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Best of 2023: When you're very good at what you do, you can get headhunted. And that's especially true in rock n' roll where the departure of key band members (or dissatisfaction with them) can lead to hard questions and unexpected propositions.
Let's find out…
Shuggie Otis – The Rolling Stones
The first of a few Stones propositions, the psychedelic soul singer-songwriter got a call from the band's touring pianist Billy Preston (more on him later) in the mid-seventies to see if would be interested in joining the lineup for a tour.
Otis had recently got to the end of a long creative tunnel to release his own album Inspiration Information, and the decision was easy for him. “I was so excited about my own music coming out that nothing really appealed to me about wanting to be in anybody’s group,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013.
“I didn’t want to be a sideman,” he explained to the Guardian in 2016 about his mindset at the time. “I wanted to do my own music. ”I could have been an instant millionaire, a few times, probably, but that wasn’t on my mind at all.”
Myles Kennedy – Led Zeppelin
This one got far enough down the line for Myles Kennedy, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham to have jammed together more than once, following a call to the Alter Bridge vocalist from the drummer. Fresh from the high of Zeppelin's 02 Arena reunion in 2007, but knowing Robert Plant did not want to take it further, the trio set about moving forward the following year with another singer.
Kennedy's vocal ability was obvious, and combined with his deep knowledge of Zeppelin's back catalogue it put him firmly in the frame. But he wasn't the only one; Steven Tyler also jammed with them. Kennedy made enough of an impression after his first session with the band to be invited back for four days a few months later.
"I should say that it was never supposed to be 'Led Zeppelin' per se, because how could it be Led Zeppelin?" Kennedy told us in 2010. "I think they were just itching to play again. Still, they weren't really sure of what they wanted to do exactly. What happened was, I got together with them one day in June of 2008 and we just jammed on some ideas. Everything went really well, and as you can imagine, I was just flattered beyond all belief to be in the same room with those guys. I mean, everything I ever learned about rock, I learned from Led Zeppelin. Just being near Jimmy Page was unbelievable. All the guys! Hearing their stories, the whole experience…it was something I'll always treasure."
So why didn't it go any further?
"Well, I'm not really sure," Kennedy admitted to us. "Again, I just don't think they really could decide on what they wanted to do. I did get together with them again a few months later, and this time we spent about a week jamming on some ideas. I didn't do any actual writing with them – it was all very informal. There was just so much going on around them, and once all the talk got out about 'Led Zeppelin is going to tour'…I'm not really sure why things didn't happen, but that's OK."
Michael Bolton – Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent, Journey
Now this is a strange one – and not for the obviously surreal proposition of the Soul Provider singing War Pigs in 1982. No, it's because one party denies it was ever even a remote possibility. Spoiler: it's not Tony Iommi.
"Me and [bassist Geezer Butler] had to rethink the whole thing," Iommi wrote in his 2012 autobiography Iron Man. "We had a million tapes sent in from different singers and most of them were horrible. One of them was from Michael Bolton. I didn't know him at the time. We had Michael come in and we had him sing Heaven and Hell, War Pigs and Neon Knights. He was quite good, but he wasn't exactly what we were looking for then. We dropped a bollock there, didn't we? Michael Bolton! A little bit of a mistake."
That all sounds too specific to be a misunderstanding, and Iommi returned to the subject again in 2020.
"I found David Coverdale, and he said, 'Oh, I just got this band together, Whitesnake. Why didn't you find me before?'" Iommi told Gibson TV . "I said, '[Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio] hadn't left before; it's happening now.'
"So, there was a lot of looking for another singer, and we would audition various singers — including Michael Bolton, believe it or not," Iommi added. "He was one of them, which was an odd one. It just went on a bit, and we couldn't decide."
And what say Bolton in all of this? He says it never happened. "That's a rumour," he told Malaysia's Lite in the clip above. "I think people mix it up because my rock group was Blackjack...we did two albums for Polygram in the late '70s, those were part of my rock years."
