(January 30, 2022). It’s only a partial coincidence that the blog’s 666th article is a somewhat morbid but uplifting one.
Last week, when DJROBBLOG celebrated its seventh anniversary, I noted we had published 664 articles. This article was on tap to be #665.
Then two unrelated things happened: 1) a looming 40th anniversary of one of the most incredible chart occurrences in Billboard history demanded it’s own article; and 2) a friend and occasional blog contributor with whom I’d shared the idea for this article suggested that it be made No. 666, given its subject matter.
Thus, the chart anniversary article became No. 665 and, well, you’re now reading No. 666.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when people see the number 666 is that it’s a sign of evil or that bad luck is coming. Many have associated the number with the Devil; the Bible (in the Book of Revelations) considers it the mark of the beast.
But 666 doesn’t have to be evil. In fact, some consider it to be a widely misunderstood “angel number,” one representing the “ascended masters,” or those divine beings who have merged with their higher selves who no longer have earthly bodies. Their purpose as guardian angels is to give those who remain on earth guidance and to put them on a path to being happy, healthy and successful.
This article is about those musicians left behind, the sole surviving original or core members of musical groups who’ve been entertaining us for decades, and the “ascended masters” who preceded them in death that may now be serving as those guardian angels.
The recent passing of the last surviving founding member of the groundbreaking 1960s instrumental quartet The Ventures is what inspired this article. Don Williams, the group’s founding rhythm guitarist, died in Takoma, Washington on January 22 at age 88.
The Ventures were known for their chugging, surf-rock, guitar-heavy instrumental numbers and scored 38 charting albums during the 1960s alone. They’ve sold more than 100 million records, making them the biggest selling instrumental group of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 and have enjoyed immense success overseas, particularly in Japan where they reign as the biggest-selling American act to this day.
You may remember The Ventures for their two greatest hits here in America: “Walk, Don’t Run” (1960) and “Hawaii Five-0” (yes, the TV show theme from 1968), both of which reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100.
Williams’ death is a reminder of the stark reality that comes with the passage of time, notably that many of our favorite musical groups of the 1960s, ‘70’s and even ‘80’s are entering that realm where only one or no original members remain. With the Ventures now joining groups like The Kingston Trio, The Platters, and The Browns (to name a few from earlier decades) as groups with three or more people whose original members have all deceased, it’s only a matter of time before others from decades past join that dubious distinction.
Motown legends like the Temptations and the Four Tops have long been associated with this unfortunate reality, as they’ve been down to just one original (but still very active) member for many years. Tempts Founder Otis Williams has been carrying the torch for that iconic quintet ever since bass singer Melvin Franklin died in 1995. Duke Fakir has been doing the same for the Four Tops since 2008 when original lead singer Levi Stubbs passed away. The two Motown groups have been well noted for how early in their respective histories many of their original members were lost.
But just a year ago they were joined by another iconic Motown act when Mary Wilson of the Supremes passed away. For nearly 60 years, she was the only original member of the Supremes still affiliated with the group. Diana Ross left for good in 1970. Now Ross remains as the only surviving founding member, as Florence Ballard died in 1976.
Supreme Tribute: A selection of Supremes songs where the late Mary Wilson sang lead.
The Monkees joined this list just last month when founder Michael Nesmith died at age 78 from heart failure at his home in California. He leaves Micky Dolenz as the lone surviving original member of the band. Davy Jones and Peter Tork died in 2012 and 2019, respectively.
When Ronnie Spector passed away surprisingly just weeks ago (Jan. 12), she catapulted Ronettes group mate Nedra Talley into this unique group of sole survivors.
With those as lead-ins, here’s an alphabetical list of 17 notable music groups (that is, acts with three or more members) from the 20th century with just one remaining founding member still with us today.
Bee Gees. Barry Gibb, oldest brother of the Gibb family, is the lone survivor of this iconic trio that included his younger deceased twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb. In an active chart career that spanned more than four decades, they had nine No. 1 singles in America during the 1970s and scored one of the biggest albums of all time with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1977-78. Barry Gibb wrote or co-wrote seven No. 1 hits in 1978 alone.
