FEATURE: Heartbreakers: The Legends We Have Lost This Year





 IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Petty 

The Legends We Have Lost This Year


IF one could invent a contraption…


where we could preserve musicians for a set amount of time – I am sure many would scrabble to invent the thing! Last year was a particularly bad one for high-profile musician deaths. We had to say goodbye to the likes of David Bowie, Prince and George Michael. This year has not exactly been a fantastic one, either. On 18th March, Chuck Berry left us and, with it, we had to say goodbye to one of the true pioneers. His death was, perhaps, not that unexpected: he was in his nineties and had lived a full and eventful life. Even so, it is difficult accepting he will not be around anymore. Chris Cornell’s death in May was, perhaps, one of the most shocking of this year. Few could have anticipated what was going to happen – his death took everyone by surprise. It was ruled Cornell died through hanging: a suicide that affected many and took one of the greatest living musicians away.


IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Cornell

For me; his death was especially sad and shocking. I was not aware the turmoil and pain he was living in. I knew, during his early Soundgarden days, he was speaking about depression and anxiety with candour and openness. One looks at a musician and assumes their private life is happy and okay – we never see behind the closed doors and what goes on. It is desperately harrowing that Cornell died. Greg Allman, known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, died on 27th May at age sixty-nine. The Nashville-born artist inspired a new generation of artists to get into music. The Allman Brothers Band made a huge impression and one of its founders, not being here, is a very sad thing. On 20th July, two months after Chris Cornell’s suicide, came another blindsiding loss: Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington.


IN THIS PHOTO: Chester Bennington/PHOTO CREDIT: Tibor Bozi/Redux

Here, like Cornell, was someone who addressed his depression and psychological issues through music and urged fans to speak out. His death came as a kick in the stomach and broke many hearts. Hours before his death, a video emerged of the frontman smiling and laughing with his family. It showed how hard it is to detect someone in trouble and in need of help – the complexities and hidden depths of a terrible illness. Rather than lament and mourn heavily: one looks back at the music of Bennington and how many people he influenced. Bands have formed because of Linkin Park so the contribution he made to music cannot be underestimated. On 8th August, aged eighty-nine, Glen Campbell departed the world. Few of us who love music can avoid the sheer majesty and importance of Campbell’s work. Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman have become standards and show what an immense voice Campbell had – one of those artists that get into the heart and stays there forever. Adiós, his final album, was released shortly after his death and completes a stunning and legendary career.



Jessi Zazu, the lead singer of Nashville-based group Those Darlins, died on 13th September. She was twenty-eight and lost her fight with cervical cancer. The band’s unique blend of Punk, Garage-Rock and Country won them legions of fans – the band released three albums since their formation in 2009. Walter Becker, perhaps, is the single-most-tragic death of the year. I am a huge admirer of Steely Dan and followed their career since I was a child. Deacon Blues (from 1977’s Aja) is my favourite song ever and I count Pretzel Logic – their third album – among my top-twenty. Walter Becker, alongside Donald Fagen, brought Steely Dan to the masses and created an arsenal of timeless songs – from Hey Nineteen and Reelin’ in the Years to My Old School and The Boston Rag.


IN THIS IMAGE: Walter Becker/PHOTO CREDIT: James Leynse/Corbis (via Getty Images)

Steely Dan’s cutting and sardonic lyrics – intellectual and poetic – were matched with nuanced compositions and exceptional musicianship. Walter Becker was one of the reasons why Steely Dan managed to affect and seduce so many people. A one-of-a-kind musician and kind-hearted human – people are still affected by his death. Soul singer Charles Bradley died on 23rd September after suffering from stomach and liver cancer. He was sixty-eight and it seemed, at one point, he would be okay. We all heard news about the diagnosis and the fact he had to stop performing. When he was better; many assumed he was over the worst of it. That was not the case and, tragically, he left a big hole in the world of music. The ‘Screaming Eagle of Soul’ and that planet-shattering voice will not see any equals come forth, that is for sure. One of the big reasons for this piece – and a recent death that is still very raw – is the loss of the legend that is Tom Petty.


IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

One need not explain why he is 2017’s greatest losses. The Heartbreakers lead, through the years, penned all-American anthems that we all know and love. Petty suffered a massive cardiac arrest on 2nd October and could not be saved. Petty was born in Florida where he met future bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. They initially formed a band called Mudcrutch: luckily, when they reformed, that was changed to the Heartbreakers; that changed to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by 1976. I have included Petty’s best-known songs in the playlist below but we can all easily relate to peals such as American Girl and Runnin’ Down a Dream. To me, Petty will always be one-fifth of the ultimate supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys. Featuring Roy Orbison, Jeff Lyne; George Harrison and Bob Dylan – an assembly of some of the world’s finest and most influential artists. The band’s debut album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, remains one of my favourite ever.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Traveling Wilburys

Each member brought songs to the album – except for Orbison – and Petty is credited with writing Margarita and Last Night – two of the best songs from the record. The rest of the band contributed lyrics to the songs but Petty injected his input into the other members’ numbers. It was a collaborative effort among friends and a fantastic collection of musicians. I cannot think of another band that boasts so many heroes and legends in its ranks. Petty was an integral cog and, with his solo career, made a huge impact on music. In interviews; that drawled and rich voice made you smile and settle – a man who could ease any pains with a few syllables. The way Petty spoke about music meant passion and knowledge emanated from every word.


His endless hunger and innovation influenced musicians to pick up a guitar and write – the likes of Dave Grohl count Petty as an idol. There are many more who owe their careers to the American great. His death is, perhaps, the most shocking of this year – let’s hope there are no more! It shows how fragile and unpredictable life can be but, rather than wallow in sadness, a perfect time to listen back to Petty’s catalogue and what he gave to music. 2017 has seen some incredible musicians leave us. I have included a playlist that collates the best songs from the artists I have mentioned. Of course, other musicians have died this year – their absence no less sad and affecting than any other. As we go through the autumn and winter weeks; we can reflect on those artists that have gone and celebrate their incredible music. Whilst they might not be with us; it is obvious their fantastic music…

WILL endure for many years to come.