Top 10 Bands To Survive The Loss of Bandmembers

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These bands have lost multiple band members as a result of everything from fatal accidents to overdoses… to egos. Other bands might have folded – never to release another album. However, these 10 bands rocked on:

The order is based on the number of certified albums sold and notoriety of the band with and without the original line-up.

10. Red Hot Chili Peppers

While the Peppers are not as storied as this list’s other rock n roll bands, they have possibly had more lineup changes – all for a lead guitarist and drummer. Founding members, front man Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea, are the only original members in the band, which formed in 1983. John Frusciante was only one of the many guitarists, but the longest lasting; Dave Navarro may be the most famous. Other guitarists include Hillel Slovak, Jack Sherman, DeWayne McKnight, Arik Marshall, Jesse Tobias and Josh Klinghoffer. Chad Smith is the longest serving drummer, and arguably most famous. Other drummers: Jack Irons, Cliff Martinez and DH Peligro.

9. Van Halen

Not quite as many members as RHCP, but certainly a few more bombastic ones. Only three bands on this list have survived front men changes, and this one is probably a fan fave across the U.S. In this case, the front man wasn’t even the problem – it was (and still is) the lead guitarist, Eddie Van Halen creating all the uproar through the years. His personality conflicts with Roth and Hagar caused the breakups through multiple incarnations. Starting back in early 1972 the band began with David Lee Roth as the first singer, followed by Sammy Hagar (1985 -1996), then Gary Cherone, and then back and forth again between Van Hagar and Van Roth until 2011 and the current incarnation of Van Roth.

8. KISS

Bassist Gene Simmons is the marketing machine behind KISS, one of the most successful American rock bands of all time. And while he and lead singer Paul Stanley have kept the Kiss Army enthralled for close to 40 years, they weren’t able to keep guitarists or drummers in the band for any length of time. Initially, Peter Criss was the drummer and Ace Frehley was the guitarist; they were followed by Eric Carr and Eric Singer on the drums, and Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick and finally Tommy Thayer. Criss had issues with drugs and alcohol while Frehley had issues with musical direction; Stanley and Simmons had issues with Vincent; St. John had issues with arthritis; and Kulick left after the original line-up reunion of 2000. Criss and Frehley were once again replaced shortly after that reunion/Farewell tour with Singer and Thayer, respectively.

7. Guns N’ Roses

The band has been hailed as one of the best hard rock groups of all time. They started with a stellar cast in 1986: front man Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. The band blossomed from a five-piece band decades ago to an eight-piece band (although if you count both Axl and his ego it is a nine-piece band). Now Axl’s the only remaining founding member in a band that is G N’ R in name only. Along with Rose there are two (two! – how does this work?) lead guitarists: Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and DJ Ashba. Other members: rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus, bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Frank Ferrer, and keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman. Like Kiss, there are almost too many band members to name and like Van Halen, the main issue has been disputes between band members – mainly Axl vs. the band and somehow, like Eddie, he won!?

6. Metallica

These metal thrashheads have gone through a lead guitarist and three bassists. The current lineup is made up of founding members, singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, plus lead guitarist Kirk Hammett (since 1982) and bassist Rob Trujillo (since 2003). Since the band’s inception in ‘81, they have used and been abused by Dave Mustaine (founder of Megadeath) who left in ‘83. Add to that bassists Ron McGovney (who was fired in ‘82 due to his lack of originality), Cliff Burton (who was killed in a tour bus accident in ’86) and Jason Newsted (who quit the band in ‘01 due to issues with the direction of the band). Metallica has been through many trials and tribulations but continues to rock, getting bigger with each album.

5. Bon Jovi

One of the best-known hair metal and 80s bands, Bon Jovi has remained pretty consistent over its three decade career and there has only been two changes to the line-up in that entire time. The band currently consists of lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, as well as session bassist Hugh McDonald. McDonald was never officially named as part of the band after Alec John Such left the band in ‘94 after helping to found the band in ‘83. The other line-up change was almost immediate – Dave Sabo, founder of fellow hair metal band Skid Row, was lead guitarist for a very short time in ‘83. One of the few bands on this list with only two band member changes – they are also still one of the most popular bands in hard rock and pop rock history.

4. Eagles

This band has had a tumultuous run spanning four decades. Originally formed as a backup band for Linda Ronstadt in 1971, there were just four members: guitarist Glenn Frey, drummer Don Henley, bassist Randy Meisner and guitarist Bernie Leadon. There has never been a true lead singer for the band though they have had at least two lead guitarists – Joe Walsh and Don Felder who both joined the band in ‘74. Leadon left the band in ‘75 due to his disillusionment with the new harder direction the band’s music was taking and he was followed two years later by co-founder Meisner who wanted to be with his family. Stepping in for Meisner was Timothy Schmit, who continues in the current incarnation along with Frey, Henley and Walsh through multiple breakups, reunions and studio albums – all the while selling tons of albums.

3. Rolling Stones

Seen by more people on this Earth than anyone else in history, the Rolling Stones are a rock n roll institution rivaled by none. There are few, if any, other bands from the 60s that can still pack arenas for hundreds of dollars per ticket. Fronted by singer Mick Jagger and lead guitarist Keith Richards, the band has had about a dozen members for only having six members on stage at a time throughout its 50-year history. Guitarist Brian Jones, bassist Dick Taylor, keyboardist Ian Stewart and drummer Tony Chapman rounded out the band when they began in 1962. Within a year, Charlie Watts replaced Chapman and Bill Wyman replaced Taylor until another Jones – Darryl, replaced him in ‘93. As for the other guitarist, Brian was replaced by Mick Taylor in ‘69 who was replaced by Ronnie Wood in ‘75. And Stewart was on again, off again keyboardist, but full time road manager for much of the Stones’ career. He was permanently replaced with touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell in ‘82. Brian Jones left due to drug abuse and subsequent lack of involvement, while Chapman wanted the less wild life to begin with. As for the other members: Dick Taylor returned to art college and later started another band playing his preferred instrument, the guitar, Mick Taylor left the Stones due to personality conflicts and musical conflicts within the band, and Wyman left to pursue other musical interests. Given the vast influence the Stones have had, it is actually surprising to hear that so many of them left simply to pursue other interests!

2. AC/DC

Australian hard rockers have been known for decades for their excesses including the one that caused the biggest change – the death of a lead singer. Lead guitarist Angus Young and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young comprise the core of the band that has not changed since they formed in 1973. At the time of the first album Bon Scott was the lead singer, after the first singer Chris Evans was fired for being too much of a glam rocker. The band went through about seven bassists before settling on Mark Evans; likewise with the drummer – eight drummers – before Phil Rudd took over. Scott died after a long night of alcoholic debauchery and was replaced by Brian Johnson in ‘80. In ‘83, Rudd’s friendship with Malcolm Young deteriorated to the point of a fight after which Rudd was fired. Simon Wright took over the kit for about seven years – taking his leave to pursue other musical opportunities. Wright was followed by Chris Slade who left amicably after the band decided they want to start working with Rudd again in ‘94. Over the last 40 years, their popularity has waxed and waned but through it all, they continue to rock.

1. Pink Floyd

One of the most influential prog rock bands of all times, Pink Floyd was active for a little over 30 years from 1965-1997. In that time, they sold more verified albums than anyone else on this list and actually had one of the least volatile line-up changes. The band started with singer Syd Barrett, bassist Roger Waters, keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason. David Gilmour joined the band as another guitarist in 1967 and then took over as the lead singer the following year due to Barrett’s heavy use of LSD and increasing depression forced him out of his mind and the band. For the most part, Waters led the band musically through most of their most influential years and left in ’84 due to personality strains in the band. The band soldiered on with just the remaining three members for a few more studio albums. Throughout the multiple line-ups, Pink Floyd has remained a draw for decades- selling millions of albums and selling out venues whenever and wherever they have performed.

Check out our playlist for more footage and other bands and let us know in the comments if we missed anyone:

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39 Comments

  1. Another honorary mention would be Depeche Mode. Started off in 1981 with Vince Clarke (one of the founding members) on keyboards and chief songwriter of next to all of their debut album, “Speak & Spell”. Then he left to form Yazoo (or “Yaz” in the US), and eventually formed Erasure.

    Vince’s replacement was Alan Wilder, joining in 1982 and stayed with them until 1995 after the tour for their “Songs of Faith and Devotion” album. He is now known for his solo project, Recoil.

    The rest of the band (Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher) continued as a trio from this moment, but are joined in the studio and on stage by other musicians, such as Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboards).

  2. Can’t believe you are forgetting Yes, a band that has been around for over 40 years in a myriad of incarnations.

    Founded in 1968 by long time members singer Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire, along with drummer Bill Bruford, guitarist Peter Banks, and keyboardist Tony Kaye, Yes has seen a total of 18 different musicians fill out it’s ranks during its existence. The ‘classic’ lineup consisted of Anderson, Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, and Keyboardist Rick Wakeman at their peak in the early 70s. They were at the forefront of the progressive rock movement

    In 1983, a new version of Yes consisted of Anderson, Squire, White, Kaye, and South African guitarist Trevor Rabin, and churned out pop hits like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (the bands only #1 hit) and “Rhythm of Love”.

    Throughout their exsistence, only one band member has been through every incarnation, founding member Chris Squire.

  3. When I first saw the title, I thought of loss of band members due to death. I immediately thought of Def Leppard, The Pretenders and the Stones.

  4. Genesis? They lost a lead singer (Peter Gabriel) and guitarist (Steve Hackett) and became a big commercial success afterwards.

  5. What about GWAR? They had a guitarist, Cory Smoot as Flattus Maximus die and I think another member died after being attacked in his home during a break in.

    • I added Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, Genesis, Gwar (yay Gwar!), Jethro Tull, and Alice in Chains to the playlist on YouTube. For most of them I added a few videos (old and new, to get different members). If you have a link to a video that talks about the band member loss or compares the lineup over time, please let me know and I’ll add it as well.

  6. Peter Boucher on

    Excellent list ! Kudos to the author of it. I have seen 5 of the 10 bands listed here. This is my opinion on # 9, Van Halen. Two things. They put out what I consider the greatest and most entertaining video in history. That being “Hot For Teacher. And secondly, what in hell were the Van Halen Brothers thinking when they “fired” David Lee Roth as their front man and replacing with Sammy Hagar. I actually like Hagar’s solo material, but with Van Halen ? That not only cut it for me, but that had to be the biggest travesty in the realm of Rock Music history. And one more thing. The death of Freddie Mercury of Queen. I saw Queen way back in 1982. Never did I see a greater, more dramatic and bravura performer then Freddie was. And they replace him with Paul Rodgers (Bad Company) ???!!! To Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor, the original members, just let it go and retire. I am most definitely sure that you have a ton of money in your bank accounts to live like Kings,

    • the list is about bands who lost a member and continue to rock, beatles all went their seperate ways at the same time never to reunite again, just like when john bonham died and zeppelin immediately disbanded, but imo i feel that avenge sevenfold should’ve been on this list, the loss of an awesome drummer like rev, yet you still find some way to rock, kudos.

    • btw, ik its going to be at least one guy to mention nirvana and kurt, to save you time remember that they also immediately broken up after cobains suicide

  7. Tower of Power probably holds the record. Some 80+ individuals have been members in 40 or so years, including a sixteen-year-old kid named Lenny Pickett, now the bandleader for Saturday Night Live.

  8. Don’t forget Deep Purple, who are still going strong.

    Formed by Chris Curtis (ex-The Searchers) in 1967 as Roundabout, the first member was Jon Lord (keyboards), followed by Ritchie Blackmore (guitar). Curtis was the first casualty, leaving soon after. Then arrived Nick Semper (bass), followed by Rod Evans (vocals) and Ian Paice (drums), changing their name to Deep Purple in 1968. In 1969, Evans and Semper left, to be replaced by Ian Gillan (vocals) and Roger Glover (bass). Gillan and Glover left in 1973, to be replaced by Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale. In 1975, Ritchie Blackmore left and American ax-man Tommy Bolin stepped in. He died in 1976 by drug-intoxication.