Bolton does add that he discussed joining Ted Nugent's band as a vocalist though, instead deciding to focus on his solo career. But that's not all; he was also briefly in the running to replace Steve Perry in Journey following the singer's 1987 departure.
"We thought about it for a second," Journey guitarist Neal Schon told Louder in a reader Q&A in 2012. Michael definitely had pipes – he was pretty bionic when I worked with him. But even then there was a lot of personality clashing. I didn’t feel that we would get too far, that’s all I can tell you."
In the same interview Schon alluded to some of that 'clashing' in a separate experience he had with Bolton.
"Michael Bolton was a little eccentric," he opined. "I played the blues guitar solo on his version of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, and Bolton made me re-do my solo about 200 times." Ouch.
Marc Ford – Guns N' Roses
“The music of the Crowes spoke to me a bit more,” Ford reflected recently with Guitar World about choosing the Robinson brothers over Axl and Co. “But also – and even Slash agreed with me on this – the Crowes were a better fit for me over Guns N’ Roses because, with the Crowes, I could have more of a voice.”
“If I had joined Guns N’ Roses that would have basically been me filling the role of someone having to back up Slash,” he added. “I don’t think it would have been all that fulfilling or satisfying to do that. I would have gotten bored, and that would have been dangerous…”
Zakk Wylde - Guns N' Roses
Zakk got much closer to becoming a hired Gun than Ford; he jammed with the band for a week in the mid '90s when Slash and Duff McKagan were still part of the lineup, and that period even sewed the creative seeds of a song.
“[Zakk] brought energy and enthusiasm that was lacking within Guns at the time, wrote McKagan in his 2011 autobiography. "‘We can build on the legacy,’ he said excitedly. ‘We can make something great. Listen to this.’ He saw a piano against the wall and sat down and elegantly played it. I had no idea he could play piano at all, much less like this.
"We recorded a few demos with him, but nothing panned out," Duff added. One of those demos would become Rose-Petalled Garden, a song on the first Black Label Society album, 1998's Sonic Brew.
Paul Rodgers – The Doors, Deep Purple
When you're one of the greatest blues-rock vocalists of all time, people will call, and sometimes those people are the members of The Doors and Deep Purple.
Paul Rodgers' illustrious career has seen him collaborate with guitar greats including Paul Kossoff, Jimmy Page and Brian May, but if it wasn't for his commitments to his own projects at the time we could have seen him in at least one other classic band.
Following the death of Jim Morrison in 1971 the surviving members of The Doors were serious enough about approaching Rodgers to take on the lead singer role that they flew to London to find him. "[The] thing is, at that time, I had buried myself in the country, working on things, and they couldn't get a hold of me," Rodgers told The Pulse Of Radio in 2011. "My jaw actually dropped like in a cartoon when Robby [Krieger, guitarist] told me this," the singer added. "Would I have joined them? I dunno. It's hard to say, looking back. But I think not. I tend to form bands, that's what I do. Although it's always flattering to be asked!"
A similar situation arose in 1973 when Rodgers got the call to replace the departing Ian Gillan in Deep Purple. "Free had played with Deep Purple in Australia and it was our very last show," Rodgers told Hoston Press in 2007, confirming the DP rumour. "I got along really well with [Purple] keyboardist Jon Lord and we exchanged numbers. Later, I got a call to [join], but I was forming Bad Company at the time, so it wasn’t possible."
Michael Schenker – Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead
"I was kind of tempted," Schenker told Full In Bloom in 2022. "I had only just left UFO and the Scorpions, and I had already auditioned for Aerosmith. When I was approached by Ozzy, he told me, “You were Randy Rhoads’s favorite guitarist. I want you to join.” It was kind of strange to deal with that situation because Ozzy called me in the middle of the night, and he was obviously very confused and disturbed and begged me to join. I considered it heavily, but something was pulling me away. I had to analyze what was going on. I didn’t quite understand myself."
