The Replacement Musicians

Some music groups are formed by a common bond that forges four to five like-minded individuals together in the pursuit of musical greatness. They go forth touring the world, making millions of dollars and selling millions of albums rocking into eternity, staying together and never breaking up like that sweet old couple with their picture in the newspaper on their fiftieth wedding anniversary (such as Aerosmith; even though they fight, they’re still together!).

Some bands, however, are more like the starting lineup for the San Francisco 49ers; ever changing from game to game with whomever is able to make it out to the gridiron that day. With all the personnel changes some would argue that at a certain point it ceases to be the same group if enough of the parts are replaced; just like my old car that has had the muffler, windshield, engine, breaks and seat cushions replaced. Ironically the band named The Replacements only had two replacement members during its career. To celebrate these groups with ever increasing rosters of musicians here is a roundup of bands with the most replacement musicians.


Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer, and Geoff Downes. (Image credit: Flickr user zioWoody)

The classic rock band Asia, which formed from members of groups such as Yes and King Crimson is famous for arena rock hit songs like "Heat of the Moment." Over the years, Asia has faced many lineup changes including multiple guitarists, vocalists, bass players and drummers. Having formed in 1981, by the early 1990’s the only original member of the group was keyboardist Geoff Downes.  In 1991 vocalist and bass player John Payne joined the group and was lead singer until 2006. Here’s where it gets awesome: “Asia” now consist of TWO separate groups of musicians touring and recording under the name Asia. Basically the replacement members of the group formed their own “Asia” Featuring  John Payne (named “ASIA Featuring John Payne”) when the original lineup (with Geoff Downes) decided to reunite and tour together. A replacement musician mutiny if you will. Imagine if Sammy Hagar formed his own “Van Halen” with Wolfgang Van Halen, the group’s replacement bass player (also Eddie’s teenage son).

(Image credit: ASIA Featuring John Payne,

There have been 23 members of the band “Asia” including “ASIA Featuring John Payne.” This leaves a lot of questions; are there people who are fans of both groups? They just can’t get enough Asia music? Could ASIA Featuring John Payne open for “the original” Asia? What if Mitch Perry the new replacement guitarist for ASIA Featuring John Payne starts his own Asia group? Would it be called “ASIA Featuring John Payne Featuring Mitch Perry?”

(Updated 3/17/11, Thanks to Erik Nielsen for corrections.)


(Image credit: Wikipedia member Ingo Hoffmann)

These thrash metal titans have had 18 official members over the past twenty six years in part due to drug abuse and volatile personalities. For a good part of the band’s career, drummers would be culled from whoever was backstage at live shows… OK, perhaps not that bad, but according to Megadeth founder and front man Dave Mustaine’s autobiography, during one tour the then-official drummer Gar Samuelson was often so intoxicated and/or high on heroin he was unable to perform, his own drum tech (roadie) Chuck Behler would fill in for him. Thus Samuelson was kicked out of the band and the more reliable Behler took his spot, only to have the same thing happen to him two years later when HIS drum tech Nick Menza took his place! Seems like Megadeth was populated by a bunch of Charlie Sheens (to be fair, the band did have a solid ten year “classic lineup” period with no member swapping).

Guns ‘N Roses

(Image credit: Flickr user dave1968)

Guns ‘N Roses is known for vocalist Axl Rose’s eccentric behavior and his numerous feuds with his band mates, most notably guitar hero Slash. After a string of enormous hit albums in the late 1980’s and early 90’s GNR went on an extended hiatus while Axl delayed the bands next studio album Chinese Democracy, and Slash and other members quit the group to pursue other projects like the super group Velvet Revolver. Finally releasing Chinese Democracy in 2008 after a seventeen year wait, Axl Rose is now the only original member of Guns ‘N Roses. During the recording of Chinese Democracy, which reportedly cost thirteen million dollars to make, Axl went through a gaggle of musicians, most of whom contributed to the patchwork of a rock album, including a guitarist named Bumblefoot who replaced a guy named Buckethead (who incidentally wore an upside-down KFC bucket on his head which sort of looked like a faux Slash hat). In all twenty-two people have been official members of GNR since 1985.

The Village People

The Village People in 1978. (Image credit: Wikipedia user Cod)

The Village People rose to fame for their disco anthems "Macho Man" and "YMCA" in the late 1970’s. They are controversial in that some feel they were never really a “band” but more of a stage show. Over the years have had twenty different members.  This band is unique as, unlike the other replacement musicians who take on the position of playing guitar or drums, in the Village People members have to take on personas including the Police Officer, Construction Worker, Native American, Cowboy, G.I., and Biker.

The Village People in 2008.

The holy grail of bands with lots of replacement members is finding a mainstream band that continues to perform with NO original members in the band. Asia with John Payne doesn’t fit this bill as they acknowledge they are not the original band by adding the “with John Payne” part to their name. At one point The Village People featured no original members on tour, however this was only temporary and David Hodo (the Construction Worker) and Alex Briley (the G.I.) are two original members currently in the lineup.

Black Sabbath

Tommy Iommi and Ozzy Osborne in 1973. (image credit: Wikipedia user Padgett22)

Heavy metal fans sometimes fall into two camps when it comes to Black Sabbath: those who love the original Ozzy Osborne-led version of the group and those who embraced his replacement singer, the late great Ronnie James Dio. What some may not realize is that replacements didn’t end after Dio left the group in 1982. The heavy metal icons faced a rotating lineup of musicians, except for the original guitarist Tony Iommi who remained the linchpin of the ever-changing group. Singers after Dio included Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen, and Tony Martin. Drummers would join the band only to be replaced by former replacement drummers. Sometimes the original members would drop in for a tour or two and then quit again. In all twenty-two musicians were official members of the schizophrenic Black Sabbath until the original group reunited in 1997. In the years just before his death, the Dio-led version of the group reunited, however, the lineup was renamed as “Heaven and Hell” since the original Black Sabbath was technically still together. My question is, is there anyone who hates Ozzy and Dio and only listens to Ray Gillen-led Black Sabbath?

Ozzy Osborne in 2010. (Image credit: Flickr user dido)

To read a complete, insanely OCD detailed history of Black Sabbath and its many band members check out this timeline.  Who are these people?

Lynyrd Skynyrd

(Image credit: Flickr user Andrew King)

During the first twelve years of their existence the southern classic rock band Lynyrd Synyrd had a pretty stable lineup leading to hit songs such as "Sweet Home Alabama." In 1977 the band's plane made a crash landing, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines. The band disbanded after the tragedy, then reunited ten years later with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny Van Zant on vocals and haven’t stopped touring or recording since. Lynyrd Skynryd keeps going to this day even though a couple of people in the replacement lineup have since died (of old age, natural causes, etc) or quit. Skynyrd is now down to one original member, guitarist Garry Rossington. Twenty five musicians have been in Lynyrd Skynyrd.

What are some of your favorite bands with lots of replacement musicians? Which ones did I miss? At what point is a band no longer “the same” band?

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Transiberian Orchestra

Technically none of the band members ARE members. All hired to play Paul O'Neill music - often appearing in two cities at one time. He is really TSO.
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These guys aren't even close to being the band with the most volatile line up. The champ is the British blues and rock crew Savoy Brown who have been at it since 1965 and rotating out musicians along the way. Wikipedia lists over 40 members and this is probably not complete and only includes the "names." Estimates are closer to 80. Might not be fair since with one original member they are less band mates and more as sidemen, but with they are credited as members of the band.
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It's been said above, but JETHRO TULL has only had one member from start to present, Ian Anderson. Guitarist Martin Barre joined him on the second album (Stand Up)and is still there, but they've gone through 22 other band mates.

MOUNTAIN's only mainstay is vocalist/guitarist Leslie West, but he's only had 13 other band mates. Is that enough to make this list?

In spite of a seven year break, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE is still composed of its original, and only, members. There's never been a replacement.
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Bob Hartman (founding member, anyway) lasted the longest (1972 to 1994)-- I don't count reprise for the farwell tour. 26 ish members since 1972.

The kicker is the longest tenured players at each band position (vox, guitar, bass, drums, keys) are back as Classic Petra.
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