    The band went into a temporary hiatus until 1984, Gillan, Lord, Blackmore, Glover and Paice reformed the band. After Gillan quit (again) in 1989, he was replaced by Joe Lynn Turner. He lasted one tour, when he was edged out by Gillan’s 3rd arrival. In 1993, Ritchie Blackmore quit and Steve Morse stepped in permanently. Jon Lord bowed out in 2002 and keyboardist Don Airey joined. The band still tours.

    • Thanks Lachlan, I’ve added them to the playlist – yesterday, my brother was just showing me pictures of a Deep Purple concert he went to: he went to see them with 2 buddies in high school and then, recently, with the same 2 guys 30 years later – I thought that was pretty cool.

  9. I think while Pink Floyd should be on the list, they shouldn’t be at number one. During their biggest run the band lineup didn’t change at all. It was pretty solid from 1969-1985 with Waters/Gilmour/Wright/Mason. I think Yes, as mentioned above should be on this list, they had their two biggest hits with two different singers all together.

  10. No Avenged Sevenfold or Slipknot? I saw A7x after The Rev died and they were still fantastic, and I’m pretty sure Slipknot plans to continue after Paul Gray’s death.

  11. Black Sabbath have had many lineup changes, most notably in 1979 when they fired their singer Ozzy Osbourne. Tony Iommi is the only one who has been in the band constantly.

  12. Motörhead, too. The original line-up was Lemmy, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. But for years lately it’s been Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee. Lemmy IS Motörhead. 🙂

  13. Pink Floyd started with another band member…cant remember his name. And the whole Syd Barrett losing his mind thing is speculation….a lot of people think he just just trying to sabotage the band.

  14. Lynard Skynard and The Allman Bros are probably the two best known examples of this. How did you miss them? I’d have mentioned them way before the Chili Peppers or Bon Jovi.

    More importantly… THE VELVET UNDERGROUND anybody? They’re the BEST example of this. Their first and last albums actually had a 100% complete line-up change. There wasn’t one original member performing on the album. They were literally a totally different band at that point. It’s the only example of this that I’ve been able to find. Of course, whether or not the “survived” the line up change is an issue that I admit could disqualify them from this list.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squeeze_(Velvet_Underground_album)

  15. Bon Jovi only changed their bassist so it isn’t that amazing that they kept going just fine. Guns and Roses didn’t survive, they are completely dead. Black Sabbath definately needs to be by the top.

  16. William O'Dell on

    Just wanted to remind you guys, this list features the bands with the greatest number of sales and loss of band members. So if we are talking about just bands that lost band members and had a following, then this list would have been much longer. Not to mention, I’m not sure how I would have categorized this list if it was just lost a band member.

    At any rate, I’m glad that there were more bands brought up including Yes, one of my personal faves!

  17. Foreigner had 36 different members since 1976, according to Wikipedia. Only one original member, Kick Jones, remains.

  18. (1) Black Sabbath / lost Ozzy and got Ronnie James Dio…. then lost Ronnie and got Ian Gillian , then back to Dio Then Ozzy ,Then Rob Halford(Judas Priest) , Then Dio again , then Ozzy again… not to mention all the drummers , singers , and even bass guitarists that the band went through……i loved the Ozzy line-up but can’t deny how they kept going and stayed big

    (2) Beatles / (Maybe) — they lost Pete Best and got Ringo…. might … they did record stuff… some of it is hard to find but they did record…..

    (3) Fleetwood Mac / They had a few line-up changes and lost a multitude Frontmen too……

    (4) The yardbirds / (i forget) to Jeff Beck to Jimmy Page

    (5) The Jimmy Hendrix Experience lost Noel Redding and kept on a-going…..

    Pink Floyd also lost Bob Close just before fame came along….

  19. HEART. they don`t even have 1 founding member. the last one left in 1982.
    the oldest member is ann wilson who joined in 1972, 5 years later

  20. Iron Maiden has had 3 different lead singers, Paul Di’Anno, Bruce Dickinson and Blayze Bayley and several different people on drums and guitar and they’re still around and very popular.

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