10 musicians who left bands before they got famous

10 musicians who left bands before they got famous

Sometimes you’re early, sometimes you’re too late. With music it’s like normal life: Some opportunities rattle past you just because you’re not at the right place at the right time. Sometimes these incidences can even ruin your career. Shit happens. Here are 10 musicians who had exactly that happen to them:

Pete Best - The Beatles

The British drummer Pete Best is known as “the forgotten Beatle“. He played drums with the “mops tops” from 1960 to 1962. The producer of the Fab Four, George Martin, whose word had much importance in the production of their recordings, was not convinced by Pete’s drumming. He wanted to use a studio musician for the recordings. “Love Me Do“, for example, was recorded by session drummer Andy White. It wasn’t till Ringo Starr filled in one day for Pete that The Beatles decided they must have Ringo as their permanent drummer, something just clicked! Unfortunately for Pete, he was out immediately.

Tony Chapman - The Rolling Stones

The year is 1962, The Rolling Stones were on the verge of their breakthrough… without knowing it, of course. Tony Chapman had been on the drums for a while. He even brought Bill Wyman into the band at the same time. Tony didn’t like the rough way the Stones interpreted the blues. He resigned and was replaced by a certain Charlie Watts, who simply had more rock’n’roll attitude. The rest is the legendary story of the iconic band that will still be shaking international stages in the 2020s.

David Lee Marks - The Beach Boys

In 1963, surf music experienced its peak and even (temporarily) resisted being replaced by rock’n’roll. In the neighbourhood of David Marks lived the Wilson family. At the age of 10, David was already playing guitar together with Carl Wilson. The Beach Boys were born, but without David. He was only brought in when he was 14 years old. Then everything went fast! David Marks quarrelled with Murry Wilson, Brian, Carl and Dennisfather and also the band’s manager. By the age of 15, David Marks was kicked out!

Doug Sandom - The Who

Whether he was simply too old or what other reasons made Doug Sandom get replaced by Keith Moon is not really known. He was a kind and gentle man. Of course there was pain of separation, but no hard feelings. The fact is that the mega hard rock band started in 1964 without the drummer. Doug was the real original drummer of the British rockers. He later described his departure as the biggest mistake of his life. In 2019 Doug died at the age of 89 years.

Keith Levene - The Clash

He was a founding member of The Clash, but never recorded a record with the punk band. Keith Levene comes from the legendary West London scene. When it started in 1977, he was already no longer on board. He missed the fame, and of course the money, that The Clash earned over the years. After his departure from the band, the multi-instrumentalist joined Johnny Rotten in forming the post-punk, new wave, experimental rock band Public Image Ltd. It’s funny how musical ability can lead you down so many different paths…

Paul Di'Anno - Iron Maiden

It’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Bruce Dickinson is the front man of Iron Maiden. But that’s exactly how it was. Singer on the first 2 albums was Paul Di’Anno. As was almost typical for that time, he was more and more consumed by drugs and alcohol that he couldn’t handle his onstage performance anymore. Then in 1981 it was over and Paul was paid off. Strangely enough, they made a deal for him to never receive another cent from the band’s income. Tough break!

Dave Mustaine - Metallica

Dave Mustaine didn’t have any problems in the long run to hold his own in the heavy metal circus, he founded Megadeth shortly after his time with Metallica. But that didn’t stop him from complaining, for decades, about being kicked out of Metallica. That was in 1983. And why did he get the boot? For substance abuse, of course. They all seem to be getting along fine now…

Tracii Guns - Guns N' Roses

For a long time we wondered where the name Guns N’ Roses really came from. The explanation is obvious: The band was founded in 1985 by Tracii Guns and Axl Rose (the fact that Tracy Richard Irving Ulrich had a stage name is understandable). Soon the guitarist stopped showing up at rehearsals because of Axl‘s undisciplined behaviour, showing up late with no explanations (perhaps being a diva). He left the band about a year before their first successful album. If only they would have communicated better…

Jason Everman - Nirvana and Soundgarden

As second guitarist, Jason Everman played – allegedly – on the debut album “Bleach” by Nirvana in 1989. At least he can be seen on the cover. He was part of the band, although the music world doubts that he recorded anything at all on the album. Shortly after leaving Nirvana he played on the “Louder Than Love” tour with Soundgarden, this time as bass player. Then he got replaced. Already by the mid ’90s he was fed up with the music business. He first went into the military; afterwards he studied art at the University of Columbia.

Michael Dempsey - The Cure

The four founding members of The Cure were classmates in 1976, just 17 years old. Among them was Michael Dempsey. Shortly after, the bassist was replaced. His problem was that he wanted to maintain his status as an “equal band member” but he interfered too much with the songs of lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Robert Smith. For Dempsey it was to be a short episode with The Cure. See him pictured (middle) in the video below:

What have we learned from this list of band members who left before takeoff? The main lessons here is if you’ve got a good thing going with your band, make sure you sort out any problems, no matter how small, with good communication, honesty and sensitivity to others. Also, if your band mates tell you that you have a problem (with drugs, alcohol, lack of punctuality, etc.) then it’s best to not deny it and try to change your habits. If this seems difficult, seek help using public services or family members, you don’t want to miss out like the unlucky ones above.


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Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef RaÄŤek.


    Speaking of IRON MAIDEN, there was the case of Denis Stratton, the guitarist who made the mistake of the century by leaving the early, still unknown Maiden, only to be substituted by Adrian Smith. What a wrong decision…

    I believe Jason Everman was Special Forces.

    Metallica’s first bass player was Ron McGovney, who quit the band due to his girlfriends complaints, that the band was taking up too much time of his, and getting less and less respect from other band members.

    How could you forget Terry Reid, the ultimate “loser”. He turned down both Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple to pursue a solo career. How sad is that???

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