October 8, 2015

FTV: The Band Played On – part 2

  We started a discussion of bands that kept playing after their original line ups broke apart.  The caveat here is that at least one original band member has to still be involved for them to enter the discussion.  I am not sure if there is any significance in that all the bands in Part 2 are from England, but I should note that several of them are now based in the United States.

    Jethro Tull (flute playing singer, songwriter and guitarist Ian Anderson being the one constant here) began their rock and roll career with a decided jazzy edge.  Anderson’s quirky lyrics, catchy tunes, flute  solos, and manic stage presence sold a respectable number of records for them early on, even when their first record release had the band mislabeled as ‘Jethro Toe’.  The mega-popularity of the band’s Aqualung album (and the subsequent concept albums that followed) wasn’t recorded with the original four members, but that didn’t phase Anderson one bit.  Anderson’s muse has led him to change band members frequently, although he does tend to stick with guitarists a little longer than some of the other players.  When his latest tenured guitar player, Martin Barre, left the band in 2011, he was replaced by Florian Ophale who was born in 1983 – fully 15 years into Tull’s career.  A quick check of the Tull/Anderson web site show them on tour doing various albums in full,  ‘Best of Tull’ shows, and a rock opera about the English soil scientist whose handle their agent borrowed as the band’s name back in 1968.   

    Deep Purple continue to tour with original vocalist Ian Gillan, drummer Ian Paice, and bassist Roger Glover but in truth, the only member who has been with the band for the whole time is Paice.  The Machine Head era band (yes, the monster album that gave us Smoke on the Water) was a killer band featuring  mercurial guitar player Ritchie Blackmore.  He had issues that lead to his departure, but not before he had driven Gillan and Glover off in favor of Trapeze bassist Glenn Hughes and a then unknown singer named David Coverdale.   When Blackmore finally departed, the band more or less regrouped with all the original members and invited Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs to join up.  Original keyboard wizard Jon Lord, who passed away in 2012,  had previously left the band to work with Coverdale in Whitesnake (1978-1984), returned to Deep Purple, and eventually passed the torch to Don Airey when he retired from Purple for good in 2002.  Coverdale may have caught some of the ‘switching players itch’  from his time with Deep Purple because a listing of Whitesnake band members would consume more ink that parts 1 and 2 of this series together.  While Whitesnake fits the template of this story,  we shall discuss Coverdale’s band in depth on another day.

    Black Sabbath has carried on into the new millennium with the four original members, but the whole story is even more complex than the Deep Purple family tree.  It is no great secret that singer Ozzy Osbourne got the boot for his erratic behavior but turned that lemon into a lucrative solo career (involving, strangely enough, a rotating cast of band members and some stupendous young guitar players).  Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums) soldiered on with various vocalists (including Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes and Ronnie James Dio all of whom had played at various times with Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple and Rainbow).  Drummer Ward eventually quit in part because of the absence of his buddy Osbourne, but he came back, only to quit again, most recently in 2012 when he said he could no longer play with the band without a ‘signable contract’.

    In between all the Black Sabbath musical chairs, Iommi and Butler performed as Heaven and Hell with Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice of the band Dio.  Albums by Heaven and Hell and Black Sabbath featuring Dio are still gobbled up by fans and some think they are superior to the more recent recordings made with Osbourne.  Black Sabbath’s band history seems to resemble a merry-go-round

more than a family tree.  Ozzy’s template for solo success has been to reinvent his band from time to time.  This habit began with the tragic death of guitarist Randy Rhodes and perhaps that was the defining moment where he began changing guitarists (and other band members) on a regular basis.

    Fleetwood Mac are still anchored by the band’s namesakes, Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVey (bass).  They began as a blues band and had a string of superlative guitar players pass through their ranks including Peter Green, Dave Mason, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Bob Welch, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito.  They became a mega-selling, hit making band with the addition of vocalist Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the emergence of Christine McVey’s song writing skills.  Internal politics and love affairs have taken the band on and off the road at various times and Christine McVey actually came out of retirement for their latest tour.   In this case, the guitar player-go-round ended with the addition of Buckingham in the mid-1970s.

    Lastly, we come to the story of Savoy Brown that finds guitarist Kim Simmonds still hitting the road with yet another version of his original blues band.  Along the way, there have been a multitude of band members from all over the map.  He eventually landed in the upstate New York area and has mined a lot of his touring band members from the Syracuse, NY area.  The band Foghat was originally formed by three members who left Savoy Brown at the same time, perhaps precipitating Simmonds penchant for changing band members frequently.  The old tunes are still solid when played live and Simmonds continues to create new music even as his band members change.  Some of the SB incarnations have employed lead singers (including Chris Youlden and Dave Walker in the distant past and more recently Pete McMahon and Joe Whiting who were both drawn from the Syracuse area talent pool).  On more recent recordings, Simmonds himself has taken over lead vocalist duties.

    I was able to see Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown on a double bill at Northern Michigan University back in the early 1970s.  Both bands put on a good show but I was amazed to see them change personnel over and over again for the next half decade.  Fleetwood Mac eventually found a

line up that made them very successful.  Savoy Brown has seen its popularity rise and fall over the years but they never quite obtained the same recognition level as some of their British peers.  Fleetwood Mac tends to make less frequent mega tours, while Simmonds lives more of a road dog existence that sees him splitting his time between recording and touring with both his solo career and with Savoy Brown.

    Obviously, the bands that are still touring with new parts in the machine have found a way to make it work.  Much like a vintage car buffs keeping an old jalopy running with replacement parts,  vintage bands can stave of retirement by doing the same thing.  In Part 3, we will look at a three more bands who are still actively gigging with new members, including one a little closer to home.