I recently read that legendary rock group Queen will be touring this summer with singer Adam Lambert, whose career was launched after he was named the runner-up in the eighth season of American Idol. Not knowing anything about Lambert, and never having seen an episode of American Idol, I called my friend Steve Chupaska to talk about big-time rock bands who carry on in the absence of prominent members.
For those who aren’t familiar with Queen, the band was fronted by one of the most magnificent singers the world of rock music has ever known: Freddie Mercury, who, sadly, died in 1991 of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia.
While there’s no replacing Mercury, the Queen + Adam Lambert tour will no doubt introduce new generations to the band’s iconic catalog.
“It’s a pep rally for the band,” Steve said, without judgment.
Indeed, it’s a chance for guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (bass player John Deacon isn’t involved) to play the hits for longtime and new fans.
Making new music with Lambert, as Queen, would probably be a tough sell.
“Nobody wants to buy (a) Queen + Adam Lambert record,” Steve said.
Clearly, billing the tour as Queen + Adam Lambert makes sense, as simply calling the group Queen would have bothered purists, and for good reason. I think it’s fair to say that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury. The group toured a handful of years ago with former Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. Wisely, they billed that act as Queen + Paul Rodgers.
Some groups, though, decide not to make such distinctions. And how enthusiastically a band’s new incarnation is accepted “depends on who it is,” Steve said. And by “who” he means not only the band, but the musician who’s being “replaced.”
After drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, The Who continued on under that name with former Faces drummer Kenney Jones. After much legal wrangling, Pink Floyd continued to record and tour under that name without Roger Waters. And Van Halen has existed under that name — granted, it’s the last name of two founding members, brothers Alex and Edward Van Halen — with three very different lead singers.
Back in Black, AC/DC’s most successful album to date, was recorded with new singer Brian Johnson just months after Bon Scott died in 1980.
And Journey has continued to work under that name despite a list of alumni that’s as long as the list of drummers who played with Spinal Tap.
“Yeah, but they’re playing county fairs,” Steve joked about Journey.
Similarly, the list of musicians who’ve played with Black Sabbath is about as long as the New York City Yellow Pages.
Ultimately, the fans — read: ticket buyers — dictate what will be accepted and to what degree.
“Bill Wyman hasn’t been in the Rolling Stones in more than … 20 years,” Steve pointed out, and yet the Stones continue to tour.
The world is fine without Bill Wyman playing with the Rolling Stones, Steve said, but nobody would “tolerate the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards.”
Sure, the band could play somewhere without Richards, but they wouldn’t be selling out stadiums.
“You can’t have U2 go out without Bono,” Steve explained.
And he’s right.
Steve and I talked a bit about an improbable Led Zeppelin reunion, in which drummer Jason Bonham would take the place of his late father, John Bonham, whose death in 1980 marked the end of Led Zeppelin.
Led Zeppelin hitting the road with Jason Bonham would probably be widely accepted, Steve and I speculated, given the fact that DNA would be involved. Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant, on the other hand, would not be “tolerated.”
— David Brensilver