Episode 33. When is a band not a band?
In 2019, I had the great pleasure of working with UPP-tone in bringing OD Saxon to Japan. The original Saxon had long since fractured into two groups, the aforementioned Oliver/Dawson Saxon and lead vocalist Biff Byford’s band who retained the original name. OD Saxon were superb, the combination of Graham’s guitar and Steve’s bass displaying exactly where the Saxon sound and power came from and with everybody in the original band sharing song writing credits, it can be argued that OD Saxon is just as valid a ‘Saxon’ as Saxon itself. I know of some Rock fans in Japan who didn’t go to the show because it wasn’t ‘Saxon’ as such (more fool them, they missed one hell of a show!) and others that told me they wouldn’t go and see Biff’s Saxon because they felt Graham and Steve were the engine of the original band. Whatever there’s or your choice, it raises the question of exactly when a band should stop being the band as advertised and change their name.
OD Saxon in Japan 2019
On 27th June, 2015, music lost one of its most original and talented bass players, Chris Russell Edward Squire of Yes. Chris was more than just the bass player in the band though, he was the heart and soul of it. He was the only consistent member from when the band formed in 1968 right through to 2015 playing on every one of their twenty-one studio albums and never missed a gig in his forty-seven years with Yes. It is a remarkable achievement and Progressive Rock fans everywhere bowed their heads in respect when they heard the news that he would no longer dominate the stage at Yes’ concerts.
Starting within days, debates raged on the internet as to whether Yes should carry on as a group. They went on tour with Billy Sherwood playing bass but his replacing Chris was arranged and announced before Chris passed away and done with Chris’ blessing, the thinking at the time being that Chris, being ill, would return to the group at a later date for their annual Cruise To the Edge and the UK and European tours they had booked for 2016 but sadly he never recovered. An interview with drummer Alan White published in America’s Billboard magazine on July 21st 2015 had Alan quoted as saying “It’s certainly going to be hard without him, but he called me and asked me to keep everything going regardless of what happens, so absolutely, we’re moving ahead. I’m going to do it for him” and added that the fans are fine with the decision and that he wanted to ‘maintain the Yes name and meet the high standards of musicianship Chris created.’ Whilst that is very admirable and if anyone should have the right to carry on the name of Yes it would be Alan because he’s the second longest surviving permanent member having joined in 1972, one has to ask the question that without any of its founding members only one of what is considered the classic line-up of Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe and Chris Squire in it, is it really Yes? The internet debates continue to this day. *
Bands form, make great music, change members, split up, reform, break up again, fracture into different bands, claim rights, sue each other and slag each other off in the press, each claiming that they are the real band. All this leaves us, the fans, confused and uncertain about whether the current members of a band are really ‘the band’. When Ozzy left Black Sabbath in 1978, many people thought it was the end of them. Indeed, Ozzy was the front man, the madman and more often than not the spokesman for Sabbath so it was hard to envision a Black Sabbath without him especially when they selected Fleetwood Mac veteran Dave Walker to take the spotlight (a position he occupied for just one TV appearance and no recordings) but then Ronnie James Dio stepped in on vocals and we had Black Sabbath Mk III. The majority of Sabbath fans accepted Ronnie straight away; others took time, some never did and still don’t, insisting that only the original four could be Black Sabbath. Since then, there have been another eleven line-ups, the only consistent member being Tony Iommi so is Tony Iommi Black Sabbath and if not, could Sabbath exist without him if Ozzy, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward recruited another guitarist?
Deep Purple are another band who sometimes suffer from ‘classic line-up syndrome’. For some, the Mk II version with Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord is the only version worth listening to. Others think that Deep Purple finished when Ritchie left whilst others – myself included – think the current line-up with Steve Morse and Don Airey are writing better music now than any Deep Purple since Ian Gillan first left in 1973. Ian of course is now back in the band but that doesn’t mean some fans think Deep Purple is Ian Gillan – not by a long way – but they will argue that Ian along with original drummer Ian Paice and classic line-up bassist Roger Glover are more than worthy of continuing the name today. Ritchie of course formed Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and with a name like that, it’s fairly obvious that without Ritchie, there could be no Rainbow and that proved to be the case when ex-members have come together to play Rainbow’s music but as good as it was, was missing one very big ingredient – Ritchie himself.
Asia in 1989: John Young, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Alan Darby.
