Prime Beef: a short history of what happens when rock stars come to blows

A pair of red boxing gloves hanging in front of a dark background
(Image credit: Sean Gladwell)

Beefs between high-profile rock stars are hardly a new phenomenon, but they still fill column inches on websites and in magazines. 

Inevitably, such beefs go on to fill more column inches as further insults are traded and more barbs thrown, and as journalists who understand that beef is a popular dish continue to ask questions about the past beef in order to ensure an uninterrupted supply of future beef.  

In recent times Nikki Sixx has beefed with Eddie Vedder. Slipknot and Machine Gun Kelly have beefed. Sebastian Bach and Ronnie Radke have beefed over the use of onstage laptops. John Corabi has beefed about Motley Crue. It's a never-ending production line of quality meat. 

Such beef, which tends to take place via the media, is nothing when compared to some of history's real-life confrontations, where all those niggles and all that ill-feeling spills over into real-life confrontation. Here are 15 great examples.  

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David Bowie vs Lou Reed

Following a triumphant show at Hammersmith Odeon in 1979, Lou Reed was enjoying a mutual backslap over a vat of wine with his former mentor David Bowie in an exclusive Chelsea restaurant when unexpected fisticuffs ensued. 

It seems all was well until the Thin White Duke offered to produce the Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal’s next album with the proviso that he ‘clean himself up’, which Reed took as his cue to start punching Bowie in the head. Security intervened and with apologies and hugs exchanged, the pair resumed their huddling… until The Dame repeated his offer and Lou kicked off in earnest.


Charlie Watts vs Mick Jagger

Way back at the peak of their appetite for debauchery, The Rolling Stones are enjoying all the post-gig excesses available to modern man when Mick Jagger notices that Charlie Watts has retired to bed. “Where’s my fucking drummer?” he demands of a passing flunky who is duly despatched to wake up Chas. 

Not renowned for his patience, Watts is none too pleased by this rude awakening and – upon being told of Jagger’s boorish behaviour – dresses immaculately, applies a little cologne and strolls over to the party. On arrival, Charlie heads straight for Mick, fells him with a single punch and utters the immortal words: “I’m not your drummer, you’re my singer.”


Jayne County vs 'Handsome' Dick Manitoba

As willowy pre-op Wayne (latterly Jayne) County was entertaining proto-punk royalty at New York’s CBGB club in mid-1976, a ‘short, fat, ugly, grotesque creature’ began to heckle loudly with the rather uncharitable observation; “Queer! Queer! Ya fuckin’ drag queen!” This, then, was The Dictators’ vocalist ‘Handsome’ Dick Manitoba: a man’s man, completely at home with his alpha male sexuality. 

So you can probably imagine Manitoba’s embarrassment as the petit(e) County, complete with wig and dress, deftly broke his collarbone with a microphone stand before leaping on to his chest and beating him so severely that he had to be hospitalised.


Chuck Berry vs Keith Richards

Keith Richards may be the ultimate rock star, but even he bows to Chuck Berry. Yet the human riff’s relationship with his idol has always been blighted by, apparently unintentional, flurries of fisticuffs. In 1972 a delighted Keith fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining Chuck onstage in Texas. Chuck threw him off for playing too loudly. 

In 1981, an undaunted Keith rushed backstage to congratulate his hero following a storming gig in New York, one incautious tap on the shoulder later and Keith was left nursing a black eye. An ‘accident’ claims Berry… just like the time he dropped a lighted match down Keith’s shirtfront at an airport.

Chuck Berry raising a fist towards Keith Richards

(Image credit: Boston Globe )

Roger Daltrey vs Pete Townsend

Fractiousness in the ’orrible ’Oo? Surely not. Scrapping has always been an integral part of The Who’s creative process, but never more so than in October 1973 when, in a most spectacular recording studio flare-up, slight-framed guitarist Pete Townshend made the somewhat hasty decision to hit the decidedly more ‘tasty’ Roger Daltrey over the head with his Gibson SG. 

Rog reciprocated, not unreasonably, with a full-blooded right-hander that knocked Townshend out cold for four hours. “I wasn’t very articulate in those days,” Daltrey admitted some years later, “But I had a very useful pair of fists."


Tommy Lee vs Doc McGhee

Mötley Crüe never liked Bon Jovi. They shared the same management team of Doc McGhee and Doug Thaler. At first, the Crüe were the bigger band, but roles reversed after Slippery When Wet. When McGhee organised the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August 1989, part of his penance for drug-smuggling convictions, 

Mötley were told by McGhee that no band would have special effects. Big mistake. Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (above right) was standing next to him when Jovi started playing. Boom went the pyros. Boom-boom went Lee’s fists, flooring McGhee and ending their management deal.


David Coverdale vs Ritchie Blackmore

A simmering feud between the former Deep Purple pals took a nasty turn when Rainbow released All Night Long, closely followed by Fool For Your Loving from Whitesnake. The similarity between the two songs led Ritchie Blackmore to insinuate that the ’Snake had ripped off his Rainbow efforts. 

Then, on February 16, 1980, things got out of control. Rainbow played in Munich, and David Coverdale turned up. Backstage, there was a corridor confrontation. One story claims the singer offered the hand of friendship, only to be floored by the guitarist. Another version suggests he pulled Blackmore’s hair, leading to a right old mêlée.


Roger Waters vs David Gilmour

“The whole thing had fallen to pieces during Wish You Were Here,” Roger Waters has said of his relationship with David Gilmour. “There was a power struggle all the way through,” Gilmour disagrees, “But my relationship with Roger became unworkable during the making of The Wall film.” 

Things reached a head in October ’86 when Waters, having quit the band, tried to prevent the others from working under the Pink Floyd name. Bitter verbal pot-shots were subsequently exchanged until Waters sensationally reunited with his old bandmates for Live8. “It was very curious piece of politics,” muses Floyd drummer Nick Mason. “Roger could have finished Pink Floyd off by never leaving.


Sid Vicious vs Bob Harris

Sid Vicious may not have been the world’s greatest fighter, but whenever he found himself in a potential scrap situation, he always made sure that there was somebody on hand to fight on his behalf. 

Both at the 100 Club in 1976 and The Speakeasy in ’77 – when Sid weighed into journalist Nick Kent and DJ Bob Harris respectively – it was only the presence of future Public Image Ltd bassist Jah Wobble that prevented Sid from getting soundly stomped. Wobble’s imposing presence allowed Sid free rein to bully with his broken bottles and bike-chains; Harris sustained minor cuts, but engineer George Nicholson needed 14 stitches to a head wound.


Twisted Sister vs Manowar and Hanoi Rocks

In 1983 Twisted Sister announced their intention to confront both Manowar and Hanoi Rocks, who had both been bad-mouthing them to the press, the former with their usual, tired tirade that the band were ‘false metal’. Twisted Sister responded by inviting both bands to a Sunday afternoon fight in Covent Garden. 

Cometh the hour, there were the Sister in all their glory, but neither Hanoi Rocks nor Manowar appeared, leaving the challengers ample opportunity to milk the event, Dee Snider stomping around with a loudhailer, seeking out his prey under bin bags and in ladies’ lavatories. At just before 3pm, Sister declared themselves victorious and their absentee critics “chickenlivered scum of the earth”.


Courtney Love vs Mary Lou Lord

A word of warning: if you have sex with anyone connected to Courtney Love keep it to yourself. And don’t do what folk singer Mary Lou Lord did, and boast about it in a song. 

London-born, Lord dated Cobain long before the Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain married Courtney. Lord did record at least one song about their relationship, Some Jingle Jangle Morning, while another – She’s Got You – was supposedly a veiled attack on her, erm, love rival. The result: enraged Courtney chasing the folkie down Sunset Boulevard in November 1994, screaming abuse and threats at her. Which certainly wasn’t very polite.


Iron Maiden vs Judas Priest

It’s alleged that the antipathy that’s existed between the UK metal giants for a quarter century began when support act Iron Maiden turned up unannounced at London’s Rainbow Theatre (where Judas Priest were rehearsing for their 1980 UK tour), seated themselves in the stalls and commenced cracking jokes and drinking. 

Priest guitarist KK Downing not only sent them packing, but also suggested in New Music News that Maiden had blatantly ripped off Priest’s stage act. Maiden compounded the ill feeling by playing up to Rob Halford’s evident fondness for their vocalist Paul Di’Anno, the latter going so far as to invite the leather-clad frontman to Neal Kay’s Bandwagon disco, though failing to turn up himself.


Sebastian Bach vs Jon Bon Jovi

In 1989 Bon Jovi took Skid Row out as their support band in America. In exchange, JBJ apparently took a sizeable cut of their music publishing money. And when Bach found out, there was a confrontation between the two frontmen. “Sebastian’s a great kid, but he got out of control. So, one day I knocked him on his ass.” 

That was Bon Jovi’s version. Sebastian, though, claimed everything reached a head when the pair came face-to-face, prior to a show: “Bon Jovi came up to me backstage with two bodyguards. They pinned me against a wall, while he started ‘lecturing’ me!”


Josh Homme vs Blag Dahlia

Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age attacked Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia at The Dragonfly Club in Los Angeles in November 2004. And you can blame Homme’s one-time QOTSA partner Nick Oliveri. The same year's Dwarves album, The Dwarves Must Die, has a track called Massacre, where Dhalia and Oliveri seemingly combine to take the piss out of Homme. 

Upshot: Josh pissed off at being, er, joshed, and fur, punches – even bottles – started flying. The QOTSA star was found guilty of assault and barred from going within 100 yards of Dahlia. Ironically, Homme kissed and made up with Oliveri.


Jack White vs Pete Stollsteimer

In December 2003, White Stripes man Jack White turned the air blue at the Magic Stick club in Detroit when he rained punches down on Von Bondies’ Pete Stollsteimer. Result: a legal slap on the wrist for White, and eye surgery for his hapless punchbag. 

White pleaded self-defence, which seemed about as convincing as Ed Gein claiming his hand slipped a few times. The feud had been brewing for years, with White believing that the Bondies never gave him credit for his work as producer of their debut album, Lack Of Communication, with the war of words escalating into all-out violence.

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.  

With contributions from