Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band

Tom Petty. Photo: Sam Jones

By Tim Walker

2017 is leaving us, and it’s taking with it some big names from the music business. A surprising number of well-known and beloved artists and musicians passed away too early over the past twelve months. Some had large reputations, others small. But each artist or musician has left behind a valuable legacy of memories and music for his grateful fans to remember him by.

Shocking many, Tom Petty left us at the age of 66 on Oct. 2, after a cardiac arrest. Petty, who had wrapped up a 40th anniversary tour just weeks before, had released over a dozen albums during his career and had multiple hit records—“Free Fallin,” “Breakdown,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Refugee” among them—both with and without his band, the Heartbreakers. Petty was also known for his work with Bob Dylan and as one-fifth of the supergroup, Traveling Wilburys. Similarly, another legendary artist, Gregg Allman, whose bluesy voice defined, not only the sound of the Allman Brothers Band, but of the entire southern rock genre, died at the age of 69 from liver cancer. Allman’s voice, known from songs like “Midnight Rider” and “Whippin’ Post,” was silenced forever on May 27. The Allman Brothers Band also lost another founding member in January, when drummer Butch Trucks, uncle to blues guitarist Derek Trucks, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

It was a bad year for rock guitarists. Walter Becker, the brilliant guitarist and founding member of the band, Steely Dan, passed away on Sept. 5 at the age of 67. Effortlessly blending pop music with jazz and soul, Steely Dan remained a perennial favorite on the concert circuit for decades and sold over 40 million albums worldwide. J. Geils, guitarist and founder of his Boston-based namesake group, the J. Geils Band, passed away on Apr. 11 at the age of 71. Hits from the J. Geils Band include, “Centerfold,” “Love Stinks,” and “Must of Got Lost.” Malcolm Young, longtime guitarist for Australian rockers AC-DC, passed away on Nov. 18 at the age of 64. Young had been battling dementia for several years, and the disease had forced his 2014 retirement from the band he’d founded. AC-DC has sold over 200 million albums worldwide since their first, HIGH VOLTAGE, was released in 1976. Daisy Berkowitz, founding guitarist for Marilyn Manson, died at the age of 49 on Oct. 22 from colorectal cancer. Creative differences had forced Berkowitz to leave the Manson band in 1996, but he had remained active in music, playing on albums for other artists and releasing work under his real name, Scott Putesky. 

The rock music world was shocked when two of its most popular vocalists, Chris Cornell, 52, of Soundgarden, and Chester Bennington, 41, of Linkin Park, took their own lives within two months of each other. The two musicians were close friends, and Bennington was said to be distraught over the loss of his friend. Cornell died on May 18, and Bennington on July 20. Rock music also lost two of its earliest pioneers in 2017. Chuck Berry, who with his guitar licks, brash self-confidence, and memorable songs about cars and girls, did as much as anyone to define Rock an Roll’s attitude in its early years. He passed away on March. 18 at the age of 90. Fats Domino, beloved singer of “Blueberry Hill” and certainly a memorable voice from rock’s earliest era, passed away on Oct. 24 at the age of 89.

Glen Campbell, one of the best known and most beloved figures in country music, passed away in Nashville on Aug. 8 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81. Campbell will be remembered for his winning personality, his incredible guitar chops, and great songs like “Gentle on My Mind,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” In addition to Campbell, the country music world lost two other well-known and much-loved singers, Mel Tillis and Don Williams, at the ages of 85 and 78, respectively. The country music scene was also stunned when Troy Gentry, half of the country duo Montgomery Gentry, died on Sept. 8 when a helicopter he was riding in crashed due to engine failure. Gentry was 50 years old. 

David Cassidy, teen idol and star of The Partridge Family TV series in his younger days, passed away on Nov. 21 at the age of 67. Al Jarreau, the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist, died in Los Angeles at the age of 76 on Feb. 12. His hit songs included “We’re In This Love Together,” “Moonlighting,” and “Mornin.” 68-year-old soul singer Charles Bradley, who called himself “the screaming eagle of soul,” died on Sept. 23. Della Reese, the beloved gospel singer, passed away at the age of 86 in November. In addition to her singing, Reese was also well-known for her starring role in the TV series, Touched By an Angel. 

Chuck Loeb, the jazz guitarist and composer, died at the age of 61 on July 31. Allan Holdsworth, master of jazz guitar, passed away at the age of 70 in April. A crowdfunding campaign covered the pioneering guitarist’s funeral expenses—it closed after just three days when thousands of Holdsworth’s fans had chipped in to donate nearly six times the targeted amount. 

Other musicians who passed from this mortal coil in 2017 include Boston’s founding drummer, Sib Hashian, who passed away at the age of 67 in March as a result of a heart attack suffered while the drummer was performing on the Legends of Rock cruise. Hashian played on Boston’s first two best-selling albums. Longtime Black Sabbath keyboard player, Geoff Nichols, 68, died in January after a battle with lung cancer. 2 Live Crew co-founder, Fresh Kid Ice, passed away at the age of 53 on July 13. 

Of course, no local list of this kind can end without mentioning Dayton’s own Jerry Gillotti, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, at the age of 80. Gillotti brought some of the biggest names in music to this area. A tireless promoter of jazz, his death was mourned by jazz artists nationwide. Like all of the artists and personalities mentioned here, his kind will not soon be seen again. 

May they all rest in peace.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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