Photo courtesy of John Young
Then there is the strange case of Asia. I worked with Asia in 1989 when the line-up was as above with John Wetton, Carl Palmer, John Young and Alan Darby or as it became to be known, Asia Mk IV. It certainly sounded like Asia and the fans accepted it as Asia but this line-up only lasted five shows. Formed in 1981, the line-up of Wetton, Palmer, Steve Howe, and Geoff Downes, released a debut album that sold over ten million copies worldwide. A second album was released two years later with the same members but the line-up was unstable for the next few years and changed most significantly when John Payne replaced John Wetton in 1991. The name of Asia continued with guitarists and drummers coming and going at an alarming rate and no one ever seemed to know who was in the band from one week to the next apart from Geoff Downes and John Payne. Then in 2006, Downes left Asia to join…Asia! The original quartet had decided to reunite but the problem was, John Payne now owned the rights to the name and continued to tour using it as was his right but a lot of fans came to the gigs expecting to see John Wetton et al because it had been announced in the press that they were back together. Thus, it was that for a while, there were two bands named Asia: one of which contained no original or classic line up members at all. Eventually and agreement was reached between the two bands that Payne could continue under the name ‘Asia featuring John Payne’. Some people thought this odd but he was the front-man of the band for fifteen years and through default, owned the name so he was perfectly within his rights to do so. His Asia morphed into a new band called GPS which wrote new music and released new albums under that name but they still played Asia songs onstage which confused the casual concert goers even more; ‘Why are they playing Asia songs when they are not called Asia and nobody in the band is in Asia?’
Rights to the names of bands can be tricky but just because you own it, it doesn’t mean you should use it. In 1974, Clifford Davis was the manager of Fleetwood Mac and owned the name - or so he claimed - and the band was in turmoil with falling album sales, cancelled tours and internal personal problems. Davis put together a new Fleetwood Mac without any actual Fleetwood Mac members and sent them out on tour, telling them that Mick Fleetwood and some of the others from the band would be joining them at a later date. Amazingly, the fake Fleetwood Mac fell for this and set off around America as did Fleetwood Mac’s road crew who went with them. Everybody soon realized what was happening though after the first show and the tour quickly dissolved. The resulting lawsuit stopped the real Fleetwood Mac working for a year and it emerged that even though the band was named after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, they did not own their own name having signed a contract many years previously, forfeiting their rights to it.
Believe it or not, this was Fleetwood Mac.
Back to Deep Purple and in 1980, they were touring the USA again – or so it seemed. In actual fact, it was Rod Evans, their original singer who had sung on Deep Purple’s first three albums. He was touring with some unknown session players under the name ‘Deep Purple’. It was put together by a rather dubious management company (who had also put together a Steppenwolf with no original members) and it didn’t take long before fans realized they had been conned and the real Deep Purple management sued. Poor Rod found himself making different headlines, in court and having to pay $672,000 for using the name without permission. He also lost his rights to royalties from the sales of those first three albums.
Fake groups with different line-ups are nothing new. In the 1960’s there was only the music press and TV where you could see your favourite stars and pictures in magazines were of low quality and TV sets had a 12” monochrome picture which meant that fans often didn’t really know what the members really looked like. Thus, it was not unknown for dubious promoters to put together three local black women and advertise them as The Supremes for example and a particularly unscrupulous man in the UK in the 1960s named Roy Tempest advertised and sold tickets to shows by The Shirelles, The Drifters, The Platters, The Crystals, The Ronettes and others, none of which had any of the actual group in at all; they were all imposters.
Roy Tempest. He always claimed his groups were the real thing even when the real thing said they were not!
Going back to the original Yes/Sabbath questions posed above, for me, if there are no original members in a band or the majority of a classic line-up is not present - as now with Yes – I’m reluctant to go and see the musicians play if they use the name of the band especially at today’s inflated ticket prices; I may as well go and see a tribute band who are just as good and pay an awful lot less. That said, I was fortunate enough to see Yes several times in the seventies with that classic line-up so I don’t have the need or desire to see the Yes of today. I’d be more than happy to see them play the music if they advertised themselves as ‘An evening of Yes music’ or something similar but using the name of Yes seems wrong to me, just as wrong as Rod Evans’ Deep Purple. Black Sabbath eventually resurfaced with Ronnie but called themselves Heaven & Hell which I thought was a great idea as it represents the era they were together; a kind of band within a band. I very quickly bought a ticket to see Heaven & Hell.
You will all have your own opinion of this and there is no definite answer. Just how many members it takes to constitute the name of a band varies from fan to fan and from band to band. That said, when I first moved to Australia in 1989, my neighbour told he he saw the Rolling Stones the previous year. 'Where?' I asked knowing full well that the Stones hadn't toured in 1988 and not two weeks before, I had seen them in Syracuse, New York on the Steel Wheels tour, their first tour for seven years. He answered 'Here, Melbourne'. I corrected him. 'That was a Mick Jagger solo tour.' 'Yeah but it was just like The Stones' he replied and to this day, he still says he saw the Stones in Melbourne in 1988. I later met others who said the same. Well if they want to believe they saw The Stones, let them.
When all is said and done though, no matter what, the great music of the 1970’s Rock bands should not die just because their band members do, it should live on as a memorial to them. Who plays it, the willingness to pay the admission fee and under what name you are happy to accept it being played, is down to personal taste.
*Just 24 hours before finishing and publishing this article, I received the sad news that Alan White had died. As with the death of Chris Squire, tributes poured in from fellow musicians and even sadder, as with the death of Chris, the internet immediately lit up with 'Should Yes carry on?' debates. To reiterate, it's not your choice; it's the band's choice. Your choice is whether you buy a ticket or not.