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?

When a band replaces an iconic lead singer, the band rarely is as good (Maybe the Van Halen exception - but I prefer DLR). Journey is a good example of this - Steve Perry has been replaced a few times, and is it really Journey without Steve Perry?? Also, Styx replaced Dennis DeYoung with Lawrence Gowan, and THAT is a travesty - NOONE can sing like Dennis DeYoung!!
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Any article like this is incomplete without mentioning Yes. Three vocalists, four guitarists, two drummers, and I-can't-even-keep-track-of-how-many keyboardists over the years, plus the whole Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe situation and the Union album and tour, where the band expanded from five to nine members and then blew apart again (only to come back in yet another form a few years later). And hey, look, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes again.
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@hairy eyeball: Nine Inch Nails isn't on the list because NIN has always been only Trent Reznor. Reznor plays all the instruments on each NIN album and then hires a band to tour with him. It's never been a secret.
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Check out the Wikipedia page for Santana (the band, not the man). It lists 17 drummers alone. (Of course, the band often features at least three drummers at a time.) But the current lineup is a testament to the fact that as long as one key figure remains (Carlos, of course) and he looks for the best talent, the quality of the music doesn't have to suffer with personnel changes. They're better than ever, 40+ years later!
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@TimG: Of course it should be noted that Steve Perry is not an original member of Journey, but your point is still valid, at least as far as I'm concerned.
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I can think of two more. First, is Social Distortion. Mike Ness is the only original member. Wikipedia lists 21 current and past members.
And the other is Christian Death. There have been two different bands at the same time using the name, at least one of which contained no origial members. The original singer, recruited all new members after their first album, then later left the group himself, and they carried on without him. Then he reformed a new version that competed with the one he left. You really have to read the Wikipedia article to grasp it all, but it's equally as complicated as Asia.
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Perhaps a bit off-topic, but I'm reminded of Blue Man Group. I remember hearing that there are more than three "Blue Men" at any given time, that rotate performances, or perform in different areas. Which makes sense, given the anonymity of the role.
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Little River Band - 35 members over the years. The current touring band has none of the original members. US guitarist Wayne Nelson came on in 1981 and is currently leading the band. It's a shame that Glenn Shorrock, Graeham Goble and Beeb Birtles, founding members of the band are not allowed to use the LRB branding. It's kind of a fraud when people think they are buying tickets to see original members.
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The original Fleetwood Mac was a blues band, founded in the late 1960s and led by Peter Green. This later morphed into hugely successful pop band in the late 1970s. See
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Jethro Tull has been pretty busily replacing members as well. See

And of the five people ever members of Pink Floyd (Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright, Gilmour) only one (Mason) was with the band during their entire run.
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"...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..."

Aerosmith did break up, Joe Perry went solo in the late 1970's and Brad Whitford left in the early 80's. They reunited a few years later.
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Maybe someone will argue that jazz doesn't count, but Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers was an almost continual rotation of talent. Wikipedia lists no less than 65 different members, all with the same drummer (Blakey). While jazz musicians tend to play around a lot, this is the only group I can think of with so many players under a single name.
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My husband, a philosophy professor, uses the band Napalm Death (yes, he's both a professor and a metalhead) as an example of this when he teaches the Ship of Theseus paradox. Here's his diagram.
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Revolting Cocks sort of played at a club I worked at. Revco are essentially Al Jourgensen's project, but on this tour he put together an all-new-member band. Aside from a few token dates, he didn't even perform with them. That's right, he put together a band to play his own songs and didn't even play with them.
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The thing about ZZ top is that the band -- despite being technically composed of the same individuals -- has none of its original molecules. Because of the constant turnover of the physical components that make up a human body I could levy this argument against any band that's been together long enough.
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"Aerosmith did break up, Joe Perry went solo in the late 1970's and Brad Whitford left in the early 80's. They reunited a few years later."

Nitpicking, to be sure, but they didn't really break up. Jimmy Crespo and then Rick Duffay were brought in to replace Perry and Whitford, but the music that came out of it was pretty forgettable, so believing they were broken up might be preferable.

I've always felt back for bands that lose iconic members, particularly singers. Musicians can be replaced with sound alikes, to greater or lesser degrees of success.

In my mind, bands that lose iconic members to death or other significant problems (health, incarceration, etc...) will always be at a disadvantage to those who lose inconic members to creative differences/ego/money, etc..., as with the latter, there remains the possibility of rapprochement.

Roth rejoined Van Halen, Henley and Frey buried the hatchet (and not in each other's skulls), Ozzy and Black Sabbath managed to find common ground just to name a few. Legions of Journey fans hold out hope that Steve Perry will join the rest of the band, even if only for one show in the same way that Roger Waters rejoined his Floyd mates for one fantastic night before Rick Wright passed away. While members live, there is hope.

INXS fans will never have that opportunity, just as Bon Scott fans will never see him with AC/DC again. Jim Morrison will never grace the stage with the Doors and Jerry Garcia's absence is noted by Dead fans at every turn.
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Karl, I heart you for mentioning Jethro Tull, one of my favorites. Pretty much the only constant members have been Ian Anderson and Martin Barre.

I would mention the Alan Parsons Project, but their whole existence is based upon a revolving door of studio musicians. The death of Eric Woolfson hit me much harder than the death of Michael Jackson.
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How about the Doobie Brothers? I counted 26 different members on the wiki page, not including replacements and guests. Of course, that count was done first thing in the morning BC (Before Coffee), so it may not be entirely accurate.
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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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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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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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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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