Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Big Question This Summer for Classic Rock Fans: Are ANY of Those Guys On Stage Original Members??

As a classic rock music aficionado, or perhaps aficio-weirdo, I admittedly have a borderline obsession with aging rock and roll bands. And that preoccupation always crescendos this time of year when all the dinosaurs come to town.

It's fascinating to me how these wrinkly bands just keep on keepin' on so far past their glory days, and it's both fun and infuriating keeping tabs on how many, if any, original members are still in these beloved bands from yesteryear.

For examples, look no further than the Grandstand Stage concert lineup this summer at the Del Mar Fair (yes, I know it's now called the San Diego County Fair, as the logo above states, but I refuse to cooperate, it will always be the Del Mar Fair to me).

Grand Funk, one of rock's most popular groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hits Del Mar's main stage next Thursday, June 15, but without original co-lead singer and chief songwriter Mark Farner, who for some fans is Grand Funk.

When a classic rock band shows up without its original co-lead singer and songwriter, things get a little weird. When this happens, more often then not I'm out. But there are notable exceptions, and this is one of them.

I take these things on a case-by-case basis. I've seen Grand Funk before at the fair, without Farner, and they still kick ass. Grand Funk, which remains a tremendous live act and is one of the pioneers of blue-eyed soul, enjoys a loyal following of aging boomers. Grand Funk deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Two of the power trio's three original members, bassist Mel Schacher and vocalist-drummer Don Brewer, are still in the band. Brewer was lead singer on several of the group's biggest hits, including the worldwide #1 smash "We're An American Band." Mel and Don make up one of the more underrated rhythm sections in rock history.

Another aging rock legend appearing on the Grandstand Stage in Del Mar this summer is War, the melodic funk masters from the 70's ("All Day Music," "Low Rider," "The World is a Ghetto," "Why Cant We Be Friends?"). The only remaining original member is Leroy "Lonnie" Jordan. But he's a rare talent, and his presence on the stage on July 3 is just enough "War" to give me peace.

Yes, I'm sometimes willing to overlook the absence of key original members of our favorite bands. But it's subjective. There's a complex and mostly inexplicable formula behind why I'm sometimes ok with it and sometimes not. It's not calculus, it's emotional, inconsistent and just plain strange.

I know I'm not alone. There's nothing rational about our love for music and the artists who make it. We're all sometimes willing to embrace a band even though key original members are not up on the stage, while other times if a favorite member is gone, so are we.

And sometimes vice versa. There are a bunch of lead singers of great bands who are still touring on their own sans their bands. They include Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival, Sting of the Police, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, and Peter Cetera of Chicago.

Cetera will be appearing at the Del Mar Fair on Thursday, June 8, without his former band. But while Peter will forever be associated with Chicago, he's been on his own since 1986. More than 30 years. Hard to believe. 

As a loyal Chicago fan from the moment I heard "Chicago Transit Authority" when I was an eight-year-old drummer, I'm still ticked at Cetera for leaving the nest. And I remain disgusted that he refused to rejoin his bandmates at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last year. 

It represented a golden opportunity for Peter to make peace with the guys who helped him become rich and famous. And it would have been a nice gift for Chicago fans who've waited for decades for this unlikely reunion.

But no. Peter stayed away. His bitterness has not dissolved. He played the prima donna card once again. It was petty. Aggravating. Still, there's no denying his talent, or his contribution to Chicago, or that, yes, perhaps he has good reasons for not reuniting with his mates. 

I prefer Chicago now to Cetera solo, but I do still enjoy seeing Cetera when he performs live, which is increasingly rare. At his show at the Del Mar Fair, he'll play many of his solo hits, as expected, but he'll dip surprisingly deeply on this tour into his Chicago past and play such songs as "Happy Man," "Wishing You Were Here," "Dialogue," Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "I'm a Man," "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "25 or 6 to 4."

Meantime, Chicago appears at the San Diego Civic Theater in September without Cetera, and of course without original lead guitarist extraordinaire Terry Kath, who died 40 years ago. But Chicago's current and very longtime ax man Keith Howland is an outstanding musician.
And the two newest members -- Lou Pardini (keyboards, lead vocals) and Jeff Coffey (bass, lead vocals) are both stellar. Pardini is a rare talent with some serious vocal and piano chops, and Coffey is a real find and is, with apologies to  Cetera and Jason Scheff, arguably the best tenor rock singer Chicago has ever had.

Chicago is in very good hands, and the venue is already sold out. Why? Because the band still works. Chicago remains one of the best live acts in the business. And the truth is, the group has always deployed several lead singers, without a real sole front man. 

And most importantly, two of the group's legendary founders -- James Pankow on trombone and Lee Loughnane on trumpet -- and founding member/co–lead singer Robert Lamm, who for me is really the heart and soul of this band and has been since day one, are still in the fold.

For me, as long as Lamm is on stage, Chicago is still Chicago. And I'm still in the roaring crowd.

