Recently, a big time band (i.e., classic rock band) came through town and they’ve been around for decades and have sold millions of records–literally. I used to follow them in high school but then I lost touch with them after college. In any event, a number of my friends went to a recent performance by this band and I was surprised when I saw some of the videos of the show in terms of how good the group sounded and how they physically appeared. I was actually more surprised that the lead singer was as animated as he was from what I knew of the original singer’s physical condition. Indeed, upon closer inspection I realized that this was not the “original” singer at all although this particular vocalist sounded very much like the original performer and did a great job with the material. Digging deeper, I learned that only one of the many musicians on stage that night was from the original group that started in the 70s and had generated so many hits.
This reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago when one of my favorite bands (another big name band from the 70s and 80s) came to a local, but small venue. At first I was excited but then I was surprised to learn that the group that was playing at this venue was not the “group” at all but only the original drummer and some other musicians that I was not familiar with. Subsequently, I found out that other “members” of the original group carried on with other musicians and they essentially performed under the same name and they even played some of the same material.
This then begs the question as to when a band is no longer “the band“? I’ve asked people this question before and I’ve always gotten different responses. Growing up following Led Zeppelin left me jaded I guess because with the death of the group’s famous timekeeper–John Bonham–the band died too. Indeed Robert Plant once remarked to John Bonham’s son–Jason–the following:
“It doesn’t matter how great you are on the drums, Jason. I love you to bits, and you play absolutely amazing. But John was the drummer in LED ZEPPELIN, and John was part of me and Jimmy and John Paul. We shared something very, very special. I struggle sometimes just thinking about trying to create some magic again when he’s not there. He was a very, very dear friend of mine, that I miss every day.'”
Since Led Zeppelin was always one of my favorite groups I was thankful that the group did not simply replace “Bonzo” with another drummer and looking back I was probably very appreciative–albeit disappointed–when I realized that the group was not going to simply plug in another great player and carry on. That was the right decision then and looking back, it is the right decision now.
But in my mind the Led Zeppelin experience was not the norm particularly after my recent encounter which I recounted above.
In my search for what is the “right” answer–if there is even one–I explored some fan pages from some longtime snd well established national acts and it was interesting to see how fans reacted to new members joining these groups. In some cases the fans embraced the new members but in other cases they did not.
I do not mean to diminish the very talented musicians who sometimes join groups later in the band’s tenure but in the case of my friends’ recent experience I just did not dig what was happening. When I reviewed the promotion there was not any mention of who was actually performing with or in the group and frankly, if I had to guess, I would imagine that most of the fans in attendance either did not know or care who was on that stage as long as they heard their favorite song. In fact, what I thought was even stranger was when I came upon a video of this very same group–whom I truly love–and the “new” singer was actually bringing up the “original” singer to sing a tune. Wait a minute. Didn’t the “guest” actually sing the song originally?
For me, I am not sure that the issue is that simple and I think back to how I–as a staunch Zeppelinite–would have reacted to the “another” Bonham. As much as I wanted to hear Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones perform again, I respected their decision and think it was the right–and the most respectful–one. However, I am not clear whether I am in the majority or minority on this one.
Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski, Editor