[Update: Since this article was first published, The Sonics have canceled their tour without longtime vocalist/keyboardist Gerry Roslie. We also received a message from the band correcting and clarifying some details about their most recent lineup and tour cancellation, which you can read more about below.]
Greed and rock & roll never mix well. And when they do, it seems it’s only lawyers — and usually the bass player or keyboardist — who come out on top.
Here is a look at several of the most shameless, money-grubbing participants in that ghastly, fraudulent racket known as the oldies/classic-rock circuit. They’re coming to stink up your corner of the rock & roll jungle soon, so take care before you lay down any cash to see a show by these charlatans, none of whom feature the band members most fans are hoping to see.
8. Bow Wow Wow
Annabella Lwin, the lissome, exotic wild child who created an international sensation fronting Malcolm McLaren's early-’80s post-punk thrill tribe Bow Wow Wow, was one of that era’s most recognizable and appealing rockers. While Adam Ant couldn’t help but look like a jerk in his pirate gear, Annabella pulled it off with good cheer, an irresistible attitude and her singular, silver-toned vocal style.
But when Bow Wow Wow announces a show these days, Lwin won’t be there. She was unceremoniously dumped from the band in 2013. But bassist Leigh Gorman just won’t give it up, hiring singer Chloe Demetria as his Annabella surrogate. Demetria, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a dual major in vocal performance and composition, has been accompanying Gorman in suckering drunks on the ’80s nostalgia circuit.
7. Thee Midniters
One of the finest groups to emerge from East L.A.’s fabled, vibrant mid-’60s soul-rock explosion, Thee Midniters were capable of both intoxicatingly emotional balladry and wild, frantic, garage-rock ravers. Their charismatic, drastically talented singer Little Willie G has a set of pipes that, to this day, reach such intergalactic altitudes of expressive power that he can break your heart and bring you to your knees, then catapult you into an exultant wild blues yonder with consummate ease.
While Willie does occasionally rejoin the group on select, prestige dates, his bandmates have chosen to squander their magnificent legacy by running the band’s name into the ground over the last decade with a ceaseless tide of tepid, oldies-centric bookings all featuring the irreplaceable Willie G’s replacement, Greg Esparza, on the mic. It’s always a “buyer beware” situation whenever you see they are playing a show, and it’s a damn shame, because on a good night with Willie G, Thee Midniters are one of the greatest acts in rock & roll history.
6. Dead Kennedys
The current, very active Dead Kennedys' lineup — fronted not by founding vocalist Jello Biafra but instead by singer Skip Greer (Lightouts, The Wynona Ryders) — is the rotten fruit of Biafra’s infamous multiple court losses and subsequent $200,000 payout to the bandmates he defrauded. Punk rock’s single nastiest financial saga began when an employee at Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label noticed past-due royalties of $76,000 that should have gone to guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer D.H. Peligro. Confronted, Biafra admitted there may have been a bookkeeping error and offered to cough up the back pay, but also suggested it might be nice if his bandmates would concurrently forfeit all interest in the band's entire recorded catalog. War broke out, and the musicians were victorious, winning not only a large settlement but rights to the Dead Kennedys catalog and name.
When San Francisco noise wranglers Flipper erupted in 1979, no one was prepared for their destroy-all-comers brand of torturous, distorted droning. They called it “pet rock” and quickly became the band everyone loved to hate. Often performing to a nonstop hail of empty beer cans, their calamitous sound and 10-minute songs typically consisted of singer Bruce Loose chanting a single phrase (e.g., “You’re so bored 'cause you’re so boring”) for what felt like an eternity, while guitarist Ted Falconi coaxed a thick sludge from his instrument potent enough to reduce a listener’s brain to pulp. It was repulsive and it was pure genius.
After bassist Will Shatter overdosed in the late ’80s, Flipper evaporated, only to reappear in the early ’90s with a disastrous record on Rick Rubin's Def American label that never should have been made. Loose battled the usual toxic brew of demons, finally besting a ferocious dope habit, only to suffer a terrible auto wreck that nearly killed him and left him with spinal issues that plague him to this day. But last year, after a European promoter pitched a reunion tour, Flipper announced they were re-forming, with former Jesus Lizard singer David Yow replacing Loose. The Yow-Flipper alliance can only be described as crass commercialism at its most venal and pointless, so contrary to everything Flipper did (or didn’t) represent, and a nasty slap in the face of Loose, who, despite being crazy as a loon, is a very sweet and brilliant artist.
4. Sham 69
This may be a bit esoteric, but the current totally phony gang of creeps using this band's name keep touring the United States, and thusly richly deserve inclusion here. Sham 69 was one of the late-’70s U.K. punk scene's greatest, most volatile agents, a hard-hitting band whose lead singer, Jimmy Pursey, espoused a gutter-bred populism that, unfortunately, attracted rabidly racist, violent skinheads into the group's fan base. Before gig-wrecking violence and crap concept albums doomed Sham to the ash heap, they did perpetrate a handful of classic records (their John Cale–produced debut, “Ulster Boy”; the roaring juvenile-delinquency anthem “Borstal Breakout”) and Pursey, whose performances often ran from ebullient rabble-rousing to tearful frustration as he begged fans to stop kicking each other’s heads in, was one of punk’s most compelling personalities.