The Chi-Lites. Founding member Marshall Thompson is the sole survivor of this legendary R&B group out of Chicago. By the time they were a quartet using their famous name and making hits, the group consisted of fellow core members Eugene Record, Robert Lester and Creadel Jones, all three of whom have deceased. Their biggest hits in America were “Oh Girl” and “Have You Seen Her” during the early 1970s. Thompson, who has 15 children and 37 grandchildren, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2021 on behalf of his group.
Cream. Good ol’ “Slowhand” Eric Clapton is likely more known for everything he’s done since he was a member of Cream than the music he made with the band. Still, he became that legendary trio’s sole survivor when iconic drummer and co-founder Ginger Baker passed away in 2019. Jack Bruce, the British group’s bassist and co-lead vocalist, died five years earlier. Clapton has had numerous hits as a member of the Yardbirds, Blind Faith, and as Derek & the Dominoes, not to mention his solo career. He remains the only 3-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cream, Yardbirds, and solo). More recently, he’s been in the news as an outspoken critic of various governments’ responses to the pandemic, which he partially attributes to his own reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Carl Palmer is this legendary prog-rock trio’s sole remaining founder. Both Greg Lake and Keith Emerson died in 2016. Known for such classics as “Lucky Man,” “Trilogy,” “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “From The Beginning,” the super group ELP, whose members originally played with other well known bands, charted fourteen albums on the Billboard 200 between 1970-80. Palmer is currently embarking on an ELP Legacy Tour with hologram and video representations of his late bandmates.
Four Tops. Abdul “Duke” Fakir, who turned 86 last month, is the sole original survivor of this legendary group who, along with the Supremes, Miracles and the Temptations, were considered “the Big 4” of the “Motown group” sound. The Four Tops racked up 45 Hot 100 hits from 1964-88, the biggest two being the No. 1 songs “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” Fakir, who once vowed along with his group mates that none of them would ever be replaced, is now touring with a new set of Tops, for obvious reasons.
Gap Band. Charlie Wilson, or Uncle Charlie as we now affectionately know him, is the only one of three Wilson brothers remaining from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Gap Band. His brothers Robert and Ronnie, with whom Charlie formed the group in 1967, died in 2010 and 2021 respectively. The group charted 33 R&B hits between 1977-95 before Charlie, who spent two years homeless during the 1990s, embarked on a majorly successful solo career. The group’s biggest soul chart hits included “Early In The Morning,” “Burn Rubber,” “Outstanding” and “You Dropped A Bomb On Me.” Charlie Wilson still tours today.
Hues Corporation. The Hues Corporation underwent several membership changes over the years, but the three core members who recorded “Rock The Boat” were Hubert Ann Kelley, Fleming Williams and St. Clair Lee. Both Williams and Lee have since passed away, leaving Ann Kelley—the lone female singer—as the sole survivor. “Rock the Boat” topped the pop chart in 1974 and is considered by many as one of the earliest disco records to do so. Kelley left the group permanently in the 1990s to become a minister.
The Jones Girls. Another trio that benefited from the disco craze of the late 1970s was Philadelphia International act The Jones Girls, consisting of Detroit-native sisters Shirley, Brenda and Valorie. Lead singer Shirley became the sole survivor after Valorie and Brenda passed away in 2001 and 2017, respectively. Their biggest hit was the soul-disco-pop crossover hit, “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” their first single in 1979.
The Mamas & the Papas. This popular 1960s California quartet is solely represented by Michelle Phillips following the deaths of Mama Cass Elliott (1974), John Phillips (2001) and Denny Doherty (2007). Together, they scored 15 chart hits including classics like “California Dreamin’,” “Creeque Alley,” “I Saw Her Again,” and the No. 1 “Monday, Monday.” Michelle Phillips embarked on an acting career after leaving the Mamas & the Papas, most memorably starring in the CBS prime time soap opera “Knots Landing” in the 1980s.
