In the history of rock music, band members have come and gone, but nothing is more controversial or dangerous then installing a new lead singer in an established rock outfit. Does it help or hinder to replace your frontman or is it just plain blasphemy to even consider this practice?
This November, prog-rock band Yes will be embarking on a 40th anniversary tour without their lead singer Jon Anderson, who was forced to bow out because of illness. In Anderson’s stead on Yes’s “In the Present” tour will be Benoit David, who sings in a few Yes tribute bands out of Montreal, Canada.
Depending on fan reaction, this former tribute singer is either headed for superstardom or is very doomed.
Here’s a look at 10 rock bands that have replaced their lead singer and the subsequent outcome of their decisions.
10. Judas Priest
When all else fails, hire a tribute singer! He already knows the routine. In 1992, after their successful Painkiller tour, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford officially left the metal gods singer-less. After an 5-year hiatus, the British band returned with Jugulator with Ohio native Tim “Ripper” Owens, whose only experience was as the singer of a Judas Priest tribute band, on vocals. Even though Ripper had his Halford down pat and fans definitely cheered his Cinderella story, the two poorly received albums he was on proved that no one could replace Halford. Halford returned to the fold in 2003, helping Priest made a successful comeback, while Ripper had a short stint with metal band Iced Earth and inspired the lackluster 2001 Mark Walhberg film Rock Star.
At the genesis of Genesis in 1967, it was Peter Gabriel behind the mic, not Phil Collins. But after Gabriel split from the then-prog rock band in the mid-1970s, Genesis promoted drummer Phil Collins to lead singer. While the average person probably can’t name a Gabriel-Genesis tune, let alone hum one, Collins’s more pop-oriented era with the band led Genesis to pop stardom. In the 1980s, the band racked up the multi-platinum albums with wimpy hits like “Invisible Touch” (eww), “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” and “Taking It All Too Hard,” while simultaneously Gabriel gained commercial success with ultra-pop chart toppers “Sledgehammer,” and “Shock The Money,” as well as the ballad “In Your Eyes.” While Genesis hasn’t made a studio album in over a decade, the Collins-led line-up periodically regroups for well-received reunion tours, and Collins has maintained a lucrative career as a solo artist and a composer. Gabriel has continued his solo career and earlier this year, he contributed several new songs to the soundtrack to Disney’s Wall-E.
8. Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains had gained recognition and frequent MTV rotation in the early 1990s and even toured with metal titans Slayer and Megadeth, but lead singer Layne Staley‘s frequent drug problems kept the band out of the recording studio and the spotlight in the second half of that decade. When Staley died in 2002 of an apparent drug overdose, it seemed the grunge giants would be no more, especially since much of AIC’s style came from Staley’s perfect harmonies with guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s background vocals. AIC laid dormant for over a decade, until the mid-2000s when the surviving members reunited for several benefit concerts featuring guest vocalists, including Comes With The Fall singer William DuVall, who’s also contributed to Cantrell’s solo efforts. DuVall went on to permanently front AIC for their 2007 tour and will head into the studio with the band for a future AIC record. So far the fan reaction to DuVall has been positive.
Alice In Chains “Man In The Box” live with William DuVall on vocals
7. Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden has actually had three singers in their lengthy tenure. After original vocalist Paul DiAnno was fired from the British heavy metal band, he was replaced by Samson’s Bruce Dickinson. Though the two studio albums DiAnno was on — Iron Maiden and Killers — are classics, it wasn’t until Dickinson’s 1982 debut on Number of the Beast that Iron Maiden gained notoriety. Dickinson fronted the band until 1993, when he quit to continue his solo efforts. His departure was a huge letdown for fans and marked the end of the golden era of metal. The following year, Iron Maiden gave Wolfsbane’s Blaze Bayley the opportunity of a lifetime as their new frontman. Bayley’s style differed greatly from Dickinson’s and while fans may have wanted Iron Maiden back, they definitely did not want them back this way. Bayley recorded two major flops with the band — The X Factor and Virtual XI, both of which contained great musical compositions marred by Bayley’s flat vocals. Most likely sensing the fan’s negative reaction, Bayley quit the band in 1999, leaving the door wide open for Dickinson’s imminent return. Bayley, whose attempts at a solo career have not gone well, has returned to singing for the reformed Wolfsbane, while the Dickinson-fronted Iron Maiden made a giant comeback with 2000’s Brave New World and continues to tour the world to sold-out crowds.
