So here’s a question for all you music geeks out there. If a member of a band dies while said band is still active, does the remainder of the band still have the right to use the band’s name? Most would argue that something like this should be argued on a case-by-case basis.
Take Alice in Chains, for instance. When Layne Staley passed away in 2002, many thought the band was done, after all, Staley was the lead singer. However, he was NOT the band’s chief songwriter. That duty fell to guitarist Jerry Cantrell. In this case, the band was successfully able to enlist a new lead singer and carry on the band name without fans being too bent out of shape. Hell, the band was practically given a hero’s welcome, as “Black Gives Way to Blue” blasted onto the charts in the Top Five.
On the other side of the coin, take a band like Queen. No one will deny that Brian May and Roger Taylor are incredibly talented musicians. No one will deny that Paul Rodgers is one hell of a singer. But for better or for worse, Queen WAS Freddie Mercury. He gave the band its’ image, and even though the songwriting was split up fairly evenly, Mercury was so larger-than-life that anyone who comes after him is going to be looked at as a scab.
This brings us to the band Sublime. The trio toiled along the ska/punk scene in California and released a couple of successful albums independently before sigining with MCA in 1995. Just as they were set to release their major label debut a year later, lead singer and songwriter Brad Nowell died from an overdose. The band effectively ended, but their careers were just beginning. Released months after Nowell’s death, “Sublime” went on to sell 6 million copies.
The remaining band members, Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson, retired the band name, rounded up various musicians from the scene Sublime was a part of, and recorded and toured as the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. However, earlier this year, the two surviving members decided to tour with a new singer…as Sublime. Nowell’s survivors are none too pleased with this turn of events, and I don’t blame them.
All things are not created equal in this type of situation. You’ve got to look at not only the departing member’s musical importance to the band, but also look at how much the band’s identity was shaped around that person. For example, Keith Moon and John Entwistle died, and The Who was still the Who, right? Talented as they were, they weren’t really the public face of the band. If Pete Townshend or Roger Daltrey was to leave, it would be a different story. I mean, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic are talented musicians, but can you imagine what would have happened if they tried to carry on Nirvana with a new lead singer?
My opinion might not count for much, but I think that Bud and Eric should respectfully retire the “Sublime” name for good. After all, Brad essentially WAS the band.