In Memoriam: Legends We Lost In 2017
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images, Richard E. Aaron / Redferns / Getty Images, Paul Bergen / Redfern / Getty Images
2017 is nearly over, and not a moment too soon. In a year that can easily be described as one of the most bruising, divisive, hurt filled years in recent memory, we’ve seen tremendous bravery in the face of unspeakable tragedy, social change on levels we never thought possible. However, it’s impossible to look back on the year without also acknowledging the void left behind by the deaths of some of rock’s most beloved and influential figures, whose voices we’ll only ever hear again through the musical legacies they left behind.
We didn’t just lose legends, we lost icons. Visionaries who came to rock and wound up paving the way instead, shaping the world around them into something far more beautiful and far kinder than it was when they arrived. From Gregg Allman to Chuck Berry, check out our tribute to some of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen, and may they all rest in peace.
The world was rocked this year by news of the death of rock legend Chris Cornell, found dead on May 18th at the age of 52 after taking his own life. For fans, Cornell’s death came as a tremendous shock as one of music’s best and brightest was called home – yet another in a seemingly endless stream of legends leaving us too soon.
For the music world, however, Cornell’s death marked the end of an era for those who were lucky enough to call him a friend and for those in the rock community who hail the singer-songwriter-musician as a genius who was second to none when it came to getting to the heart of the human condition in all its beauty and ugliness, even if it meant an ending as tragic as the circumstances that gave life to some of his greatest work.
A child abuse survivor turned Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington’s pain became not just a powerful outlet for traumas many of us can only imagine, but a source of joy and comfort for both he and the devoted legion of fans left heartbroken in the wake of his July 20, 2017 death.
Bennington’s career spanned 25 years in length, rising to fame with the 2000 release of Linkin Park’s critically acclaimed debut album, Hybrid Theory. At the time of his death, he was slated to head back out on the road with Linkin Park in late July in support of the band’s latest album One More Light.
On March 19th, the world awoke without Chuck Berry in it for the first time and the quiet left in the wake of rock’s rowdiest, most unapologetically rock and roll figures was preternatural.
Admired by John Lennon, idolized by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, and fiercely respected the world over for his world class showmanship as both a guitarist and entertainer, Chuck Berry is widely regarded as the father of rock music, breaking racial barriers and changing the way we write, record, perform and listen to rock and roll with classics like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
A fiercely gifted singer, songwriter and actor whose boy next door good looks landed his photos on the bedroom walls of teenaged girls around the world, David Cassidy belonged to a show business family that included father Jack Cassidy, stepmother Shirley Jones, and half brother Shaun Cassidy.
He rose to fame as one of the stars of hit television show The Partridge Family, starring opposite stepmother Shirley Jones as her fictional oldest son Keith Partridge. As only he and Jones were permitted to sing on the show, the world got a taste of David’s vocal talent and the show’s theme “C’mon Get Happy” helped launch what would become a wildly successful singing career that found Cassidy as one of the most sought after teen idols of the decade.
Known for his eccentric style and big white pompadour, Georgia’s own White Knight of Soul Wayne Cochran died on November 21, 2017 at the age of 78, leaving behind a musical legacy that stretches back more than five decades and includes a stint as Otis Redding’s bassist.
Cochran famously penned the 1961 hit “Last Kiss” which he performed with the C.C. Riders and his song “Going Back To Miami” was introduced to a brand new audience when The Blues Brothers featured a cover of the song on their 1981 live album Made In America. Though Cochran left music behind in the 70s to pursue a career as a pastor, his is an influence that’s impossible to forget.
Fans had no idea that when they saw Malcolm Young onstage on June 28, 2010 in Bilbao, Spain that it would be the last time. He passed away on November 18th at the age of 64, leaving behind scores of fans and friends around the world who are struggling to navigate the new reality that is life without one of rock’s chief architects.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1953, Young rose to fame as one of the chief architects of AC/DC, working tirelessly with younger brother Angus to carve out a reputation as one of the hardest working, hardest rocking bands in the rock pantheon. Described as the leader and driving force of the band, it was Malcolm who was responsible for the broad sweep of AC/DC’s sound, developing many of their guitar riffs and co-writing the band’s material with Angus.
