10 Legendarily Bad Rock and Roll Fathers (and Their Legendary Kids)
Not pictured: Joe Jackson's belt.
If I believed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an institution or even an argument settler, I would insinuate myself as one of their exhibit planners and make sure there was a "Worst Dads in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" created every June. Why? Because for every bit of musical genius cluttering up that Cleveland carbuncle, there's a rotten patriarch behind the legend doing his best to lower his son or daughter's self-esteem and arguably inspire his best work.
Because of that last stipulation, the spawning of a rock legend, we can handily eliminate such celebrated do-wrong daddies as Papa John Phillips, who sexually abused his own daughter Mackenzie, turned her on to drugs at an early age, let Mick Jagger babysit her and perhaps most cruelest of all, had her replace hottie stepmom Michelle in a Mama Cass-less reunion of the Mamas and Papas.
And we can also eliminate those questionable calls you people are already calling out, like Billy Joel (who inadvertently forced daughter Alexis into years of ridicule when the gene pool gave her all of dad's good looks instead of supermodel mom Christie Brinkley) and Eric Clapton (oh, you people are cruel.)
Let's count 'em down, in order of severity:
10. Harry Nilsson's Dad, Harry Edward Nilsson Jr.
No singer-songwriter has written more jaunty yet heartbreaking autobiographical ditties about being abandoned by his father when he was four than Harry Edward Nilsson III or Harry Nilsson or just plain Nilsson.
"Daddy's Song," "So Long Dad," and especially "1941," which was the year he was born and in which he sings "Well, in 1941, the happy father had a son / And in 1944, the father walked right out the door."
Oddly enough, he refashioned this into the theme for the television series "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," which depicted an idyllic father-and-son relationship he never had growing up. Lacking that father figure, Nilsson spiraled out of control after winning the fawning approval of all four Beatles, about the only thing they agreed on after 1967. Sadly, more ink has been devoted not to his music but his period of excess in the mid-'70s, palling around with an equally self-destructive John Lennon (don't worry, we'll get to him).
9. Adele's Dad, Mark Evans
You have to be a pretty lousy papa to have your daughter tell the NME, "If I ever see him I will spit in his face." We know he was a raging good-for-nothing alcoholic who wasn't there for her in her teens, and not because she recorded an album called 15, either -- it's because her attention-seeking dad won't stop talking to the tabloids!
This is what has largely caused this irreparable rift. According to Adele, "To come back after 10 years and be like, 'Maybe her problem with men comes down to me.' It's like, 'Fuck off! How dare you comment on my life?' It makes my blood boil."
8. Meat Loaf's Dad, Orvis Wesley Aday
Ever wonder why Meat Loaf can cry over a ruined soufflé on Celebrity Apprentice? Maybe the sight of the cutlery brought back memories of his dad, an alcoholic police officer who not only gave him the Meat nickname but also visited him in college and tried to carve him into sirloin chunks with a butcher knife back in 1967.
But at least Orvis kept in touch with his son, something you can't say about the rest of this pack.
7. Courtney Love's Dad, Hank Harrison
It takes a special kind of dad to give birth to a train wreck like Courtney, to fund her early musical career, and to allegedly mail her packages of LSD and MDMA when she was in London.
But it takes a whole 'nuther kind of father to accuse her of conspiring to murder his son-in-law, Kurt Cobain. Hank Harrison has appeared in the movie Kurt and Courtney and cooperated with two authors of books about Cobain murder conspiracies.
He's since backpedaled a bit and said she had nothing to do with killing, but implicates her with the cover-up that took place afterwards. We'll have to wait until Hank's own book comes out or Courtney runs out of money to suppress it. Whichever comes first.
6. Axl Rose's Two Dads, Bill Rose and Stephen Bailey
Let's get this straight -- "Sweet Child o' Mine" wasn't inspired by any feelings of goodwill toward children or childhood in any way shape and form. Both Axl's biological dad, Bill Rose, and his stepdad, Stephen Bailey, share the dishonors of not being there for him and BEING there for him, respectively.
