Apr 202021

I want to get more philosophical today and talk about what makes a band a band. The title is a reference to the Ship of Theseus, which I’ll throw a Wikipedia link to in case anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus. Essentially the question I’m asking here is as follows: At what point does a band stop becoming the same band? I have a few theories and I’d love to hear what either you guys have to say or if you have any other theories.

Theory #1: The Same Name, Same Band Theory

This one is fairly easy to follow, if the group has the same name it’s the same band. No matter what personnel changes are made, the band is the same as long as it keeps the name it started with.

Theory #2: The Integral Member Theory

There are some bands that just wouldn’t be the same without one specific member. What springs to mind for me when thinking of this is Kim Deal of The Pixies. As the old adage goes; without Kim, there’s no Deal.

Theory #3: The Majority Replacement Theory

This theory is also fairly easy, if the majority of members of the band are replaced or changed out, it is no longer the same band.

Theory #4: The Original Purity Theory

The most hardline of the theories that I can think of. If there are any changes to the band’s lineup, no matter how small, it is no longer the same band.

So get to work rock philosophers, and solve the question that we have all been asking for ages.


  18 Responses to “The Band of Theseus”

  1. Great topic, garlic salt, and my apologies for the delay in getting it posted!

    I mostly subscribe to #2, the Integral Band Member theory. That’s what keeps the Stones the Stone through various guitarists. I will say, that all these years with their replacement bassist not becoming an official band member has threatened their status as a band. Bill Wyman may not have been an integral band member by the time the over-the-hill Stones lost him, but the longer they go without acknowledging that he’s been replaced, the more it feels like he was integral. If a band’s lineup is going to change, acknowledge the change in personnel and see if you can withstand it.

    It’s surprising, sometimes, what makes for an “integral” band member. For instance, the dB’s’ biggest personnel change was Chris Stamey leaving after the second album. That was an undeniable loss, but I think the bigger blow to the dB’s being the dB’s was the corresponding move of bassist Gene Holder to guitar. Holder’s bass was integral to the sound of the dB’s – I would say almost as integral as Stamey’s contributions as a singer, songwriter, and aesthetic wildcard. I wish they would have kept Holder as bass and maintained the rhythmic punch of the band. Holsapple could still write and sing his share of strong songs.

  2. We know Van Halen believed they were #1, but Eddie probably thought they were #2 with himself as the integral piece. Do we know if they seriously considered changing the name when DLR left? Did AC/DC when Bon Scott died? That’s the sign of a very confident guitar player when you can lose your lead singer and still decide “So what, carry on. Let’s do all the same songs just different guy up front.”

  3. The Wikipedia article on the Ship of Theseus is interesting because I’d never heard of the concept before. I’d say replacing band members one by one is different than replacing planks in a ship or on a house because musicianship is not fungible.

    I fall between #2 and #3. But I think the evaluation is very band-specific and probably based on something like how many original band members you can name.

    I’m definitely not a purist who can’t get over the fact that Bob Stintson left the Replacements. However, when George Michael left Wham though…

    The Mick Taylor Era contains the best Rolling Stones albums but if they put those albums out with Ronnie Wood, who’s to say that they wouldn’t be great even though they would definitely be different. 40% of the band has been changed but they still feel like the Stones to me (but make Darryl a full partner for chrissake!). I think if Charlie bowed out now, that would be it for me. If Mick or Keith had left instead of Mick Taylor or Brian, I don’t know how they would still credibly be the Stones.

    The Who was the Who specifically because the three instrumentalists were so idiosyncratic. Kenny Jones is an excellent drummer and Keith Moon was a one trick pony but he was perfect for that band so it was a fool’s errand to try to keep that band going without him (in fairness, they probably should have packed it in before Who Are you).

    The wikipedia article lists the following bands as examples: Yes, Blackfoot, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Thin Lizzy and Ratt. Seriously, both the Four Tops and the Temptations both have one original member but they’re listing Ratt and Blood Sweat and Tears as examples? I looked up Blood Sweat and Tears and was amazed to find out that both Jaco and Jorma Kakonan played in that band at one point. BST seem to have more former members that GBV and the Fall combined. But aside from Al Kooper and the Annoying singer, how many people can anyone name? Perhaps I’m tainted by my disdain for that band but who cares who is it? I don’t see how it matters who is playing the bass on that turd of a song Spinning Wheel.