6. Deep Purple
The band that has “Smoke On The Water” coming out the amp of every beginner guitar player has had their share revolving band members in their 40-year career. While Ian Gillan has fronted the English rock heavies for the majority of that time, Gillan has exited the band on several occasions (e.g., for his one-album stint with Black Sabbath). Rather than call it quits, Deep Purple has enlisted the vocals of Whitesnake‘s David Coverdale (who sang on the classic tunes “Burn,” “Mistreated,” and “Soldier of Fortune”) and Rainbow‘s Joe Lynn Turner. Coverdale’s handful of DP albums were well-received and helped him subsequently launch a lengthy run with Whitesnake, which charted several times in the 1980s, and a semi-successful collaboration with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page in the early 1990s. Turner only did one album with Deep Purple — 1990’s little-known Slaves & Masters — but was a rock great before his short time with the band, having fronted Rainbow and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s band, though he’s far from a household name. Meanwhile, Deep Purple has stood the test of time, continuing to tour today (with guitar virtuoso Steve Morse replacing original master Richie Blackmore since 1994).
Styx was co-founded by singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung in 1972 and had five albums and the DeYoung ballad “Lady” before guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw joined the band in 1975. For nearly a decade, Shaw and DeYoung took turns on lead vocals, with DeYoung’s tunes taking on a more theatrical tone in hits like “Come Sail Away,” “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” and 1983’s unforgettable and often-quoted “Mr. Roboto” from Kilroy Was Here. In-fighting led to Shaw’s departure after the Kilroy tour, putting an end to Styx’s hit-making days. In 1995, the original members put their differences behind them for a reunion tour and two subsequent albums, but by 1999, the tensions had risen again due to creative differences. When it was time for the band to hit the road again, DeYoung asked that the tour be delayed because he was ill, but the band went ahead without him hiring Canadian musician Lawrence Gowan to fill in. Nearly a decade later, Gowan is still fronting the band, which continues to tour, though fans have been divided in their loyalties between the two camps. Gowan does fill in beautifully on keyboards and sounds enough like DeYoung to satisfy the casual and diehard fan alike, but the DeYoung devotees have yet to give in to the current line-up. After being unceremoniously ditched from the band he created, DeYoung composed a musical for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and still performs live; he’s also appeared on TV’s Celebrity Duets.
Journey‘s situation is quite similar to that of Styx. For much of the 1970s, Journey’s lead vocals were shared by singer Steve Perry and keyboardist Gregg Rolie. After Rolie’s departure came 1981’sEscape which had three Perry-sung chart toppers, “Who’s Crying Now?,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and “Open Arms. This cemented Perry as the “voice” of the band, but by 1987, success had gone to Perry’s head and he left Journey for a solo career. The band did eventually reunite, but as they were to go on tour in 1997, Perry injured his hip hiking and needed hip replacement, which he refused to get right away. Eventually, Journey went on tour without him, getting Steve Augeri to front the band. Not only did Augeri sound just like Perry, but he resembled him as well. Once again like Styx, fans were divided into two camps. Augeri continued on with Journey until 2006 when chronic throat infections impeded his performance, forcing him to quit the band. Since then, Jeff Scott Soto (another Yngwie Malmsteen alumnus) filled in for a time, but when that didn’t work out, Journey went the Tribute Band singer route with Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who was on this year’s Revelation and the subsequent support tour. Perry did get the necessary surgery and has since been working on solo material.
