Replacing a band member is risky – you just don’t know how fans would react especially when it comes to the lead vocalist or frontman. Besides, no matter how good or better the replacement is, there’s bound to be a little resentment and resistance. People judge even before hearing them. Case in point: Brian Johnson filling up Bon Scott’s shoes but we’ll go into detail about that later.
The thing is, there are those who tend to be overly dramatic when it happens to their favorite groups. “No one can do it like…” or “He doesn’t come close with..” are pretty much the most common arguments. The fact remains that there’s nothing permanent in rock including band members. They come and go – doesn’t matter if they’re only starting out, at the peak of their popularity or are already well-established.
At the end of the day, we don’t know what happens in the recording studio or backstage. And let’s face it, we have little say in these matters.
To be fair, Steve Perry isn’t even the original frontman of Journey but the band achieved mainstream success when he joined them. In the early days, they released one massive hit after another and had several classics under their belt.
Everyone couldn’t get enough of Perry and his golden pipes. He effortlessly belted out to “Open Arms,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully.” After pursuing solo careers and going on hiatus, Journey came back in 1998 with a different Steve – Steve Augeri. They released “Arrival” which was a minor hit.
In 2007, Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain found their new frontman, Filipino Arnel Pineda, via YouTube.
“I must give a complete shout out to someone who sings his heart out every night, and it’s Arnel Pineda.” – Steve Perry during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
Fans aren’t exactly thrilled with Arnel, referring to Journey now as nothing more than a “tribute band.” He sounds a lot like Steve and he can nail the high notes. But you know, you can never please everybody.
Even with his struggle with substance abuse, Lou Reed is a legend. He’s had his fair share of highs and lows career-wise but in retrospect, he has given us a rich musical legacy that continues to influence a wide range of musicians.
And so when he left The Velvet Underground because he didn’t feel like they were making any progress, fans were devastated. And when Doug Yule replaced him, people were less than excited. Even now, he remains the least-liked member of the group. Aside from being Lou’s replacement, he was also partly responsible for churning out “Squeeze” which is a Velvet Underground album but he might as well have called it something else because no one from Lou’s lineup was present.
“like the blind leading the blind, me leading myself. That’s what came out of it, I don’t even have a copy of it. But it’s kind of a nice memory for me and kind of an embarrassment at the same time. I wish I had my eyes wider open, but it was nice to get my name and my songs out there.” – Doug Yule on “Squeeze”
To be fair though, Dough is a talented musician. Maybe if “Squeeze” was his solo album and not Velvet Underground’s, the reception would be warmer. Still, what’s done is done.
The controversy here isn’t so much as the WHO but rather, WHY the original frontman was replaced. And to be honest, this is one of the most heartbreaking tales in rock ‘n roll. Syd Barrett was more than the original leader. He was the founder and he’s even responsible for naming the band. It’s hard to imagine if Pink Floyd would even exist without him.
David Gilmour was initially added to the group as a fifth member and not exactly Syd’s replacement.
“The idea was that Dave would … cover for [Barrett’s] eccentricities and when that got to be not workable, Syd was just going to write. Just to try to keep him involved.” – Peter Jenner
But over time, Syd’s compositions became more and more difficult to play. He was also getting increasingly moody and unpredictable. He was the creative genius but when he departed from the band, the responsibility fell on Roger Waters’ shoulders.
After achieving massive mainstream success and due to some tensions between them, he left Pink Floyd and then it was up to David Gilmour to continue. Had it been anyone else, it would have been mighty difficult to take their music to another level after Syd’s departure. But David and Roger stepped up to the plate.
The thing about replacements is, comparisons are inevitable. It always ends up with ‘Who did it better?’ And so the next on our list will most likely set off an endless debate – Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Fans are often divided but putting any biases aside, they both have different styles and therefore it’s not surprising that the music in their respective eras are great in their own way.
Peter was a founding member and when they were looking for a drummer, Phil Collins auditioned and got the part. After Peter’s departure, Phil took it upon himself to provide vocals for the tracks in their new album which turned out to be a commercial and critical success.
“My real worry was actually what to say to the audience, because Peter had always had this offbeat charisma that gave the band a strange aura. I was much more friendly and approachable … I spent more time … worrying about what to say between songs than I did about what I was going to do once the songs started.” – Phil Collins
You can say all you want about Phil but essentially, he saved the group and took control. Was he better than Peter? We’ll leave that for you to decide.
There are some things you don’t replace – and one of them is Bruce Dickinson. That’s the kind of greatness no one can touch. Anyone who tries to do is just blasphemous. So it’s not exactly Blaze Bayley’s fault – he had very big shoes to fill.
And when Bruce left Iron Maiden in 1993, the remaining members asked Blaze to audition for them the following year. He wasn’t that bad per se but when you compare him to THE BRUCE DICKINSON, of course he would fall short.
