10 Drummers Who Departed Before Their Bands Became Famous

10 Drummers Who Departed Before Their Band's Became Famous

Urbankayaker at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The list of 10 drummers who departed before their bands became famous looks into the classic “what if” scenario of what could have been. When musicians get together to form a band, it’s not uncommon for the original lineup to have at least one of its members depart before it makes a breakthrough in the music industry. For the most part, the rise to success for musical groups wishing to do more than just perform locally comes with lots of patience and hard work. While some seem to achieve stardom overnight other bands have been known to encounter an obstacle course before it gets noticed.

A successful band operates very much like a sports team where every person involved needs to be on the same page. If they’re not, then the already hard road ahead to make it big has just become more difficult. Furthermore, if there is a band member who is a weak link, odds are they’re going to get ousted by the rest of the team who won’t settle for anything less than perfection. It also boils down to chemistry. Even if all the musicians in the same band are fantastic at what they do, if there is that one person whose personality doesn’t quite mesh with the others, then there is a good bet that person won’t last for long.

Among the ten drummers that come to mind who went one way while the rest of the band went another, these are men who had to stand back and watch their bandmates achieve stardom without them. In some cases, even though they may not have made it big with a specific band mentioned, they still became successful enough as a drummer with someone else. Again, it boils down to chemistry. Sometimes, a drummer who starts off with a rock band realizes they’re more comfortable performing music belonging to another genre. It is also not uncommon for drummers wishing to follow a more humble career that keeps them close to home instead of spending so much time in the recording studio and on the road.

10 Drummers Who Departed Before Their Bands Became Famous

#10 – Stephen Duffy – Duran Duran

Hailing out of Birmingham, England, Stephen Duffy was one of the founding members of Duran Duran. While attending its School of Foundation Studies & experimental Workshop, he met a fellow student named John Taylor. These two, along with Taylor’s childhood friend, Nick Rhodes, decided to form a rock group. Duffy started out as its bass player and vocalist before switching to drums after Simon Colley signed up. However, he didn’t stay for long as he decided to move on.

Not only did he leave Duran Duran in 1979 but the school where he met Taylor. This came about right before the group signed up with EMI Group Limited in 1980. Replacing him as the band’s new drummer was Roger Taylor. Duran Duran’s classic lineup who achieved global stardom was Simon LeBon as its lead singer, Andy Taylor as lead guitarist, John Taylor playing bass guitar, Nick Rhodes on keyboard, and Roger Taylor as the drummer. Although this lineup had three men whose last names were Taylor, none of them were related to each other whatsoever.

As Duran Duran became one of the most popular bands during the mid-1980s, Stephen Duffy founded another band, Obviously Five Believers. The group was also known as The Hawks and The Subterranean Hawks. In 1981, The Hawks, released “Words of Hope” as its one and only single. After this, he created another band, Tin Tin. The 1982 lineup featured Dik Davis, Andy Growcott, Bob Lamb, and John Mulligan.

This group was signed up with WEA Records and released “Kiss Me” as a single. It failed to get anywhere so in 1983, Tin Tin signed up with US-based Sire Records. “Kiss Me” was released again and it became a number thirteen hit on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. Between 1984 and 1985, as Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, reworked versions of “Kiss Me” were released as singles again. The most popular one was released in 1985 and it peaked as high as number four on the UK Singles Chart and was at least a top twenty hit among the nations of Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Duffy, along with his brother, Nick, also had a rock group known as The Lilac Time. This came about after Duffy wrote a collection of songs in 1986 that would lead to the 1987 debut of The Lilac Time. This was followed by 1989’s Paradise Circus and 1990’s Love For All. The Duffy brothers were the only two consistent members of this band’s lineup but decided to go their separate ways as musicians after releasing 1991’s Astronauts. However, in 1999 the brothers picked up where they left off. Although Stephen Duffy may not have become as globally recognized as Duran Duran was, he still enjoyed a successful recording career that earned him a loyal fan following of his own.


#9 – Bob “Doc” Livingston – Santana

In 1968, Bob “Doc” Livingston was a drummer for Santana before he decided to opt out in 1969. He was replaced by Michael Shrieve. This took place at a time when Carlos Santana’s group underwent a series of lineup changes before its classic lineup made its studio recording debut in 1969. He did, however, perform with Santana as his drummer at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, California between December 19 and 22, 1968. However, Live at The Fillmore 1968 wasn’t released as an album until 1997 Santana’s performance at the festival won over music critics and fans in what’s often been described as a musically spiritual experience.

Although Bob Livingston’s run with Santana was short at only two years, the legacy of his role as his drummer lives on with six compilation albums to his credit. Each of them featured a live performance as the entire Santana roster made a name for itself as one of the most creative musicians on stage. When Livingston chose to move on in 1969, he did so just before Santana became world-famous. Also to Bob Livingston’s credit, The Very Best of Santana – Live in 1968 was an album released in 2007 that also featured his drumming performance as well. Santana’s classics such as “Jingo” and “Soul Sacrifice” were among the songs featured on both live albums that were regarded by fans and critics as excellent sound arrangements as it was the improvisions that made him and his bandmates so entertaining as stage performers.


#8 – Chris Salih – Twenty One Pilots

Chris Salih was the drummer for Twenty One Pilots who decided to leave the group for personal reasons. Since he was a few years older than Tyler Joseph and Nick Thomas, his priorities were a bit different than theirs. Salih was replaced by his close friend, Josh Dun. From 2009 until 2011, he, Joseph, and Thomas rocked together until Salih decided it was time to move on. Shortly after his departure, Thomas also left. This left only Joseph as the original member of a band that would achieve breakthrough success in 2015. Together, Joseph and Dun moved Twenty One Pilots forward to release some of the band’s most popular singles, “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” and “Heathens.”

Before becoming famous, Tyler Joseph and Nick Thomas met each other while playing youth basketball in Columbus, Ohio. After this, Joseph attended Ohio State University and met Chris Salih at a party there. The two hit it off as they shared a common interest in forming a band. Joseph, Thomas, and Salih moved into a house together, using the basement as a recording studio for their first album.

It made its debut in 2009 as Twenty One Pilots. The group toured throughout Ohio with its brand of rock music. In 2010, it released a cover version of Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts.” It also released “Time to Say Goodbye,” an English version of Andrea Bocelli’s “Con te partiro.” Shortly after this, Josh Dun worked with Tyler Joseph and Chris Salih as they contributed music to a gospel rock band called New Albany Music. After this, Salih decided it was time to move on.


#7 – Scott Sundquist – Soundgarden

Soundgarden started as a rock band in 1984 when Seattle’s Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, and Hiro Yamamoto teamed up. Cornell started out as the drummer before switching to rhythm guitar in 1985. Scott Sundquist came in to briefly replace him before Matt Cameron came on board in 1986. For Soundgarden, the lineup changes were frequent while Cornell and Thayil remained until Cornell’s death in 2017. The brand of alternative rock Soundgarden became famous for was called grunge.

This group was among the key influencers that made the genre so popular, first in the Pacific Northwest then across the country, and then worldwide. In 1986, Soundgarden recorded three songs for a compilation album called Deep Six. It was a C/Z Records production that had “Heretic,” “Tears to Forget,” and “All Your Lies” performed with Sundquist as the drummer for the band. Shortly after this, he bowed out so he could spend more time with his family.


#6 – Doug Sandom – The Who

Before becoming The Who, the Detours had a bricklayer named Doug Sandom who served as its drummer from 1962 until 1964. He was also considerably older than Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Pete Townsend. They were teenagers at the time while Sandon was already in his early thirties. Because of this age gap, it posed a few problems that would lead to the decision by Sandom’s younger bandmates to let him go. At the same time, the Detours realized there was another band by this name so they changed it to The Who.

When the band attempted to secure a contract with Fontana Records in 1964, it was pointed out by its production team that it didn’t care for Sandon’s drumming. This resulted in a soured relationship between Sandom and Townsend that gave the drummer cause to give his one month’s notice before leaving the lineup. He would later be replaced by Keith Moon.

Unlike the teens who led The Who to stardom, Sandom already had enough experience under his belt so it seemed he wasn’t quite as ambitious as they were. Although they performed well enough together, the chemistry between Sandom and Townsend simply wasn’t there and it became much worse after the failed audition with Fontana Records. Upon deciding to leave, Sandom was gracious enough to lend his drumming kit to any potential stand-in or replacement. His departure also meant Sandom could spend more time with his wife. She already didn’t care for the idea of her husband staying up late and performing music with a group of teens who were half his age.

