How do you replace a talented and mercurial singer, when he's gone to the Great Beyond, or just let a solo career go to his head? You don't, usually, but that doesn't stop the band members who've been left behind from trying.
Two such groups, Sublime and Alice in Chains, are out on the road this summer with new singers—facing appreciation from fans who've been waiting to hear the old favorites in concert, but also scorn from purists who don't take kindly to impersonators.
On message boards about Sublime, devotees have debated familiar points. "I find this new Sublime a little weird to adjust to, just because the majority of Sublime's lyrics were so personal to Bradley Nowell." "He is just copying Brad and it comes off as corny."... "It's been 13 years; get over it. I don't think Brad cares. I don't think you should either."... "To be honest, I think this new guy is better live. It would be cooler if he wasn't a fat emo that wears skinny jeans...but at least he sounds good."... "While I respect the wishes of Brad Nowell's family, it doesn't seem fair to the two-thirds of the band that did not kill themselves on drugs to not be able to use the name to continue their career."
Here's Sublime, sans Brad:
And here's the old-school Sublime:
Some fans made a distinction between the situations of Sublime and Alice in Chains, comparing the importance of the differing roles the late frontmen had in their bands. "Layne Staley was only the vocalist in Alice in Chains," wrote one fan. "Jerry Cantrell did most of the writing. I'd rather have them change their name, but what the hell. As for Sublime, their (deceased) frontman sang, played guitar, and wrote all of their material."
Here's Alice 2.0:
And here's Alice In Chains in their grunge heyday with Layne:
How have the bands that have preceded Sublime and AIC on this posthumous path fared? Not so well, usually—but the exceptions are big ones.
Follow along as we look at 30 historic singer switchovers. As you might expect, there have been far more flops than phoenix-like rebirths, so we'll start with some examples where most fans declined to give their blessing tor the new dude. Compare and contrast the originals and replacements below!
VAN HALEN (CHERONE vs. ROTH)
Eddie Van Halen publicly swore that ex-Extreme frontman Gary Cherone was not only the best singer they'd ever had but would absolutely be the last one, too. After one disastrous album in 1998, Eddie quickly said so long to poor Cherone, who would have had a giant bullseye on his back even if he'd been a decent fit. There hasn't been a new Van Halen recording in the 12 years since this fiasco, although Eddie did swallow enough pride to bring back David Lee Roth for a well-received reunion tour.
INXS (J.D. FORTUNE vs. MICHAEL HUTCHENCE)
When death gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? INXS dealt with the demise of Michael Hutchence by taking part in a reality series to select a substitute. But little excitement was generated after J.D. Fortune won the prime-time competition in 2005, and he was quietly fired after one underperforming album.
THE DOORS (IAN ASTBURY vs. JIM MORRISON)
The Doors should have closed up for good after Jim Morrison's death, but the remaining three members carried on for two more albums without him, with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger handling lead vocals. It's no accident these two long forgotten LPs (Other Voices and Full Circle) have never been issued on CD. Decades later, Manzarek and Krieger toured with the Cult's Ian Astbury carrying on as the Lizard King; they were forced by a lawsuit to amend their name to Doors of the 21st Century.
CARS/THE NEW CARS (TODD RUNDGREN vs. RIC OCASEK)
Hello, it's... who? Why, Todd Rundgren, of course! Ric Ocasek has consistently turned down offers to reform the Cars since their 1988 breakup. Bassist Benjamin Orr (the guy who sang "Drive") had passed away years ago. And drummer David Robinson simply had no interest. But why let hose little hiccups stand in the way of a reunion tour? Rundgren and frequent collaborators Kasim Sulton and Prairie Prince joined the two willing original members, Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes, for a controversial 2006-07 tour and live album. "You're All I've Got Tonight"—indeed!
JUDAS PRIEST (RIPPER OWENS vs. ROB HALFORD)
After Rob Halford left in 1991, the rest of the band hired Tim "Ripper" Owens, whose previous gig had been fronting... a Judas Priest tribute band! It was a great, inspirational story—one that inspired the movie Rock Star—but it didn't work out so well in reality. Halford, who had since fully explained his penchant for leather, rejoined his old bandmates after a few years.
MOTLEY CRUE (JOHN CORABI vs. VINCE NEIL)
Vince Neil either jumped or was pushed from the band and was replaced by John Corabi for a few years in the mid-'90s. Eventually, like another performer with a great blond mane, Lassie, Neil found his way home sweet home.
BLIND MELON (TRAVIS WARREN vs. SHANNON HOON)
Long after Shannon Hoon died in 1995, the alt-rockers reunited with a new singer, Travis Warren, for a 2008 album. But the 13-year layoff turned out not to be lucky. They're reported to already be looking for another singer.
PINK FLOYD (SYD BARRETT vs. ROGER WATERS)
"Crazy diamond" Syd Barrett was replaced with crazy-like-a-fox David Gilmour, with bassist Roger Waters also moving up to lead vocals, after the band's second album in 1968. Between their disdain for posing for photos and the massive drugs being consumed by early listeners, many fans years had little knowledge of or interest in who was who in the band in those days, anyway—hence the infamous "Which one's Pink?" line.
AC/DC (BON SCOTT vs. BRIAN JOHNSON)
Possibly the only known instance of a band that was at superstar level before a singer's untimely demise staying at that high plateau afterward. Only a handful of fans refused to accept Brian Johnson as a gravel-throated ringer for the late Bon Scott in 1980.
GENESIS (PETER GABRIEL vs. PHIL COLLINS)
After Peter Gabriel left for a solo career, the mic got pushed back to the drum kit, for Phil Collins—who sounded a little like his predecessor, at least in the late '70s, when the group was still in prog-rock mode. The Collins era increasingly balanced pomp and pop, with much greater commercial appeal, until what was once the main act finally became a sidelight to his lightweight but lucrative solo career.
JOURNEY (STEVE PERRY vs. ARNEL PINEDA)
Don't stop believing... that Steve Perry is replaceable. Actually, keyboard player Gregg Rolie was the original vocalist for three albums before Perry was brought on in 1977. Following a decade-long split, Perry's last project with the band was a 1995 reunion album. But conflicts over his inability and/or reluctance to tour led the others to hire Steve Augeri in 1998, who was succeeded by Jeff Scott Soto in 2006 and Filipino singer Arnel Pineda a year later. Given the Sopranos- and Glee-fueled resurgence of "Don't Stop Believin'," you could argue that Journey might be successful right now even if they had Bobcat Goldthwait as lead singer. And Pineda certainly falls into the realm of impersonator, not originator. But on their well-attended recent tours and last year's top 10 album, it's Pineda who Journey-come-lately fans see and hear.