10 Musicians Who Walked Away From Huge Bands

Slash by Kreepin Deth via Wikipedia. Tommy Lee via his Facebook. Josh Brainard via Slipknot Fandom
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Fans always like to think of their favorite bands as one big rock and roll family. No matter how many times they might spar at each other in the press, these are the kind of gangs that would take a bullet for each other if the time called for it. Years of being with the same people day after day can get draining, though, and there comes a point when some people just want out. 

Even with the fat royalty checks that they may have been leaving on the table, each of these musicians tried to hold onto their sanity and go their own way, leaving the rest of the band behind. While we can all sit there thinking that they’ve made the worst decision of their life, there’s more that goes into this than just band drama. 

From falling out with your former bandmates to just falling out of love with the music you’re playing, there was a lot more thought put into these decisions that meant more than those millions of dollars ever could. Holding a band together at the best of times tends to feel like a marriage, and every single one of these acts seemed bound for divorce court once they actually hit it big. 

Jason Newsted – Metallica

Coming out of the ‘90s, Metallica almost seemed bigger than rock music altogether. After being kings of the underground on the backs of their thrash classics, The Black Album was where everything started to turn a corner, making them one of the biggest names in the country and having millions of fans call them sellouts in the process. We think that every band has the right to experiment, though…so long as they treat their band members with respect. 

From the day that he joined the band, Jason Newsted was always treated as the new kid in the band, with the band hazing him relentlessly both on tour and in the studio, including turning his bass down on And Justice For All. Since they never grieved properly from the loss of their former bassist Cliff Burton, all of that pent up anger got directed at him, only contributing a handful of licks to the Metallica catalog over the years. 

Anyone can grin and bear it, but Jason decided it was the final straw when James Hetfield put his foot down about doing any side projects, feeling creatively stifled in a band where he wasn’t being treated as an equal anyway. Choosing his muse over the band, Jason left the band in the early ‘00s, and Metallica entered one of the darkest phases of their career with St. Anger. 

Slash – Guns N’ Roses

For all the blame that has been thrown grunge’s way, Guns N’ Roses had more of a hand in killing hair metal. Although they may have been born in the same clubs that birthed some of the biggest bands on the Strip, these guys were the real deal and were more than worthy of the challenge of being the World’s Most Dangerous Band. The band from Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion, though, were miles apart. The early days we had a street gang, and it’s been the Axl Rose show ever since. 

Once the tour for the Illusion records began, Axl started to dictate every single move that the band made, leading to drummer Steven Adler being fired during recording and Izzy Stradlin being replaced by Gilby Clarke when he walked out of the tour not wanting to put up with Axl’s antics. The rest of the band may have been willing to wait out the tour, but Guns N’ Roses becoming a borderline circus act became too much to bear, especially when Axl decided not to show up to some of the gigs because of his vocal problems. 

Once they got together for “The Spaghetti Incident?” for a bunch of covers though, the writing was on the wall, and Slash picked up his Les Paul guitar and left the band. From there, we had the years of Velvet Revolver, and Axl disappeared for a decade for the eventual Chinese Democracy project. Thankfully, things have since been smoothed over, with Slash of course being part of the current incarnation of Guns.

Bruce Dickinson – Iron Maiden

In the world of metal, Iron Maiden almost deserves a slot by themselves as one of the few perfect bands. Although not everything they touched has necessarily been golden, the formula that they pioneered back in the ‘80s made for some of the best songs that the genre ever spit out, from “Hallowed Be Thy Name” to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Then again, you can’t imagine anyone singing those songs except for Bruce Dickinson, until the day that the Air Raid Siren suddenly fell silent.

By the time the band reached the ‘90s, Bruce had started to branch out from the traditional metal frontman role, which didn’t exactly sit well with the rest of the band’s traditional sound. While the rest of the band seemed to depart on decent terms with Bruce continuing his solo career, the rest of the decade would not be as kind to Maiden’s records, with Blaze Bayley not having nearly the same kind of intensity as Bruce and making some of the traditional galloping songs seem like more of a slog than before.

It wasn’t long before Maiden built some bridges, though, and Brave New World became one of the biggest comebacks in metal history, with the kind of songs that most fans had been wanting to hear since 1987. Blaze definitely has his place as a decent rock vocalist, but when it comes to someone like Bruce Dickinson, you accept no substitutions. 

Josh Brainard – Slipknot

Even for a genre that was as strange as nu metal, it was a bit of a gamble to have someone like Slipknot become one of the biggest bands in the world. Here was an act whose members all seemed to come out of the underworld, all brandishing strange masks that seemed to hide something even darker just underneath the surface. This powder keg was about to explode, though, only for one of the main men to drop the ball at the last second.

Just before the band were set to release their debut album in 1999, guitarist Josh Brainard was getting more and more unhappy with his role in the band and decided to quit, just as the band were about to go on tour. Corey Taylor had just the solution, though, bringing in Jim Root from his band Stone Sour to fill out the rest of their sound, but not before Jim went through the Slipknot process, designing his own bondage mask and operating as the Jester alongside the Jason Voorhees-esque insanity of Mick Thomson.

It was too late for the cover shoot, though, with Jim only being mentioned in the credits as contributing to the songs. For as much as Jim might be ingrained in the early days of Slipknot, what you’re seeing on the cover of that debut record is the Slipknot that could have been. 

Marty Friedman – Megadeth

It was never the rule for Megadeth to have a constantly rotating lineup…it just turned out that way. While Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson were the main heads of the band for most of their tenure, the band was only as good as the players they had with them, with Marty Friedman getting the most buzz during the era of Rust in Peace. The synergy between Dave and Marty felt like a match made in heaven, but metal might have been a genre too confining for what Marty wanted to do. 

After getting a pretty nasty reception to the album Risk in the late ‘90s, Marty thought it would be time to step off, wanting to keep going in a more mainstream direction while Dave was working on bringing back the edge on The World Needs a Hero. 

Having been known as a guitar god for the better part of a decade though, Marty ended up finding his true calling half the world away, becoming a media personality in Japan and being stationed over there as a TV host and breaking out his guitar chops on occasion. While Marty still seems incredibly appreciative of the legacy he’s built up in the guitar community, he seems to look at his reputation as a shredder as only a small part of what he’s all about. 

Al Atkins – Judas Priest

There’s a good chance that Judas Priest wants you to forget the first incarnation of the band. Even though the early days of Priest may have brought you songs like “Victim of Changes,” you had to get through Rocka Rolla to get there, where the band were much more psychedelic than anywhere close to heavy. If you look at the credits of that first album, though, chances are you’ll see the name Al Atkins a lot. 

Before we were introduced to the Metal God, Al was the original singer for Priest and actually co wrote a bunch of songs in the beginning of the band before deciding that he was going to step away. So why did he decide to give up his golden ticket? Simple: he thought the band wasn’t going to go anywhere. 

After spending years fine tuning and getting little to nothing in terms of exposure, Al thought it would be more realistic to find a proper job to support his family, leaving the throne to Rob Halford, who brought in a much more ferocious delivery that became the definitive style of metal screaming for the better part of a decade. Al may have been a decent frontman at the time, but when you stack it up against the rest of Priest’s catalog, Rocka Rolla is practically an Al Atkins solo record in disguise. 

Paul D’Amour – Tool

The original incarnation of Tool had a lot of growing up to do before they could melt any heads off. As much as something like Undertow may have been brutal for its time, the future was a lot more open for what Maynard James Keenan could do, taking the basics of metal and turning in some of the greatest prog records of the modern age like Lateralus. Those songs live and die off of the bass lines, though, and it looked like Paul D’Amour didn’t exactly fit the mold when it was time to make that crossover.

While there wasn’t anything wrong with Paul’s playing on Undertow, replacing him with Justin Chancellor was definitely the better option here, trading in the powerful bass lines for something that was a lot more musical like on the songs “Forty Six and Two” and “Schism.” 

What D’Amour didn’t have in complexity he certainly made up for in brutality, with the first album hitting you like a sledgehammer on songs like “Intolerance” and “Sober.” It may have been a sad parting at first, but Tool had much more on their agenda that was going to open the doors of your mind. 

Nameless Ghouls – Ghost

There’s a good chance that no one was going to find out the names behind the masks in Ghost. The mystique that came with these guys was almost airtight from their first record onward, with many skeptics thinking they were actually a cult that conducted different Satanic rituals in a snowy castle out in the hinterland. They’re just human like the rest of us though…and those humans need to get paid eventually. 

It would have made sense for some of the ghouls to actually transition out of Ghost, but the claims that they weren’t being paid ended up with band leader Tobias Forge in court, taking off the Papa Emeritus getup and making sure everything was paid for. Then again, it’s not like you could tell which person was which when they went through their alleged hearings, with all of the band members coming without their masks and basically breaking the mystique that Tobias had worked for with just a few pieces of legal paper. 

Though Ghost were able to prosper forward with their next album Prequelle, not even the lore of the band was safe from the lawsuit, as Papa was demoted to Cardinal Copia for the remainder of the album cycle. You don’t need to give the ghouls name, Tobias, but you do have to make sure they’re able to eat at the end of the day. 

Tommy Lee –Mötley Crüe

Not all bands that came from the Sunset Strip and fell victim to grunge can live to tell the tale. As much as fans were ride or die for bands like Ratt and Warrant back in the day, no one was really in their corner once the likes of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden set the world on fire. Mötley Crüe did come out on the other side though…it was just one big mess getting all the pieces together. 

Coming out of the experimental album Generation Swine, Vince Neil was still not on the greatest terms with the rest of the guys in the band, which eventually exploded into an argument during rehearsal where Tommy Lee quit the band. 

Looking to do something different than their signature brand of sleaze rock, Tommy entered the world of dance music for a few years as a DJ and with Methods of Mayhem, while Motley carried on with a revolving door of drummers, from Randy Castillo to Samantha Maloney. Drummers may seem to be replaceable in rock and roll every now and again, but when you replace someone like Tommy Lee, you’re losing a core part of your identity. Obviously, Tommy eventually did rejoin the band, though.

Pat Smear – Foo Fighters

If the Foo Fighters hadn’t started as an idea out of Dave Grohl’s experiments in a studio, there’s a good chance that post grunge would have never existed. We were all still reeling from Nirvana’s demise, and if Dave could find it in him to pull himself back up, we could too. Not everyone was willing to share in the fun, though. 

After already being Nirvana’s back up guitarist live and being a member of the Germs, Pat Smear was starting to get severe burnout from playing the same songs over and over again on tour. By the time that William Goldsmith was sacked for Taylor Hawkins on the drum kit after recording The Colour and the Shape, Pat called a meeting with Dave and told him that he couldn’t play anymore, not having it in him to go on another insane tour schedule all over again. 

That’s not to say he didn’t quit in spectacular fashion though, introducing new guitarist Franz Stahl on top of Radio City Music Hall and stepping out of the group shortly after. That one true love never goes away, though, and Pat found himself back in the band almost a decade later when Dave needed additional people for Skin and Bones and has been sticking around ever since. It may be cluttered having 3 guitarists up on stage, but Pat’s guitar has always given the Foos the punk edge that they thrive on.