Then there are the anthology/nostalgia tours this summer, which are particularly interesting. The "Happy Together" tour, for example, features diehard, often rather long-in-the-tooth baby boomer survivors of the 1960's music scene.

Hosted by The Turtles' co-founders Howard Kalyan and Mark Volman, the tour this year features The Association, the tremendous vocal band from the 60s with such hits as "Windy" and "Never My Love." Only a couple original members remain. Also on the bill are the gifted family band The Cowsills (still mostly intact), and Chuck Negron, one of the three original lead singers of Three Dog Night.

But my favorite anthology tour is "Lost 80's Live," which comes to San Diego in August with some of the popular bands of the 1980's that didn't quite reach superstar status but enjoyed considerable and deserving success.

Lost 80's, which stops at Humphrey's By the Bay for two nights, markets itself as having "all the original lead singers" from these 80's bands, which this summer includes Berlin's Teri Nunn and Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio. These are two underrated bands with unique and talented female lead singers.

We're told, however, that Cutting Crew ("(I Just) Died in Your Arms," "I've Been in Love Before") will not have its original lead singer and songwriter Nick Van Eede on this tour. So there's a bit of false advertising surrounding this gig. But Lost 80's is still a lot of nostalgic fun and worth seeing.

Of course, none of this was a problem in the 1960s and 1970s when these bands were largely still intact. But now all bets are off. When a band like The Guess Who tours without its inimitable lead singer and songwriter Burton Cummings, the band should be called "Anyone's Guess."

There are bands from the classic rock era who tour without a single original member. The Grass Roots, a mostly anonymous hit-making machine in the late 60's and early 70's, sadly lost their lead singer and leader Rob Grill back in 2011.

But the band showed up at Humphrey's a couple of years ago without a single original member. The band played many of its memorable radio hits ("Temptation Eyes,"Midnight Confessions," "Wait a Million Years"), but I had no idea who those guys were up on that stage. It was essentially a cover band using the real band's name. I wanted my money back.

This is not a new phenomenon. A decade ago when I was the pop music writer for San Diego Magazine, I noted that the San Diego concert lineup that summer sounded like a new take on the old Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s on vocals?”

I said that trying to figure out how many, if any, original members of your favorite veteran touring bands are still on board is enough to make a music fan go nuts.

Classic rockers Journey, I noted, who were appropriately inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame a few weeks ago, appeared at the then-Coors Amphitheater (Now Mattress Firm) without lead singer Steve Perry.

He wasn’t actually the band’s first singer. Perry replaced Robert Fleischman, who had essentially replaced Gregg Rolie when Journey made the transition from a fusion spin-off of Santana to a rock-pop band. But Perry is the one who originally sang almost all the songs people want to hear. Handling lead vocals at the time was Steve Augeri. Who??

This was before Arnel Pineda, the phenomenal singer from the Philippines, joined the band and practically 'out-Perried' Steve Perry.

Boston, one of my favorite classic rockers, which to this boasts arguably the greatest rock album debut of all time, still tours despite the fact that original lead singer Brad Delp is sadly no longer with us.

But the singers (yes, it took two to replace Delp) taking his place are excellent, and Tom Scholz, the band's guitarist, songwriter and mastermind, is still on that stage. As long as Scholz is in, I'm in.

Like I said, it's subjective, this stuff.

Foreigner appears without original lead singer Lou Gramm, voice of all the band’s hits, at Mattress Firm Amphitheatre in late August to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary. But the only remaining original member is Mick Jones, who just celebrated his 127th birthday.

Foreigner is touring this summer with Cheap Trick, who were just named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and whose lead singer Robin Zander is still in the band and still in reasonably good voice.

Are you appropriately confused? Well wait, there’s more. The Doobie Brothers appear August 16 at Humphrey’s without longtime co–lead singer Michael McDonald. Original Doobie Brother co–lead singers Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons are still in the fold, but guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who left Steely Dan to join the Doobie Brothers, is no longer with either band.

If you're getting even more confused, then I'm doing this right.Then there’s recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Lynyrd Skynyrd, who'll appear in July at the Events Center at Harrah's Resort SoCal without original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a plane crash 40 years ago.

Ronnie’s younger brother, Johnny, is the band’s frontman and does an admirable job of filling some very big shoes. But is Skynyrd really Skynyrd without Ronnie “Free Bird” Van Zant? 

The question remains: Are any of these bands worth seeing without their key members? And are any of these singers worth seeing without their bands? Judging from ticket sales, they are. The shared sentiment among many summer concertgoers is that at least these musicians are keeping classic-rock music alive.

I agree with that sentiment, for the most part. When a band is so indelibly associated with one person - as Grand Funk is with Mark Farner - things get strange. But I'm still gonna go to the show. I'm still gonna rock out in the grandstand to "We're An American Band" and "Closer to Home." What else would a classic-rock aficio-weirdo do?

1 comment:

  1. Grand Funk played for just 1 hour and 15 minutes, then bolted from the stage. No encore. Unbelievable.

    ReplyDelete