Concertgoers beware: Classic rock bands play ‘musical chairs’ with lineups at the climax


Going to see a classic rock band in concert can be like going for the mystery meat in the cafeteria – you never know what’s on your plate.

You may recognize the name of the group, but not its current members. In fact, a band that had five dedicated musicians at its peak may have shrunk to just one. Sometimes freshly recruited members still crawled when the group’s hit songs climbed the charts. Still, the group continues to perform, cashing in using the same familiar brand name.

Take the case of Yes. There are two distant incarnations of the touring prog-rock band veteran – both coming to Minnesota next week. Yes Starring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman – as it’s awkwardly billed – heads to Red Wing’s Treasure Island Casino on Friday. Yes, featuring Steve Howe (who apparently owns the moniker “Yes”) and Alan White plus Howe’s son on drums, performs at Moorhead on 9/11. Eight members of Yes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, but the relaxation apparently only lasted one night.

The list of famous bands that similarly evaporate is longer than a live drum solo in the 70s. The Who are jokingly called Who’s Left with sadly only half the band remaining. Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, the Pointer Sisters, the Spinners and countless other reconstituted bands continue to tour despite the absence of key players.

Even contemporary bands face the same problem. Thirteen musicians sailed with Awolnation while 15 rode with Band of Horses. Trent Reznor has been the only constant in Nine Inch Nails, and Josh Homme is the only guardian in Queens of the Stone Age.

When should a fading band stop rolling in the wake of their original name?

truth in advertising

The Truth in Music Advertising Act was first enacted in 2005 in Pennsylvania. Thirty-four states have followed suit, including Minnesota in 2008. It is illegal to advertise or promote a live musical performance with false or misleading associations between the performing group and the established recording group . Additionally, at least one member of the original group must be involved and have the legal right to use the group name.

Are fans aware of this law? Do they care?

JJ Williams, 32, of White Bear Lake, was surprised to learn that only one band member could legally own the rights to a band’s nickname.

“If I bought a ticket to a concert and found out that only one original guy was on stage, I’d be crazy to get ripped off like that,” he said. “I’m Metallica, so I know it’s not the original lineup, but I can’t keep up with all the bands that come unstuck.”

A group’s name is the foundation of brand recognition. That’s why Roger Waters sued bandmates David Gilmour and Nick Mason for using the commercially successful name Pink Floyd. The same goes for the Beach Boys, Boston, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Sister Sledge, and other contentious nicknames.

Minneapolis attorney Michael R. Cohen is an expert in intellectual property, particularly when it comes to band names.

“The purpose of trademark laws is to prevent confusion in the marketplace,” he said. “You have to ask yourself: is it the truth in advertising or a deceptive marketing practice – saying one thing and offering something different?”

Cohen is a cousin of Lee Oskar, the original harmonica player of the band War. After protracted litigation, Oskar and three other original members of War lost ownership of the band’s name to their manager. The four original members have since banded together and renamed themselves the Lowrider Band, after their 1975 hit song.

Due to a 1991 court ruling, Cohen explained, those original members can no longer use War to promote their performances. “As a result, it’s virtually impossible for them to contact their old fan base,” he said.

Didn’t hurt Axl, Kiss

If all of the band members step down except for the recognizable voice of the lead singer, you could say a rose by any other name would still smell great, especially if it was Axl Rose. The Guns N’ Roses frontman was legally granted sole ownership of the band’s moniker in 1997. He can whittle down his musical line-up however he sees fit and still call the final concoction Guns N’ Roses. At last count, it hosted 22 Gunners in the Jungle, although it did reunite with peak members Slash and Duff McKagan for an ongoing tour.

Ultimately, however, ticket buyers will decide.

Like Krista Esterling, 28, from Minneapolis, who attends about 20 concerts a year. She recently saw Panic! at the Disco, even though she knew the group had only one original member – Brendon Urie, the lead singer.

“As long as the chorus sounds the same, I’m okay with anybody else on stage, that is, unless I’ve been emotionally invested in a band for years, like I am with Coldplay,” she said. “If Chris Martin was still the lead singer, but drummer Will Champion was missing, I would be upset. I like the band as a whole.”

The permanent members of Queen were sensitive to this issue and so dubbed themselves Queen + Paul Rodgers, and more recently, Queen + Adam Lambert, which drew a capacity crowd to the Xcel Energy Center in July. These billings illustrated respect for both the late singer Freddie Mercury and Queen fans.

Journey and Kiss have achieved remarkable commercial success despite well-documented changes in their lineups. After Journey replaced lead singer Steve Perry with the Arnel Pineda sound in 2007, Billboard reported that concert tour revenue the following year was over $35 million. Kiss lost half of its original members when guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss quit. Nonetheless, the group has become one of rock’s most lucrative ventures – worth $5 billion, boasts co-founder Gene Simmons.

By doing a little research on the internet, the discerning consumer can quickly identify the genuine item from a reasonable facsimile. Timelines are readily available online to determine if a party has more lives than a cat.

With the death of Cory Wells in 2015, Three Dog Night, which arrives at Mystic Lake Casino on October 20, reverts to one of its three original lead singers, Danny Hutton, although former member Chuck Negron still sings under his own name. The other night at the Minnesota State Fair there was only one of the original Pointer Sisters – Ruth, plus her daughter and granddaughter.

In the concert world, he’s become buyer beware. Before you shell out your hard-earned cash to buy a ticket, compare the bill in your hand to who’s actually on the playbill at hand. Remember that, just like the mystery meat in the cafeteria, party members are “subject to change”.

Sheila Branscome Sunderland is a writer at Blaine.

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