With 45 million records sold, 12 RIAA Gold albums, four Platinum albums and one Double-platinum album – oh, not to mention a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, Billboard Hot 100, or the Adult Contemporary Chart (of which 29 made the top 10 and of which 9 reached number one on at least one of those charts) – Glen Campbell’s contributions to the rock world and his chops as a world class guitarist cannot be overstated.
Campbell was part of the famed Wrecking Crew, an amalgam of some of the best session musicians the world had to offer, playing on recordings by The Monkees, Elvis Presley, even filling in for The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and playing on their critically acclaimed album Pet Sounds.
2017 claimed the life of rock and roll pioneer Fats Domino, who died October 24th at the age of 89 at his home in Harvey, Louisiana. While his humility and shyness may have played a role in why his contributions to rock and roll have been heinously overlooked, the numbers speak for Fats Domino’s accomplishments – and they don’t lie.
He sold more than 65 million records, amassing eleven Top 10 hits between 1950 and 1960; if that’s not enough for you, the “Ain’t That A Shame” singer had 35 records in the U.S. Billboard Top 40 throughout his career, five of his pre-1955 records sold more than a million copies, being certified gold and his 1949 release “The Fat Man” is widely regarded as the first million-selling Rock ‘n Roll record.
A fiercely accomplished musician whose career dates back more than four decades and helped produce albums from Aerosmith, Metal Church and Savatage, rock luminary Paul O’Neill is best remembered for founding American progressive rock giants Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996, finding critical acclaim with a string section, a light show, lasers, “enough pyro to be seen from the International Space Station”, moving trusses, video screens, and effects synchronized to music.
A trailblazer in the Southern rock world whose unique approach to songwriting and composition gave way to the heady brew of soul, blues, and country music that was seminal act The Allman Brothers Band, the tragedy of Gregg Allman’s death at the age of 69 is one that cannot be overstated.
Allman became the band’s frontman in 1971 after brother and Allman Brothers Band co-founder, Duane Allman, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24, remaining one of Southern rock’s most fiercely respected players and an avid performer whose love for music saw him perform up until the last weeks of his life. His final album, Southern Blood, closed the door on one of Southern rock’s most prized chapters but left behind the music of Allman’s soul – music that will haunt us for the rest of time.
This year, we said goodbye to another Allman Brothers Band alumni as drummer Butch Trucks took his own life at the age of 69 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Trucks leaves behind a glowing legacy as the drummer and co-founder of Southern rock giants The Allman Brothers Band, performing with the band until it disbanded in 2014 and leaving his mark all over the industry he loved so much – but for those who knew and loved him best, Butch’s absence means something far more heartbreaking: the loss of yet another brother.
Nothing came as a bigger shock this year than the death of rock legend Tom Petty on October 2nd. He’d only wrapped up his 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers a few days earlier and had his sights set on the next phase of his career when he went into cardiac arrest at the age of 66 and died later that day.
A native of Gainesville, Florida, Petty overcame a childhood riddled with abuse at the hands of his father to launch a musical legacy that began with Florida based band Mudcrutch. It was ultimately his decision to head west to Los Angeles that resulted in the musical opportunity that would further shape his legacy as one of rock’s most celebrated figures: the Heartbreakers, for whom Petty served as lead singer and guitarist until his deBeyond a musical legacy that includes songs like “Free Fallin’” and “American Girl,” a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, three Grammy wins and another 18 nominations.
Grant Hart’s legacy as 1/3 of one of the most influential bands of the last 40 years is nothing short of absolutely stellar; with bands ranging from Metallica and Foo Fighters to Green Day and Nirvana hailing Hüsker Dü as major influences and Hart’s songwriting a shining example of his powerful ability to tell a story, it’s no surprise that the rock world of the last three decades tipped its respective hat to Hart.