While Pursey, guitarist Dave Parsons and bassist Dave Tregunna (all from the band's classic ’77 lineup) still gig in Britain, the singer can’t get a visa as he is listed on the U.K.’s Violent and Sex Offender Register. The charge is in dispute (Parsons has said, “If he was a sex offender, neither me or Dave Tregunna would be working with him”), but until it's cleared up, we Americans only get what’s colloquially known as the “Tim V” version — which has, at certain times, consisted of no one who was ever in Sham 69. Currently the band boasts one Neil Harris — a guitarist who played with Pursey in an early incarnation of the band but appears on none of their classic recordings. Now that is as fabulous a non-claim to legitimacy as ever there was, and has earned the U.S. lineup, at least among cynical Pursey fans, the unofficial title of “Shamwow 69.”
What a fantastic band. And what a weird, screwed-up mess. Singer Brian Johnson, out after doctors told him he’d face permanent hearing loss if he continued. (Or, depending on who you talk to, because lead guitarist Angus Young fired him.) Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Malcolm Young, out due to serious health issues (primarily dementia). Drummer Phil Rudd, out after all that meth and attempted murder business. That leaves Angus Young and bassist Cliff Williams, who joined in ’77. And while they are proposing some Frankensteined-together new lineup (possibly featuring guest lead singer Axl Rose) to honor contracts on just 10 shows, it begs the question: Is this even AC/DC at all? Did they fire Johnson, as Johnson pal Jim Breuer claimed recently? Is this all about money? Does Angus really need more?
The brilliant Long Beach funk band, formed in 1962 by drummer Harold Brown and singer-guitarist Howard Scott (as The Creators), cooked up a highly spiced, heavily rhythmic brand of supercharged R&B. Brown also was one of the earliest blowtorch-wielding cats to customize cars into what became known as lowriders. After a fateful night in ’68 when they allowed a visiting harmonica player from Denmark named Lee Oskar up to jam at North Hollywood’s Rag Doll, audience member (and just split from The Animals) Eric Burdon hired them on the spot as his backing band. (“Do you believe in destiny?” Brown has said. “I do.”) That alliance, as Eric Burdon & War, was successful, but when War went on their own, it was a double-platinum smasheroo success.
But destiny can be cruel. After various road-weary members of the band burnt out and went on hiatus in the mid-’80s, manager Jerry Goldstein and Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan (who got his first keyboard after Brown told his mother to buy one, because “Lonnie’s gonna be famous”) put together an all-new lineup — and, according to Brown, stopped paying out royalties to the now-former band members. The co-founders lost all rights to the name War in 1997 and have battled ever since to get them back. In the meantime, Brown, Scott, Oscar and bassist B.B. Dickerson now must gig as the Lowrider band, while Jordan, who barely wrote or sang lead on any of War’s classic albums, leads his fictionalized “War” and cruises through all the big, lucrative gigs with an ever-changing posse of hired hands.
1. The Sonics
[Note: This portion of the list has been updated since it was originally published.]
This one is a heartbreaker, not only because The Sonics are among the most important, influential garage-rock howlers in human history, but also due to the fact that, since their turn-of-the-century re-emergence, they have given performances of beautifully blistering intensity and even released a killer new album last year — their first since 1965. The Sonics, with peerless stunners like “The Witch,” “Strychnine” and “Psycho,” were America’s premier proto-punk shock troupe, with a dizzyingly aggressive style utterly unrivaled in their day. So when they announced the band’s first-ever North American tour last month, one pesky detail was pointedly omitted — the fact that original singer-keyboardist Jerry Roslie will not be participating. Following a heart transplant, Roslie understandably just can’t travel.
So who will be taking his place? Freddie Dennis, formerly of The Kingsmen and Freddie and the Screamers, has been the band's bassist since 2009 and slowly taken over lead vocal duties from Roslie, while Jake Cavaliere, of local “biker rock” group The Lords of Altamont, was to fill in on keyboards on this latest tour. [Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Cavaliere would also be singing lead vocals. We regret the error.] But on April 21, the band announced that their North American tour has been cancelled. Sonics sax player Rob Lind later wrote to L.A. Weekly to explain the situation and request corrections to the original version of this list/article:
“Jake [Cavaliere] was NOT hired to replace Jerry as lead singer. Jake is a fabulous keyboard player, he was hired to do that alone and that is his role in the Sonics. This [tour] cancellation was purely a function of bookers and local promoters being unable to come to agreement on percentages … as is usually the case, the musicians were not consulted in any manner … We all probably learned about it about the same time you did. In closing, I'm not railing or shaking my fist at you. I wanted to offer corrections to some inaccurate statements.”
Lind also tells us that The Sonics, including Roslie, have a new studio album in the works. We can't to hear it.