After Sandom was gone, The Who released its first single, “Zoot Suit” but with the pseudonym of High Numbers. This was a tactic used to win over a mod audience. It was written by the band’s first manager, Peter Meaden, and it was a direct copy of “Misery,” an American R&B song that originally came from the Dynamics. It failed to chart and the band would switch its name back to The Who. It also found a new management team in Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Together, The Who released “I Can’t Explain” as its second single. This became the first taste of success Townsend and his bandmates experienced as it became a number eight hit on the UK Singles Chart, as well as appearing on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number ninety-three.


#5 – John Rutsey – Rush

John Rutsey was one of the founding members of the Canadian-based rock group, Rush. He, along with Alex Lifeson, became close friends as they attended the same school in Ontario. They also lived in the same neighborhood and played street hockey together. The two, along with fellow founder Jeff Jones, formed their trio musical act in 1968 but after performing their first concert together, Jones left. Replacing him would be fellow school buddy Geddy Lee as the group’s bass player and guitarist.

These three were performing together in the Rutsey family basement when John Rutsey’s brother, Bill, suggested the band’s name should be called Rush. This took place in 1968 and it was the focus of Rutsey that engineered the early direction Rush took as a flashy rock band. In 1974, Rush made its flashy recording debut with Rutsey serving as its drummer. The album did well but when it came time to tour, Rutsey met with too many diabetic-related health issues to keep up. He also didn’t seem to care for the idea of spending so much time on the road. This led to his decision to bow out, leaving the door open for Neil Peart to replace him as the Rush’s new drummer.

As far as Lifeson, Lee, and Peart were concerned, Rush never would have become a world-famous band if it wasn’t for John Rutsey. His final performance with Rush took place on July 25, 1974, at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario. After Rutsey’s departure, the musical style of Rush shifted from the glam rock influence Rutsey envisioned to progressive rock. Before Rutsey departed, he recorded and released the group’s first classic single, “Working Man.” On the 1974 release of Rush, it plays for over seven minutes. This song has become a classic favorite for the fans, as has the shortened radio-friendly single version.


#4 – Scott Raynor – Blink-182

Born on May 23, 1978, Scott Raynor was the original drummer for the rock band, Blink-182 and was part of the lineup when it recorded Dude Ranch. He first joined the band when he was fourteen years old and it would be five years later he and his bandmates would release their debut album. Although it sold enough copies after its 1997 release to become certified platinum by the RIAA, Raynor’s dependency on alcohol became so extreme that he was forced out of the band’s lineup.

Before Blink-182’s tour was over, Raynor was out as of 1998 and new drummer Travis Barker was in. The recording process of Dude Ranch began in December 1996 and was finished in January 1997. It wasn’t easy to pull off as the rushed production process as Mark Hopus and Tom DeLonge had vocal problems going on at the time and Raynor had to record his drum tracks while still dealing with feet-related injuries.

Dude Ranch produced four singles and two of them became hits. The first was “Dammit” and the second was “Josie.” “Dammit” was the first song to win Blink-182 a mainstream audience while “Josie” turned the group into fan favorites in Australia. Over time, Dude Ranch went on to become certified platinum by the time 2000 hit. As for relations between Raynor and his Blink-182 bandmates, he admitted there were no hard feelings over his dismissal.

It was a difficult time in his life that came with a series of obstacles he has since learned to overcome. While his days with Blink-182 were over, Raynor continued to move forward as a musician. He also taught music to troubled teens who had run-ins with the law through a program called Street of Dreams. Between this and performing with a few different rock bands, Raynor moved on to become a police officer in 2022.


#3 – John Kiffmeyer – Green Day

Before becoming a drummer for Green Day, John Kiffmeyer was already experienced as a punk rocker as he was a member of Isocracy since 1986. This was a popular group in the El Sobrante, California area and it would be during this time he chose Al Sobrante as his stage name. In 1987, he joined Mike Dirnt and Billie Joe Armstrong as their new drummer as a replacement for Raj Punjabi. At the time, the band’s name was Sweet Children before it changed to Green Day. It was Kiffmeyer who used his influence to help his bandmates become established in the underground music scene.