Despite their fast, angry early sound reminiscent of bands like DOA and Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü emphasized melody as their career progressed, drawing inspiration from classic rock acts as well as the punk and hardcore bands that shaped them early on – resulting in Hart, Mould, and Norton becoming an integral piece of the puzzle that became the alternative and punk landscape of the late eighties and early to mid nineties.
The death of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker earlier this year came as a crushing blow to rock fans around the world. He’d spent the past four decades pulling triple duty as bassist, guitarist, and co-songwriter since the band’s 1972 inception, joining longtime friend and musical partner Donald Fagen in his quest to bring good, solid, original music to the masses.
The pair lost touch for a while during the latter part of the seventies, ultimately finding their way back to each other a decade later and after revisiting the Steely Dan blueprint “developed another terrific band”. Becker’s death leaves an unimaginable hole in the band he helped build, but it doesn’t throw its future into a tailspin; far from it, in fact. Fagen insists that the death of his good friend isn’t the end of Steely Dan, but the beginning:
“I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can, both with the Steely Dan band. We’ll miss him forever.”
Colonel Bruce Hampton, founding member of Atlanta, Georgia’s avant-garde Hampton Grease Band and prolific guitarist died earlier this year during a birthday jam in honor of his 70th birthday.
Widely regarded as the patriarch of Atlanta’s esteemed jam scene, Hampton was in the middle of an encore of “Turn on Your Lovelight” when he suddenly collapsed; the all-star cast of musicians sharing the stage with him thought it was part of the performance and continued playing until they realized that Hampton was in distress, immediately stopping the show to have the 70 year old guitarist rushed to a local hospital where despite aggressive life saving procedures, Bruce Hampton was declared dead.
March was a rough month for the rock world. Just days after rock legend Chuck Berry died, it was announced that the world let go of former Boston drummer Sib Hashian, who died after collapsing onstage while onboard the Legends of Rock cruise.
Hashian, 67, famously joined Boston in the seventies, replacing original Boston drummer Jim Masdea at the direction of Epic Records before leaving the band in 1986.
Born in New York in 1946, Geils, a lifelong blues fan, famously formed The J. Geils Band in the mid-1960s as an acoustic trio then known as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, featuring the talents of bassist Danny Klein (Dr. Funk) and harmonica player Richard Salwitz (stage name Magic Dick) with Geils pulling double duty on guitar and vocals.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the band would shift focus towards a more electric driven sound, becoming The J. Geils Blues Band before settling on The J. Geils Band and signing with Atlantic Records in 1970.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida on August 28th, 1951, Hlubeck’s journey into rock legend began when he formed Molly Hatchet in 1971 at the age of 20, putting together a fiercely talented lineup that included recently departed bassist Banner Thomas, who died earlier this year after a battle with pneumonia. No details surrounding Hlubeck’s death have been made available, though multiple sources indicate that his death came as the result of a heart attack.
We mourned with Canada this year as Gord Downie, frontman for Canadian rock legends The Tragically Hip, died at the age of 53 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer, leaving behind a legacy that stretches back more than 30 years and includes 14 studio albums, two live albums, one EP, and 54 singles with 9 of The Tragically Hip’s albums reaching #1 on Canadian charts.
Born Gordon Edgar Downie in Kingston, Ontario on February 6th 1964, Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis came last year and was formally announced by The Tragically Hip on May 24th. Rather than accepting his fate and resigning himself to spending his remaining days cloistered away from the rest of the world, Downie soldiered on – heading out on tour one last time with The Tragically Hip last summer for an unforgettable romp through the band’s native Canada in support of their 13th and final album with Downie, Man Machine Poem.
The rock world was dealt another crushing blow when Asia co-founder and King Crimson vet John Wetton died in January at the age of 67 following a lengthy battle with colon cancer. A fiercely accomplished musician whose career dates back to the late sixties and saw the singer, bassist, and songwriter rise to fame with bands Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash, Wetton ultimately found tremendous commercial success as frontman and principal songwriter of English progressive rock supergroup Asia.