“My style is very different to Bruce, and when [IRON MAIDEN] chose me to replace Bruce, I was very surprised because my voice is so different. Bruce Dickinson and I have been friends before [I was in] IRON MAIDEN, and Bruce Dickinson was very supportive of me when I was in IRON MAIDEN and after IRON MAIDEN.” – Blaze Bayley
Also, it didn’t help that during his stint with the group, they released their two lowest charting albums – “The X Factor” in 1995 and “Virtual XI” in 1999. Well at least he tried. Besides, it’s not every day you can boast of fronting one of the greatest metal bands of all time.
When you’re in a band, you can’t expect to be on the same boat every single time. From disagreements to walkouts and ultimately, departure – lineup changes are fairly common especially when your career as a group is at a standstill and everyone wants to move forward and progress.
Aside from their disappointing albums, it came to a point when Ozzy Osbourne became so uncooperative that he refused to sing some of their songs. He was first replaced by Ronnie James Dio who somehow managed to re-energize the band. After some falling out, Black Sabbath hired Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.
“That was the longest party that I ever went to. That lasted about a year— the recording and the tour… It was one of those things and I had a fantastic time. I have great memories of it and I am still in touch with Tony.” – Ian Gillan on joining Black Sabbath
It was controversial, yes, but it was good while it lasted. Their only album together, “Born Again,” was a commercial success but it didn’t sit well with critics with some even calling it “dreadful” and “a disappointment.”
Before Kirk Hammett, Dave Mustaine was Metallica’s lead guitarist. Apparently, it didn’t take much to impress Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield because they hired him after seeing his expensive guitar equipment. In 1983, Dave was getting more problematic because of his heavy alcohol and drug use. He was also getting more violent.
On the same day he was booted out of the group, they hired Kirk Hammett. It was a happy ending for Dave (at least, that’s what we think) because he went on and formed another legendary band – Megadeth. But he has always been vocal about Kirk enjoying popularity because of the riffs he wrote.
“When your band kicks you out… I’ve never been kicked out, but I can imagine it’s a horrible experience, especially if it’s a band that you feel really passionately about. So I can understand Dave’s plight over all these years.” – Kirk Hammett
Then again, look at where that frustration and anger led to – Dave took Megadeth to the top. And if you’re wondering if there’s any bad blood between them, there’s none.
Fleetwood Mac has had several lineups over the years, it’s pretty hard to keep track. But they hit the jackpot with one that included Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Not only did they manage to invade mainstream, their songs also became instant classics.
Although they somehow found a way to create an epic masterpiece out of their relationship troubles and internal tensions, everyone saw it coming that they would eventually break up.
The Buckingham/Nicks/McVie/McVie/Fleetwood line-up reunited for Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inaugural Bash but there was no hope of seeing them together back on the road.
“When you’re in a band, you have to be part of the team. There’s something comforting about that. But in my solo career, I get to be the boss.” – Stevie Nicks
Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie brought in Bekka Bramlett, daughter of the American music duo Delaney & Bonnie. The tour featured only two original Fleetwood Mac Members – Mick and John. And they looked like nothing more than a tribute band. They opened for Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Pat Benatar, and REO Speedwagon. That wasn’t their finest moment.
Speaking of controversial replacements, we can’t exclude Van Halen from this list. You see, Eddie Van Halen found the right man for the job, Sammy Hagar, but loyal fans and some critics were skeptical and to be honest, they have every right to be. He was replacing Diamond Dave – the man who fronted the band at their peak and who was partly responsible for the massive success of their debut album.
But sometimes, things just don’t work out anymore. So along came The Red Rocker and he found the best way to silence the haters – with their seventh studio album “5150” which ended up dominating the charts.
“All that says to me is that it’s over, man. Those guys do not want to be friends, and if they don’t wanna be friends, then we certainly ain’t gonna do a reunion.” – Sammy Hagar
It’s controversial because well, there’s drama and bad blood. Even today, you won’t see any of them sharing a cold one with each other – at least, not anytime soon.
Some bands replace members because of creative differences or falling out or because they want to head to a different musical direction. For AC/DC, it was out of necessity.
A few months after releasing the massively successful “Highway to Hell,” AC/DC found themselves at a crossroads after frontman Bon Scott’s tragic death. The remaining members were so lost they considered quitting altogether and it was Bon’s parents who pushed them on. They eventually settled on Brian Johnson.
“I remember the first time I had ever heard Brian’s (Johnson) name was from Bon. Bon had mentioned that he had been in England once touring with a band and he had mentioned that Brian had been in a band called Geordie and Bon had said ‘Brian Johnson, he was a great rock and roll singer in the style of Little Richard.’ And that was Bon’s big idol, Little Richard. I think when he saw Brian at that time, to Bon it was ‘Well he’s a guy that knows what rock and roll is all about.’” – Angus Young
Their next few albums sold well and it only solidified their spot in the rock ‘n roll pantheon. We still think it’s one of the smoothest transitions ever.