The standard practice when a successful band loses a member for any of the usual reasons (quit, fired, or depends on who you ask) is to replace them. Bands typically don’t want to mess with the three-, four- or five-piece dynamic which they’ve established, plus they often see new members as an opportunity to infuse fresh musical ideas into the band’s sound. However, in a few cases, bands choose to never officially fill those places. This may be because new members always tend to be divisive with fans, or because they want to steer clear of a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen scenario (which may have caused the split with the last guy). When bands do opt for this, usually either a remaining member will end up performing double-duty, or the “new” players are viewed as sidemen or women and not made a full-fledged member of the line-up (or both). Here are nine bands who elected not to officially replace departed members, and how each of them compensated for the absence.
# 9 – Sleater-Kinney
Probably the most successful and influential band to come out of the Olympia, Washington riot grrrl movement of the Nineties, Sleater-Kinney has always been fronted by two singer/guitarists, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Since 1996, the trio had been rounded out by drummer Janet Weiss for both of its eras (the band broke up in 2006 but reunited in 2014). In mid-2019 Weiss announced that she was leaving the band, and later that year she explained that she felt that despite her solid history with them, Sleater-Kinney had essentially become a partnership between Tucker and Brownstein, and that her role had been diminished to that of a side person (this may explain why her replacement Angie Boylan was not made an full member, with Sleater-Kinney now officially a duo).
# 8 – R.E.M.
After a slow and steady rise from cult- to platinum status in the Eighties, the first half of the Nineties proved to be just as much of a victory for Athens, Georgia rockers R.E.M. However, in 1995 longtime drummer Bill Berry collapsed onstage during a show due to what turned out to be a brain aneurysm. Although he survived and eventually got back behind the drum kit, two years later he would make his departure from not just R.E.M. but music in general (opting to become a farmer instead). R.E.M.. continued as a trio, with a number of drummers (including Joey Waronker and Bill Rieflin) filling in for Berry both in the studio and on tour, before disbanding in 2011.
# 7 – Foreigner
Seminal AOR rockers Foreigner debuted in 1977 as a six-piece band and scored a Top 5 multi-platinum album with each of their first three releases. Although they had clearly assembled a winning team, in 1980 guitarist Ian McDonald and keyboardist Al Greenwood were both fired, the reason seemingly being that lead guitarist Mick Jones sought more control over the band’s sound. Jones and the other remaining members continued Foreigner as a four-piece (and it seems the departed members weren’t missed much, since their next release in 1981, 4, became the band’s first number one album in the U.S.)
# 6 – Supertramp
British prog/pop outfit Supertramp closed out the Seventies with their biggest album, Breakfast in America. However, guitarist Roger Hodgson – whose falsetto lead vocals on hits like “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song” had become synonymous with their sound – grew increasingly disenfranchised in the aftermath, and publicly announced that the next album and tour would be his final go-round with the band. The title …Famous Last Words… seemed to indicate that Supertramp was packing it in, but they resurfaced three years later with keyboardist Rick Davies now handling all of the lead vocals and writing. For the 1985 album Brother Where You Bound Supertramp also declined to add another full-time guitarist to the line-up, instead relying on several session players (including Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd).
# 5 – The Doors
In 1971 after Jim Morrison took a leave of absence from The Doors to go live in Paris, the other three members were already working on the next album without him when the legendary frontman was found dead at age 27 that summer. It’s still a bit unclear whether or not the Doors actually did ask a young James Newell Osterberg Jr. – better known as Iggy Pop – to replace Morrison (and if he declined the offer), but the appropriately-titled Other Voices (1971) as well as the follow-up Full Circle (1972) would both feature surviving members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger sharing lead vocals. However, the post-Morrison period of The Doors would quickly become little more than a footnote in the band’s legacy.
# 4 – The J. Geils Band
The wait was long but the payoff was huge for the J. Geils Band, who after more than a decade of mostly minor hits scored a number one album in 1982 entitled Freeze Frame fueled by the massive hit single called “Centerfold.” With the band now “starting over on top” (as Rolling Stone phrased it) they shocked everyone the following year with the announcement that longtime front man Peter Wolf – who had become their public face – had been fired.
Keyboardist Set Justman and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd took over lead vocals for You’re Getting Even While I’m Getting Odd (1984), but the odds were clearly not in their favor as the album ended up as the band’s lowest-charting since their 1970 debut and ultimately became their final (and only non-Wolf) full-length studio release. Wolf – whose solo career began promisingly but then also faltered commercially – would re-join the band starting in 1999.
# 3 – The Rolling Stones
By the mid-Seventies, The Rolling Stones had already established a legacy in rock history rivaled only by The Beatles. However, the band had to endure two major shake-ups in their roster. The upheavals the band experienced were defined by the replacements of guitarist Brian Jones by Mick Taylor in 1969, and then Taylor being replaced himself by Ronny Wood in 1975. However, the Stones opted for a different approach after another founding member, bassist Bill Wyman, announced his departure from the band in 1993. After three decades, rock’s all-time most famous five-piece rock band became a quartet, at least in terms of official members. Darryl Jones, who had previously played with Eric Clapton, Sting and Patti LaBelle among many others, has very skillfully handled duties on bass in the band starting on the 1994 studio album Voodoo Lounge (so let’s start the inevitable debate: should Jones have been made a full-fledged member of the Stones?).
# 2 – Genesis
This band could be almost be counted for the list twice… Following Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975, Genesis had intended to find a new front man, and thus combed through hundred of demos and held numerous auditions. They got as far as the recording studio with another lead singer but it was ultimately decided that drummer Phil Collins – who had already sang lead on the band’s songs “For Absent Friends” and “More Fool Me” – would provide lead vocals for the entire next album. Accounts seem to differ on whether Phil Collins was now intended to be the permanent lead vocalist or was just filling in until they did settle on a new one, but the positive response to the album A Trick of the Tail (1976) made the choice to keep Phil Collins as lead singer obvious. Two years later guitarist Steve Hackett also left, and bassist Mike Rutherford took over that instrument in the studio (with unofficial member Daryl Strummer filling in on guitar live).
# 1 – Pink Floyd
By the time they released the multi-media monster The Wall in late 1979, bassist/vocalist Roger Waters had all but assumed control of Pink Floyd. They stayed on that course, as the follow-up release The Final Cut (1983) was essentially a Roger Waters solo album (on which longtime Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright doesn’t even appear), with the title suggesting that Roger Waters had meant for the record to close the book on the legendary band. However, several years later the others members – guitarist/vocalist Dave Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and the returned Wright – released a new studio album entitled A Momentary Lapse of Reason under the band’s name.
Although no bass guitarist is credited on the album (presumably those parts were all done on keyboards), Guy Pratt was recruited as the bassist for the sold-out stadium tour which followed (although the whole period was weighed down by a messy and complicated lawsuit in which Roger Waters claimed the band did not have the right to call themselves Pink Floyd in his absence. It was ultimately settled out-of-court, with Gilmour and the others continuing to use the name).
We welcome Richard John Cummins to the staff of ClassicRockHistory.com.
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