Try to imagine the Stones without Mick Jagger. Or Led Zeppelin with anyone other than Robert Plant on the microphone. It’s pretty unfathomable. But some rock bands (metal and classic) had to do precisely that – test their competence as a group without their frontman at the steering wheel.
Whether due to acrimonious fallouts or sudden deaths, many bands have had to rise from the ashes and switch things for the sake of staying alive. Sometimes their new line-up worked, and other times, it crashed and burned. Let’s see who remained on top (and, at times, got better) and who slowly perished.
AC/DC released a series of dynamic hard rock records in the 1970s, but the 1980s weren’t as fruitful. Well, at least not at first. The decade didn’t get off to a promising start, as their lead singer, Bon Scott, passed away on February 19, 1980.
His death was the result of a drinking binge that caused him to choke. Shocked and grieving, the band stuck together. Undeterred, they brought in vocalist Brian Johnson and recorded Back in Black, which is generally considered their best work.
When you think of Black Sabbath, you usually think of Ozzy Osbourne. From the group’s 1968 formation until 1979, Osbourne was synonymous with the raging rockers. But at one point, his band members had had enough of his drug-fueled antics and decided to kick him out.
He was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, who recorded two successful albums with the band but parted ways with them in 1982. Ronnie’s departure wasn’t the end of Black Sabbath. He was replaced by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, who was then replaced by a string of others until Ozzy returned in 1997.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Blood, Sweat, and Tears was formed by keyboardist and vocalist Al Kooper, a former group member of Blues Project. Al Kooper was responsible for singing most of the songs on the band’s fantastic debut album, Child Is Father to the Man but was booted out shortly after that.
The band replaced him with Canadian singer David Clayton-Thomas, who instantly took them to the top of the Billboard charts with their second album and its hit singles “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”
Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains is considered one of the best Seattle bands of the 1990s. But in 2002, tragedy struck. Their lead vocalist, Layne Staley, passed away, and many believed that the group was finished.
Incredibly, things changed in 2006, when the surviving members of Alice in Chains headed out on a comeback tour with their new lead singer, William DuVall. Fortunately for the band, their principal songwriter, Jerry Cantrell, stuck around, and he and William successfully created the band’s 2009 album, Black Gives Way to Blue.
Faith No More
Many of Faith No More’s fans probably don’t even know that the group had a different lead singer before Mike Patton. In the mid-1980s, the band was fronted by Chuck Mosley, who sang the group’s minor hit single, “We Care a Lot.”
After Mosley, Faith No More went through a couple of vocalists, including Courtney Love, until they eventually found Mike Patton. With Mike, they recorded two of their best-selling albums. The Real Thing sold more than one million copies across America, and their second album, Angel Dust, peaked at number ten on the U.S. Billboard 200.
Some bands make it big after losing their lead singer, and others don’t. INXS is an example of a band that tried to turn tragedy into opportunity after the death of their frontman, Michael Hutchence, but unfortunately, they failed.
The reason is likely because they turned to reality TV to try and find their new guy. The remaining members became the judges of a 2005 reality show called Rock Star: INXS, in which people competed to become their new vocalist.
The winner was J.D. Fortune, and for several years, he was their leading man who took part in recording their 2005 album Switch. In 2009, however, he was fired.
One of the biggest bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Journey released a string of platinum records (after their previous ones had tanked) with their frontman at the time, Steve Perry. But their commercial momentum began to stall by the end of the 1980s.
A decade later, Steve Perry decided to leave the group. The remaining band members attempted to keep Journey together, but the rest of their albums were stiff and unsatisfying. They replaced Perry with Steve Augeri and Arnel Pineda, but they both failed to replicate Perry’s incredible falsetto.
A revered metal band, Judas Priest’s songs are easy to recognize because of Rob Halford’s unique voice. In 1991, however, the frontman announced he was cutting ties with Priest. His departure put the members in a bind.
As a result, they added Tim “Ripper” Owens to the group, an Ohio vocalist who had sung once in a Judas Priest tribute band. Tim Owens recorded two albums with Judas Priest before the return of Rob Halford in 2003.
Dillinger Escape Plan
When a band splits, the breakup is usually ugly. But in Dillinger’s case, things ran pretty smoothly. When their original vocalist, Dimitri Minakakis, cut ties with them, he remained on good terms with his bandmates.
Not only did he keep in touch with his band members, but he was also friendly with his replacement, Greg Puciato. Many fans still remember the raw chaos of their memorable debut album, Calculating Infinity, but rest assured, they found greater success with Puciato.
Sublime was an indie-ska band that managed to crack the charts, but their success was fairly short-lived. Their frontman, Brad Nowell, died of a drug overdose in May 1996. At first, everyone felt like that was the end of Sublime, but in 2009, its surviving members brought in a new guy to help revive the group.
A talented vocalist named Rome Ramirez became the band’s new singer. However, things got a bit messy because when the group tried to use the Sublime name, Brad Nowell’s family sued them for trademark infringement. Eventually, they went for the name – Sublime With Rome.
Van Halen was at its peak in 1985. Their 1984 album was a mega-hit and their highest-charting release to that point. But creative differences between the group’s lead singer, David Lee Roth, and guitarist Eddie Van Halen resulted in Roth’s departure.
Van Halen didn’t let that affect them. They quickly recruited Sammy Hagar to replace David, and the group went on to release four No. 1 albums. Eventually, Sammy also parted way with the band, and the vocals were taken over by Extreme frontman Gary Cherone, who chimed in for one poorly received album. In 2007, the band launched a reunion tour with Roth.
A supergroup made up of musicians from two talented rock bands, Velvet Revolver brought together Scott Weiland, Stone Temple Pilots’ vocalist, with several of Guns N’ Roses’ band members, most notably guitarist Slash.
For two albums, the group managed to work well together and stay intact, but in 2008, Scott Weiland decided to say his goodbyes. Since then, Velvet Revolver has tried to find a new lead, but their search thus far has proved fruitless.
In Deaf Havana’s early days, James Veck-Gilodi shared the microphone with co-vocalist and fellow schoolmate Ryan Mellor. Mellor did most of the screaming and growling, and Veck-Gilodi was responsible for singing the cleaner bits.
When Ryan Mellor left in 2010, the band thought long and hard about trying and replacing him. Eventually, they decided that James Veck-Gilodi was talented enough to sing on his own. But their decision required them to reinvent their sound completely.
For the first several years, the eccentric and extremely creative frontman Peter Gabriel provided the lead vocals on the group’s first albums, including the fantastic record. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
At one point, Gabriel decided to leave and see how he might do on his own, leaving the remaining members scrambling to replace him. They took a chance and gave drummer Phil Collins a chance. Luckily, when Collins took over as Genesis’ singer, they released their most successful single at the time – Follow You Follow Me.
When they first rose from the ashes of Jefferson Airplane, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg were all responsible for vocal duties in their new spinoff band. But it was Marty Balin’s return in 1975 (Balin had founded Jefferson Airplane with Kantner) that really put them at the top.
Their album Red Octopus skyrocketed to #1, and their lovely ballad “Miracles” peaked at #3 on the singles chart. Balin stuck around until 1978 but then decided to leave for good. The band chose to replace him with former Elvin Bishop Group singer Mickey Thomas.
The band’s original frontman was Paul Day, and they went through several line-up tweaks in the following years. When singer Paul Di’Anno went off the rails and got all self-destructive, they replaced him with Bruce Dickinson.
Dickinson’s addition to the group was a great idea. He sang on their brilliant record, The Number of the Beast, which became their first LP to top the U.K. Albums chart. The rest of the band’s albums were also met with commercial and critical success.
Pantera’s original line-up featured lead singer Donnie Hart, who rhythm guitarist Terry Glaze then replaced. During the band’s earlier years, they were tagged as a glam metal band, but come 1986-1987, they gradually transitioned towards thrash metal.
In late 1986, Pantera called over 18-year-old Phil Anselmo to audition, and he immediately got the part. Their first album with Phil, Power Metal, exposed a different, more aggressive music style. The release of Cowboys From Hell, a record that was was certified gold in the U.K. and platinum in the U.S., marked a turning point in their career.
Deep Purple’s lineup changes are tagged as Mark I, II, III, and IV, but the most commercially successful format includes Ian Gillan on vocals. The band churned out their best albums and singles during their time with him.
When they released their 1968 debut, Shades of Deep Purple, they were fronted by a man named Rod Evans, who sang with them for a short while before Ian Gillan replaced him. Undoubtedly, swapping Evans for Gillian was a great choice.
The Doobie Brothers
When The Doobie Brothers formed in California in 1970, they were doing just fine with Tom Johnston as their lead. They released a string of hits, including “Listen to the Music,” “Long Train Runnin’” and “Black Water.”
They could have probably continued along that successful path if Johnson hadn’t developed health problems. In 1975, the band replaced him with Michael McDonald. They adopted a more soulful sound and, incredibly, managed to stay on a roll. In 1979, they topped the charts again with “What a Fool Believes.”
