A History Of The Battles For Famous Band Name Rights
The history of classic rock is littered with former bandmates fighting over the rights to famous band names. A well-known moniker means big bucks in terms of tour offers, record contracts and merchandising deals. Still, what happens when someone wants out, or — heaven forbid — dies, and the others want to continue on? In most cases, microphones and guitars are traded in for legal briefs and gavels. Even when they don’t fans are left to wonder: Is this still my favorite band anymore?
One of the earliest comes courtesy of the Beach Boys. Formed by three brothers — Carl, Dennis and Brian Wilson — along with their cousin Mike Love and family friend Al Jardine, the group found massive success through a series of sun-drenched favorites. By the mid-’80s, however, the hits had dried up, Dennis Wilson had drowned and Brian Wilson had long since stopped working as a regular member of the group. A series of lawsuits followed as Love wrested control for himself, beginning with a claim against Brian for back royalties to the tune of $12 million.
The schism only deepened when Carl Wilson died of lung cancer in 1998; Jardine left not long after. As the sole remaining member of the old touring group, Love officially licensed the Beach Boys name and has used it exclusively ever since. Things got nasty again when Jardine attempted to hit the road using the name “Beach Boys Family & Friends.” Love successfully sued Jardine to stop him from using the name.
Incredibly, the group’s surviving original members managed to come together on a number of occasions anyway over the past decade or so — notably a part of an extensive world tour in celebration of their 50th anniversary in 2012. At the conclusion of those dates, however, Love resumed work with his old Beach Boys touring band, leaving Wilson and Jardine behind. Wilson now says he doubts there will be another reunion.
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Even brief reunions, on the other hand, seem beyond the realm of possibility for bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The group called it a day in 1972, opening the door for a successful solo career by John Fogerty. Meanwhile, estranged bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford continue to tour under the name Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
They might have mended fences when, three years after bandmate Tom Fogerty’s 1990 death, CCR was set to inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Cook and Clifford were barred from performing. Fogerty later softened his stance, offering an olive branch in 2011: “Never say never is I guess is what people tell you. In this life, all kinds of strange things come to pass.” Unfortunately, the idea was almost immediately squelched by his former rhythm section.
Meanwhile, Creedence Clearwater Revisited is but one of those who’ve adopted a slightly altered band name when their frontman declined to proceed. The New Cars were a continuation of the Cars, but without Ric Ocasek. The Heads featured the rest of the Talking Heads, sans David Byrne.
More tragic, but no less filled with conflict, is the question of carrying on after the unfortunate passing of a bandmate. In 2002, 32 years after Doors‘ front man Jim Morrison‘s death in Paris, guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek toured as the Doors of the 21st Century. More recently, both Dio’s Disciples and Last in Line have claimed to be the torchbearers of Dio‘s legacy since the death of Ronnie James Dio.
But what of those who have tried to keep the original brand going? Do Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have the right to call themselves the Who even though John Entwistle and Keith Moon have long since departed? Is it really Queen without Freddie Mercury?
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Take, for example, the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd. As many are no doubt aware, in 1977, the band was flying on a chartered airplane to Louisiana when it crashed near Gillsburg, MS. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines and here brother, guitarist Steve Gaines, were among those killed in the accident. Guitarist Allen Collins suffered a broken neck and along with bassist Leon Wilkeson nearly had both arms amputated. The band’s third guitarist, Gary Rossington, broke both of his arms, his right leg and his pelvis.
In the aftermath, the decision to disband the group was a given. Just 10 years later however, five of the original pre-crash band members had gathered together again and were back out on the road, with Ronnie’s brother Johnnie assuming his place.
The tour was intended as a one-time deal, but by the time it finished, the group continued on. This didn’t sit well with the widows of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines who promptly hit the band with a lawsuit for damages. The ladies ultimately won their suit and in one of the more interesting aspects of the judge’s decision, it was ruled that for the band to continue to refer to itself as Lynyrd Skynyrd, henceforward, it had to consist of at least two original pre-crash members.