3. Mötley Crüe
Undoubtedly the biggest hair band to come from the 1980s hair metal movement and one of the most recognized names in rock, Mötley Crüe ruled the decade with fist-pumping anthems “Shout At The Devil” and “Wild Side,” as well as hits “Home Sweet Home” and their cover of “Smokin’ In The Boys Room.” But with the 1990s came the rise of grunge and a rapid decline for hair metal; this pressure combined with singer Vince Neil‘s constant headbutting with drummer Tommy Lee lead to Neil’s 1992 exit from the band. Determined to keep the band going, the Crüe enlisted John Corabi for their next effort, their 1994 self-titled album. Unfortunately, though Corabi had talent and could play guitar for the band too, he neither sounded like the high-pitched Neil nor looked like the band’s platinum-blond former singer. The album with Corabi, though musically not a bad album, bombed so badly that its support tour was canceled (I should know, I had tickets). At the same time, Neil recorded two solo records that were actually better received than Mötley Crüe, but he also tragically lost his young daughter to cancer. By 2004, the four original Crüe members put aside their differences to make a successful comeback and though their albums have never charted again like they did in the 1980s, the band is still touring and its members are still in the spotlight. After his failed attempt with the Crüe, Corabi started the band Union with former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick; played in Brides of Destruction with Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, and has toured as part of the band Ratt.
Mötley Crüe with John Corabi “Hooligan’s Holiday” video
2. Black Sabbath
For most fans of Black Sabbath, the original 1970 line-up of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward is the true Black Sabbath. With classics like “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and “Paranoid,” the band became known as the godfathers of heavy metal and their singer Ozzy became an iconic figure in rock. When Ozzy left Sabbath for a solo career in 1979 (which eventually became more successful than Sabbath), there seemed no way the band could replace him — but they did, with Rainbow’s diminutive vocal powerhouse Ronnie James Dio. Though sounding nothing like Ozzy, Dio was legend in his own right and while fans were divided (and still are), the two initial studio albums with Dio — Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules — were well-received and are considered classics. Dio left the band in 1982, launching a solo career that’s seen its ups and downs since, but has reunited with Sabbath several times (the Dio-fronted Sabbath toured this summer as Heaven and Hell). While most people know of Ozzy and Dio, few probably realize that Sabbath has a whole other life post-Dio. First, Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan handled vocal duties on 1983’s Born Again. When Gillan went back to Purple, the revolving door of Sabbath singers was in full swing. Led by Tony Iommi — and dubbed “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi” — the band saw numerous line-up changes and various frontmen: Tony Martin, DP bassist Glenn Hughes, and Badlands singer Ray Gillan, none of which propelled Sabbath back into the limelight. Sabbath’s final studio release was in 1995; at various times, they’ve regrouped for tours with either Ozzy or Dio at the helm.
1. Van Halen
Has their ever been a bigger debate in rock than the one about Van Halen/Van Hager? After their hugely successful 1984, singer David Lee Roth quit Van Halen, leaving the remaining three members in a lurch. Not only were Roth’s vocals and ad-libs unique for the band in tunes like “Jump,” “Hot For Teacher,” and “Panama,” but so was his live showmanship. Guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen could carry the band very far, but to complete their act, they needed a new frontman with Roth’s charisma to match. Strangely enough they went with solo artist Sammy Hagar, who not only sang, but could play guitar for live shows and did know how to work the crowd. The problem is that Hagar sang differently than Roth and definitely looked nothing like Roth, but more importantly, co-wrote songs for the band that sound nothing like the ones from Roth’s six-year reign. Fans of VH’s early hard rock records were now met with mushy love songs like, “Love Walks In,” Why Can’t This Be Love,” and “When It’s Love” (see a pattern?). But while VH lost much of its old following, they gained a whole new following in the fans of pop rock (aka, the mainstream) and hair metal. And as with their Roth albums, the Hagar years saw all multi-platinum albums. While Hagar fronted VH, Roth initially hit it big with two solo albums in the late 1980s, but after that, his career went downhill. In 1996, after Hagar came to verbal blows with Eddie Van Halen, the band hired Extreme singer Gary Cherone to work on Van Halen III, while Hagar went back to his solo career. VH III was basically ignored and the band went on hiatus until 2003 when they reunited with Hagar, after which Hagar went back to his solo career. After years of rumors, in 2007, Van Halen officially reunited with Roth for a world tour that’s still raging.
Did we miss anyone? Make your additions here in the Comments section!