The Moody Blues
Initially, the band’s lead singer was a man named Denny Laine. They released a cover of Bessie Bank’s “Go Now,” and many believed they would likely be a one-hit-wonder. However, a while later, they released their debut album, Days of Future Passed, which gave them the recognition they deserved. But Laine wasn’t credited on the record.
The album’s credits showed that the band had hired a new singer named Justin Hayward. The other band members also contributed vocals, but Hayward is considered the true voice of these rock ‘n’ roll famers.
It was out of sheer necessity that the band had to replace former frontman, Syd Barrett. With Syd’s deteriorating mental health taking a toll on Pink Floyd, the members decided they couldn’t deal with someone as unpredictable and unreliable anymore.
After he left, Roger Waters and David Gilmour took over lead vocal duties. Pink Floyd achieved incredible success with the release of their album, The Dark Side of the Moon. It looks like changing things up did nothing but good.
Quicksilver Messenger Service
The frontman for this San Francisco band from the ‘60s was supposed to be Dino Valenti, a musician who’d written the hippie anthem “Get Together.” But as soon as the band was getting off the ground, Dino was arrested for marijuana possession.
With Valenti in the lead, the band scored its biggest hit, “Fresh Air,” so any replacement was cause for a lot of worries. Ultimately, Quicksilver was taken over by bassist David Freiberg and guitarist Gary Duncan. Understandably, some fans weren’t too happy with the change.
This one might not be entirely fair because they were actually two different bands. That being said, they’re related because one band led to the other. Small Faces, formed in 1965 and fronted by Steve Marriott, disbanded a few years later.
After Small Faces split, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, and Ian McLagan joined forces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Even though their record label wanted them to keep their name, the band members disagreed and called themselves Faces instead.
Black Flag went through several vocalists. Keith Morris sang on their earliest recordings and built a reputation as an incredibly unpredictable force. He left due to a cocktail of drugs and clashes with other band members.
Then came Ron Reyes, who quit mid-show due to clashes with a violent audience, and Dez Cadena opted to play the guitar instead when he shot his voice. Henry Rollins, who became their most memorable vocalist, landed the gig after singing an impromptu version of Clocked In as a fan.
After Descendents’ vocalist Milo Aukerman quit the band for a second time, the band’s surviving members formed a different band, All, with vocalist Dave Smalley. Even though All would go on to build a legacy of its own, for many people, it was, and will always be, the group that’s guilty of giving up on the Descendents.
In 1989, Smalley left the group and was replaced by Scott Reynolds. Reynolds then left in 1993 and was replaced by Chad Price. Price stuck around well into the 2000s. Though Price is still considered the band’s lead singer, All has played shows with all three vocalists, sometimes with two of them on the same night!
Guitarist Robert Fripp has been King Crimson’s primary creative force since they formed in 1968. The band has featured some strong voices, with Greg Lake in the early King Crimson hits like “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “The Court of the Crimson King.”
Adrian Belew then sang in some early ’80s favorites like “Frame by Frame” and “Neal and Jack and Me.” In between Robert Fripp’s collaborations with his two talented singers, he worked with a few others for an album or two.
Stone Temple Pilots
Years of bottled-up frustration and anger regarding Scott Weiland’s drug problems and unreliable behavior caught up with Stone Temple Pilots’ members in 2013. The other three bandmates, Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, and Eric Kretz, shook their fans by firing Weiland.
What happened next was rather crazy. Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington joined the group as lead vocalist. They had to call themselves Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington. Bennington readily embraced his frontman role before parting ways with them at the end of 2015 to focus on Linkin Park.
Chicago’s line-up history is a really long read. The band’s history on their official site is actually divided into chapters, partly because the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have had so many people come and go.
Over the years, that has led to plenty of different people in the lead. Some have made a memorable mark, and others enjoyed just a brief glimmer of the spotlight. Back in the band’s early days, the band’s vocal duties were assigned mainly to Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, and Terry Kath.
By the time Henry Rollins tried out for the lead of Black Flag in 1981, the notorious hardcore band had become a brand, known more for their violent club shows and ferocious singles. Rollins ended up changing their reputation, bringing in poetry as well as political issues.
As good as he was, most of Black Flag’s most enduring singles, “Depression,” “TV Party,” and “Wasted,” surfaced during the time when guitarist/songwriter Greg Ginn was on the vocals. Keith Morris had also played the lead before leaving to form Circle Jerks.
So, who was the voice behind Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”? The answer is Dave Bickler, the band’s original lead vocalist, who performed with the group until vocal issues caused his departure in 1983. Bickler was replaced by Jimi Jamison, who sang with the band until their break up in the late ‘80s.
