We’ve all heard about the fifth Beetle. But the list of musicians who were fired from great bands is much more comprehensive and interesting than that. Here’s four of my favorites- (bands, not the members deservedly fired). Gin Blossoms and Pre-Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden get honorary mention. And while these are only four- there are so many more. The lesson to be learned: recognize the opportunities you are afforded. Life may not give you that many!
Pete Willis – Def Leppard
Before they were one of the biggest bands of the 80’s, Def Leppard had a guitarist named Peter Andrew Willis. Unfortunately, it seems Mr. Willis preferred drinking to shredding and after botched studio sessions and uninspired performances producer Matt Lange decided it was time for him to go. The band did not resist Lange’s suggestions and quickly found a new guitarist: Phil Collen, who went on to record Pyromania and achieve super stardom with the band. Pete Willis had been a founding member of Def Leppard but in the end, he found himself fired for drunkenness and a lack of professionalism. It’s doubtful anyone will ever second guess this decision. With new relatively sober, and certainly skilled guitarist Phil Collen Def Leppard recording such hits as “Foolin’ and “Photograph” which propelled the album Pyromania into selling over 10 million copies. Willis, in the end, became the manager of a property company in Sheffield. He was unreachable for comment but we can only assume, like everyone else on this sad but necessary list, he regrets his choices every single day of his life.
Hugh Cornwell- The Stranglers
What does a band do when they fire their singer? Usually find another one but in the case of never famous but always known and critically acclaimed punk rockers The Stranglers, when fellow bandmates unanimously agreed Hugh Cornwell couldn’t cut the mustard, he was fired. And guitarists Baz Warne took over vocal duties. But not alone. Bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel joined him and now the duo sing the songs they wrote while Cornwell disappeared into obscurity. Cornwell called the rest of his band “assholes” but the press didn’t like his angry remarks or side with his slanderous public statements. Most fans agreed his live performances were chaotic and poor and many were turned off by his reputation for arrogance. The Stranglers continue to play and find new fans. It’s been nearly 26 years since any of the original founding members have talked with their original singer. Most fans have no idea who he was. Isn’t that just the way things go?
Doug Masterson – Stone Mob
Speaking of indie bands, anyone who’s kept their ear to the underground has heard of heavy party rockers Stone Mob who are renowned not only for their high energy onstage performances but for being a powerhouse of talent. They have been repeatedly compared to Van Halen- not just for the obvious reason of band leader Blaine Kaltman’s unrivaled guitar playing, but also for having an incredible rhythm section and amazing vocalist. But before Matt Ross was singing the songs the Shred Master General writes, Stone Mob had another singer: Doug “Earthdog” Masterson. He was appearing in band videos and a multitude of press and then…gone. Kaltman could not be reached for comment but another member of Stone Mob who preferred to remain anonymous said “He (Masterson) is a nice guy but he really doesn’t understand what it means to be a professional musician.” He went on to report “Dougwould get confused on stage and do things like start singing the chorus while we were still playing the verse. We’d all be looking at each other like ‘What the hell is he doing?’ It wasn’t fair to the rest of us who had practiced so hard to make sure we’d nail the performance.” Another person close to the band said “It was very frustrating being in the studio with someone who hadn’t done the prep work. You can’t make a song your own if you’re reading a lyric sheet when you sing. The delivery will never be right and it’s not like he didn’t have the instrumental and lyrics well in advance. He had plenty of time to prepare and come in and kill the tracks but he never did. He wasted a lot of time and frustrated everyone. The guy has no timing. I mean none.” A fan close to the band also commented that Kaltman was frustrated with Doug for a number of reasons including failing to participate in the band’s promotion, getting lyrics wrong on stage, an “unwillingness to work to improve himself,” and repeatedly taking his shirt off on stage which had received some blowback on social media. In the end the Earthdog was sent home with his tail between his legs. No one is second guessing Stone Mob’s decision: the band is more popular than ever.
When Kaltman isn’t shredding for his hip hop project Chain Bridge- also on the rise and, not just receiving critical acclaim but collaborating with the likes of the Wu Tang Clan, he and Stone Mob continue to tear it up and grow an ever-larger base of loyal fans.
Glen Matlock – The Sex Pistols
Everyone knows Sid Vicious is the bass player for arguably the most famous and influential punk rock band of all time. But before Mr. Vicious took over The Pistols had another 4 string rocker- Glen Matlock. Matlock had met singer Johnnie Lydon Aka Johnnie Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook in the mid 1970’s while working in a clothing store. They began playing aggressive, simple rock before it was called punk and living a public life-style of anarchy and decadence while privately working hard on their craft and writing music for what would become their seminal album. However before the album was recorded Matlock was fire. Apparently, guitarist Steve Jones didn’t like Matlock. He found him to be a poser, a rich kid, and “a bit of a wanker.” Far be it from producer and the real genius behind the Sex Pistols Malcom McLaren to argue with his band’s star guitarist. Matlock was removed from the band and that was that. While his replacement, Sid Vicious, was not actually recorded on their Never Mind the Bollocks album (that honor was left to a studio musician), Matlock was clearly not present. He went on to have an obscure career playing with a few notable musicians including Iggy Pop but, in the end, like the bollocks, was never minded.