Guitar Tricks Blog
Posted: June 12, 2014

Lousy Timing: 9 Musicians Who Came This Close to the Big Time



It's the stuff of an Alanis Morissette tune: band member splits from group right before band takes over the world. The irony of being on the cusp of musical greatness and suffering a fall into obscurity has an actual name. It's called the Pete Best Syndrome, and yes, it is a whole lot like hitting the lottery and dying the very next day.

Although not all excommunicated band members end up stewing in jealousy over their near misses, it is nonetheless a bitter pill to swallow. The following are a few unlucky ones who had fame within their grasp but instead met with an untimely exit from bands that went on to make a killing.

Pete Best (drummer, The Beatles)
1960-1962


Kicked out of the greatest rock band ever, Pete Best is history's most famous person who almost had it all. The reasons behind Best's notorious 1962 dismissal as The Beatles' drummer—two years before their historic Ed Sullivan Show performance—has never been fully explained. It has been said that Best lacked the solid beats needed to support a rock band, while others claim John and Paul were jealous of Pete's good looks. Still others say Best was too quiet and a bit moody.

The firing took its toll on Best, who attempted suicide in the mid-'60s. He did shift work in a bread factory before finding happiness as a civil servant. Best has been married to the same woman for over 50 years, has two daughters and five grandchildren. He also has his own band, The Pete Best Band, and his own fans. Pete Best has not spoken to any member of The Beatles since that fateful day in 1962.

Stuart Sutcliffe (bassist, The Beatles)
1960-1961


Pete Best wasn't the only unfortunate bloke to lose out on a gig like The Beatles. Until the movie Backbeat came out in 1994, most of the world was unaware that there had even been this "Fifth Beatle," as Sutcliffe was known. As the band's original bassist, Sutcliffe performed with The Beatles in their low-down, dirty, Hamburg club days. He quit the band in 1961 to focus on his painting—he had a postgraduate scholarship to the Hamburg College of Art.

But Stuart Sutcliffe wasn't long for this world. Tragedy struck in April 1962 when he died from a brain hemorrhage at age 21. Lennon, Stuart's closest friend in the band, asked that Sutcliffe be included on the whimsical cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yoko Ono has said that hardly a day went by when her husband did not mention Sutcliffe's name.

Bob Welch (guitarist/ vocalist, Fleetwood Mac)
1971-1974


In the early 1970s the California-born Welch played guitar, sang and wrote half the songs for the struggling Fleetwood Mac, including "Sentimental Lady," which was released on the band's 1972 album, Bare Trees. (The song went on to become a much bigger hit for Welch five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album, French Kiss.) The five LPs Welch recorded with the Mac sold barely a million copies all told, and the group was mired in clamorous legal and marital squabbles (including the dissolution of Welch's own second marriage). At the end of his emotional rope, Welch quit Fleetwood Mac in December 1974 and was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The reconstituted Fleetwood Mac went on to sell a staggering 20 million copies of its next two albums worldwide.

Bob Welch formed the British rock group Paris in 1976 and had hits with the re-recorded "Sentimental Lady" in 1977 and "Ebony Eyes" in 1978. Welch fell out with his former Fleetwood Mac bandmates after suing the group in 1994 for unpaid royalties, which led to his exclusion from the group's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1998. Bob Welch committed suicide in June 2012 at age 66 after believing he would never recover from recent spinal surgery and thus become a burden to his wife.

Dave Mustaine (guitarist, Metallica)
1981-1983


If anyone did a good job of rebounding from Pete Best Syndrome it was Dave Mustaine. Imagine for a moment what it would take to get fired from a metal band as badass as Metallica. Apparently James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich got fed up with Mustaine's excessive drinking and constant tormenting of bassist Ron McGovney—which included pouring a full can of beer down McGovney's electric guitar and into the pick-ups, nearly killing him. They gave Mustaine the boot on April 11, 1983, right before the band recorded and released Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning. Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett flew in to replace Mustaine the same afternoon.

But Dave Mustaine didn't go quietly. He went on to forge a gigantic career with Megadeth, which had five consecutive platinum albums before their success began to wane. It seems though that Mustaine never got over the ouster. He has expressed his dislike for Hammett in interviews, saying that Hammett "stole my job," and maintains that Hammett became popular by playing the guitar leads that he wrote. Nonetheless, Dave Mustaine shared a bill with Metallica as part of thrash metal's "Big Four" shows (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax), and played five songs with his former band back in December 2011 when Metallica celebrated their 30-year anniversary at the Fillmore Theater.

Ian "Stu" Stewart (keyboardist/co-founder, The Rolling Stones)
1962-1963


When musical prodigy Ian Stewart was 23 years old, he formed a musical group with guitarist Brian Jones called The Rollin' Stones. The band was completed with the additions of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. The following year, Stewart was fired from the band by manager Andrew Loog Oldham because his looks "didn’t fit" the projected rebellious teen image the Stones were gong for. Instead of bitterly walking away from what would go on to become one of the most successful rock bands in the world, Stewart became the band's tour manager and session/touring keyboardist. According to Keith, Stewart was always considered an "unofficial member" of The Stones by himself and the rest of the band. Stu became known as the "Sixth Stone."

Stewart contributed to albums by Led Zeppelin, Howlin' Wolf, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. He also worked with the Stones on their 1983 album Undercover, and was present in 1985 for the recording of Dirty Work (released in 1986). In early December 1985, Stewart began having respiratory problems. On December 12, he went to a clinic to have the problem examined, suffered a heart attack and died in the waiting room.

John Kiffmeyer (drummer, Green Day)
1988-1990


In 1987, when Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt were 15 years old, they invited Isocracy drummer John Kiffmeyer (aka Al Sobrante) to join their fledgling group Sweet Children. Because of his experience and knowledge of the underground community, Kiffmeyer was able to jump-start the young band's musical career by placing calls to friends, among them Larry Livermore, co-founder of Lookout Records and a prominent figure of Northern California's East Bay area. Sweet Children changed their name to Green Day to avoid confusion with local band Sweet Baby in time for their debut EP 1,000 Hours in 1989. Following Green Day's first national tour and the release of their debut studio album, 39/Smooth, Kiffmeyer left the group to attend Humboldt State University, turning over the drummer's seat to Tré Cool.

Kiffmeyer later joined the band The Ne'er Do Wells and the punk band The Ritalins before assuming the reins as manager of The Shruggs until their split. In 1998 Kiffmeyer served as Executive Producer of The Great Lost Trouble Makers Album by The Trouble Makers, a garage band from Sacramento, California. He now lives in San Francisco with his wife Greta Snider, an experimental filmmaker and San Francisco State University professor, and the couple's son David Lolo. Kiffmeyer works as a Director of Photography, specializing in green screen and producing mainly commercial work.

Jason Everman (guitarist, Nirvana; bassist, Soundgarden)
Februrary-July 1989 (Nirvana)
Late 1989 to mid-1990 (Soundgarden)


Jason Everman is Pete Best times two. Everman joined the original lineup of Nirvana in February 1989. He toured with the group in support of their album Bleach, despite the fact that he didn't play on the record. However, Jason was soon relieved of his guitar duties and kicked out of the band in July 1989 for being what Kurt Cobain called "a moody metal head."

Everman next replaced Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who left the band to return to college. The group with Everman on bass toured North America from December 1989 to March 1990 as an opening act, and then went on to play tour dates in Europe. Depending upon who does the telling, Everman was either fired from Soundgarden or quit the band to play bass for an outfit called OLD.

Soundgarden and Nirvana went on to become two of the biggest acts of the 1990s, selling roughly 100 million records combined. OLD, however, did not. Nor did Everman's next band, Mind Funk. But he didn't let the double whammy of fate get him down. According to a New York Times profile in July 2013, Everman went on to join the Army and the U.S. Special Forces, and was highly decorated for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jason Everman ended up a rockstar of a different sort, even posing for photos alongside Donald Rumsfeld and General Stanley A. McChrystal.

Tracii Guns (guitarist/co-founder, Guns N' Roses)
March-June 1985


At least Pete Best didn't have to live with seeing his last name (made-up or otherwise) incorporated into the name of the act that went on to superstardom without him. Not so Tracii Guns, a pioneer of the Sunset Strip movement in Los Angeles of the 1980's, who formed Guns N' Roses with Axl Rose in 1985. Rose had been a member of Guns' previous group, L.A. Guns, starting in 1982. Guns blamed his ouster shortly into GNR's history on the usual infighting, along with Axl's increased mouthiness, both on and off stage.

Surprisingly, Tracii Guns holds no apparent hard feelings. He reformed L.A. Guns and went on to have two gold and one platinum album without Axl. He has played in a number of well-known and not so well-known bands over the years, such as Motörhead, Poison, and Brides of Destruction with Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx. Tracii is still writing, recording and playing in his current band, Tracii Guns' League of Gentleman, who released their debut album in 2013. He is part of "Raiding the Rock Vault," which is described as "the story of classic rock performed by members of some of the greatest rock bands in history." The show plays in the famous Showroom at the LVH Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Guns also works on scoring movies these days, and spends time with his family, including his son Jagger.

Dik Evans (guitarist, U2)
1976-1978


The early incarnation of U2, known first as Feedback and then The Hype, included seven band members, three of whom were guitarists. Two bandmates dropped out rather quickly, still leaving the three guitars, which proved to be two too many. Bono put down his six-string to concentrate on vocals, while Dave Evans, aka The Edge, won out over his older brother Dik as the band's guitarist. Dik Evans, who was by this time at college, was becoming the odd man out. The rest of the band was leaning towards the idea of a four-piece ensemble, and Dik was "phased out" in March 1978.

But Evans didn't get out of music after his exit from what would become U2. He co-founded the Irish gothic rock band the Virgin Prunes, sticking with the cult group till 1984. After quitting the Prunes (with whom he reunited in 2009 at Carnegie Hall), he later formed Kid Sisters with singer Debbie Skhow, later known as Screech Owls (1988-96). Evans also contributed to composer Daniel Figgis's Snakes and Ladders Festival in 2008 as a solo artist. Dik went back to school and studied engineering and computer science. He holds both a BAI (1980) and MsC (1981) from Trinity College, and a PhD (1996) in Neural Networks from Imperial College London.

The gallery of music's "almost famous" also includes musicians like Robin Lynn Macy and Laura Lynch, formerly of the Dixie Chicks; Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols; and Ray Tabano, formerly of Aerosmith, to name a few more. Certainly worthy of mention on this list are Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green and Pink Floyd visionary Syd Barrett, but I'm saving them for a future date on a special list all their own.


Post by: James Harper Google+