A History of Partial Band Reunions: From the Supremes to Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins just announced an extensive arena tour where frontman Billy Corgan will be joined by original members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, but nowhere in the press release does the word “reunion” actually appear. That might be because, as most everyone knows by now, founding bassist D’arcy Wretzky is not expected to take part in it. She’s been almost completely silent since leaving the band in 1999, but she made up for lost time this month by releasing Corgan’s private text messages to Alternative Nation and granting a rare interview where she blasted him over and over. “I honestly think he may have a brain tumor,” she said. “He’s always been insufferable.”
Comments like that make it hard to imagine Corgan welcoming her back into the fold anytime soon, and it remains unknown just exactly how well the tour will do without her. They are promising to play nothing but classics from their Nineties run and Iha hasn’t toured with the band since they split in 2000, but D’arcy is revered by the fan base. Whatever happens, it won’t be the first time a group attempted to reunite without a core member. Here’s a look back at eight other times that happened. (Note: We aren’t counting cases like the Eagles reunions where former members that left prior to the breakup weren’t invited back. We also aren’t counting situations like the Pixies or Kiss where someone left years after a reunion.)
Missing Member: Singer Steve Perry, 1998 to present.
Background: A decade after quitting the band and forcing their dissolution, Perry returned to Journey in 1996 to cut their new LP Trial by Fire. It produced a genuine hit with “When You Love a Woman,” but Perry injured his hip before they could tour. The band eventually grew tired of waiting for him to heal and went on the road with soundalike Steven Augeri. Vocal problems forced him out in 2006, but they pressed on with replacement singers.
Impact on Reunion: It took them years and endless state-fair and casino gigs to claw their back to the top, but once they discovered Filipino sensation Arnel Pinda on YouTube in 2007 they began headlining arenas again. They’re even playing a handful of stadiums this summer on a co-headlining tour with Def Leppard.
Odds of a True Reunion: Very slim. Steve Perry did stand with them onstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, but he refused to sing. If that occasion didn’t force a reunion, nothing will. Besides, they are doing shockingly well without him.
Missing Member: Drummer Bill Ward, 2012 to 2017.
Background: Ward came and went from Black Sabbath no fewer than four separate times during their long history, but when they announced their reunion tour in 2011 he sat near his three bandmates at the press conference and said he fully intended to participate. The trouble only came when they presented him with a contract that he deemed “unsignable.” This led to a nasty, public spat and Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk playing on their comeback album. Ozzy’s solo drummer Tommy Clufetos handled the tour.
Impact on Reunion: The Sabbath die-hards would have certainly preferred to see the original quartet, but the prospect of seeing the metal pioneers one last time before they hung it up was irresistible to most and the tour sold like crazy. Sad it as may be to say, the absence of Ward probably did little to diminish sales.
Odds of a True Reunion: Quite poor. Sabbath played their final gig in early 2017 and Ozzy just announced a solo farewell tour. He’s said that many times before, but now that he’s almost 70 it feels more definitive. Guitarist Tony Iommi has been battling cancer in recent years and Ward had a heart scare, so it seems pretty likely that the original Sabbath will never play again.
Missing Member: Bassist Michael Anthony, 2007 to the present.
Background: After decades of swearing it would never happen, the Van Halen brothers finally relented in 2007 and let David Lee Roth back into the group. They had little choice. An album and tour with Extreme’s Gary Cherone in the late Nineties was a commercial dud and a 2004 reunion tour with Sammy Hagar was a nightmare of backstage tension that ended with the two sides hating each other more than ever. The choices were bring back David Lee Roth or hit the casino circuit with a fourth singer. But by this point in time, Eddie Van Halen felt that Michael Anthony had grown too close to Sammy Hagar, even playing in his solo band. Anthony said that he simply didn’t want to sit at home and do nothing, but to Eddie it was treason. Also, Eddie’s teenage son Wolfgang was a prodigy on the bass and guitar and he wanted him in the group. Michael wasn’t even told he was out of the band. He learned it when he saw reports on the Internet.