Then things got a bit weird. It was like history was reliving itself. In 1993, the band regrouped with Bickler as their frontman. In 2000, he was fired and replaced by, yet again, Jamison, who stuck around until Robin McAuley took his place in 2006. In 2011, Jamison returned again, and two years later, Bickler chimed in and worked alongside Jamison. In 2014, Jamison died, and Survivor hired a new guy, 21-year-old Cameron Barton, to work with Bickler. In 2016, Bickler was fired once again.
Two years after the terrible 1977 plane crash that took the lives of frontman Ronnie Van Zant and guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a performance of “Free Bird” with the Charlie Daniels Band.
In 1987, the Southern rockers returned in earnest, replacing the late Ronnie with his brother Johnny Van Zant. Since then, Lynyrd Skynyrd continued to tour and record while the group’s line-up continued to evolve. Rossington and Johnny Van Zant are the only members of the 1987 reunion who remain with the band.
Screaming and growling in a hardcore band can surely take its toll. Northlane’s frontman Adrian Fitipaldes can account for that. After leaving the band in 2014, Fitipaldes shared in a Facebook post that he had really messed up his voice.
He wrote that his voice had “fully blown out more times than [he] could count.” Northlane, however, didn’t let his departure bring them down. The metal band found a new frontman, Marcus Bridge, and have since then kept on performing and growing.
Glen Danzig is normally considered the Misfit’s classic frontman. Some people, though, argue that the group’s Michale Graves era was way more iconic. Both sides have different reasons. The ones arguing for Glen say that he founded the band, so he’s considered the classic Misfit.
Others, more mindful of the band’s music, will argue that Graves has a better voice and is the better singer. Either way, the band survived despite Glen’s departure. The Misfits managed to carry on and create spectacular music with both Danzig and Graves on the mic.
New York thrash metal band Anthrax went through several vocalists, including John Connelly, who would go on to join Nuclear Assault. The man behind the vocals on their debut album, Fistful of Metal, is the talented Neil Turbin.
The following year, by the time Spreading the Disease came out, Anthrax was had already gone through four singers and had recruited their fifth and best-known one, Joey Belladonna, who steered the group through its heyday in the mid-‘80s, early-‘90s.
It’s hard to picture Foreigner’s moving balladry without Lou Gramm’s voice. And yet, fans had to do exactly that. He left the band in 1990-1992 to focus on his solo career and was replaced by Johnny Edwards.
He then returned to Foreigner but then left for good in 2003. Since then, two of his replacements, Chaz West and Kelly Hansen, have taken over his place. While the new men kept the band going, Foreigner never managed to replicate the success they had with Gramm.
The Cars/ The New Cars
Some view the 2005 reincarnation of the Cars, the New Cars, as a different band. They view it as more of a spin-off than a reincarnation of the original one. Unfortunately, it ended being more like a spin-out, with the group lasting only a few meager years.
The original band broke up in 1988, and their band member, Benjamin Orr, died in 2000. The group’s founding guitarist, Elliot Easton, along with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, teamed up with Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, and Prairie Prince to form the new group. Sulto took over for the late Orr, and Rundgren filled in for lead singer Ric Ocasek.
Creedence Clearwater Revival / Creedence Clearwater Revisited
There are fewer break-ups more bitter than Creedence Clearwater Revival’s falling out in 1972. The bad blood between lead singer John Fogerty and members Stu Cook and Doug Clifford intensified a few decades later when the bassist and drummer teamed up to form Creedence Clearwater Revisited without Fogerty.
John tried to stop his former bandmates from using the name, even if they said they would add “Revisited.” Unfortunately for him, he lost the battle in court. The band kept on performing without him, first with singer John Tristao and then with Dan McGuiness.
Singer-bassist Phil Lynott’s 1986 death crushed any glimpse of hope fans had for a Thin Lizzy reunion. Surprisingly, however, they eventually did reunite. The band’s members did a one-off tribute to their late band member in 1987, with guitarist Gary Moore and singer Bob Geldof on the vocals.
In 1996, they decided to start anew, with former Lizzy guitarist John Sykes as the frontman, leading the rest of the band comprised of Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, and Darren Wharton. In 2010, Ricky Warwick became the band’s lead singer.
Alice Cooper / Billion Dollar Babies
When singer Alice Cooper decided to go solo in 1975, his band fell apart. The original Alice Cooper bandmates – Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith – decided to regroup without him and called themselves Billion Dollar Babies.
Guitarist Michael Bruce became the lead vocalist. They released one album titled 1977’s “Battle Axe” and called it quits shortly after. Over the years, Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith have occasionally reunited with Alice Cooper for live performances here and there.
