Poke any band and you're almost sure to find a hornet's nest of acrimony, jealously and bitterness. It just goes with the territory, along with a steadily accumulating Air Miles account.
It could be anything. A simple clash of personality. An unfair royalty spilt. A guitar amp turned up too loud. A singer turned down. But it's always there. That tension. That unease. That volatility.
So bands fight. And when they do, it can get real ugly, real quick. Here are 40 examples.
Lest we forget, at the time of the original split in 1985, you could have warmed your hands on the animosity between the members of America’s biggest band, and after the cooling of his solo career, it was mainly the frontman’s talent for extravagant abuse that kept him in the headlines.
“Old Van Halen – when I was in it – made you want to drink, dance and screw, right?” spouted Diamond Dave in one interview. “And the new Van Halen encourages you to drink milk, drive a Nissan and have a relationship.”
Things were turning nasty by 1975’s Wish You Were Here, but Roger Waters and David Gilmour really regressed to the playground after 1983’s The Final Cut, which marked the bassist’s departure and the start of rock’s most middle-class mud-slinging campaign (“we should have called it The Final Straw,” reflects the guitarist).
Publicly, at least, it was Waters who started it, badgering the High Court in 1986 to prevent Gilmour ‘sullying’ the name of Pink Floyd (he failed), dismissing 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason as a “pretty fair forgery” and describing the guitarist’s decision to consult his wife on Division Bell lyrics as “so Spinal Tap”.
But Gilmour, in his own ever-so-respectable way, has been no less childish, once offering the bassist out via the unlikely medium of a Financial Times interview, although it didn't come to blows when the pair reunited for Live 8 in 2005. Nearly two decades on, they're still bickering.
The Doors Of The 21st Century
The world was sceptical, but in the end it was former drummer John Densmore who put the kibosh on the Doors lineup fronted by Ian Astbury, winning an injunction that stopped Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek touring as The Doors Of The 21st Century.
Densmore claimed he played the litigation card out of respect for Jim Morrison – the same reason he turned down $15 million for Break On Through to appear in a Cadillac advert – though the admission he hadn’t been asked to participate hinted at sour grapes.
By all accounts, working for Smashing Pumpkins' leader Billy Corgan was a living hell, with the Pumpkin-in-chief displaying a level of control-freakery that meant guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretsky were virtual bystanders in the recording process, and alienating his entourage to the extent that manager Sharon Osbourne was moved to call him a “baldy twat in a dress”.
Wretsky had already been fired “for being a mean-spirited drug addict” when Corgan announced the end on a 2000 radio show. Only drummer Jimmy Chamberlin could be tempted back for the reunion in 2005, and James Iha finally returned in in 2018.
In the end, all it took to hobble The Beatles was a Japanese artist named Yoko Ono. With Ono sticking to John Lennon’s side during 1968’s White Album, directing his material and even contributing a line to The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill, the friction between the members grew, with first Ringo Starr, then George Harrison, briefly leaving the lineup – before Paul McCartney made it official in April 1970.
Even then, the Fabs continued the abuse in song, with Lennon’s How Do You Sleep sneering that ‘those freaks was right when they said you was dead… the only thing you done was yesterday’, Macca shooting back with 1971’s Ram, and Harrison recalling the headaches of the later years on Wah-Wah.
Given their blanket contempt for animal, vegetable and mineral, it was inevitable that the Sex Pistols would turn on themselves, with 1978’s last-ditch US tour finding Johnny Rotten thinly disguising his hatred for moribund bassist Sid Vicious (“a waste of space”) and clashing endlessly with puppet-master Malcolm McLaren (“the most evil man in the world”).
McLaren would get short-term revenge following the band’s last gig in San Francisco – leaving Rotten feeling distinctly cheated, stranded in LA with no plane ticket or money – but his charges got the last laugh, suing their former manager for £1 million in 1986.
“Of course, Ray was very upset,” recalls the Kinks’ Dave Davies of his older brother’s reaction to news of his 2004 stroke. “But I couldn’t help feeling it was like when you beat someone at tennis, and you say ‘never mind’, but really you’re saying ‘fuck you’.”
The incident might just be the sole occasion in six decades in which the warring Kink brothers have declared a ceasefire, with normal service including punch-ups, emotional blackmail and mind-games. “It’s the same old thing,” Dave told Classic Rock. “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” But cut to 2023, and it looks the Davies are working together again.
Guns N' Roses
It takes a special kind of ego to turn the best band in the world into a punchline, but by 1997, Axl Rose had just about managed it, thanks to a systematic programme of alienation that cleared out the original lineup of Guns N' Roses and established his reputation as an obsessive hermit.
For daring to challenge Rose’s dilettante interest in industrial loops, guitarist Gilby Clarke was first out, and he held the door open for Slash, who had pitched material, been turned down flat, contributed it to his side- project, and been threatened with a lawsuit. Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum were gone by 1997, leaving Axl to helm Chinese Democracy with a cast of musos.
To understand the white-hot resentment between San Francisco thrashers Metallica and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, you’d have to revisit the proto-lineup of the early-80s – when Mustaine briefly held down the post of lead guitarist – and one fateful incident involving two pit-bull terriers.
“Dave brought them round to my house and they were jumping all over my car,” original bassist Ron McGovney told Shockwaves. “James [Hetfield] came out and said, ‘Hey Dave, get those fucking dogs off Ron’s car!’ Then they start fighting, and I see Dave punch James in the mouth and he flies across the room, so I jump on Dave’s back and he flipped me onto a coffee table.”
Mustaine was sent packing on the next Greyhound bus.
You didn’t have to squint to see trouble on the horizon for The Clash writing partnership of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones – particularly if you’d attended the 1980 gig at Sheffield’s Top Rank where the frontman lamped his guitarist for refusing to sing an encore of White Riot.
With the plasters frequently peeling off their relationship, and Strummer memorably comparing him to “Elizabeth Taylor in a filthy mood”, it’s a wonder Jones hung on until 1983, at which point his preoccupation with hip-hop and weed exhausted his leader’s patience.
“I got this incredibly vitriolic call from Joe,” recalls drummer Pete Howard, hired after Topper Headon was ousted for heroin abuse in 1982. “And he was saying ‘I fuckin’ sacked the stoned cunt! Whose side are you on, mine or his?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, yours, Joe, yours!’”
The Black Crowes
“Oasis, my ass!” Black Crowes' man Chris Robinson told Rolling Stone in 1996, when pressed on his volatile relationship with brother Rich.
“We’re from Georgia; we fuckin’ knuckle! Literally, me and Rich have fought a lot, but we have one rule: you can have fuckin’ body punches and fuckin’ choke-holds, and fuckin’ throw bottles at each other, but we never crack each other in the face."
The story of Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson’s exit from Saxon – and subsequent formation of a rival group named Oliver/Dawson Saxon – is one of the more farcical in British metal.
Biff Byford, for one, is not amused; having failed to recapture the name by legal means, the ‘real’ Saxon frontman is reduced to puffing in the press.
“You can laugh, but it costs us a fortune in lawyers,” he said in 2000. “I mean, they’re doing a show this week but they’ve got our picture on the fucking posters! It’s not fair to some kid who’s driven to see us and then some berk playing his version of 747 shows up.”
As omens go, the fact that Status Quo replaced bassist Alan Lancaster with a dummy in the Rockin’ All Over The World video was not a good one.
Worse was to follow. After a series of bust-ups with Francis Rossi, the hapless Londoner found himself squeezed out in the wake of the band’s 1985 Live Aid set – an experience he likened to “waking up to find your wife has put a knife in your back” – and was unsuccessful in his attempt to stop the remaining members using the Status Quo name. Two decades later he was part of the Frantic Four reunion, but it didn't last.
After initial success, Warrior Soul would soon fall foul of drug abuse and infighting. Things came to a head between singer Kory Clarke and then guitarist, Johnny Ricco while the band were rehearsing.
“Johnny and I were arguing,” says Clarke, “Then he grabbed my hair and started smashing my head in on the stairs so I ran for a garden hoe, but he came down with nunchucks and as I was about to swing he caught me in the jaw. I carry the scar to this day which I always like to point out to people.”
As their profile rose, the bickering between Sting and Stewart Copeland escalated – culminating in the incident when the drummer broke one of the singer’s ribs for stealing his copy of the New York Times, and suggesting their 1984 split was permanent.
“There were fights and there still are,” confessed Copeland during the 2007 reunion tour. “These days, we’re on a three or four-day cycle. We’re playing nicely, then the little rubs and grinds start: you know, ‘Stewart, don’t play that’. It drives me nuts.”