The guitarist's instincts told him to focus on his own music, rather than playing the parts of another player. Nevertheless, following advice from his management Schenker actively auditioned for Aerosmith to replace Joe Perry following his own walkout from The Scorpions on their 1979 tour for the Lovedrive album. But Aerosmith claimed Schenker made a terrible first impression before he even played a note.
In the official Aerosmith book Walk This Way, Schenker is described as walking into a rehearsal room and greeting vocalist Stephen Tyler, guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer with the following announcement: “Hello, I’m taking over. Before I join your band, I want it clear I’m taking over right now. Here – my jacket – take and hang up.”
Schenker denies this. “What happened was that [manager] Peter [Mensch] flew me to New York," the guitarist told Classic Rock. "Steven wasn’t doing so good at the time, and I wasn’t in the best shape either. I ended up sat in my hotel room for five days waiting for something to happen. And when it did… it was worthless. Nobody was in a fit state to make it work.
“But later, when I started the Michael Schenker Group [in 1980], Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton wanted to be my rhythm section,” he added. “We did some rehearsals but then just as we were getting somewhere Steven got better, so they went back to Aerosmith.” All's well that ends well, but then there was the Stones…
Schenker allegedly ignored the call to audition for the legendary band in 1973 when he arrived in the UK as a teenager to join UFO. As he explains in the clip above, he received a phone call at the lodgings he was staying at, asking if he'd like to audition for the Stones. A flustered Schenker told them he'd call back. He never did. Then there was Motörhead…
When he first put Motörhead together, Lemmy asked me to be the guitarist," Schenker told Metal Talk in 2016. "It was many years ago, but we toured together when he was in Hawkwind and I was with UFO. We toured the States together, and I saw Lemmy every day, but later when he started to put Motörhead together, he approached me to be his lead guitarist but I wasn't interested… I couldn't see that it would be something for me. I declined. I just couldn't see how it would work."
Billy Preston – The Beatles
Preston would have been an asset to any band he played in – which is why both the Stones and Beatles called on the keyboardist and vocalist's session services. He'd befriended the Fab Four as far back as 1962 and, along with Tony Sheridan, is the only non-Beatle to be given a credit on one of their recordings at the band's request. In Preston's case it was for the 1969 single Get Back, credited at The Beatles with Billy Preston.
It was during this time that Preston's role in the band became ever more integral, as captured in the Get Back film. John Lennon suggested to the band that Preston could join, while McCartney argued it was hard enough to reach compromises between the four of them as it was.
It was during Harrison's time out from the band after temporarily quiting in the midst of the sessions that Clapton was considered as a replacement. But it wasn't needed in the end; during his time away, Harrison saw Preston performing with Ray Charles in London and asked him if he'd like to return to work with the Beatles alongside him. Relations between the band members very quickly improved as a result of Preston's presence.
“It’s interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in, because they don’t want everybody to know they’re so bitchy,” Harrison wrote in the Beatles book Anthology. “Suddenly everybody’s on their best behaviour.”
“He got on the electric piano, and straight away there was 100 per cent improvement in the vibe in the room,” he added. “Having this fifth person was just enough to cut the ice that we’d created among ourselves."
Corey Taylor - Anthrax, Velvet Revolver
Even though he was in one of the biggest metal bands in the world with Slipknot, and in a second band with Stone Sour, Taylor clearly couldn't resist trying some alternative shoes on for size when two bands were looking to recruit new vocalists. And he went surprisingly far down the line with one of them.
Taylor recorded around 10 songs with Velvet Revolver in 2010 as he was reportedly lined up as Scott Weiland's replacement, even going as far as to "neither confirming or denying" he was the new vocalist. Duff McKagan certainly sounded keen in the clip above from 12 years ago, but it seems Slash was less so.
"I love Corey to death but something about it was just a little too… what’s the word for it, you know how Corey sings, it’s very macho kind of thing." Slash revealed to Rolling Stone Australia in the clip below. "But it didn’t have certain elements I thought it needed so we just didn’t go down that path. That was the closest [to finding Scott's replacement] so far.”
Those nine or ten songs remain unheard outside of the inner circle. "The world will probably never hear them, which is fine, because I would want another crack at kind of working on some of that stuff anyway, Taylor told Loudwire. "But that will never happen, so it's all good."
A few years before that Taylor nearly became the frontman for New York thrash icons Anthrax, but that time it wasn't a band member that put the kibosh on it.
“That actually started as an idea because of an acoustic gig that I did with Scott [Ian] and Frankie Bello at a place in New York," Taylor told Eddie Trunk in the 2020 clip shown below. "Afterward, we were all kind of just hanging out, and the half-joking line got thrown out, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you joined Anthrax?’” Corey recalled on SiriusXM's Trunk Nation Virtual Invasion. “And we all laughed, and then we all stopped. And we all just went, ‘Hmmm. That could [be] interesting.’
Anthrax were without a singer at the time. “It was between Joey [Belladonna] and John [Bush], so everything was kind of up in the air," added Taylor. "We talked about it more and more, and it was something that I was really, really into.”
Slipknot's label Roadrunner had other ideas; the Iowa band's next album – that became 2008's All Hope is Gone – took priority. “It was the first time I had ever felt like I was kind of backed into a corner," said Taylor. "Not that I didn’t wanna do a Slipknot album, but I was so into the idea of doing an Anthrax album. And I remember having to call and tell the [Anthrax] guys that I wasn’t gonna be able to make it. It broke my heart so hard. But, obviously, things worked out for the better for them.”
It took a little while. The band ended up recording their next album [that became Worship Music] with vocalist Dan Nelson before he parted ways with the band in 2009 before it could be released. John Bush would return to help them for a live commitment before vocalist Belladonna officially came back to re-record Nelson's parts on a reworked Worship Music that finally saw a 2011 release. Metal sure is complicated sometimes.
Dave Grohl – Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Dave Grohl was in an understandably dark place following Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994. He hadn't played drums publicly since his last show with Nirvana in Germany on 1 March that year, then Tom Petty came calling.
“Someone from my management calls and says ‘Hey, Tom Petty just called and wants to know if you’ll play drums with them on Saturday Night Live?’” recalled Grohl in the Petty documentary Runnin' Down A Dream. The Heartbreakers were between drummers follower the departure of Stan Lynch and Grohl was shocked to be asked.
"What the f*** is he calling me for? He couldn’t find a good drummer?” wondered Grohl. His hard-hitting performance on the show for the two songs the band played reminded everyone exactly why he was asked; muscular on Honey Bee's intro (a favourite Petty song of Grohl's) before sensitively syncopating with the guitar dynamics in the verses. "It’s like the kind of thing a bunch of 16-year-olds would play in the garage to get off," said Grohl. "It’s killer. It’s a barn burner.”
If SNL was a stealth audition, Grohl aced it. Later, Petty called to offer him the drum job. "I just felt weird about just going right back to the drums because it would have just reminded me of being in Nirvana,” Grohl admitted to Howard Stern in 2021.
“It would have been sad for me personally. It would’ve been an emotional thing to be behind the drumset every night and not have Kurt there.” Instead, Grohl took the unexpected path of becoming a frontman himself with the Foo Fighters. And that turned out pretty well didn't it.
Adrian Smith, Phil Collen – Def Leppard, Iron Maiden
A very unusual vice-versa prospect here. Phil Collen may well have got the job as Iron Maiden's replacement for Dennis Stratton… but there was a clear snag. "They asked me to come down and I wasn't really interested," Collen admitted to Inside Out in 2008. "I have known them guys for years. I used to go to school with the original singer Paul DiAnno, who I have known since I was six. All the guys grew up in the same area as me, they're lovely guys, I love 'em, but it's a different type of music. I was in a glam rock band [Girl] and now I'm in Def Leppard… which is more up my street."
Collen ended up joining Leppard to replace Pete Willis and tracked the solos on 1983's Pyromania, which did pretty well as we recall with 10 million sales in the US alone. Adrian Smith ended up getting the Maiden job and it all worked out very well indeed, until Smith quit the British metallers in 1990. When Leppard was looking for a new guitarist after the tragic death of Steve Clark in 1991, Smith applied to audition. And he was in illustrious company.
Collen confirmed in a press conference earlier this year that the band invited five people they knew to audition – including Smith, former Whitesnake man John Sykes and a young musician from Birmingham called Huey Lucas. "Vivian [Campbell] just fit in straight away; it was just like [it was] meant to be," said Collen. [But] Adrian is great — he's a great singer. That was one of the other things [we looked for], if you can sing."
“John could sing his ass off,” Leppard frontman Joe Elliot told Classic Rock. “And he wrote Still Of The Night for Whitesnake. Adrian I adore, and in the end it worked out well for him because he’s back in Maiden where he belongs. We also tried out a young unknown kid from Birmingham, Huey Lucas. Great player, but his voice wasn’t that strong. Vivian was always the number-one candidate. For us it wasn’t about how well you could play, it was more about how well you can sing. And more importantly, we’ve got to get on with this person.”
For his part, Smith has suggested he might talk about his perspective on it all in his next book, but as Joe Elliot noted, he ended up rejoining Maiden in 1999 anyway, alongside returning vocalist Bruce Dickinson. And everyone rocked happily ever after.
Patty Smyth – Van Halen
Van Halen with a female vocalist is a very interesting prospect – and it really could have happened. The former Scandal singer, who later enjoyed a hit duetting with The Eagles's Don Henley on Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, found fans in Eddie Van Halen and his wife. The guitarist even guested with Scandal onstage for two songs in 1984 – and you can hear it below. Then with David Lee Roth's departure the following year, Smyth suddenly found herself in the frame to replace him.
"They were heavy drinkers. I don’t drink,"she reflected in an interview with Stereogum in 2020 on her decision to turn the band down. "I never saw myself living in LA. I was like, “I’m from New York, we don’t move to LA.”
"It’s all semantics because if [Eddie] had said to me, 'Let’s make a record', then I would have said yes to that. But joining the band — to me then, 'Oh god, they fight all the time, him and his brother [Alex Van Halen], and I don’t want to get into a volatile situation.' And I was probably heavily hormoned out because I was eight months pregnant, so there was a state of mind that I was in of how I need to take care of myself. But I regretted turning him down. For a long time I regretted it. When you start to have regrets, I was like, 'Oh man I would’ve made so much money.'
Smyth had the pipes for the job and Van Hagar detractors would obviously have been spared that whole era. But the band did very, very well with Sammy and, for her part, Smyth isn't bitter about how things turned out now.
"I wish I had the right kind of luck," she told Stereogum. "I feel it’s just like I’m in this stream or this river and sometimes it’s just taking you where you need to go. Sometimes you’ve got to paddle and go in certain directions and other times you’re just letting it take you. And for me, like I said, my life has turned out unbelievable. That I’ve been married and with the same man for 25 years is insane."
Dimebag Darrell, Slash – Megadeth
If you thought Anthrax's singer maneuvers were complicated, they've got nothing on the revolving door in Megadeth. Dave Mustaine has remained the band's only constant since 1983, but that revolving door nearly stopped the world hearing Pantera's classic albums.
“I actually called him up and asked him to play in Megadeth,” Mustaine told the Tampa Bay Times in 2019 of Dimebag Darrell Abbott in a recent interview. “Fate would have completely changed if I would have called him before I called [drummer] Nick Menza. I said, ‘Hey, Darrell, I’m looking for a guitar player.’ And he goes, ‘Can I bring my brother?’ And I went, ‘Who’s your brother?’ He goes, ‘Vinnie Paul! Don’t you know Vinnie Paul?"
“He wanted to bring his brother and have him play with us," Mustaine continued. "And I go, ‘Oh, man, I just hired Nick Menza.’ Can you imagine what Vinnie and Darrell would have been with me and Junior [bassist Dave Ellefson]? Would’ve been pretty cool.”
We can hear that in our minds but surely the rumor Mustaine asked Slash to join the band is nonsense? No, actually. Around the mid '80s before Guns started taking off, Slash found himself living near Mustaine in LA.
"I crashed wherever I could, and did whatever came to mind, and there was a point in there when I hooked up with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth," Slash wrote in his 2007 autobiography. "We became friends; he was strung out on smack and crack and he lived in the same neighborhood, so we hung out and wrote songs. He was a true, complete fucking maniac and a genius riff writer.
"We'd hang out, smoke crack, and come up with major heavy metal riffs, just f****** dark and heavy as hell. Sometimes Dave Ellefson would join us; we got along great, we wrote some great s***. It got to the point, in our drug-fueled creative zone, that we started seriously entertaining the idea of me joining Megadeth.
"Guns was in a holding pattern, after all, and I was high enough to consider all kinds of bad decisions," Slash added. "Dave Mustaine is still one of the most genius musicians I have ever jammed with, but still, in my heart of hearts, I knew I couldn't leave Guns."
Rory Gallagher – The Rolling Stones
Michael Schenker was certainly not the only number The Stones called when Mick Taylor quit the band in 1974. He left a huge guitar hole to fill, but Rory Gallagher certainly had the potential to fill it.
Rory had already found success with Taste and as a solo bluesman by that point, documented by the Irish Tour film that same year, but he couldn't resist the chance to find out more when he received a surprising phone call from the Stones' road manager and pianist at the family home in Ireland.
"It was about one o’clock the morning," Rory's brother and manager Dónal recalled to The Telegraph in 2020. "Back then, if the call was overseas, you had to go through the operator. She told my mother she was connecting. I took the call. I was a bit defensive because, in those days, there were a lot of kidnappings [by the Provisional IRA]. The guy says, ‘My name is Ian Stewart… I’m looking for Rory Gallagher.
“Rory had gone to bed on one of his rare early nights," Dónal added. "When I woke him, he thought I was winding him up. But he agreed to go to Rotterdam to jam with them.” Jagger even collected Rory from the airport.
"Rory did three or four nights," Dónal told Eon Music in 2020, "and I remember him telling me the first night Keith didn’t come down, so Mick said to Rory; “Can you start me up with a riff? I’ve got this song, but can you help me with a riff?”, and Rory said OK, and Jagger was just filling up with a coffee from a vending machine, and it burned him, and he said; 'Oh jeez, that’s hot stuff!' and Rory said; “Oh, is the title ‘Hot Stuff’?” and he said; “Oh yeah, that’s a great title!” So yeah, there was a lot of Rory riffs on that album that was used later on."
Despite the creative sparks, and the positive noises from Jagger, the whole thing fell apart.
“On the final night, Keith had come down, and they had done sessions over the days, but Mick and Keith weren’t talking to each other," Dónal explained. "So Rory said, ‘Please let me know what’s going on because I’ve got to be on a plane to Tokyo tomorrow‘ [he was leaving for a Japanese tour he'd already arranged]. And Mick said, ‘Keith wants to have a good long chat with you. Please go up. He’s waiting in his suite upstairs.’ And Rory went up, and Keith was comatose in the bed”.
“Rory stayed up all night, went back every half hour, and tried talking, but [Keith] wasn’t," continued Dónal. "So Rory made up his own mind, for whatever reason, and just packed up his guitar and amp, and I met him at Heathrow with a fresh suitcase.”
Rory left a note with the band that day with details of how to contact him but the communication breakdown was never repaired. He would never play with the Stones again. Ronnie Wood would eventually get the job, and nearly 40 years on he's still there and we still can't picture the gifted Rory playing a sideman role in the Stones. "I think there was an issue that Rory should have been the man," reflected Dónal, "but Ronnie Wood probably fits in better with the style and with the image."