Time wore on and members dropped out of the southern-rock outfit for various reasons. To date, only Rossington remains as the sole ‘legitimate’ pre-crash member. How then, you might ask, is Lynyrd Skynyrd still soldering on? Well, it turns out that current guitarist Rickey Medlocke briefly served as the band’s second drummer in the early-’70s. A dubious claim? Sure, but solid enough to keep the name Lynyrd Skynyrd out there on marquees across the country.
For his part, Rossington believes that the decision to keep going was completely justified. “After all we’ve been through, we’ve gotten stronger over the years,” claimed the guitarist. “To have Johnny there now is like having part of Ronnie there. You feel his spirit is onstage with us every night.”
Watch Lynyrd Skynyrd Play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in 2003
Most interestingly of all perhaps are the groups who fracture apart and two entities with the same name are left in the aftermath. It’s actually quite surprising just how many times this situation has arisen. At one point or another there have been two Black Flags, two L.A. Guns’, two Great Whites, two Foghats, two Yes’ and two Asias.
One of the more notable and recent instances of this anomaly is the case of Queensryche. The whole thing started in 2012, when the band – minus lead singer Geoff Tate – held a meeting and voted to remove Tate’s stepdaughter Miranda and his wife Susan Tate from their positions within the group as fan club president and manager respectively. This obviously did not sit well with Tate, who got into a physical altercation with drummer Scott Rockenfeld and guitarist Michael Wilton on April 12, 2012 at a show in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Shortly thereafter, Tate was shown the door.
Hoping to continue on, the rest of Queensryche enlisted Todd La Torre to take over on lead vocals and booked some shows, but were almost immediately hit with a lawsuit and an injunction request against using their name by their ousted former band mate. In the wake of his dismissal, the singer chalked up the entire dispute as a larger issue of dollars and cents. “This is all about getting rid of somebody so that there would be more money to split between a fewer amount of people,” Tate argued. “Queensryche is and was an incredibly successful business entity worldwide.”
On Oct. 19, 2012, a judge ruled specifically against the injunction, but allowed that Tate, as well as his former band could both use the name Queensrÿche for promotional purposes. The decision placed fans around the world in the awkward position of figuring out for themselves which iteration of the band they’d rather catch live.
The confusing ordeal was finally resolved on April 28, 2014 when both parties reached a mutual agreement giving Rockenfeld, Wilton and Eddie Jackson the rights to the band name while allowing Tate to bill himself as “The Voice of Queensryche.” A joint press release was issued which gave a nod to the perplexing nature of the entire situation. “We want to thank the fans for standing beside us through this ordeal and look forward to sharing our music with you for years to come.”
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The outcome of the Queensryche case bears a striking similarity to another dispute that had been decided years before. In the aftermath of the release of Pink Floyd’s 1983 release ‘The Final Cut’ bassist and primary songwriter Roger Waters felt the burden of carrying the full creative responsibilities of the band. Combined with his frequent clashes with guitarist David Gilmour, he decided to formally call it quits one year later to embark on a solo career. Under the belief that Pink Floyd was, in his words, “a spent creative force,” Waters was shocked to learn that his former band mates intended to continue on without him. Naturally, he sued.
Waters later related his reasoning for the lawsuit. “When I went to these chaps and said, ‘Listen, we’re broke, this isn’t Pink Floyd anymore,’ they went, ‘What do you mean? That’s irrelevant, it is a label and it has commercial value, you can’t say it’s going to cease to exist … It’s not about what you think it’s about.’”
Waters ultimately decided to settle, allowing his former bandmates to continue on without his affiliation. He didn’t lose entirely however, in the resulting settlement, he retained the exclusive rights to perform live the band’s biggest commercial success, ‘The Wall.’
This situation, where the main creative force of the band is released or quits while the rest of the band continue on using the group’s name, has been echoed by many different bands. The Velvet Underground performed for a short time even without the presence of Lou Reed or John Cale. The same was true for Styx without Dennis DeYoung, and the Byrds without Roger McGuinn, David Crosby or Chris Hillman.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from all of this would be that even if you’re favorite band breaks up that doesn’t necessarily mean they go away. Hell, if you’re favorite band breaks up; you might have two different versions to check out now. And everyone knows that two is better than one right?
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