The Monkees. Hard to believe that all four Monkees were still alive just a decade ago. Davy Jones was the first member to die…on leap day, February 29, 2012. Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith joined him in the past three years, leaving Micky Dolenz as the sole survivor. The Monkees scored several hits in the late 1960s, including three No. 1 singles, “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Daydream Believer.” Last May, as Dolenz and Nesmith were preparing for a Monkees farewell tour, Dolenz released a new album of tunes penned by his now-late bandmate.
The Ronettes. The Ronettes entered this dubious status just this month (Jan. 12) when lead singer and namesake Ronnie Spector died at age 78 from cancer. Her passing left Nedra Talley as the famous trio’s sole survivor after original member Estelle Bennett (Ronnie’s cousin) died in 2009. The Ronettes, who were produced by Phil Spector and inducted in both the Vocal Group and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, were responsible for iconic early rock and roll classics like “Be My Baby” and “Sleigh Ride,” the latter of which just reached a new Hot 100 peak (No. 10) this month at the end of the Christmas holiday season. Nedra Talley is now residing in Virginia Beach, VA, where she began working in real estate.
The Rooftop Singers. This 1960s folk-pop trio had one of the more dramatic sets of circumstances leading to vocalist Bill Svanoe being the sole surviving founding member. First, singer Lynne Taylor died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1973. Then Erik Darling died in 2008 of lymphoma. What’s more, Svanoe wound up marrying Darling’s widow Joan and has had a stellar career writing screenplays and music for major motion pictures. The Rooftop Singers scored a big No. 1 hit with “Walk Right In” in 1963.
Ruby & the Romantics. Ruby & the Romantics consisted of Ruby Nash plus the four Romantics: George Lee, Ronald Mosely, Leroy Fann, and Ed Roberts. Now only Ruby remains. Fann died of a heart attack in 1973, while Roberts and Lee both died of cancer in the 1990s. Mosely was the most recent to pass in 2011. The quintet was best known for their No. 1 smash “Our Day Will Come” in 1963. According to reports, neither Ruby Nash Garnett nor any of the Romantics’ descendants received royalties for their records.
The Spinners. The Spinners were originally Billy Henderson, Edgar Edwards, Bobby Smith, Pervis Jackson and Henry Fambrough. Only Fambrough remains. Smith, who sang lead on many of the group’s biggest hits including “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” was the most recent original member to pass in 2013. They also scored top-10 hits with other lead singers including G. C. Cameron, Philippé “Soul” Wynne (deceased) and John Edwards. Fambrough now tours with a whole new set of Spinners, all of whom have joined since 2009.
The Staple Singers. Mavis Staples is the only original member of the Staple Singers who is still around today. Originally consisting of “Pop” Roebuck and his four children, son Pervis, and daughters Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis, Pervis left in 1971 before the group scored huge crossover success with two No. 1 pop and soul smashes “I’ll Take You There” and “Let’s Do It Again,” plus numerous other hits. It was Pervis’ death in May 2021 that left Mavis to carry the torch for her family.
The Supremes. Diana Ross left the Supremes in 1970, but she became the last living of the three original members after Mary Wilson died unexpectedly in February 2021. Florence Ballard left the group in 1967 and died six years later. The Supremes, who underwent numerous personnel changes before they officially disbanded in 1976, racked up 12 No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 between 1964 and 1969. Diana Ross still tours and released a new studio album in late 2021.
The Temptations. Perhaps the longest-running member of the sole survivor club during the rock and roll era, Otis Williams has been the last remaining original Temptation since 1995. He recently commemorated his group’s 60th anniversary with a new studio album, which he called a “passion project.” The album is the group’s first in four years and the first of new material since 2004. Williams was energized and nostalgic when he announced the new set in December. He said it was an album “60 years in the making.” With contributions from fellow Motown legend (and former Temptations songwriter Smokey Robinson, legendary pop producer Narada Michael Walden and even a rapper (K. Sparks), Temptations 60 has something for generations old and new.
It’s also a great way to end this article and the blog’s tribute to the sole survivors of these great pop, soul and rock groups of the past…some timeless legends, some time stamps, all of which touched our lives with their great musical contributions over the years.
If you can think of any the blog missed, please feel free to provide comments either in the section below or in any of the social media feeds where the article is posted.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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