Following the death of Gary Rossington, the band still known professionally as Lynyrd Skynyrd played a tribute gig to their former member. The key word here is ‘tribute gig”, the reason that term is brought up is due to the fact that there are no original members left. The same goes for another “Southern Fried” band, Molly Hatchet, who as of two years ago were on their ninth singer. The question then becomes, at what point does a band still constitute as the original band listeners grew up loving? This week’s blog looks at what makes a band a band and are they allowed to continue without any original members.
As to what makes a band a band, the representation of original members. Most bands survive on the fan expectations to see their heroes in concert. Even if it is down to one member, it is still a band because they own the rights to the name and wrote the songs. If a band like Skynyrd goes out on tour, it is a difficult situation as there are no original members. The only connection they have now is front man Ronnie Van Zant, carrying on his brother’s legacy. He also likely got a piece of the naming rights to continue to tour as Skynyrd. Now, here are some examples of bands who continued with little or no original members left.
In 2009 the Thin Lizzy camp announced that they were going out on tour. With the passing of Phil Lynott, fans were obviously squeamish about the prospect of a new tour. Add in new front man Rick Warwick and guitarist Vivian Campbell, the band still wasn’t the same. Scott Gorham was the only legacy member of Thin Lizzy at the time. The group decided to appease fans by keeping the sound that they came know and love but continued touring under a new name, Black Star Riders. The group has continued to tour and make their own music while covering Thin Lizzy tunes in honor of the original band and Phil Lynott.
KISS are the most controversial offenders of this practice. They have frequently cited for years that they will continue on without any member of the original lineup. Having gone on without Peter Criss or Ace Frehley since the late 70’s, Kiss has toured with various musicians. Some as great as Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr, and recently, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. The group can still be considered KISS, as front man Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have still been there since the beginning. One could argue that they have become more focused on branding than the music, but two out of four members still constitutes as being a band.
Black Sabbath are interesting case in what makes a band a band. On one hand, fans had the classic lineup of Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Then, as years and egos clashed, the group transitioned singers in the form of Ronnie James Dio. Following several lineup changes, Tony Iommi remained the sole member throughout the band’s tenure in the late 80’s and 90’s. The record the Iommi only lineup produced was 1987’s Eternal Idol. The critical reception was negative from fans and critics alike. Calling the record “Black Sabbath in name only.” The Dio era lineup minus Bill Ward would not return until 1992’s Dehumanizer, bringing with it some semblance of familiarity to fans. The Ozzy era lineup came back in 2013 with the aptly titled 13. Despite the lineup changes, the consistent thing the band had was Tony Iommi. Black Sabbath during the 90’s, were not a band.
Molly Hatchet have been “Flirtin’ with Disaster” since the day they formed. The group has now been considered by many to be, like Skynyrd and Sabbath, in name only. They toured for 9 years before their first singer; Danny Joe Brown left the group in 1980 due to diabetes. By the early 80’s their bassist and drummer respectively had left the original lineup. In 1987, their guitar player left in the late 80’s. The group continued through more lineup changes from 1989- 2004 with no original members. The band continues to tour under the Molly Hatchet name in 2022-23. They are not considered the original band.
The conversation on what constitutes a band continues to this day. Members come, members go, but the one thing that remains is the music. When it comes to hearing your favorite music live, is it worth it for that alone, or are the original artists who made it necessary to recapture the magic.