Op-ed: When A Vocalist Dies, Should The Band Die Too?

Apologies for the bluntness of the title but as it suggests, today we’ll be taking a look at what happens when the frontman of an established act unfortunately passes away and the fate of the band is left in the hands of the remaining members. The point of reference which brought up this string of thoughts comes from Static-X announcing a new album is in the works called Project Regeneration which will have original members Tony Campos (Bass), Ken Jay (Drums) and Koichi Fukuda (Guitar) performing on it as well as previously unreleased recordings featuring former frontman Wayne Static, who passed away back in 2014 from drug toxicity following years of prescription drug and alcohol abuse. For the songs on the album which remain unfinished, the band are looking at getting in guest vocalists like David Draiman of Disturbed, Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch, Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Coal Chamber/DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara, Edsel from DoPe, Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory fame and more to contribute to finishing them off for the release. There’s also plans in place for a 20th Anniversary Tour of the band’s debut album Wisconsin Death Trip and exclusive merch packs, fan names in the album liner notes, all of which will be made possible by pre-ordering the album/merch and helping them get the idea over the line. Read more on the announcement here.

See, the idea seems all well and good and I understand where they’re coming from with wanting to do it as a way to honour their fallen founder, but at the end of the day, with all the news and excitement put aside, the band is nothing without Wayne Static. As some hardcore fans have even stated, they should change their name to X if it’s not going to include Mr. Static himself, which is in reference to the tour they’re planning and even as far as saying the unfinished songs won’t be the same unless they were complete versions by Wayne himself, without the contribution of others. There’s also no line in the sand when it comes to where the money for this surprise “comeback” will go to. Will Wayne’s family benefit from the band using his name, voice, image and intellectual property with all of the merch and album offerings? Why has it taken them so long to get to this point? Is it really going to be worth it in the end and, if proven successful, should they have the right to continue on without him (if that’s in their plans!?)

There are going to be split opinions about this matter, so I thought I’d try and round up the examples of when continuing on following the death of a singer has been a viable exercise and some cases when it’s been nothing more than a blatant cash grabbing opportunity…

The Successful Continuation

AC/DC

Losing a singer (or any member for that reason) can be excruciatingly hard, especially when you’ve just put out one of the most globally recognised albums in your catalogue, which is what happened to the boys back in 1979. They’d just released their sixth studio album Highway To Hell, and less than seven months later, frontman Bon Scott died of what the coroner report cited as acute alcohol poisoning. At the time of Bon’s death, the band had already started recording their following album Back in Black (due to the success/popularity they’d started to receive outside of Australia) and instead of disbanding and stopping the momentum they’d created, they enlisted the help of Brian Johnson much to the approval of family and friends. As we all know now, the album was a huge success, welcomed with open arms by fans and critics alike and has gone down as being one of the best selling albums of all time, selling over 50 Million copies worldwide.

The band have become icons, mentors and pioneers for heavy metal’s popularity across the globe and prove that you can carry on following the tragic passing of the person who indirectly becomes the face of the band when they step up to that mic… However, the current state of the band today is in disarray following Malcolm Young‘s retirement in 2014 and devastating passing in December 2017 following a battle with early-onset dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd was ousted from the band a couple of times but most recently in 2015 for some pretty serious criminal charges which he served 8 months for in-home detention. Brian Johnson departed the band in February 2016 due to complications with his hearing and was followed shortly by bassist Cliff Williams in September 2016… That same year serial rock diva Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame stepped up to the plate to front the band and he’s remained in that position ever since.

Now, it seems rumours state Angus Young and Axl are driving the band’s name into the ground recording new material, but despite conflicting reports of Paul Rudd and Brian Johnson being spotted together at the studio where the band have recorded their last three albums (apparently this pic is from an old recording session), isn’t it time to hang up the instruments and call it a day?

Mayhem

In one of the wildest WTF? situations, frontman Per “Dead” Ohlin took his own life in 1991, three years before the band’s 1994 debut album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was released. Prior to the album being out, guitarist Øystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous) was murdered by former member Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnackh) in 1993, which resulted in the album’s lengthy delay. The album itself became infamously popular worldwide with many within the black metal community citing it as an influence for their bands or how they fell in love with the genre. The album featured Dead‘s final lyrics before his passing and songs written by Euronymous before his murder, however, studio versions of some songs from the album were released prior to any of the above-mentioned mayhem.

From this, the band have since recruited new members (more than you can count on two hands) and have kept the legacy of the band going, despite only having one founding member Jørn Stubberud aka Necrobutcher. Mayhem were recently in Australia touring the debut album for fans and we have to say, was one of the most fucked up and heavy shows we’ve ever had the chance to cover (our review here). Revisit our chilling interview with frontman Attila Csihar here.

Photos by Emanuel Rudnicki Carving A Giant

Alice in Chains

Their story is also one of the more interesting successful outcomes where frontman Layne Staley spent a lot of his time towards the end of his life, alone, living as a recluse following the passing of his ex-fiance in 1996, the same year he stopped performing live with the band. He fronted AiC from 1987 to 1998 and in that time, they released three studio albums before he died of an accidental drug overdose in April 2002.

Following his passing, the band refused to perform together out of respect for Layne and his family, but in 2005 they all reunited to perform at a tsunami relief show featuring Patrick Lachman from DamageplanPhil Anselmo (Pantera/DownWes Scantlin (Puddle of Mudd), Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Ann Wilson from Heart sharing vocal duties for the performance. After the show, (and with Staley’s mother’s encouraged) the band reformed using the name and in 2006 touring singer/guitarist William DuVall took on the role of the band’s frontman, not trying to emulate their late singer, but bring something different to the table.

Since then they’ve released three albums, most recently Rainier Fog which debuted at #15 on the ARIA Charts and #12 on the US Billboard Charts back in August. They’re also playing Download Festival 2019 in Australia, so its safe to say they’re still good… for now.

 

The Spectacular Failures

INXS

Well, we all know this story. But for those who don’t here goes: INXS were arguably one of the biggest rock bands in Australia since AC/DC, their popularity extended overseas and the band struggled with tall poppy syndrome sufferers back home when they did tour here (fans hated they left Australia and spent more time touring overseas than in their own backyard). But in 1997, tragically frontman Michael Hutchence took his own life seven months later whilst under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Remaining members Tim Farriss, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Gary Beers hit the stage again after close to a year off performing live at a few select shows and featured a stack of “guest” performers including Jimmy BarnesTerence Trent D’Arby, Russell Hitchcock even Suze DeMarchi of Baby Animals helped them out at one point, but former Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens was the main man who performed with them the most, so much so they took him on tour through Europe and South America following their inclusion in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2002 Stevens became the band’s official frontman… but before that venture could sprout any wings, he left the band to perform solo in 2003.

After this, well, this is where it all turned to shit. The band sold out in hilarious fashion in 2005 by creating a reality tv show to find a new singer called Rock Star: INXSRemember that? Nope? Ok, well a bloke named J.D. Fortune who used to live in his car, under a bridge (I bring that up because like all singing reality contests, sob stories sell records) ended up winning the show and joined the band as their frontman only to leave momentarily in 2009 following their global tour. He rejoined after finding out it was a misunderstanding only to wake up one day in 2011 and find out via the band’s website he’d been booted from the band.

After that the band replaced Fortune with new singer Ciaran Gribbin (and to be completely honest with you, I had no idea this exchange even happened) they disbanded in 2012… but since then there’s been documentaries, telemovies, interviews and more from the band that just didn’t know when to call it quits. With rumours of movies and Broadway Musicals floating around, its evident this dead horse still has some flogging in him…

 

Suicide Silence

When they first broke out in 2002 Suicide Silence were tipped as the next big thing in deathcore, playing music festival across the globe and sharing a stage with the likes of Machine Head, Trivium, Mudvayne, Static-X and more. One of their songs was even featured on the Saw VI soundtrack and they were on top of the world. hen tragically frontman Mitch Lucker was involved in a motorbike accident in 2012 and tragically passed away, well before his time.

Almost a year later the band revealed they had recruited All Shall Perish frontman Hernan “Eddie” Hermida and began working on a new album called You Can’t Stop Me which was named after lyrics from one of the last songs Mitch wrote before his passing. The album was released in 2014 and did pretty well from all accounts.

In 2017 however, the band released the follow up album, a self-titled offering which, according to most fans and critics was an abomination. Their previous album debuted at #30 on the ARIA Charts, this one was released at #78. If that’s not a good enough indication for you look at the US stats, YCSM debuted at #16 on the Billboard 200 Charts and their self-titles attempted only made it as far as #163.

The band’s next album will make or break them I reckon, but with reactions like they received for the last attempt, they’ve got a long way to go before gaining the trust of their fans.

