Sunday, August 22, 2010

Band Members That Didn't Work Out

There's more to putting together a successful band than just selecting members with musical talent. A band is a very close-knit unit that requires chemistry between personalities as well as musical sensibilities. In some cases, the more talented the individuals involved are, the less likely the chances of them working together cohesively. Also, bands sometimes include a member who has such a dominant personality when it comes to making music that it's a wonder anyone was ever able to work with him or her for a sustained amount of time. Looking back, I'm amazed that the original lineups of bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Guns 'N Roses held together for as long as they did.

For the most part, this list will deal with band members who, while not fitting in with a particular group, achieved at least a comparable amount of musical success elsewhere. So you won't be seeing the likes of Jason Everman or Pete Best here.

5. Dave Navarro - Red Hot Chili Peppers
After Perry Farrell decided to break up Jane's Addiction in 1991, guitarist Dave Navarro was in high demand in the music world. Axel Rose had just driven away Izzy Stradlin (a precursor to the breakup of GNR) and was very interested in replacing him with Navarro. Supposedly he was formally invited to join but never showed. In 1993, he formed his own band, Deconstruction, with former Jane's Addiction bandmate Eric Avery. They released one album in 1994 but didn't tour.

Because by this time, Navarro had joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers, replacing the strange and departed John Frusciante. His first ever gig with them was Woodstock '94 before they went into the studio to record the band's sixth album, One Hot Minute. This would be the followup to their 1991 breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Navarro's only record with the band.

The album was very difficult on the band as singer Anthony Kiedis found himself struggling with addiction once more after five years of sobriety. Writing and recording slowed to a crawl at times and Navarro was discovering that he didn't really fit in even though his darker musical influences at least meshed with the darker mood Kiedis found himself in. Gone were the funky sounds of past albums, replaced by the heavy metal-like riffs that Navarro favoured. Honestly, I think it's possible that Navarro only wanted to be a Chili Pepper because he also enjoys being shirtless all the goddamn time.

When it was finally completed and released in September of 1995, fans were confronted with an album that didn't really sound like the Red Hot Chili Peppers at all. I can recall that even I, knowing then only a handful of their songs, was somewhat shocked when I first heard "Warped" sometime in early 1996. While some critics praised the album for its new musical direction and lyrical honesty, most labeled it a dud. Fan response wasn't a whole lot better as the record was a commercial failure, despite the fact that the single "Aeroplane" was somewhat of a hit (most likely due to its being the most upbeat and "oldschool" song on the album).

The tour wasn't exactly successful either, with Kiedis, despite being sober for its duration, injuring himself several times and Navarro, perhaps not used to long tours, finding himself drained and irritable. When the tour ended the band was doing mostly nothing as poor record sales discouraged further concert dates. Kiedis used this time to enter rehab and so hardly any new material was being written. Through most of 1997 they were barely even together and Navarro was beginning to rely heavily on drugs himself. In early 1998 when they finally started rehearsing together again, Navarro's problem was pretty apparent and he was fired in April, with the other members pondering if the band was even going to stay together.

We all know that in 1999, Frusciante would rejoin them and they would release Californication which was a huge success both critically and financially and marked a comeback for the band. But the period when Navarro was a member definitely has to be considered as the band's dark years, even if it wasn't entirely his fault.

4. Ian Gellan - Black Sabbath
In 1979 when talented and charismatic frontman Ozzy Osbourne was fired from Black Sabbath, I think it's fair to say that many thought this was the end of the band. But after recruiting American singer Ronnie James Dio, formerly of Rainbow (actually on the recommendation of the woman who would later become Ozzy's wife, Sharon Arden), they recorded Heaven And Hell. The record not only proved that they could carry on without Ozzy but is also widely regarded as one of the best and most important heavy metal albums ever made. Its followup Mob Rules wasn't the smash hit its predecessor was but was still well received.

But in November of 1981, the diminutive Dio, who had become somewhat of a diva (like the alliteration?), left the group to form his own band. He took drummer Vinny Appice with him (original drummer Bill Ward had left shortly after Ozzy due to problems with alcohol). So guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler found themselves in familiar territory; the future of the band looked bleak.

The original plan was to keep making music but not continue with the Black Sabbath name as I guess the two felt that anything they produced without Ozzy, Dio or Ward just wouldn't carry on its spirit. They started auditioning rock singers (including David Coverdale - can you imagine?!?) before settling on Ian Gellan, newly available after the breakup of Deep Purple.