    Maybe the real distinction is this: Are the band members in question still trying to push themselves artistically? Or are they just an oldies band trying to make a living and avoid having to get day jobs?

  4. CDM, I’ve read and heard you disparage Who Are You a few times. That album has some mediocre stuff, but I enjoy it overall. Do you dislike the song Who Are You? I’m always glad to hear that song. It’s catchy and has enough of the experimental approach that was on Who’s Next to lift it up. Excellent acoustic guitar solo too. It does show a level of decline for the band, but as the last contribution from Moonie, it still has appeal and interest for me.

  5. The title track is mediocre. And throughout the album you can hear Roger settling in on his new “I look pretty crappy SOMETIMES” style of singing. I admittedly haven’t listened to in in a long while but the luster wore off quickly for me with that album and I doubt the passage of time will make it sound better. What other songs should I revisit?

  6. Bobby Colomby, Jim Fielder, Steve Katz, one of those Brecker Brothers.

    Hell, annoying David Clayton-Thomas wasn’t even on the first album. I think Columbia pushed to add him to the line up.

    Jorma? Really? Maybe a guest sometime, but not in the band. I don’t think so.

  7. Very funny documentation of a Steve Katz/Jorma Kaukonen interaction. Click into the letters. Both worth a minute or two of reading.


    There is a horn in the edge of the Jaco/Jorma Wikipedia picture, so maybe it’s some sort of BS&T reunion that they sat in, but it looks like an older version of Jaco rather than the young guy that briefly passed through the group before his first solo album. (Produced by Bobby Colomby by the way.)

  8. By the way, I recall, maybe inaccurately, that every cell in the human body is replaced over the course of 7 years. Assuming that is the case, we don’t have any Beatles left!

  9. BigSteve

    I know about Bobby Colomby because of a bit of trivia I came across recently. He was one of the two drummers on the John Cale/Terry Riley Church of Anthrax album. The other drummer was Bobby Gregg, the guy who played on Like a Rolling Stone, and other Dylan songs of that era. They were recorded simultaneously as Cale and Riley improvised.

    I believe Colomby is the guy who owns the BS&T brand, even though he has not actually played with them for years. The issue of who owns the band name is weird. Remember the situation where a manager claimed to own the Fleetwood Mac name, and he put a band on the road that included neither Fleetwood nor Mac? I actually saw the fake Mac in concert. Unsurprisingly they were not as good as the real thing.

  10. BigSteve

    Should bands have an automatic expiration date? We should acknowledge how rare it is for a band to retain the same membership over a long stretch of time. U2 is now going on 40+ years. It seems like once a band gets past, what, 5 or 6 years (?) there’s almost always going to be some personnel changes.

    The Original Purity Theory just seems unenforceable. What is the point of making the Soft Boys get a new name just because Matthew Seligman replaces Andy Metcalfe on bass? In that context I guess you have to admire the Attractions for becoming the Imposters after changing bass players.

    Remember when the Clash tried to pretend they could still be the Clash after firing Mick Jones?

  11. That letter from Jorma to Katz is hilarious. “Can I get a wet nurse”, love it!

  12. Maybe the band doesn’t need to change their name when they lose a peripheral player, but I like it when the fans rename them. Everyone knows who Van Hagar is. Let’s go with Fakewood Mac from now on.

    CDM, man did you call my bluff. What Who Are You songs should you revisit? I’d have a hard time selling you on any of them. Sister Disco, Music Must Change, Guitar and Pen, are probably not changing anyone’s mind. I like the title track, and the overall sound of the record.

  13. Man, I haven’t spun that Church of Anthrax album in too long! I had no idea who else played on it.

  14. Happiness Stan

    I’m mainly in with#2 as well.

    I don’t understand metal or hairy soft rock, so Van Halen, Deep Purple and most bands with interchangeable singers where the main focus is the guitarist, with the cucumber down the singer’s trousers next, are a closed book to me.