*Note: In the band’s defence though, they did set up and promote donations for Mitch Lucker’s daughter via the Kenadee Lucker Education Fund back in 2012, although it is unclear whether the band continue to make donations themselves or if the Lucker family receive royalties from Mitch’s time within the band. I’d dare say that’s a high possibility, if not, that’s a big NOPE GUYS in my eyes.

 

Sublime

Ska fans would tear me a new one if I didn’t mention the history of Sublime. The six-time multi-platinum legends have been quoted as being pioneers for bringing punk into mainstream following the success of their 1996 self-titled album and it’s #1 single ‘What I Got‘. Unfortunately, vocalist Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose shortly before the album was released. Many fans had no idea of Nowell’s passing either during and after this time. Also in 1996, an interview with their manager Jason Westwell was conducted and he had stated the surviving members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh had no interested continuing on with the name and the band was over saying “Just like Nirvana, Sublime died when Brad died.”

Well, fast forward a few years and who reappears in 2009 trying to play shows under the name SublimeEric Wilson, Bud Gaugh and newcomer Rome Ramirez on vocals. Bradley’s family and their lawyers threatened them with a lawsuit stating Nowell was the sole owner of the name (which he also trademarked) and they couldn’t use it unless he was involved with the band. A few months later after court proceedings, the case was dropped and the band dubbed the new name of Sublime with Rome.

Bud Gaugh departed in 2011 and upon leaving said “It was really good for the first few months, after that, it just felt wrong. Not playing the songs but playing them with the name Sublime, without Brad.”

 

The Doors

After Jim Morrison became a member of the infamous 27 club in 1971, the band considered replacing him with another singer but instead, they drove the name into the ground another way by switching up the roles with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek taking on vocal duties. Other Voices was put out not even half a year after Jim’s death and yep, shit. Full Circle came next in 1972 and yep, it sucked too. The trio disbanded in 1973.

Seven years after Morrison’s death and five years after they called it a day, the band returned to flog the dead horse and released their last ever album under The Doors name, An American Prayer which consisted of Morrison reading poetry while they placed instrumental music underneath his voice… Yeah, that happened. It divided critics, produced no charting songs/singles and was the final nail in the coffin.

 

Stone Temple Pilots

When grunge was running wild in the 90’s STP were racking up hits and plays on mainstream radio alongside the greats of the genre. From 1989 through until 2002 they released 5 studio albums, scored shitloads of award nominations, mainly for their absolute smash hits ‘Plush‘ and ‘Interstate Love Song‘ and toured the globe.

After a six-year split (and Scott Weiland abruptly leaving his side project Velvet Revolver) they came back roaring to go and got stuck into it again, however, three years later tensions started flaring up between members when Weiland couldn’t hit certain notes anymore and not long after that he was fired from the band in 2013. Scott tried to go on a solo tour using the Stone Temple Pilots name but a lawsuit that was settled out of court put a stop to that with Dean and Robert Deleo and Eric Kretz retaining the naming rights.

Also in 2013, the band enlisted the help of Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) to front them and they performed at various shows across the globe, including a spot on the Soundwave Festival 2014 lineup (which they later pulled out of) using the new name Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington. By March 2015 they dropped the additional name, however, eight months later, Chester departed the band amicably to focus his time in Linkin Park again.

Less than a month later, Scott Weiland was found dead after an accidental overdose, the band issued a statement thanking him for his time and saying “You were gifted beyond words, Scott. Part of that gift was part of your curse.”

In 2016 they launched an online audition to find a new vocalist which was won by former Dry Cell lead vocalist (and US X-Factor contestant) Jeff Gutt. After his win, they began work on a new self-titled album (yes another one) which came out early 2018, during that time Chester Bennington (who by this point was well and truly out of the picture) took his own life on July 20th, 2017.

The 2018 self-titled hasn’t done as well as previous efforts, but its still early days, once again, their next release will make or break the name, but given what the band have been through, shouldn’t they just pack it in and start fresh?

Queen

Arguably one of the BIGGEST bands to emerge from London. Ever. Their history is well known and is soon to be released as a movie based upon their lives. Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest frontmen with amazingly incredible vocal performances to ever grace us with his presence lead the band from 1970 to his death from aids in 1991.

In that time they released a whopping fourteen studio album. Played a fuck-tonne of shows and became icons. After Freddie died, well, fuck. It was hard. The remaining trio of guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bass guitarist John Deacon released their last album together as Queen in 1995 and surprisingly it did really fucking well, becoming their best selling studio album. Consisting of the final vocal and piano parts Freddie recorded before he died, the band worked their magic to make Made in Heaven an epic closing chapter for the band… but did they let the band die? No.