Much like the case of Navarro, not only did Gellan's style  not mesh well with the rest of the band and its established sound, he was also catching the group at a low point in its history. Only pressure from their record label forced them to continue calling themselves Black Sabbath. So in the summer of 1982, "Black Sabbath" went into the studio to record. Bill Ward had actually rejoined the band by this point but this didn't seem to help much. In addition to Gellan's bluesy vocals not fitting in with Iommi's songwriting and playing style (nor Butler's), the production values were horrible. The reasons for this have never become clear but Gellan decided to place the blame on Butler, who co-produced the album.

Born Again received a mixed reception from both critics and fans. It was hardly a commercial failure, actually performing pretty well on the charts in both North America and the UK, but it still seemed apparent to most that Black Sabbath were on their way down. Ozzy actually praised the record but looking back now it comes across more as a shot at Dio than an actual endorsement of the music.

Ward wouldn't join the band on the following tour, falling back into addiction brought on by anxiety. Because of the presence of Gellan, the band would often include "Smoke on the Water" in their sets, which while sort of cool must also have been pretty weird. Almost as soon as the tour wrapped up, Gellan split to join Deep Purple which was reforming. He badmouthed Iommi on his way out, inferring that he was some sort of dictator.

After trying to rehearse with a new singer for awhile, it was clear to everyone that things just weren't working. In November of 1984, Butler left the band, the whole Gellan experience still leaving a sour taste. Immediately after that, Iommi put Black Sabbath on hiatus.

The next "Black Sabbath" album that was released was really just a solo album by Iommi. While its sound was an even more drastic departure from the classic Sabbath sound than "Born Again" had been, I still feel that Gellan's prior presence had kickstarted this direction and resulting disillusionment with Black Sabbath as a band. To this day whenever I hear "Zero The Hero" I can't help thinking "Is this really Black Sabbath?"

3 & 2. Every Member of Oasis Whose Last Name Wasn't Gallagher
The irony of this is, of course, that Noel Gallagher is no longer a member of Oasis, having left the band in August of 2009. Liam and the remaining members have been rehearsing and recording since then, for quite some time unsure about whether or not they would keep calling themselves Oasis. Apparently Oasis is officially over though, as back in May Liam revealed that the new band's name is Beady Eye.

Here's a quick (haha) rundown of the non-Gallagher Oasis members:

Tony McCarrol: drummer from 1991 through April 1995 - apparently fired for just not being talented enough for what Noel was writing. He would eventually sue the band and received 600,000 pounds settled out of court. Actually offered to rejoin as bassist in 1999 but was rejected.

Scott McLeod: never an official member, it seems that perhaps he could have become one after replacing the departed Paul McGuigan (bass) in September of 1995 but he abruptly left during the tour. McGuigan came back and McLeod expressed regret over his decision to leave. But by then it was too late. He can be seen in the video for "Wonderwall".

Paul Arthurs: guitarist from 1991 through 1999 - the founding member departed during the recording of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants to spend more time with his family. He was as steady a member as the band has had, usually managing to avoid clashing with the Gallaghers. He also played piano and mellotron for tracks on (What's the Story) Morning Glory? He's played with a couple other bands as well as doing some DJing since leaving Oasis.

Paul McGuigan: bassist from 1991 through 1999 - the last of the non-Gallagher founding members (it should be noted that Noel is not a founding member) left just two weeks after Arthurs. According to Liam, "Guigsy" quit the band via fax and wouldn't take any phone calls from them. It's possible that when Noel first joined the band he didn't have much confidence in McGuigan's ability as he would often play the bass parts on their early recordings. I couldn't find any information on what he's up to these days.

Alan White: drummer from 1995 through 2004 - McCarrol's replacement and generally thought of as Oasis's definitive drummer, Noel has gone on record to praise his talent. He's on their most significant albums (not counting Definitely, Maybe). He left in early 2004 during the early stages of recording the band's sixth album Don't Believe The Truth. His reasons have never been clarified beyond being "personal". Noel would say in 2008 that White had been kicked out of the band.

Zak Starkey: drummer from 2004 through 2008 - but he was never considered an official member. He actually turned down an offer from The Who, whom (funny word usage!) he played with in the nineties, to be a permanent member so that he could concentrate on his work with Oasis. Apparently sometime in 2005 he was offered the position of Oasis's official drummer but couldn't commit due to his work with The Who. As far as I can tell, he just preferred being an unofficial member of both bands to being an official member of one. He played drums on all but one of the tracks for Oasis's final album Dig Out Your Soul.