Impact on Reunion: It definitely put a damper on things. Michael Anthony’s background vocals are a key part of the Van Halen formula, and they were needed more than ever once it became clear that Roth’s voice wasn’t exactly in pristine shape after he came back. Van Halen were still able to play arenas, but the whole thing felt a little hollow.
Odds of a True Reunion: It would involve Eddie firing his own son or Wolfgang walking away on his own free will. Stranger things have happened, but this one feels unlikely. At this point, we don’t even know if the band exists in any form. They aren’t very good at keeping the public updated about their plans.
Guns N’ Roses
Missing Members: Drummer Steven Adler and guitarist Izzy Stradlin, 2016 to the present.
Background: After eight years of hibernation, Axl Roses took Guns N’ Roses back on tour in 2001 without a single other original member of the band. Izzy Stradlin made surprise guest appearances a handful of times and Duff McKagan even filled in for Tommy Stinson briefly in 2014, but Axl always said that a reunion with Slash was an absolute non-starter. In 2016, however, he shocked the world by bringing Slash and Duff back into the fold for the Not in This Lifetime tour, which is still going two years later. Izzy didn’t participate, he claims, because they wouldn’t agree to split the money evenly. Adler was sidelined due to a medical ailment and a shaky relationship with Axl, but he did briefly guest at five shows.
Impact on Reunion: Even with just three fifths of the classic lineup on the stage, Guns R’ Roses were able to headline stadiums all across the globe and rake in ridiculous amounts of money. Old school fans may have grumbled, but they still bought tickets. But would they have sold at least a few more tickets had they been 100 percent? Probably.
Odds of a True Reunion: Hard to say. Steven Adler would come back tomorrow if given the chance, though his ability to play three-hour shows night after night is somewhat of an open question. Izzy Stradlin is among the most mysterious figures in the world of rock and he hasn’t been on a real tour since 1991. If the cash were right, however, he might be willing to suck it up for the “Izzy’s Back: Give Us Even More of Your Money Tour.”
Missing Members: Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, 2000.
Background: To make a long story short, Diana Ross walked away from the Supremes in 1970 and for the next seven years Mary Wilson carried on with other singers before retiring the name. In 2000, a few years after Kiss, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Page & Plant showed just how profitable a reunion could be, a tour was put together called Diana Ross & the Supremes: Return to Love. The only problem was that Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (who replaced original Supreme Florence Ballard in 1967) were offered a tiny percent of the $15 million that Ross was contracted to receive. They balked at the insulting proposal, causing Ross to hit the road with Lynda Lawrence and Sherry Payne, both of whom toured with Mary Wilson as the Supremes in the late 1970s.
Impact on Reunion: The toxic press from the failed negotiations with Wilson and Birdsong completely destroyed the tour. Diana attempted to promote the show on The Today Show and Oprah Winfrey Live, but she couldn’t escape constant questions about Wilson and Birdsong. Wilson also took her case to the press and convinced many fans this wasn’t a legit reunion in any sense. Some nights Ross & Co. still played to packed houses, but other gigs had huge sections of empty seats. The plug was pulled on the whole thing before it was even halfway over.
Odds of a True Reunion: Close to zero. Mary Wilson and Diana Ross have been feuding for over half a century. They are both 73 years old. They remain active, but Motown acts historically have never made the sort of money on the road that classic-rock acts like the Rolling Stones and the Eagles generate. That means the sort of big-bucks offer they’d need to bury the hatchet just isn’t there.
Electric Light Orchestra
Missing Members: Drummer Bev Bevan and everyone else besides Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy, 2014 to the present.