They enlisted the help of Paul Rodgers (Free/Bad Company) from 2004-2009 to sing for them as they continued touring the world. Then in 2012 they grabbed American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert and hit the road with him which they’ve been doing on and off since, they were just here in February for a few shows too (revisit our coverage here). Will the band ever die? Probably not. Should Brian May and Roger Taylor call it a day? Yes please.

Photo Gallery by Mick Goddard (Mick Goddard)

Blind Melon

These psychedelic rockers are probably known for their one hit wonder track ‘No Rain‘ from way back in 1993. They were signed to Capitol Records and released two albums before frontman Shannon Hoon died of a fatal drug overdose in 1995. The band went on a hiatus for four years before officially calling it a day.

That was until 2006 when the surviving members Rogers StevensChristopher Thorn, Brad Smith and Glen Graham teamed up with new singer Travis Warren to give it a good old red hot crack again… but, as they say, you’re only as good as your first big hit and not surprisingly, they haven’t made even as much as a blip on the radar. Apparently, they’re working on new music but what’s the point?

 

Thin Lizzy

This is huge. Original lead vocalist/bassist Phil Lynott formed Thin Lizzy in 1969 with Brian Downey on drums and Eric Bell on guitar. The trio went through some members and even had guitarist John Skyes join them in 1982 (I’m fast forwarding a bit here). A year later Phil and Brian, as the only original members, called it quits and Thin Lizzy was put to rest.

4 years later Lynott died due to multiple organs failing brought on by drug dependency.

Ten years after that in 1996, good old John Sykes decides he wants to reignite the band and start it back up again, using the name and saying its a way to pay respect/tribute to Phil Lynott‘s legacy. Thats not starting up a band, thats starting up a bloody covers band because no new songs were made, they just used the name because it was recognisable in my opinion.

Nowadays, the band is still active, yet no original members remain, despite Brian Downey rejoining briefly from 1996-1998 and then again from 2010-2016.

Just call it a day mates. There’s nothing original left.

 

Gwar

The literal Monster-Mash Metal Band formed in 1988 and have since gone through more members that I’ve gone through new underwear this year… wait, maybe even past two years. But after frontman Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus passed away in 2014 from a heroin overdose, Gwar were left with no original members in tow and should have called it a day right then and there…

But, Kim Dylla (Vulvatron) took the reigns briefly in 2014 prior to her booting for alcohol problems leaving former member Michael Bishop (originally known as bassist Beefcake the Mighty from 1987-1993 and then again 1998-1999) to lead the band as new character Blothar. They released a new album in 2017 called The Blood of Gods, they were also supposed to tour Australia this year too but that fell through before it even grew legs.

 

The Angels

The. Angels. Should. Have. Stopped. After. Doc. Neeson’s. Death. In. 2014.

If Australian music history has shown us anything, its bands who replace fallen members with other established musicians, will fail at trying to replicate their peak popularity no matter how hard they try.

Don’t get me wrong, Dave Gleeson is a great musician… in the Screaming Jets. In some cases nowadays, he’s way too good for The Angels’ current lineup, but you’ve gotta have that equal share balance all the way through and stop riding on the coattails of success from decades ago… yes, before Doc left to go solo in 2000.

Eagles

Playing a memorial show for former frontman Glenn Frey who passed away in 2016 after complications while recovering from gastrointestinal tract surgery is acceptable and a much needed way to pay your respects to him for his services during his time in the band. Having his son sing in his place is also a nice touch too I might add.

Taking that show on tour around the world (after having a couple of farewell tours already) is a gobsmacking, money grabbing expedition isn’t it? Surely one or two or even five hometown shows would have done enough justice for the band and they could have called it quits at the top of their game? Instead, they’re well and truly milking it until the very end.

It’s been 11 years since they’ve released an album. They won’t be releasing another one without Glenn. With everything presented in front of you, you can’t tell me I’m wrong.

 

Drowning Pool

The Dave Williams era of the band was arguably their best to date. The success they had after released the 2001 album Sinner was incredible. They toured the world, were considered key players in nu metal’s increase in popularity and release one hell of a banger of a track called ‘Bodies‘. That all came crumbling down following Dave’s death in 2002 after he suffered a heart condition now known as cardiomyopathy.

A year later Jason Jones joined the band as their frontman for what fans labeled the Desensitized era. The album was released had an okay single called ‘Step Up‘ but didn’t live up to the debut. Jason departed due to created differences in 2005 just in time for Ryan McCombs to take over.