He was also a student journalist at the time and was able to use this influence to score Green Day a few concert performances at his Contra Costa College. This led to a 1990-released album, 39/Smooth. This featured Kiffmeyer’s “I Was There,” a musical documentary of Green Day’s activities at the time. In 1991, Kiffmeyer was a student at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, when he learned Dirnt and Armstrong brought in Tre Cool as their new drummer. However, Kiffmeyer still remained close enough with Green Day as he was the group’s executive producer for the 1991 release of Kerplunk.

After the days of Green Day were behind him, Kiffmeyer joined a few different bands before taking up cinematography as his preferred career choice. However, he still kept in touch with Mike Dirnt and Billie Joe Armstrong. In 2015, the trio performed a Green Day/Sweet Children concert at The House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio.


#2 – Tony Chapman – The Rolling Stones

Before he jammed with The Rolling Stones as there drummer in 1962, Tony Chapman performed for the Cliftons in 1960. Along with Bill Wyman, Chapman joined The Rolling Stones as this young London-based band was looking to complete its lineup. However, Chapman felt like this bluesy-style rock group wasn’t for him so he opted out and played for another band instead before forming a band called The Preachers. The first drummer to replace Chapman was Charlie Watts. For Chapman, The Preachers wasn’t as wild as The Rolling Stones. While with this group, he wrote “Too Old in the Head,” as its one and only single. The Preachers were among the first bands a fourteen-year-old Peter Frampton was a member of.

It was Chapman who was responsible for Frampton and Bill Wyman’s meeting in 1964 that would lead to his road to stardom. 1964 also marked the year The Preachers disbanded after a fatal van crash caused Chapman to experience temporary memory loss. In 1965, Chapman and Frampton united The Preachers again as they worked with Wyman. In 1965, it was this group who opened for The Rolling Stones on one of ITV’s Ready Get So! televised episodes. Over time, Chapman was replaced by another drummer, Malcolm Penn. After this, Chapman retired from the music industry and moved to Palm Springs, Florida. He ran a business that specialized in fine art before going into retirement in 2011. He has since then moved to Portugal.


#1 – Pete Best – The Beatles

From 1960 until 1962, Pete Best was the drummer behind the iconic rock group, the Beatles. However, he was dismissed from the official lineup just before it achieved worldwide fame. As far as many fans are concerned, he is the group’s “fifth Beatle.” The firing came after Brian Epstein honored the request of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison to remove Best from the lineup after it had its first recording session together. The recording featuring Best on drums before he left The Beatles can heard on Anthology 1, a compilation album that was released in 1995. When Best was hired on August 12, 1960, this came about just before the band’s first Hamburg season of club dates. On August 16, 1962, Ringo Starr took Best’s place as the Beatles’ new drummer.

While still part of the lineup, Pete Best was the drummer when the Beatles performed as the backing band for Tony Sheridan in the 1961 recording of the all-time folk classic, “My Bonnie.” When it was released as a single, it was credited as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. This was a generic name each time Sheridan had a backup band. This was a hit in Germany as soon as it was released as a single and peaked as high as number five on that nation’s official music chart.

It would later be released in the UK but it didn’t appear on any of its official music charts. The decision to oust Best originally came from EMI’s George Martin. He felt Best’s drumming performance didn’t give The Beatles what it needed as a rock group with hit potential. He wanted an experienced studio session musician drummer instead. On August 16, 1962, Ringo Starr would replace Best as more than just a session drummer. He became a core member of a group that was also referred to as the Fab Four.

When looking back, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison were in agreement the removal of Best from the Beatles’ lineup should have been handled better. The tactic of using Epstein as the man to ax Best resulted in what became a nasty chapter in the history books as far as The Beatles was concerned. Although Epstein attempted to make amends with Best right after firing him, Best wanted nothing to do with him. Secretly, Epstein arranged for Best to join Lee Curtis and the All-Stars before it became Pete Best & the All-Stars while they were signed to Decca Records.

However, the single this group released, “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door” didn’t move Best’s musical career forward. Instead, it served as the first chapter of a musical career Best chose to walk away from as he worked as a civil servant for twenty years. It wouldn’t be until 1988 that would he choose to return to pick up playing drums in public again. He finally agreed to do so at a Beatles convention in Liverpool, England. This led to a regular tour as he began the Pete Best Band, along with his younger brother, Roag. In 2008, the brothers released Haymans Green as an album, a year after Pete Best was inducted into the All You Need Is Liverpool Music Hall of Fame.

10 Drummers Who Departed Before Their Band’s Became Famous article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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