September 30, 2015

FTV: The band played on – part 1


    There are many examples of bands that have been around a lot longer than one would expect.  Bands remind me a lot of machines:  they are composed of multiple parts that need to work well together in order to function properly.  The integral parts can be changed, but if they don’t mesh well with the remaining parts, things can literally fall apart.  In some cases, all of the required parts may need to be changed out to keep the machine (or the band) purring like the proverbial kitten.

    Several years ago, John Fischer and I journeyed to Calumet to see a 40th Anniversary Tour concert by the Kingston Trio.  The K-Trio were one of my mother’s favorite groups so I have been listening to them for a long time.   John has one up on me because he cut his teeth playing their music with the two Bobs:  his brother Bobby and Bob (Rouse) Colclasure.  The songs this version of the K-Trio played were certainly spot on and they projected a lot of energy for a band that has been around for 40 years, but none of these musicians were original band members.  In fact, a couple of them had replaced members who had previously replaced original members.  Here is a case where the name of the band and the music they play lives on after all of the original parts have been replaced.  A quick scan of the membership rolls of many of the folk groups that survived from the 1950s and 1960s (The Weavers, The Limeliters, The Letterman, etc) shows that this is not an uncommon occurrence.

    This phenomenon is just as prevalent with rock bands though they tend to retain at least one core member to connect the band to their legacy.  Musicians who leave successful rock bands usually do so for one or more of the following reasons:  1)  Ego (“I am the star, I am going out on my own and earn big bucks without the rest of you chumps”), 2) Control (“I want to do it MY way”), 3) self destructive behavior (either individually or band-wide), or 4) death (see #3).  Here are a few examples that spring to mind when I think of bands that are still out there playing with at least one original member:

    Uriah Heep (guitarist Mick Box being the sole original member still with the band) –  The band’s early reputation was built largely around the vocals of David Byron but his personal problems (Byron died of alcohol related complications, including liver disease and seizures in 1985) caused enough friction with the rest of the band that he was sacked in 1976.  Ken Hensley (who is still active as a musician but not with the band) related that when Byron and bass player Gary Thain left the band, they felt they could replace one great player with another great player and everything would be fine.  Unfortunately, the lack of chemistry between the remaining band members the replacement players began a long string of personnel changes.  Indeed, if the band members of Uriah Heep were drawn as a family tree, it would resemble a mighty oak tree with many, many branches.  The current touring version of the band puts on a solid show, but many of the familiar tunes have evolved with the new players and don’t sound like the Uriah Heep of old.  That said, I would still pay to see them live.

    Badfinger (guitarist Joey Molland is the only one left standing and performs as Joey Molland’s Badfinger and as a solo artist) – Badfinger began as The Iveys.  They signed with Apple Records and their association with Paul McCartney got them noticed very quickly with their recording of Mac’s song  Come and Get It  that he penned for the movie The Magic Christian.  They produced some outstanding music that still resonates today, but record company politics and financial mismanagement sent the band reeling when guitarist Pete Hamm committed suicide.  The band carried on with almost as many new parts as Uriah Heep until bassist Tom Evans and drummer Mike Gibbins both passed away leaving Molland as the sole original member on the right side of the grass.  Although I have seen a couple of lackluster video clips of Molland performing with his version of Badfinger, I will give him some benefit of doubt on the quality of his live performances.   Not having seen him in person, I won’t pass judgement on how the Badfinger legacy is being carried today beyond the fact that the music is still in heavy rotation on the radio, in movies, and on television.

    Journey (bassist Ross Valory and guitarist Neal Schon remain) began life as more of a jam band.  The addition of former drummer turned lead vocalist Steve Perry put them at the top of the pop music charts for a lengthy run.  They underwent several key personnel changes as keyboardist Gregg Rolie and drummer Aynsley Dunbar were replaced without the band missing a beat.  Internal friction eventually saw Vallory replaced on bass but the turning point for the band was the departure of Perry.  Perry’s health led him to ask the band to take a break but the band decided to replace him and continue touring.  The first two vocalists came and went before Schon found young Filipino singer Arnel Pineda on the internet.  Pineda was performing in a Journey tribute band in the Philippines and had the Steve Perry vocals down pat.  Although he hung up on Schon the first time he called about joining the band (thinking it was a prank), Pineda’s vocal presence has elevated the band to a major touring act again.  Valory returned to the fold at the same time Pineda joined keyboardist Jonathan Cain and drummer Deen Castronovo (who also sounds a lot like Perry when he spells Pineda on lead vocals).  Somewhat ironically, at the time this article began taking shape and before the final editing process, Castronovo was dismissed from the band for his second domestic violence arrest and was replaced for the remainder of their  tour by veteran drummer Omar Hakim.  It is unclear at this writing if this will be a permanent change.  In any case, Journey keeps evolving as needed and has kept a touring line up that compares favorably to their most successful (earlier) configuration.

    Grand Funk Railroad (drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher are still touring with other musicians as Grand Funk Railroad – Brewer also tours with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band) – GFR was one of my favorite bands in high school and college.  My first three gigging bands all did GFR tunes and I was unhappy when they first disbanded.  There were a couple of reformations of the band, first with Brewer and guitarist Mark Farner teaming up with current Rusty Wright Band bassist Dennis Bellinger in the early 1980s and again when Schacher rejoined them to perform  benefit concerts for the war refugees in Bosnia in the 1990s.  The final breakup of the original band occurred when there was a falling out between the three original band members, resulting in Brewer and Schacher wrestling the band’s name away from Farner.

    This is a rather strange case because Grand Funk was always the sum of all parts.  Farner continues to play GFR tunes in his live shows and as one of the principle songwriters in the band, his solo versions still sound familiar.  GFR with Brewer and Schacher play credible versions from the back catalog, but some folks complain that it is somewhat akin to seeing a Grand Funk Tribute band.  I will be a wimp here and take the easy way out:  I have listened to both sides of the story and heard both groups perform their music.  I like what both groups are doing, but I find it sad that such a great band (and at one time, great friends) had to end like this.  Alas, like some marriages, some bands can break up on good terms and some can not and this one seems to fall in the later category.

    By the nature of my WOAS-FM show, I tend to favor the older versions of bands.  I am not, however, allergic to playing music produced by newer incarnations of those bands.  Tune in to 88.5 FM and we will try to keep you up to date.  Part Two of this FTV series will take a look at some prominent British bands who have hung around a long time while swapping out new band members.