    I suspect the issue gets fudged when members leave because they don’t feel it any more, or get kicked out because the singer and the songwriter would rather blame the rhythm section than look closer to home for why they’re not as good as they used to be. As someone who enjoyed the first two Oasis albums and saw the original line up several times, they were never the same after the Gallaghers ditched the rest of the band, and that had nothing to do with Bonehead’s abilities or otherwise. They replaced him with Andy Bell, from my beloved Ride, and even he couldn’t do anything with what he was presented with.

    A side question might be who turned out to be integral but nobody realised at the time? I’ll start with Glen Matlock.

    When Hugh Cornwell left the Stranglers, they were a pretty sorry outfit for several years, but seemed to find themselves again with their last, and presumably now final, line up. I guess Fleetwood Mac took the same route, unless somebody wants to explain how the rhythm section are integral rather than simply the last men standing who happened to hit it lucky twice over.

    Original purity feels like the most honourable option, and I totally respect bands like New Order and the Faces who reinvented themselves when the proverbial hit the you know what.

    The Soft Boys are an amusing example, since every time I’ve seen Robyn Hitchcock either with the Soft Boys, the Egyptians (most of the Soft Boys), sometimes with and sometimes without Kimberley Rew and an assortment of grinning, familiar faces, he’s announced they’ve changed their name to whatever long and incomprehensible fancy entered his head in the moment.

    I bought Who Are You on the day it was released, on red vinyl, and forced myself to listen to it three or four times. Even the title track doesn’t do it for me. They kind of lost me with Tommy, so probably no great surprise. I saw them at Live8 and they looked like half of the Who. I know the other two weren’t available and all that, but I’d think no less of them for using their surnames, a la Page and Plant.

    When I went to Nick Mason’s talk, he observed that he’s the only member who played on all of their records. On the subject of drummers, we regularly get the sixties revival shows at our theatre and they usually include Herman’s Hermits with sole remaining founding member Barry Whitwam on drums. They’re entertaining enough, but they sure as heck ain’t Herman’s Hermits, even with one more founding member than most. The Merseybeats, on the other hand, have most of their founder members and really rock. Lovely guys to boot, too.

    So, for me:

    #1 doesn’t work, not for Dr Feelgood, not for no one
    #2 works some of the time
    #3 okay if the band were only an adjunct to the singer. I think of the Brit pop band Sleeper, who got t shirts with Sleeperbloke for the guys to wear while the cameras focused exclusively on Louise Wener on Top of the Pops. And Blondie is a group, obviously.
    #4 New Order, Faces, any others?

  15. Stan said “A side question might be who turned out to be integral but nobody realized at the time? I’ll start with Glen Matlock.”

    I say: That’s a great answer to an excellent question.

    I suspect some fellow Townsmen who are more knowledgeable that I on the subject would say Eno/Roxy too.

  16. cherguevara

    Sammy Hagar was on deck for VH from close to the beginning:

    This is such a tricky question, it has to be a case-by-case basis. Squeeze has never had a solid lineup and it’s interesting to me that Difford and Tilbrook made a duo record rather than continue to use the band name after the breakup. I’d imagine they are way past that now, and realize that the two of them are Squeeze. The only third member of that band that had a notable musical style and stage presence is Jools Holland, and bluntly I think he is better off in his own spotlight (and I dig his TV show). Same is true of Spoon, who are the drummer and the front-man, and it’s mattered little to me who else (nothing against those other members) but I’m glad they’ve kept up the structure of a band, as opposed to the Shins, who don’t sound like a band anymore and really it’s just James Mercer (though I saw them on their last tour and it was a great show).

    Secretly important band members that people didn’t realize? Into that column I’d put Dave Gregory, John Paul Jones, Ringo. And maybe a handful of producers who were essentially secret members of the band for their most successful records.

  17. You can tell a guy is integral when he has to be replace by two guys like Mick Jones in The Clash. I think Aerosmith did that too when Joe Perry walked.

  18. Roy Estrada was replaced by three guys in Little Feat!

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube