Bands That Replaced Irreplaceable Members (And Those That Shouldn't Have)

Cable television is confounding, for sure, and the inevitable question often arises: "All these channels and nothing to watch? What the ______?" Recently, I was having one of these moments until I stumbled across an interview/live performance show on the Audience Network called Guitar Center Sessions. This one caught my eye because it featured Alice in Chains. I got curious. Who is this new singer? How could they try to keep it going without Layne Staley?

Of course, this only brought up more thinking, which is never encouraged by any discernible taste-making entity, but darn it, thinking is so fun and on that particular afternoon, I wondered, what other bands have replaced seemingly irreplaceable members and either failed miserably or been successful? Obviously, it is way more fun to write about the bands who have failed miserably, but I also have to be fair and give credit where credit is due.

See Also: 10 Underrated Punk Albums That Should Be Considered Classic Alice in Chains Band Bio Rewritten by Adoring Arizona Republic Reporter

Alice in Chains, for example, seems to have found a really good replacement for former lead vocalist (and currently dead) Staley in William DuVall, who sounds similar enough to the late junkie singer to please diehard fans, but also has the huevos to be his own man on newer songs. In addition, DuVall has a noticeable presence, which is very important in rock 'n' roll to be able to sell "it" to the masses. I would give them a passing grade, especially considering how difficult it is to replace someone as distinctive as Staley.

One thing folks who haven't been in bands might not realize is how much time and effort band members invest to achieve any kind of success, even just playing a few local shows. Band members who might not contribute a whole lot beyond time, effort, and loyalty have, at very least, the feeling of ownership of the band itself. In the end regardless of the reason, when bands break up it is rarely unanimous. There is always at least one member who wants to hang on and keep it going.

Having been a founding member of a band, a replacement for an original member, and just a fill-in player, I can say first hand that seeing a band end, even when you have just played a small part, is very difficult to do. There is that sense of ownership which can cloud even the best judgment and it is hard to stomach, at times, seeing someone else play or sing the parts that used to be yours. I can definitely empathize with every band on this list who kept it going, for better or for worse, but still...sometimes you do just shake your head and go, "What the fuck were they thinking?"

Dead Kennedys

The first famous failure which comes to my mind in replacing the irreplaceable belongs to the Dead Kennedys. One of the greatest punk bands ever, the Dead Kennedys were Northern California's gift to the underground, at least until they decided to reform without original singer Jello Biafra in 2001. The iconic Biafra's voice helped make the Dead Kennedys' signature sound unmistakable, and his particular way of phrasing chorus and verse alike is unlike any other in music, let alone punk rock.

Now, though, the Dead Kennedys are a joke band whose instrumental brilliance is cheapened to the point of repugnance by possibly one of the worst choices in rock history as replacement vocalist. New singer, Ron "Skip" Greer has no presence and, sadly, attempts to mimic Biafra more often than not. At least he doesn't try to emulate Biafra's classic pantomime stage presence. If you're looking for something at least close to the power of the Dead Kennedys circa 1983, then check out Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine next time they come through your town. You won't be disappointed, but if you are longtime DK fan and you go to a Dead Kennedys show, you just might puke.

Is there a more famous or notorious example of replacing the irreplaceable than Van Halen? When they first announced Sammy Hagar as a replacement for David Lee Roth in 1985 and Van Halen became Van Hagar, I couldn't believe the utter bullshit they put out. While I never really got into Van Halen after their first record, there was no denying their power as quartet led by Roth, and it has to be said: Their eponymous debut is a great, great record.

There was something a tad dangerous (although now it seems more ironic than anything else) about Diamond Dave, but all of that was out the window when they brought in Sammy Hagar. The success was there and fans eventually accepted Hagar to the point of millions of records sold and packed concerts everywhere, but there was always something missing. Even though they don't play very often anymore, Roth is back these days, even if the band's relevance is not.

The Who keeps trudging on even though its original rhythm section, led by virtuosos John Entwistle (bass) and Keith Moon (drums), is now deceased. Moon died back in 1978, and Kenney Jones of the Small Faces/Faces got the unenviable task of being his first replacement. Needless to say, the drumming on Who recordings post-Moon were never inspiring, although current drummer Zac Starkey more than holds his own. When Entwistle died in 2002, many Who fans wondered how they would replace him and while Pino Palladino is a capable bass player, he is not even close to being a suitable replacement for the The Ox (Entwistle).

The Who at their best: When you consider punk rock, it seems like it is hard to find a band who hasn't replaced a key member at one point or another. Some other examples of bands who have replaced key members with relative degrees of success and failure would have to include The Damned, Misfits, The Vandals, TSOL, and Black Flag. Some of these have gotten away with it, and some, like the Dead Kennedys have not. The Damned have had so many different lineups over the years it is hard to single them out, but to me, it's hard to imagine or accept them without Rat Scabies on drums. Arguably, the original lineup with Dave Vanian (vocals), Brian James (guitar), Captain Sensible (bass), and the aforementioned Scabies on drums is the finest, although Sensible is a more-than-capable guitar player. The Damned have achieved high levels of success, though, in terms of the quality of some of their post-original lineup recordings. The line up on "Strawberries," for example, with Sensible on guitar and Paul Gray on bass and Roman Jugg on keyboards, is stellar.