Background: Jeff Lynne pulled the plug on Electric Light Orchestra in 1986 to focus on his career as a producer. What happened afterwards is so complicated it would require an hour-long PowerPoint presentation, but the short of it is that drummer Bev Bevan put together a new project called ELO Part II with other ex-members of the group. A lawsuit was filed. When all was said and done, Bevan moved on with his career, but other former ELO/ELO II members tour to this day as the Orchestra. Lynn, meanwhile, revived the group as Jeff Lynne’s ELO in 2014 for a new album and a series of tours. The only member of the old group he brought back is keyboardist Richard Tandy, though he’s had to miss some recent shows due to health problems.
Impact on Reunion: None. ELO has been Jeff Lynne’s band ever since co-founder Roy Wood walked away in 1972. He writes the songs, plays many of the instruments and produces the albums. Fans flock to Wembley Stadium to hear him sing the material decades later. If Bev Bevan isn’t on drums or Mik Kaminski is not on violin, very few of them know or care. A tiny hardcore fan base may fixate on such matters, but they still buy the tickets.
Odds of a True Reunion: Would a negative number make any sense in this context? Jeff Lynne hasn’t spoken to Bev Bevan in decades. The drummer didn’t even show up when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other former members continue to tour as the Orchestra, annoying Lynne to no end. There is not even the tiniest of tiny chances he’s going to bring these people back into the group.
Missing Member: Frontman Dennis DeYoung, 1999 to present.
Background: Styx reformed for a series of reunion tours with Dennis DeYoung in 1991, 1996 and 1997, but old tensions between the singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw resurfaced very quickly. “We’re just different people with different desires and different vision of how things should be,” Shaw told Rolling Stone in 2011. “God, it was such an unhappy place. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” After the 1997 tour, DeYoung began experiencing an extreme sensitivity to light that made touring impossible. The group eventually grew tired of the situation and began touring with replacement Lawrence Gowan.
Impact on Reunion: Minimal. Styx are one of those bands where the songs are more famous than the musicians. A good many people know every word to “Come Sail Away,” but couldn’t pick Dennis DeYoung or Tommy Shaw out of a police lineup. That has helped them tremendously in the post-DeYoung era. They go out and play sheds every single summer on double bills with the likes of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon and earn a very good living. DeYoung, meanwhile, plays much smaller venues with a guitarist that used to play Tommy Shaw in a Styx tribute act.
Odds of a True Reunion: DeYoung has made it clear he’d reunite with them at any point, but the others have absolutely no interest. They’d rather make slightly less money and not deal with him than try yet another reunion. But then again, the history of rock reunions has showed us that nothing is impossible so long as people are alive and physically able to perform.
Missing Member: Drummer Chris Mars, 2013 to 2015.
Background: The only two consistent members throughout the entire history of the Replacements was frontman Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, though drummer Chris Mars was on everything up until the final tour in 1991. (He was replaced by Steve Foley, who died in 2008. Founding guitarist Bob Stinson, who left in 1986, died in 1995.) The group stunned fans by reforming for a tour in 2013, though Stinson and Westerberg were the only legit members returning. Chris Mars has been inactive from the music scene for many years and is now a painter. He declined to participate. Josh Freese took his place and Dave Minehan played guitar.
Impact on Reunion: None. Replacements fans were so stoked to finally see Westerberg and Stinson back onstage that they didn’t care who else played with them. Everyone loves Chris Mars, but his absence didn’t mean all that much to anyone but the most intense Replacements fans that weren’t going to miss out on this tour.
Odds of a True Reunion: If they get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they might all play together again. Short of that, any sort of a Replacements tour (even without Mars) seems like an outside bet. Every night on the last leg of reunion tour, Westberg wore a T-shirt with different letters on it. Nobody knew what it meant, but in the end they spelled out a sad message: “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past.” “He must have not been happy for a good long time during that second year, to have to muster that up,” Stinson told Rolling Stone in 2017. “I had a ball playing those songs, revisiting them and all. I just don’t get it. It was like, ‘Wow, dude. So you’ve been thinking it’s been a drag for this long, huh? Why the fuck are we doing it then?'”