Ex Warner Bros. CEO Tom Whalley: Chester Bennington 'Wanted Linkin Park to Change People's Lives'

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Chester Bennington of Linkin Park performs at the O2 Arena in London on Nov. 11 2010.

Tom Whalley joined Warner Bros. Records as Chairman/CEO shortly after Linkin Park's 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory came out. Under his tenure, the band released 2003’s Meteora and 2007’s Minutes to Midnight; Whalley left WBR shortly after the release of 2010’s A Thousand Suns.

Here, the former label head remembers one of the biggest bands of his tenure at Warner, and its iconic frontman Chester Bennington, who died July 20.

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Chester was a great singer in the classic way that great rock singers move the world with their voice. He had a unique ability to bring forth a guttural scream that would project the intent of the song and in the same song flip to a beautiful melody that drove home the song’s purpose. He wanted Linkin Park to change people’s lives. He sucked people in: That’s what I saw in the studio, what I saw live, what I saw when I talked to him about the recording process. 

Hybrid Theory was already out when I got to Warner Bros. I inherited it and my job was to galvanize what I walked into. I was there for Meteora with [producer] Don Gilmore and the next two albums, which were produced by Rick Rubin. I was just encouraging them to continue to innovate and move their music forward, and to not get hooked on having to repeat the success -- that they should just be confident in exploring what their next record should be.

Chester was a very impassioned person. He believed in what he was doing at all times, whether it was a small conversation about being a father or being a good person, but in particular when it was about his songwriting or the records that Linkin Park was making. His belief in the band and the records they were making was always 150 percent. He believed in the spirit of rock and roll and the purpose it had in the fans’ lives. 

As the band grew, they never had a sense of entitlement, even after success. Chester still brought his basic instincts, his basic talents, into the room every time. He had no sense of self-importance, that, "I’m a rock star.” He still had his belief of purpose, he never let go of that. It was a pleasure working with the band. They knew how to give back to family and causes. Chester was the guy in front, he was the one that had to expose what their convictions were, what their purpose was as a band. That’s what lead singers were supposed to do. And he did that.