Turned on the television and heard people talking about a political book called Game Change about the different personalities involved in the 2008 Presidential Election. Then I looked down at this list of musicians I had compiled who were singled out as being people who affected the bands they were in by joining or leaving or--in some cases--dying. I realized they could be called "Game Changers" and I felt that synergistic wave of power flow through me. Once again, I have come up with a winner! Riches await!
Seconds after the euphoria subsided, I returned to my usual panicked state that says I left someone off this list who is so painfully obvious that I will be reminded by several hundred (ok, four) readers who will call me "stupid" for not remembering their favorite musician. ANYTIME a member of a band leaves--unless it's the bass player--it matters. Sometimes, even the bass player matters. Just not very often.
Here are some of the ones that came readily to mind. I know Jay Bennett left Wilco (or was fired) and I guess that changed them, but please submit their recordings in triplicate with a detailed explanation for how the sound was changed.
Note: All THREE guitar players for the Yardbirds--Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page--changed the game for their band, which deserves its own mention up here up top away from the rest of them.
Brian Eno leads the list of producers who have shaped the artists they work for, with his protégé Daniel Lanois standing above Mitchell Froom for the second spot.
25) Ronnie Von Zant--Lynyrd Skynyrd: One of the problems with doing these lists is that there's never room for people like Jason Isbell of Drive-By Truckers. Because you first have to cover the bases. Ronnie Van Zant was the lead singer and songwriter for Lynyrd Skynyrd and without him the band has never regained their traction. In fact, they found it difficult to retain members and these days are more like those old doo-wop bands who used to play at high school gyms with one original member and a bunch of guys from the same family or found in the want ads.
24) Joe Perry--Aerosmith: Now, we might be finding out what Aerosmith will be like without Steven Tyler. But in the late 1970s, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford both left the band and Aerosmith went from being one of the biggest bands of the era to one of the most ignored, until Whitford and Perry joined back up and started the whole cycle back up.
23) Vince Neil--Motley Crue: John Corabi joins the ranks of Ripper Owens, who replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest, and whoever tries singing for Journey without Steve Perry, as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The band sold less records with Corabi at the helm but it should also be noted that 1994 was a terrible year for 1980s heavy metal bands in general. Every un-grunge band sold less records. Basically, Corabi set the stage for Vince Neil's comeback to be an even bigger deal.
22) James Honeyman Scott--Pretenders: Throw bassist Pete Farndon in there, too. But Scott's departure as the guitarist for Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders pretty much crippled the original attack. Her return in 1984 with Learning to Crawl was the sound of a band no longer likely to carve up tricky time signatures and assault you with their guitars. Well, not like they used to.
21) Duane Allman--Allman Brothers Band: It's impossible to have any idea where Duane would've taken things. He was a young musician being exposed to the world, soaking up the influences and leaning back on tradition when necessary. But you know he wasn't going to plod around the same old ground. The kid was going places. He would've been safer and non-legendary if he had stayed home.
20) Lindsey Buckingham And Stevie Nicks--Fleetwood Mac: Before these two California kids joined the British blues band it was made clear: If Lindsey joins, Stevie joins, too. And with them the future of mid-to-late 1970's radio pop was born.
19) Henry Rollins--Black Flag: Black Flag needed permanence. They were running through lead singers like Spinal Tap did drummers. So Henry Garfield shows up and gets the lead singer position for the most popular underground hardcore punk band in the U.S. if not the world and he ends up advising them to slow down and grind it out, which they do until no one can take it anymore and all the punks hate them because they're slow and Henry has long hair and metalheads hate them because it sounds like free jazz in your brother's basement. YOU CAN'T WIN!
18) Billy Zoom--X: Talk about not knowing what you've got till it's gone! Zoom sounded perfect in the band and made their first five albums sound pretty damn good (admittedly, I'm betting that album five, Ain't Love Grand, will sound better in retrospect, provided I get around to it). But Zoom took off and Dave Alvin and Tony Gilkyson, two fine guitarists, took his place and it just wasn't the same. Perfect players, but not the right fit. Chalk one up for band chemistry.
17) Ron Wood--The Rolling Stones: Sure, there are those who mourn the passing of Brian Jones. But it's the times you need to be mourning in that case. The 1960s were over and the band and the times were getting darker. Mick Taylor, his replacement, was fluid and solid, young and named Mick. But the Stones are a brutal corporate enterprise and Junior Status bugged the young master and he left and the Stones considered a bunch of amazing guitar players and hired Ron Wood instead. I think there are Mets fans who understand how this works out.