‘Stay together!’ whooped Suede frontman Brett Anderson in the 1994 single of the same name – but the sentiment didn’t extend to guitarist Bernard Butler, who stormed out of the recording of that year’s Dog Man Star and returned to find his instruments waiting in a binliner in the gutter.
According to Suede biography Love And Poison, Anderson received crank calls after the split in which whispered voices and sharpened knives could be heard at the other end of the line.
With 1991’s Young Gods album expected to establish them as serious contenders, Scarborough’s Little Angels performed at a Polydor Records conference at Christmas in 1991.
Drummer Michael Lee had, on the sly, auditioned for The Cult, who were offering considerably more money than he was getting from the Angels. The rest of the band learned of his betrayal, and, with Classic Rock with Lee in his hotel room after the show, slipped a piece of A4 under his room door informing him his services were no longer required.
The new-wave favourites remained financial partners upon their split in 1982 – a fact that came back to bite Deborah Harry and her players in 1998, when former rhythm guitarist Frank Infante and ex-bassist Nigel Harrison attempted to sue the reunited Blondie lineup for $1 million in damages.
They failed, but the shit-storm continued apace at the 2006 Rock’N’Roll Hall Of Fame, where Infante took the stage and begged to be allowed to play with the remaining members: “I thought the group was being inducted?”
Ever the queen of the acid one-liner, Harry fired back: “Can’t you see my real band is up there?”
In 1992, rumours of a split in the Thunder ranks – notably between long-standing pals Danny Bowes and Luke Morley, over an alleged overture to Morley by Whitesnake’s David Coverdale – came as something of a shock.
In the pages of the press Bowes raged while Morley kept an uncomfortable silence as the whole scenario blew out of all proportion.
“I let it get to me more than I should have done,” Bowes later admitted. When once asked if writing all the songs for the band, thus giving him a bigger slice of royalties, ever caused problems within the band, Luke Morley replied, tongue firmly in cheek, “Not unless they crash their Fiats into my Ferrari!”
Ronnie James Dio’s original tenure in Black Sabbath can still have die hard fans debating for hours over which was better – the Ozzy years or the new guy. By the time the band got round to working on their first official live album, Live Evil, the rot had set in.
Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler accused Dio of sneaking in to the recording studio to tamper with his vocal levels. “When it comes time for the vocal, nobody tells me what to do,” raged Dio. “Nobody!” And so he, and drummer Vinnie Appice went off to form Dio.
“I refuse to listen to Live Evil,” claimed Dio, who went on to work with Messrs Iommi and Butler again on 1992's Dehumanizer, and again in 2006 as part of the Heaven & Hell project. Oh, how the evenings must have flown by.
Rage Against The Machine
Zack De La Rocha called time on Rage Against The Machine in 2000, stating that “our decision-making process has completely failed”. But all fingers pointed to an event at the same year’s MTV awards as being the final straw.
Bassist Tim Commerford invaded the stage and climbed the set to protest at Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff winning Best Rock Video over RATM’s Sleep Now In The Fire. That’s just not the way RATM behave, but the dust had settled by 2007 when they embarked on a reunion tour. That didn't last too long, but a second reunion took place in 2019. Today, the band's status is uncertain, and when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in November 2023, only guitarist Tom Morello showed up.
The original Kiss line up of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have done the break-up-make-up thing so many times. Of course it was always us (Simmons/Stanley) versus them (Frehley/Criss).
The dollar-chasing business-brains against their drugged-up, alcohol-hazed counterparts. There was only ever going to be one winner. Both Frehley and Criss have been replaced by look-alikes (Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer respectively) as the Kiss war machine rumbles on, so a further reunion of the classic quartet seems unlikely, especially as the band's "farewell tour" nears its pyro-drenched climax.
Soft rock giants Toto have never been too lucky with singers, ousting the likes of Bobby Kimball, Fergie Frederiksen and current incumbent Joseph Williams (who's been in the band three times) over the years. But it is fourth singer Jean Michel Byron, a flamboyant South African foisted on the band by their record label in 1990 who really got up the band’s noses.
When he told guitarist Steve Lukather he’d never heard of Jimi Hendrix the writing was on the wall. The band released a live DVD of a Paris show featuring Byron with him all but edited out.
Famously falling-out for good after a fractious gig in Long Beach in July, 1980 where Glenn Frey and Don Felder almost came to blows, the Eagles split up. And, according to Don Henley, the band would only reunite “when Hell freezes over”.