(Gem Archer and Andy Bell: guitarist and bassist respectively from 1999 through 2009 - these two were with the band until its breakup and both are in Liam's new band, Beady Eye, with Bell now playing guitar. So technically, they worked out just fine.)

1. Dave Mustaine - Metallica
Whenever I find myself thinking about Metallica, I usually spend a few moments pondering what could have been. Specifically, I wonder what the band might have been like had their first "official" lineup (read: lineup that actually wrote material that would be recorded) managed to stay together. That would be mainstays Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, plus bassist Cliff Burton and guitarist Dave Mustaine.

Burton was with the band (and as a prominent member I might add) until his tragic death in September of 1986, having appeared on Metallica's first three albums. By this point, Mustaine was already long gone.

Mustaine joined the band in 1981 responding to an ad posted in a local newspaper by Ulrich. I think it's fair to say that from the very outset, he felt threatened by the dominating personalities of Hetfield and Ulrich. They were both very talented and very driven, and it was clear that Metallica was THEIR band. But Mustaine was talented and egocentric too. He was also...kind of a dick. In late 1982, original bassist Ron McGovney angrily quit the band, tired of his constant clashes with the volatile Mustaine.

While the hard-living lifestyle of Metallica in its early years (read: lots and lots of drinking) has been well-documented, Mustaine apparently was in a league of his own. What was worse was that he was an extremely mean and aggressive drunk. While I'm sure it's probable that his musical sensibilities were at times stifled by Hetfield and Ulrich, who had a very specific vision of what Metallica should be, there's an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting the claim that it was his excessive alcoholism and disagreeable disposition that led to his dismissal from the band in 1983, just before the recording of Kill 'Em All.  They were in New York at the time. They packed up his gear, bought him a ticket and put him on a Greyhound bound for LA.

His contributions still carried over to the album. He received co-writing credits on four of the tracks, including "The Four Horseman", which he'd originally titled "The Mechanix". Hetfield changed the lyrics and replacement guitarist Kirk Hammet changed the lead guitar part in the middle section. On Megadeath's first album (Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good!) Mustaine included a sped up version of the original "The Mechanix" and retitled it "Mechanix".

Megadeath would of course go on to achieve a great amount of success and I'm sure you can find many metal fans out there that prefer them to Metallica. Personally I'm of the opinion that Mustaine is a superior guitarist to Kirk Hammet but that Metallica is a lot better than Megadeath. And as much as I do believe the claims that both Hetfield and Ulrich have such strong personalities that they can be difficult to work with (trying watching Some Kind of Monster sometime), history shows that Mustaine clearly had some personality issues. He actually has his own page on wikipedia detailing his MANY feuds with other people in the heavy metal community, including members of his own band.

Extremely recently, (last month) Mustaine has confirmed that his feud with Metallica is finally over, after many years of bitterness and resentment (on his part - it took him over twenty years to get over his dismissal from Metallica and he's openly admitted that he wanted Megadeath to be more successful - I doubt Ulrich and Hetfield gave him much thought, really). I guess things worked out the way they were supposed to but I'm sure that there are still moments when Mustaine, Hetfield and Ulrich find themselves wondering "what if?".

Thursday, August 5, 2010

TV Shows for the Geeky

In the last few years “Geek Chic” has taken the world by storm. Now there is some seriously awesome content aimed directly at the nerdy, pale-skinned populous the world over.

Here are a few of the best television shows.

5. The IT Crowd

I’ll admit I have very little experience with The IT Crowd. I have seen a few episodes, however, and I’ll definitely go on the line and say it is completely deserving of this list.

The show follows an IT department at this huge, rather mysterious, company in the UK. Yes, this is another British office comedy, much like the insanely popular - and aptly titled - The Office.

The IT team consists of two socially awkward geeks stuffed into a tiny, messy basement that take tech calls all day from different individuals in the company. A woman interviews for a position as their boss – or at least I think that’s how it goes down – and is given the position, but is a complete luddite.

The show completely sops with inside jokes and references for the avid nerd – they even have an Axe Cop poster on their apartment wall - and is rather funny. I hope to catch some more episodes in the near future. If you chance by it on TV, definitely watch it. If not, you might even want to consider picking up the DVD sets.

4. Chuck

NBC’s Chuck is an hour long comedy-action-drama show. I know, but how else was I supposed to describe it? The show follows Chuck Bartowski, your average computer geek working at an electronics store. One day he gets an email from his old college roommate, whom was working for the CIA, and as a result a database of spy secrets is uploaded into Chuck’s brain.

