Foreigner – “Urgent,” circa ’81

A friend of mine once observed that you know you’re getting older when most of your favorite bands are touring without their original singers. Thankfully, of course, my favorite band (Cheap Trick, for anyone who hasn’t figured that out yet) is one of the few bands from my youth with complete line-up intact. Even more reason to dig them!

This same friend is actually a writer for a Midwest newspaper and, this past summer, he found himself scheduled to interview members of two of his favorite bands from his teenage years: Foreigner and Styx. The only problem was that neither guy was actually a member of their respective band at the time. Thus, he approached the idea of interviewing Foreigner singer Kelly Hansen and Styx singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan with some trepidation.

What on earth would he ask mere hired guns whose job it was to help a couple original members hustle a revamped version of a once-great band on the nostalgia and casino circuit?

This practice is nothing new, of course. As a kid, I remember attending concerts by Paul Revere & The Raiders and Lovin’ Spoonful where it was painfully obvious that, while the songs may have been recognizable, the musicians onstage were not.

Styx – “Come Sail Away,” circa ’82

I didn’t expect it to happen to my rock & roll, though.

I guess every new generation thinks it’ll never happen to them, but, alas, the day will come when Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte trot out a cobbled-together version of their former selves for the sole purpose of playing state fairs and the like.

What’s most disheartening about this whole situation, of course is that, in some cases, once-great bands are touring with NO original members. That’s right, none, nada, zilch.

A total sham.

Case in point: Australia’s Little River Band. Through an inexplicable oversight on the part of the original members, a musician hired by the band in the 80’s secured rights to the name and began performing as “Little River Band.” He eventually retired from performing, but continues to license use of the name to another guy who did some time in a later version of the band. That guy continues to tour to this day with a line-up of American musicians, some of which hadn’t even been born yet when Little River Band first formed. What’s even more ridiculous is that when the original Little River Band reunited a few years ago, they found themselves legally unable to use the name “Little River Band”. Instead, three original members of the group now tour under the unwieldy moniker “Birtles Shorrock Goble: The Original Voices of Little River Band.”

Fauxreigner – “Urgent,” circa ’06

Southern rockers Molly Hatchet are also still a touring entity despite the fact that, for most of the ’90s, their line-up included no original members. By 2000, the rights to the band’s name had been secured by Bobby Ingram, who’d joined the band in 1989. In 2005, founding guitarist Dave Hlubek rejoined the band and remains a part of the current line-up.

My friend, finding the idea of interviewing someone who has no relevant history with the band for which they now play, took matters into his own hands. When interviewing these guys, he proceeded as if he were interviewing an original member. He asked Styx’s singer, Lawrence Gowan, what it was like to enjoy such dramatic chart success in the ’70s and ’80s with hits such as “Lady,” “Mr. Roboto,” and “Too Much Time on My Hands.” Gowan replied matter-of-factly that he was not a part of that line-up.

He then asked Gowan what hit songs he had been a part of during his tenure in the band. Gowan bristled, hesitated, and finally responded that each night he gets to perform songs he grew up listening to, much to the delight of sold-out crowds around the world. (In other words, zero.)

Stynx – “Come Sail Away,” circa ’07

That would explain the five live albums the band has released in the last seven years, my friend surmised. He then asked what future plans the band had, to which Gowan explained that they’d soon be heading overseas to, gasp, record another live album.

Brief rundown of current 70’s/80’s bands and their “original-members-to-ringers” quotient:
Styx (2/5 original members)
REO Speedwagon (3/5 original members, including singer Kevin Cronin)
Journey (3/5 of their “height of popularity” lineup, much different from their low-selling original line-up)
A Flock of Seagulls (1/4 original members, only singer Mike Score remains)
Berlin (1/5 original members, only singer Terri Nunn remains)
Missing Persons (1/5 original members, only singer Dale Bozzio remains)
The Motels (1/5 original members, only singer Martha Davis remains)
Foreigner (1/6 original members)
The Alarm (1/4 original members, only singer Mike Peters remains)

To end on a somewhat positive note, here’s a gaggle of great 70’s/80’s bands with original line-ups fully intact:

The aforementioned Cheap Trick
The Go-Go’s
The Police