The Grateful Dead
Even though Jerry Garcia wasn’t the only one singing lead in the Grateful Dead, when he died in 1995, the band felt like they unquestionably lost their frontman. The group disbanded, but Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart went on to form the Other Ones in 1998, later calling in another original member, Bill Kreutzmann, to join.
In 2003, they switched their name to “The Dead.” In 2015, the members performed a series of concerts in celebration and remembrance of the Grateful Dead. It was promoted as the last time these four members would be on one stage together.
The Guess Who
This band’s most celebrated line-ups included singer Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman. After Bachman left the band, Donnie McDougall joined on guitar and sung a few leads (even when Cummings was still in it).
After they left, Bachman and Cummings approved the use of the Guess Who name without them for just a one-time show, but they ended up keeping it for good after bassist Jim Kale soon realized their moniker had never been registered in the first place, so he quickly managed to gain the rights to the band’s name.
Talking Heads / The Heads
After frontman David Byrne disbanded Talking Heads in 1991, the surviving members felt prompted to do something about it. Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison got together again in 1996, and they called themselves The Heads.
The trio teamed up with a string of guest vocalists on their album titled “No Talking, Just Head.” The singers include Debbie Harry, Michael Hutchence, Richard Hell, and Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano. The Heads disbanded shortly after.
Foghat wrapped up their first run in 1984 when singer-guitarist Dave Peverett put an end to the group to head back to England. Drummer Roger Earl and Craig MacGregor, and Erik Cartwright decided to reform the group in 1986 by adding frontman Eric “E.J.” Burgeson.
Burgeson continued to perform as their lead for several years before being replaced by a new man, Phil Nudelman, who was replaced by singer Billy Devis, and then, finally, Peverett decided to return for most of the ‘90s until his passing in 2000. Charlie Huhn has been their frontman ever since.
Even though Yes hadn’t technically broken up (they just enjoyed some time off in the ‘00s), their plan for a reunion was scrapped when their lead man, Jon Anderson, was diagnosed with breathing troubles and was advised not to perform for at least half a year.
The bandmates decided to do without him and filled his role with Benoit David, who had fronted a tribute band of theirs. In 2012, David was replaced by Jon Davison.
In the summer of 2020, Davison confirmed that they had started to work on new songs for their next studio album.
Guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore tried to keep the Doors rolling after frontman Jim Morrison’s death in 1971. They recorded two more albums, with Krieger and Manzarek on the vocals, before giving up in 1973.
The Doors kept reuniting on multiple occasions: for 1978’s “An American Prayer,” 1993’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and 2000’s broadcast of “VH1 Storytellers.” In 2002, Krieger and Manzarek regrouped with Astbury in the lead. The group called themselves Riders on the Storm, then Manzarek-Krieger.
T. Rex / Mickey Finn’s T-Rex
T. Rex’s frontman, Marc Bolan, died in a car crash in 1977. But the band continued to move along, forming a new group, Mickey Finn’s T-Rex. It was founded by Mickey Finn, Paul Fenton, and Jack Green, who took on the lead role.
The frontman vocals were then passed on to Rob Benson and then, in 2010, to Jay Spargo. In 2003, Mickey Finn died, but the band lives on. Moreover, the original band’s only surviving member, Bill Legend, has put together a group called X-T. Rex.
Iron Butterfly stopped performing in 1971 after founder and frontman Doug Ingle called it quits. In 1974, two members of the band’s line-up – drummer Ron Bushy and guitarist Erik Brann decided to regroup Iron Butterfly.
Erik Brann, who had sung sporadically during the band’s first run, took over as their new frontman. Since then, the band has undergone numerous line-up changes (including ongoing stints by Ingle and Brann). Nowadays, the band’s current singer is Eric Barnett.
Imagine this – you dedicate a whole decade to building up a band, steering it gradually into the spotlight, and then, suddenly, one of the members decides he wants out. When that happened to Rage Against the Machine, they weren’t ready to call it quits just yet.
So, they renamed their group, calling themselves Audioslave instead. They picked up Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell and went ahead with their new line-up. In 2007, Zack de la Rocha came back, and people quickly forgot that Audioslave ever existed.
The band’s 1989-disc, Dr. Feelgood, was their biggest album yet, and they had a slight chance of being one of the few metal bands to overpass the grunge era. In 1992, however, old tensions surfaced, and Vince Neil left the band.
John Corabi joined instead, and together they recorded a new album. Unfortunately, it didn’t do well. Without Vince Neil, they struggled to sell any concert tickets. While Corabi is a fantastic singer, fans of the group want to hear Neil’s voice.