Biologically, Axl inherited his abusive temper and bipolar behavior and repressed memories of being sexually abused from father Bill, while the strict Pentecostal Stephen Bailey gave him regular beatings, one notably for singing along with the radio while Barry Manilow's "Mandy" played!
5. John Lennon's Dad, Alf Lennon (a.k.a. Freddie Lennon)
This one's a father-and-son tie! By most Beatlemania-era accounts, John Lennon's dad left the future Beatle when he was just a boy and only turned up again in John's life after he was a worldwide superstar to hit him up for Fab Four money. In 1965, he released a bunch of singles to cash in on John's success, and in 1969, he married an 18-year-old Beatles fan.
Most of that misinformation came from John himself in a series of forgetful interviews. John forgave his dad for not being there for him until he underwent Primal Therapy in 1970 and got pissed off at his wayward father all over again.
After a five-year estrangement, John apologized once again to his dad when Alf was dying of stomach cancer. Arguably, the pain Alf caused his son inspired not only his greatest solo album, Plastic Ono Band, but also most treasured hit solo composition. Freddie Lennon's 1965 recording of "That's My Life" sounds suspiciously like "Imagine," a song John released six years later.
John himself deserves special notice here for continuing the cycle -- abandoning his own son Julian at an early age, not being in touch at regular intervals, not being very affectionate during his infrequent visits to the Dakota, telling the press Julian was unplanned child who "came from a bottle of whiskey" while fawning all over Sean, and forcing Julian to buy his dad's old stuff in auctions because Yoko never gave him any of it.
4. Mickey Hart's Dad, Lenny Hart
Playing bookkeeper to his son's timekeeping skills, Lenny, the band's original business manager, embezzled $155,000 of the band's wealth in March 1970. Dad's deplorable actions inspired the Grateful Dead song "He's Gone," provided the band's best-ever album title ("Steal Your Face"), and resulted in the band's best studio album, Workingman's Dead (recorded right after Lenny skipped town).
In a supreme case of "Dad, you're embarrassing me in front of my friends!" Mickey split for a five-year hiatus from the group. Ah, they probably would have used that $155,000 to buy acid and patchouli anyway.
3. The Jacksons' Dad, Joe Jackson
The Jackson Five patriarch and manager got his boys signed to Motown at the expense of being a loving and nurturing dad, which is why all his surviving kids tersely refer to him as "Joseph" now.
Allegations of abuse and beatings are common knowledge now, especially of Michael, who was supposedly held upside down by his feet and repeatedly pummeled like a punching bag (no wonder Michael thought dangling "Blanket" out the window wasn't so precarious).
Say what you will about the man, never before has one dad inspired so much plastic surgery to remove a paternal resemblance.
2. Three Beach Boys' Dad, Murry Wilson
What kind of Dad hits his son in the head with a 2x4? Or makes his offspring defecate on a dinner plate when they won't eat their supper? Or removes his glass eye and forces this sons to stare into the empty socket as punishment? The father of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, three-fifths of the Beach Boys, that's who.
Having penned a song for Lawrence Welk ("Two-Step Side-Step") in 1952, Murry struggled with relevancy ever since. Getting the group signed to Capitol Records was a managerial coup, but his constant antagonizing of Brian in the studio, and often in front of the session musicians, resulted in his being fired as the group's manager in 1964.
Murry got even by producing a rival sun and surf band The Sunrays and recording a non-selling album for Capitol that got deducted from the Beach Boys' royalties (the enigmatically titled The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, in 1967). He saved his greatest coup for last, selling the Beach Boys' publishing company Sea of Tunes out from under them at a fraction of what they'd eventually be worth.
Murry's hitting Brian upside the head with lumber is rumored to have caused permanent loss of hearing in his right ear, which forced him to hear in mono to this day, an aesthetic that inspired the beloved Beach Boys' sound. And inspired the group's silliest and yet most personal track ever, "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man." Darn my Dad!
1. Marvin Gaye's Dad, The Reverend Marvin Pentz Gay Sr.
"Father, father, we don't need to escalate." Nuff said. At least Murry Wilson never shot his eldest son. And just a few hours shy of his 45th birthday too. Marvin Sr. would later claim self-defense, a charge Murry "Don't Back Down" Wilson would laugh at.
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