by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
As if 2016 hadn't already shaken up the music world, with the losses of David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, to name a few, 2017 proved to be just as brutal by taking the lives of yet more acclaimed artists. The past twelve months claimed the lives of Chris Cornell, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington, Chuck Berry, Malcolm Young, Glen Campbell, Walter Becker, Al Jarreau and Mel Tillis. And those are just some, not all, of the musicians who died this year.
Cornell, born and raised in the Emerald City, took his own life in May while on a tour stop in Detroit. His suicide sent shock waves through the rock community, as Cornell was adored and well-respected by colleagues and fans alike who were first drawn to him as a member of the grunge band Soundgarden. He would then help form other musical projects, including Temple of the Dog, Audioslave and the launching of his own solo career, in which he released four studio albums, a compilation package and eighteen singles, including the theme song 'You Know My Name' from the 2007 James Bond movie Casino Royale. I had the honor of interviewing Cornell twice for Seattle Gay News, the second time at his request; he came across as a sweet, sensitive person and somebody who felt connected to the LGBT community as a very supportive ally.
Two months later, in July, rock fans would mourn the death of another rock artist, Chester Bennington, who also committed suicide. The co-lead singer of Grammy-winning group Linkin Park was found dead at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, California, just weeks before the band was to embark on a major tour that included an October concert at Key Arena here in Seattle. Linkin Park burst onto the scene in 2000 with its mega-selling album Hybrid Theory, which contained the hit single 'In the End' with the powerful, foretelling lyrics 'I tried so hard / And got so far / But in the end / It doesn't even matter.' I'd seen the group live several times, including a collaborative performance with Metallica at then-Qwest Field and as headliners for a holiday concert at the intimate Moore Theatre; they always put on an outstanding show.
Petty had appeared at Safeco Field less than three months before he died of cardiac arrest in early October. I was at that show, on the field in the eleventh row, and I wouldn't have believed it if you'd told me it was the last time I'd be seeing him in person. Yes, he was 66 years old, but he was playing guitar like a teenager and though he had aged, he looked good for a guy who'd been doing this for five decades; he was having a blast, as were the fans who sang and danced all night. I was fortunate to experience Petty and the Heartbreakers on six separate occasions, five of them with Seattle Gay News credentials; I was never turned down for tickets to any of their shows. 'Refugee,' 'I Won't Back Down,' 'All American Girl,' 'Runnin' Down a Dream,' 'Free Fallin' and 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' with Stevie Nicks are just a few of the gems Petty will be remembered for in his long career.
Berry was a pioneer, a national treasure and a groundbreaking artist when he broke through into mainstream music with his 1955 smash single 'Maybelline.' He was one of the first people of color credited not only for recording rock and roll songs, like 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Johnny B. Goode,' but also for writing them. Throughout his career, he was admired and praised by colleagues, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to U2's Bono, many of whom expressed their condolences and paid tributes to Berry on social media when he died in March. Another similar black musician who peaked around the same time was Fats Domino, who also departed us in 2017; his songs included 'Ain't That a Shame' and an edgier version of 'Blueberry Hill.'
Equally admired was Campbell, whose country classics include 'Rhinestone Cowboy,' 'Southern Nights' and 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix.' One of his final performances was at the Paramount Theatre during a farewell tour in 2012. I reviewed that concert for Seattle Gay News and was saddened to see that Alzheimer's had already begun to take its toll on him; however, he was also making the best of it and sounded incredibly well vocally, while playing guitar like the pro he was known for. Campbell, who also appeared in films, such as 1969's True Grit, and hosted his own variety show called 'The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,' passed away in August.
Fans of metal icons AC/DC mourned the loss of founding member Malcolm Young, brother of fellow band member Angus, who died in mid-November. The hard rock act earned an international following with such hits as 'Hells Bells,' 'You Shook Me All Night Long,' 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,' 'Highway to Hell' and 'Back in Black.' Among the group's diehard admirers was the Seattle-based cover band Helles Bells, who occasionally still perform local shows.
Speaking of founding members, Becker helped form the legendary blues-pop ensemble Steely Dan, whose albums spanned four decades with a long list of Top 40 favorites, including 'Peg,' 'Deacon Blue,' 'Hey Nineteen,' 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' and 'FM (No Static At All).' Becker and Donald Fagen, who came to Seattle this fall, were the core members of Steely Dan, who were and still are beloved by fans and fellow musicians, who paid tributes to them shortly after Becker died in September.
Two more legendary artists, jazz great Al Jarreau and country-western singer Mel Tillis, also died this year, as well as Southern roots musician Gregg Allman, who was once married to Cher. The list continues with J. Geils, frontman of the J. Geils Band, '70s heartthrob David Cassidy and Butch Trucks, who like Allman was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.
And, earlier this month, K-pop faithful were devasted to learn that Kim Jong-hyun (aka Jonghyun) had committed suicide in the Gangnam District of his native Seoul, South Korea. A few years ago, the young artist who performed with the group SHINee, created headlines when he stated his support for the LGBT community via Twitter, but was criticized negatively by conservative followers. It was rumored that Jonghyun may have been gay, though never confirmed; his death signaled the issue of Asian celebrities having to keep their personal lives and beliefs secret in fear of diminishing their fame.
They say that notable deaths happen in batches of three. If that extends to three years, not just three people, we could be in for another heartbreaking year in 2018 of losing more cherished entertainers. Hopefully, not. To all the musicians who left us these past twelve months, those mentioned here and others, may you Rest in Peace.
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