “The Man In Black.”

Powers Boothe – May 14

Powers Boothe on Season 1 of Nashville; Katherine Bomboy-Thorton/ABC via Getty Images

He wasn’t a Country singer, but Powers Boothe made his presence known among fans of the format with his portrayal of Lamar Wyatt on Nashville. His acting resume ran far deeper, with roles in Tombstone, 24, and a chilling turn as Jim Jones in the 1980 TV-movie Guyana Tragedy – which netted him an Emmy.

Norro Wilson – June 8

Norro Wilson enjoyed success as a writer, a producer, and an artist. Just a few of the hits for which he had a hand in bringing to the public included “The Most Beautiful Girl,” “How Forever Feels,” and “No Place That Far.”

Kayton Roberts – July 13

For over three decades, the steel-guitar wizardry of Kayton Roberts was an integral part of the Hank Snow sound. A member of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, Roberts also worked with artists such as Randy Travis, Marty Stuart, and Alison Krauss.

Michael Johnson – July 25

The easy-going style and nature of Michael Johnson made him a staple on adult contemporary and country radio in the 1970s and 1980s with hits such as “Give Me Wings” and “Bluer Than Blue.” He also recorded with artists such as Sylvia and Alison Krauss.

Billy Joe Walker, Jr. – July 25

As a writer and producer Billy Joe Walker, Jr. helped acts such as Eddie Rabbitt, Bryan White, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt reach new artistic heights as performers. The talented musician also recorded seven albums of new age music.

Glen Campbell – August 8

Glen Campbell; Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images

As a singer and a musician, Glen Campbell had few peers. He played on 60s hits from The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and Kenny Rogers – and began his own path to the Country Music Hall of Fame in the early part of that decade with a record-setting string of hits on Capitol Records. The 1968 CMA Entertainer of the Year’s final bow came as a result of his very public battle with Alzheimer’s Disease – very much a first in the entertainment business.

Jo Walker-Meador – August 15

Country Music might have still become a worldwide phenomenon without the efforts of Jo Walker-Meador, but the longtime leader of the CMA helped to raise awareness of the format around the globe. Her career ran the timeline of Kitty Wells to Shania Twain, working tirelessly to promote the genre to the masses.

Troy Gentry – September 8

Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry; Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Outback Concerts

Without a doubt, the most shocking passing in the world of country music this year came on the afternoon of September 8 with the news that Troy Gentry had died from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash in New Jersey. As half of the CMA-winning Duo of the Year Montgomery Gentry, the singer was one of the most-beloved and respected members of the country music community.

Don Williams – September 8

Don Williams was a man of few words, choosing to express himself through song. His music, a collection of classics ranging from “Tulsa Time” to “I Believe In You,” ensures that the legacy of the man known as “The Gentle Giant” will live forever.

Tom Petty – October 2

History might list Tom Petty as a Rocker, but the Florida native definitely had a love and appreciation for country music. His catalog included covers from artists such as Conway Twitty, he recorded with Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Jr., and his own music served as influence on many of today’s top stars.

Mel Tillis – November 19

Mel Tillis; Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Mel Tillis enjoyed success as a writer, an artist, and as an entertainer, on and off the record. The Florida native shined in front of the camera, starring in several movies and game shows, as well as a successful series of commercials for companies such as Whataburger! But, at the end of the day, he created one of the most-successful song catalogs in the format, with hits such as “I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Detroit City,” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”

Mary Tyler Moore – January 25

And, one more celebrity who passed away in 2017 who made a definite impact on country music was… Mary Tyler Moore. While the actress, who passed away on January 25, was never a Nashville resident, she did lend her name – and MTM copyright – to a record label in the 1980s that included country hits from Judy Rodman, S-K-O, and Holly Dunn. The label was one of the first music business jobs for Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, and among the label’s interns was a young Belmont graduate who would go on to become one of the most-admired female vocalists of all time. Her name? Trisha Yearwood.