The Misfits, as they currently exist, are more punk rock second-bananas-gone-wild than anything else. My disdain for them is well documented, but even I can concede that a Misfits without Glenn Danzig is not really the Misfits, however shitty the "classic" lineup of the band actually was. They have attempted to replace the weak-jawed midget for many years with various levels of success, and now feature Dez Cadena, formerly of Black Flag, on guitar and backing vocals, with bass player Jerry Only handling the lead vocals, and a lad named Chupacabra on drums. Now that is both scary and punk, and perhaps slightly dumb.

The Vandals used to have a great singer named Stevo. Stevo and guitar player Nils Ackermann, for all intents and purposes, were the creative forces behind the band from the get go. Most of you little punks, though, never got to see the original band, which also featured super-douche Joe Escalante (thief, liar, and lawyer) on drums, and Steve "Human" Pfauter on bass. Check out the movie Suburbia to see Stevo in action, as he was one of the better SoCal frontmen ever. What the Vandals have been since 1984 is a joke band with lame jokes. When Stevo uttered the line, "Couldn't make it as a punker" in their classic song, "Urban Struggle," off of Peace Through Vandalism (1982), he was probably talking about Escalante, who ended up attempting to steal all of the Vandals' song rights and royalties.

Also on the Suburbia soundtrack and appearing in the film as well, True Sounds of Liberty (TSOL) attempted at one point, to replace the entire band. For several years, TSOL became a hair metal band led by a guy named Joe Wood, which was particularly disappointing to longtime fans expecting to hear songs like "Code Blue" and "Abolish Government." Eventually all was righted in the world, though, and the three of the four original members came back to the fold (Todd Barnes died at age 34 of a brain hemorrhage) and punk rock was alive and well, just like when TSOL formed in Long Beach in 1978.

Black Flag's (sort of) original lineup was its best. Sure, there were a few bass players before Chuck Duckowski took the helm in 1977, and Brian Migdol was no slouch before handing over the drumming duties to Robo in 1979, but the dudes who ran the show during the first three or four years were the bomb. There is no argument, and even if you do want to troll the comments section and slap high fives with the other mongoloids who have difficulty with polysyllabic words, you're still wrong if you think there was any Black Flag singer who could hold Keith Morris' tiny jock strap. Maybe the only irreplaceable member of Black Flag is truly Greg Ginn, and if so, great, but he's been trying to replace Morris, Robo, and Duckowski for years and it has just never come together the way it did in 1979.

Fortunately, though, the off-shoot band FLAG tours occasionally, which features Duckowski, Morris, Bill Stevenson, Dez Cadena, and All's Stephen Egerton on guitar. Obviously, there have been some relative success stories from mainstream rock 'n' roll. Brian Johnson has done a passable job filling in for Bon Scott in AC/DC, so credible in fact, there are probably AC/DC fans in their 30s who have no idea who Bon Scott was. Ronnie James Dio convinced legions of Black Sabbath fans there was life after Ozzy Osbourne, although the band was never at its best unless Ozzy was doing the singing.

The dudes from Journey flew down to the Philippines when Steve Perry talked about quitting and purchased a boy off the streets, Armel Pineda, then groomed him to become their new eventual Perry clone. (Not really....but my version is more interesting that what actually happened.) Journey has done pretty well since then, and even if nobody cares, they're still more significant than Air Supply and will forever be remembered when folks watch the last episode of The Sopranos.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers did a great job in replacing the late, great Hillel Slovak with the slightly crazy, but amazing John Frusciante, and Will Farrell lookalike Chad Smith is every bit as good as original skin pounder Jack Irons. Even current guitar play Josh Klinghoffer is super-talented (but a bit of a show off). Singer Anthony Kiedis grows an awesome mustache and Flea is still great on the bass, but their recent albums have lacked the flair of everything prior to Mother's Milk.

Mainstream failures to replace key members include, but are not limited to:

Guns and Roses = Fail. Obviously, Slash and Duff were very talented, while Axl is just bloated. INXS = Fail. Michael Hutchence choked the life out of the band, as well, when he went for the big O with auto-erotic asphyxiation. The Doors (of the 21st Century) = gross. Ian Astbury was great in the Cult, but as a replacement for Jim Morrison, he was just a buffoon. John Densmore was right to sit out this train wreck. The New Cars = Super Fail. Todd Rundgren taking the place of Ric Ocasek and featuring Prairie Prince of the Tubes? I hope these guys made a few mortgage payments before they sobered up and pulled the plug. Audioslave = hilarious money grab. I've always wondered why the other dudes from Soundgarden didn't do a project with Zack de la Rocha? Could've been a decent rock 'n' roll trade. The Phony Boner Colons*, err, Stone Temple Pilots replaced spastic drug fiend Scott Weiland with local boy Chester Bennington for an ill-fated tour and nobody cared. *[The Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes renamed STP this while the bands were on tour together in the early '90s and I can't think of a better way of describing them] Velvet Underground "Squeeze" record = fail. Doug Yule is, at best, a cool answer in Trivial Pursuit. This record is probably the sole reason for the extinction of early 1970s hipsters.

Apologies for ignoring important genres like polka and tex-mex, and I'm sure there have been country bands and hip-hop groups who have attempted this sort of thing as well. Hell, the Rolling Stones have replaced a legion of geriatrics, but none super important. And again, please remember this is only my opinion. Hope you enjoyed it. Until next time.....

Tom Reardon has been an angry Phoenix punk rocker in four decades now. His highlights include Religious Skid ('80s), Hillbilly Devilspeak ('90s), North Side Kings ('00s), and now The Father Figures. He loves small furry animals, playing soccer with his kids, and skateboarding.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon