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Rock Bands That Changed Lead Singers

When Famous Groups Have to Switch Vocalists

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If you’re in a successful band and you lose your lead singer – either because of in-fighting or tragedy – how do you respond? The groups on this list went out and found a new frontman, to wildly varying degrees of success. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous cases of rock bands replacing their vocalist and see how their stand-in fared.

AC/DC

acdc back in black
Photo courtesy Legacy Recordings.
AC/DC had produced a series of dynamic hard rock albums in the 1970s, but the ‘80s didn’t get off to a promising start – lead singer Bon Scott died on February 19, 1980, his demise the result of a drinking binge that caused him to choke. Undeterred, the group brought in vocalist Brian Johnson, recorded Back in Black (generally considered their masterpiece), and went on to one of the most successful careers in hard rock.
Verdict: Complete Success

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Alice in Chains

alice in chains black gives way to blue
Photo courtesy Virgin/EMI.
Alice in Chains were one of the best Seattle bands of the ‘90s, but when lead singer Layne Staley died in 2002, the group seemed finished. (Of course, they had actually been on hiatus for several years prior to Staley’s death.) Things changed in 2006, though, when the surviving members mounted a comeback tour with new lead singer William DuVall. Fortunately for the group, principal songwriter Jerry Cantrell remained, and he and DuVall successfully replicated Staley’s vocal darkness on the band’s 2009 album, Black Gives Way to Blue.
Verdict: So Far, So Very Good

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Faith No More

faith no more angel dust
Photo courtesy Slash/Warner Bros.
A lot of Faith No More’s fans probably don’t even know that the band had a lead singer before Mike Patton. In the mid-‘80s, Faith No More were fronted by Chuck Mosley, who was on the mic for the band’s minor hit “We Care a Lot.” But for the band’s 1989 album The Real Thing, Patton replaced Mosley, and the group exploded into the mainstream.
Verdict: Mosley Who?

Read my review of Faith No More’s Angel Dust

INXS

inxs switch
Photo courtesy Epic.
Perhaps the most embarrassing example of a band continuing after a lead singer’s absence, INXS tried to turn tragedy into opportunity after the 1997 death of frontman Michael Hutchence. The remaining band members became the stars of a 2005 reality show, Rock Star: INXS, in which contestants competed to become the new INXS vocalist. The winner was J.D. Fortune, and for a few years he was the band’s frontman, appearing on their 2005 album Switch. But in 2009, Fortune was fired.
Verdict: Abysmal

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Journey

journey greatest hits
Photo courtesy Legacy Recordings.
One of the cheesiest (and, perhaps not surprisingly, one of the biggest) bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Journey rode the plaintive wails of new frontman Steve Perry to a string of platinum records after their previous albums had tanked. But the band’s commercial momentum started to stall by the end of the ‘80s, and a decade later Perry decided to cut ties with the group. The remaining members tried to keep the Journey brand viable in the 21st century, but their later albums were all stiffs, and replacement vocalists Steve Augeri and Arnel Pineda failed to duplicate Perry’s emotive falsetto.
Verdict: Dead on Arrival

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Judas Priest

judas priest british steel
Photo courtesy Legacy Recordings.
One of the most revered metal bands of all time, Judas Priest are easily recognizable because of frontman Rob Halford’s distinctive bark. But in 1991 he announced he was leaving Priest, putting his band members in a bind. As a result, they recruited Tim “Ripper” Owens, an Ohio vocalist who had sung in a Judas Priest tribute band. Owens recorded two studio albums with Judas Priest before Halford returned to the fold in 2003.
Verdict: It’s Great to Have Halford Back

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Sublime

sublime
Photo courtesy Geffen.

Sublime were an indie-ska band from Long Beach, California, but their success on the charts coincided with tragedy. Frontman Brad Nowell died of a drug overdose in May 1996 – soon after, the band were winning over radio audiences with singles like “What I Got.” That seemed to be the end of Sublime, but in 2009 the surviving members brought in Rome Ramirez to be the band’s new singer. But when the group tried to use the Sublime name, Nowell’s family and his estate sued the band for trademark infringement. Eventually, the group settled on the name Sublime With Rome.
Verdict: To Be Continued

Van Halen

van halen
Photo courtesy Warner Bros.
Van Halen were on top of the world in 1985. Their 1984 album had been a huge hit and their highest-charting record to that point. But tensions between lead singer David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen resulted in Roth leaving the band. Not missing a beat, Van Halen recruited Sammy Hagar to replace Roth, and the band went on to release four straight No. 1 albums. Eventually, Hagar left the band as well, and former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone took over for one (poorly received) record. Van Halen launched a reunion tour with Roth in 2007.
Verdict: Depends If You Prefer Van Halen or Van Hagar

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Velvet Revolver

velvet revolver contraband
Photo courtesy RCA.
A supergroup consisting of musicians from two famous rock bands, Velvet Revolver brought together Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland with several of the band members in Guns N’ Roses, most notably guitarist Slash. For two albums, Velvet Revolver managed to remain intact, but in 2008 Weiland parted ways with the rest of the group. Since then, Velvet Revolver have vowed to find a new frontman, but their search thus far has proved fruitless.
Verdict: We’ll Get Back to You

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