16) Bob Stinson--The Replacements: Crazy Bob performed some of the weirdest, most unpredictable solos of all time. Granted, he was drunk when he performed them. Nonetheless, when he got kicked out of the band and replaced by Slim Dunlop, it was like someone turned off the ride. Suddenly, there was a guy who understood how to "flavor" a track and the Replacements settled for very good where they'd once been great to horrible to great.
15) Roger Waters--Pink Floyd: Without Roger Waters around to write complex, paranoid rantings about the loss of his father, Pink Floyd were left to sound like Pink Sound without writing anything worth criticizing. The guitars sounded great. The tunes were potentially there. But their pompous concepts no longer made any sense. Or maybe they did but there was no one left to complain about anything and they performed more like Landed gentry who enjoyed an evening out.
14) Syd Barrett--Pink Floyd: Had Syd Barrett not gone insane and stayed in the band, Pink Floyd would've been very different indeed. They wouldn't have been allowed to write songs about him and he would've had to adapt to the 1970s. They might not have made a zillion dollars. Having a lunatic running your band doesn't always work out.
13) Neil Young--Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young: Neil Young is like Viagra. Everytime he show up, Crosby, Stills and Nash become erect.
12) Robbie Robertson--The Band: The rest of the Band were solid players and should've been able to withstand the desertion of Jaime Royal Klegerman (?? No wonder he's tended towards the pompous side). But for some reason--stubbornness?--they never again connected with the mainstream in any important way. They played out the string as legends stuck playing out the legend.
11) Steve Perry--Journey: As ersatz as they're considered with him in the band, the Journey that comes blaring out of your car radio is the one with Steve Perry leading the charge. No one with a financial interest in the group pines for the days of Gregg Rolie, do they? I mean, besides Mrs. Rolie?
10) John Frusciante--Red Hot Chili Peppers: Frusciante has left the band for the second time. The first time, the band brought in Dave Navarro and made One Hot Minute, which, in highly technical terms, "stunk." What will it be this time?
9) Davie Grohl--Nirvana: Without Grohl, Nirvana don't work. They remain a solid B+. With Grohl, you don't notice that there are only three members and that two of them don't need their instruments. Like Public Image Limited's The Flowers Of Romance, Nirvana could've been just vocals by Cobain and drums by Grohl and achieved greatness. Sorry, Krist.
8) Michael McDonald--The Doobie Brothers: This is the tale of a young hippie band who suddenly have a guy who sounds like a Motown Singer who drank Windex.
7) Bon Scott--AC/DC: Do AC/DC become legendary if Bon Scott lives or are they legendary because Bon Scott died? This is for the great philosophers to decide. I need a Ginger Ale.
6) David Lee Roth--Van Halen: If David Lee Roth doesn't leave Van Halen, then Sammy Hagar never gets the chance to front a once great band and most people never even have an opinion about Sammy. Van Halen probably end up recording show-tunes and oldies for the rest of their career, but all with Diamond Dave yelping his way over the cliff.
5) Ozzy Osbourne--Black Sabbath: Some people love Dio. Some even like Ian Gillan (in Sabbath?). But most people agree that Black Sabbath is Black Sabbath most when Ozzy is singing in front of them. They're misfits who belong together and nowhere else. This isn't the Letterman band, after all.
4) Peter Gabriel--Genesis: If Peter Gabriel doesn't leave Genesis, then Phil Collins never gets the chance to take over the band. History is rewritten in our favor.
3) Ian Curtis--Joy Division: There are plenty of people who prefer New Order, which was essentially Joy Division without Ian Curtis. These are happy, well-adjusted people who I have nothing in common with. You can like New Order but you must love Joy Division.
2) Keith Moon--The Who: The Who were one of those bands, like Led Zeppelin, where each member played a distinct part in the process. Unlike Led Zeppelin, the Who did not "break up" when their drummer died. No, they said "farewell" about a dozen times and even trotted on without their bass player, while selling every possible song in their catalog to a variety of companies, earning them the distinction of being the one band where it becomes very hard to remember why you liked them in the first place. Until you put on some old footage and say, "Oh, right."
1) John Bonham--Led Zeppelin: Jerry Garcia ended the Grateful Dead with his passing but the band still had enough tapes in its vaults to last into future centuries. When Frank Zappa died, he ended the career of Frank Zappa. Thankfully, like TuPac, Zappa recorded everything he did and no one shall ever be without a new Frank Zappa recording. But Led Zeppelin, as the posthumous Coda indicates, did not record much. Upon Bonham's death, they retired the "brand" and let the Led Zeppelin legacy be what it was. But now will Jimmy Page attempt the band without Robert Plant? Depends on how much he talks to Pete Townshend, I'm sure.