The show goes on for Foo Fighters, but how have other bands coped after losing a member?
Dave Grohl's outfit are releasing their first album after the death of Taylor Hawkins, but for other groups, the loss of a key member has meant the end of the road or a different direction
It is one of the toughest conundrums that a band could face, not to mention one that they hope will never happen: when one of their members dies, do they call it a day or keep going?
Foo Fighters found themselves in that position last year, following the untimely death of their drummer Taylor Hawkins at the age of 50. He was a big character behind the kit — you’d have to be, to drum in the same band as Dave Grohl — and had a particularly close relationship with Grohl, who referred to him as his “brother” in his memoir The Storyteller. However, the band released a statement earlier this year expressing their intention to push on, having staged two star-studded tribute gigs in London and Los Angeles last year. Their statement read: “Without Taylor, we never would have become the band that we were. And without Taylor, we know that we’re going to be a different band going forward.”
Next week, the rockers will release their first album without Hawkins behind the kit (new drummer Josh Freese made his debut with the band during a livestream from their studio last weekend). You can expect a few heartfelt lyrical tributes to their fallen comrade on the track list of But Here We Are, which has unsurprisingly been dedicated to Hawkins, as well as Grohl’s mother Virginia, who died last year.
Considering it was the second bandmate bereavement that Grohl had suffered, following the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994, you might have expected him to draw a line under Foo Fighters. Then again, he rallied after that first tragedies: Foo Fighters began life as a solo vehicle for the drummer. Their eponymous debut was written and recorded entirely by Grohl, and was by all accounts a cathartic experience following his friend’s death.
Foo Fighters are not the only band to pick themselves up and dust themselves off following a tragedy within their ranks. S Club 7 recently found themselves in the same dreadful position. Just a few weeks after announcing their 25th anniversary tour with all seven original members, the pop group was dealt a stunning blow with the death of Paul Cattermole. With a tour booked and tickets sold, what was the right thing to do? The remaining members released an emotional video detailing their decision to continue with the tour, albeit now without Hannah Spearritt, who felt unable to go on. The now-five-piece have rebranded themselves as ‘S Club’ and have renamed the tour The Good Times Tour in tribute to their late friend. “[Good Times] was his song,” they said, “and all the fans know it was his song. So it just feels right.”
What ultimately keeps a band together despite the awful implications of losing a member? It may be crass to suggest financial implications play a role, but it has been undoubtedly true in some cases. In other instances, the remaining members have regrouped under a different moniker — the most famous, of course, being New Order, a band born out of the ashes of Joy Division after the death of Ian Curtis. Considering Curtis’ lyric-writing and presence had been so integral to their sound, what was the point in continuing? Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris overhauled their sound and style but did not forget Curtis as New Order’s star ascended; the instrumental track Elegia, from their 1985 album Low-Life, was a tribute to him.
Other bands have taken a different tack. Queen have collaborated with two different vocalists since the irreplaceable Freddie Mercury died in 1991. Free singer Paul Rodgers held the mic from 2004 to 2009, and since 2011, American Idol alumnus Adam Lambert singing their biggest hits. Even so, remaining members Brian May and Roger Taylor — John Deacon quit in 1997 — have been protective of both the band’s and Mercury’s legacy; there has been no new material recorded (the last album Queen released was 1995’s Made in Heaven, a record cobbled together following Mercury’s death), while both vocalists have been pitched as collaborators rather than a replacement.
Lambert is respectful of that phrasing too; in a recent interview, he said: “I didn’t create these pieces of music, I wasn’t part of the recordings — so that’s an automatic boundary, I think. And I have the utmost respect for that boundary.”
A band that arguably weren’t as precious about their legacy were INXS. Following the death of frontman Michael Hutchence in 1997, the Australian rockers initially stepped out of the spotlight, but returned to the live forum with a succession of guest vocalists. In 2005, the remaining members took part in a reality TV show, Rock Star: INXS, which crowned Canadian JD Fortune as their new frontman. Northern Irish singer Ciaran Gribbin, who had released solo music under the pseudonym Joe Echo, took the reins in 2011 but the band decided to retire a year later. They did, at least, pen a tribute to Hutchence; God’s Top Ten referenced the rocker’s daughter Tiger Lily with the lyrics: “He’s drifting with the stars, a lyric in his pocket, little girl in his heart.”
Of course, there have been plenty of bands who have enlisted a new member to huge success — including AC/DC, whose original frontman Bon Scott died in 1980 just after the Australian rockers’ commercial breakthrough with Highway to Hell. When his parents urged the band to continue rather than disband, they brought Brian Johnson in and recorded the Back in Black album. The rest is history.
Then there are the acts who have replaced their late bandmate with a family member, perhaps to retain a connection or soften the blow with fans. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s frontman Ronnie Van Zant died in a 1977 plane crash that killed him and five others, and his younger brother Johnny reformed the band a decade later. Glenn Frey’s son Deacon played with the Eagles for a five-year stint from 2017, taking on his dad’s role.
Sometimes, however, it’s best to simply call time on a musical project — although not every band is self-aware enough to do so. Although the Doors continued for two years after Jim Morrison’s death, it proved ineffectual: the magnetic frontman, after all, was the band’s biggest draw. Others do so as a mark of respect; when Led Zeppelin split in 1980 following the death of John Bonham, they released a statement that read: “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” Although the three remaining members have played together for one-off gigs — the most recent one in 2007, with Bonham’s son Jason on drums — a full-blown reunion has never happened.
The remaining Beastie Boys have taken a similar stance. The seminal New York rap trio lost founding member Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch to cancer in 2012, and despite persistent rumours, Ad-Rock and Mike D shut down any speculation with a statement in 2015 that definitively declared: “There will never be Beastie Boys live performances without Adam Yauch.”
It seems that the right decision really does depend on the band. After all, the Rolling Stones thrived after the tragic death of Brian Jones in 1969 (with Mick Jagger famously writing Shine a Light about his friend and bandmate), as did the Who after Keith Moon’s 1978 death (Roger Daltrey would later release solo tribute song Under a Raging Moon, with the lyrics: “Taking me back to better times / We never read the danger signs / Why are the young so blind?”), with both bands going on to both longevity and ‘icon’ status. It may be the case that time is a great healer, or perhaps simply a depressing truism that the cogs of the music industry will continue to grind, no matter what happens — and you’re either on board or you’re not.