The McCombs saga lasted 6 years and produced two albums, Full Circle in 2007 and self-titled in 2010. From here the albums stopped debuting in the Top 20 charts and the band started slipping in popularity. Was it because of nu-metal’s phasing out or just that fans were over the constant revolving door of frontmen coming and going? Ryan left in 2011 to team up with his old band SOiL and Drowning Pool were once again drowning without a singer.

In 2012 Jasen Moreno joined the band after leaving The Suicide Hook and they began working on the next album with a new singer, Resilience which came out a year later. As expected it didn’t take well and was slammed by critics, but the guys held onto hope that things would get better and announced a new album called Hellelujah was set for release in 2016. This one rated much better review wise but still didn’t crack any charts. Since then the band have been doing Anniversary Tours and even made their way back down under for the first time in 14 years back in 2016 (our review here). The best thing from those shows proved they’ve gotten better live and are really photogenic.

Photos by Jerika Faithfull

The Legacies Left Untainted

Nirvana

Is the perfect example of a legacy being left alone without any need to revisit it with reunion/anniversary tours at all. Over the years Kurt Cobain‘s ex Courtney Love has put out unreleased songs from the band which assisted with his legacy and memory, but surviving members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic have never felt the need to reignite the flame again and go on tour. Yes, they played a couple of songs recently at a one-off performance at Cal Jam (Fooies’ own Music Festival) but other than that, we haven’t seen the pair hit the road, release new music together or tarnish the image of what was.

 

Soundgarden

Same goes for these guys too, the remaining members have stated they don’t know if they can continue on now Chris Cornell is no longer with us. If they started a new musical venture together, with a new name but similar sound, that’d be acceptable but Chris was and always will be the face of that band. Same rules for Audioslave.

 

Linkin Park

This however is a tricky situation. Here you have a band who have been together for close to two decades, making music and a name for themselves within the industry. They lost one of their frontmen, Chester Bennington, last year to suicide and from there, the state of the band has been left in limbo. For their tribute show, they sought help from various singers within the heavy music/rock community, both male and female, as a way to pay respects to the songs and their fallen comrade. But in no way have they hinted that Chester will ever be replaced. Now when bands have two frontmen or frontwomen, where do you draw the line? Can they go on with just the one leading the way? Mike Shinoda is a fantastic musician and by all means, still deserves to front the band, but can it be done without Chester? Mike has enough of a reputation to go on as a solo artist or return to his other side project Fort Minor, which never came close to replicating the popularity of Linkin Park, but what about the rest of the band? Should they be left in limbo or should they all regroup and start a new project, with a new name, similar sound and start fresh?

 

We Came As Romans

They’re also in the exact same boat as Linkin Park after losing clean vocalist Kyle Pavone to an accidental overdose back in August this year. Since then, the band set up the Kyle Pavone Foundation which aims to assist bands/musicians within the music industry during times of need when they’re struggling and have finished their touring obligations. Dave Stephens still remains as the band’s unclean vocalist/screamer but over the years dual roles of singing and screaming have been taken on by established frontmen/women after another member has left a band (Of Mice & Men come to mind for this). I don’t see a problem with the band continuing on to keep the legacy of Pavone alive and Dave taking on both singing roles… I do have a problem with them replacing him with a new, clean vocalist in future.

 

What do you think? Where do you stand on bands continuing on following the passing of their singers? The face and voice of the entire project can change completely if they’re replaced, so should morals be put into play and the remaining musicians call it a day (with that project) but start something new and begin a new chapter in their careers?

Let me know.

Written by Browny @brownypaul

If you or anyone you know needs help with their own mental well-being call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or find your closest Suicide Prevention/Crisis Support Organisation on Google…

About brownypaul (1268 Articles)
Dad, Wall of Sound Owner/Editorial Manager, Triple M Brisbane Radio Guy, Obsessed Blink-182 Fan & Professional Beard Grower! Definitely NOT a Hipster!

2 Comments on Op-ed: When A Vocalist Dies, Should The Band Die Too?

  1. DIDN’T READ THE ARTICLE BECAUSE THE PREMISE IS SO STUPID. IF THE DRUMMER DIES SHOULD THE BAND DIE? IF THE GUITARIST DIES SHOULD THE BAND DIE? IF THE PRIMARY SONGWRITER DIES SHOULD THE BAND DIE? WHAT ABOUT GUITAR TECH OR THE STAGE HAND? THOROUGHLY STUPID QUESTION WITH AN OBVIOUS ANSWER: NO.

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