A few CIA agents are dispatched to get the database back – which is called The Intersect – but realize they can’t. The data is subliminally embedded into Chuck’s brain. He can’t access the information directly, but gets flashes occasionally that the Agents can use as leads in their investigations.

This show is tailor-made for geeks all over. Our hero, his friends and co-workers are complete nerds, and the inside jokes and references are abundant. This is a great show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, is funny at all the right moments and that’s why it’s a TV cult favourite.

The show was basically cancelled after the second season, but a two-month “Save Chuck” campaign was spear-headed by fans of the show and for once someone listened. Chuck came back for a third season with a vengeance. Originally slated to only have 13 episodes, this was upped to 19, one of which was a 3D episode! The fourth season is slated to begin Fall 2010 – Mondays on NBC.

If you like geek then you’ll love you some Chuck.

3. Numb3rs

Numb3rs – I hate typing that, but it is the actual title of the show - was a very popular TV series on CBS. Despite a Friday time slot, also known as the Death Slot, the show remained on the air for six seasons before several of the actors moved on to new projects and the show was eventually cancelled.

This isn’t an inside joke, reference fest like all of the other shows mentioned, but a series that revolves around a genius mathematician solving crimes for the FBI through the use of numbers and algorithms. Yeah, that’s right.

What seems completely outlandish actually works. I mean, I have no idea if there’s even a modicum of truth to some of the things I’ve seen on the show, but it has a great, likable cast of characters, including David Krumholtz and Judd Hirsch, and is a well-written drama, action piece.

It may not include all the fanfare of the other shows on this list, but any show where an uber-geek, math nerd can kick ass and take names with the FBI well deserves to be on this list.

2. Undergrads

Ah, Undergrads. This is actually one of my favourite shows ever. It is, unfortunately, a cancelled series. Unlike the above mentioned Chuck, a petition still exists for Undergrads to return, and it’s been cancelled since 2001. In fact, it only had one season. That doesn’t take away from the greatness of that single season, though!

The series is centred around four lifelong friends as they take the next step in their young lives: college. The leader of the group, Nitz – the “normal” geek - goes off to “real college” to room with his buddy Cal – a lady-killer who might just be border-line handicapped. Their friend Rocko – the wannabe lady-killer, drunken frat boy – makes his way to community college and their resident super geek – Gimpy – goes to the local technology school.

The geeky references were endless in Undergrads. There was an amazing show focused around all-night Risk battles and there was an episode that contained a full-out war between Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics. It was a heart-warming, genuinely funny show that perfectly depicted the lives of freshmen at college.

Maybe that’s why I warmed up to it so much, because I was in this exact place in my life when the show first aired in Canada, but regardless, this is a show for anyone, but especially the geek.

The series creator, Pete Williams, has stated that MTV and Decode Entertainment – the production money behind the series – have said there is no interest in making a second season to this insanely cult appreciated show. Williams has attempted to pitch a new show entitled “We Got Issues”, which would bring back characters from Undergrads years later, but that appears to be in development hell, as well. There are serious hopes of webisodes or a comic to continue the series, but at this point it all seems like wishful thinking.

Well, I’ll just keep on wishing.

1. The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a half hour comedy that airs on CBS. It follows four geniuses; a theoretical physicist, an experimental physicist, an astrophysicist and an aerospace engineer, that are the quintessential geeks of the Universe. Their social awkwardness and misunderstanding of the world outside their geeky little bubble is contrasted against their bubbly, beautiful neighbour of average intelligence whom aspires to be an actor.

This show is comedic gold.

It’s not often that everything comes together perfectly on a TV series, but The Big Bang Theory is a complete package. The characters of Sheldon, Raj, Howard, Leonard and Penny could not have been more perfectly cast. The writing is brilliant and drenched in a geeky marinade.

This show is, in a lot of ways, an American version of The IT Crowd, which I previously mentioned. It is not a copy of that show, however, but just a similar environment. There are copious amounts of references for the true geek. In the first season Sheldon has a white board up with mathematical problems on it. The creators of the show actually progress the equation literally and eventually developed an answer to it that is scientifically correct. (A great inversion of this commonly used trope) That’s the level of dedication here.

These are four guys that have Halo nights, go to the comic shop, eat way too much take out and wear super hero t-shirts. If you’re a geek – much like myself – and you’re not watching this show, then boy are you missing out.