The underworld clearly got chilly in 1994, as the band buried the hatchet and hit the road for their Hell Freezes Over tour. As of 2023 they continue to tour, although Frey has passed on and Felder is no longer part of the package.
Steve Harris always had definite ideas of how Iron Maiden should sound – very metal. Dennis Stratton was fired in October 1980, after a mere year in the band. Somewhat surprisingly, Harris claimed that a major factor was because, “Dennis listens to the Eagles!”.
A non-plussed Stratton replied, “That’s rich coming from a fan of Jethro Tull.”
In December 1996, Smiths obsessives finally got the reunion they’d clamoured for – albeit not in the form they’d hoped – as foppish frontman Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr were dragged through the High Court by ex-drummer Mike Joyce over unpaid recording royalties.
Judge Weeks described Morrissey as “devious, truculent and unreliable”, and ruling in the drummer’s favour to the tune of £1.2 million.
A seething Morrissey would attack Joyce on 1997’s Sorrow Will Come In The End (‘Don’t close your eyes… I’m gonna get you’) but “I just found it funny,” the drummer told Q. “If Lemmy had written it, I might be concerned.”
This was followed up not only with this missive being posted on the band’s official website, but also by Nightwish writing the song Bye Bye Beautiful, on new album Dark Passion Play, having a right go at her diva-esque attitude. Tarja reacted by insisting the band had been “Seriously cruel” in making all of this public.
Blizzard Of Oz
Bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake were part of the original Blizzard Of Ozz, appearing on the first two albums. However, in 1986 the pair successfully sued Ozzy Osbourne, because they weren’t credited on either Blizzard Of Ozz or Diary Of A Madman.
Then in 2002, they again sued for unpaid royalties. Ozzy’s camp reacted by deleting Daisley and Kerslake’s recordings from the first two albums. Subsequently, they also lost the suit. Daisley himself insists: “We lost because Sharon and Ozzy have a high profile, and their celebrity status meant more than our case.”
Venom's Cronos and Abaddon have been at each other’s throats for two decades. Among the kindest things Cronos has said about his one-time bandmate is that, “He can’t play, and has a massive ego”.
It all got very silly when Abaddon phoned Cronos at the end of the noughties, telling him he was fired. The bassist’s reaction: “I told him I was firing him! We each thought we could kick the other out.” Cronos won, and Abaddon plies his trade these days with the cheekily titled Venom Inc.
In 1975, Hawkwind made the decision to fire Lemmy, after he was caught crossing the border from America into Canada with amphetamines. Thinking the powder was cocaine, the police threw Lemmy into jail, and threw the band’s touring schedule out of the window.
Infuriated, and fearful that his arrest might harm future touring plans over there, Hawkwind fired their bassist, claiming he’d been taking the wrong drugs.
Lemmy later recalled the situation: “I was always the one who did the wrong drugs. I didn’t do the designer drugs, I did the street stuff. And so I was massively unpopular for that.” He had his revenge by seducing the wives and girlfriends of his former colleagues.
Procol Harum mainman Gary Brooker had for years owned sole rights to the band’s 1967 hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Then in 2005, keyboard player Matthew Fisher sued, claiming he was entitled to a share of the royalties as a co-writer.
He won the case, and was awarded 40 percent of all money. Brooker appealed, and a judge ruled that, while Fisher would retain his songwriting credit, he had no claim on royalties, because it had taken him 37 years to take action. In 2008 he appealed to the Louse Of Lords, who unanimously ruled in Fisher's favour the following year, granting him a share of future royalties.
The two Daves – Mustaine and Ellefson – were inseparable, until in 2002 the former split up the band, after suffering a arm injury.
Two years later, Megadeth were back – without bassist Ellefson. Mustaine claimed that his one-time pal had publicly been questioning whether this injury was genuine, and said, “Ellefson was useless anyway. So many Megadeth producers told me to fire him, because he wasn’t good enough”.
Dave Ellefson responded by insisting, “Dave made me a financial offer to return to the band, but it was a poor one”. Since then, the pair have also sued each other. And reunited in Megadeth. And separated again. But we don't talk about that.
Barclay James Harvest
You wouldn’t have thought things could get ugly in this most genteel of bands. But after the band split in 1998, that’s what happened. John Lees and Woolly Wolstenholme teamed up as Barclay James Harvest Through The Eyes Of John Lees, while Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard played under the name Barclay James Harvest Featuring Les Holroyd.
There was no love lost. Pritchard once decrying Lee’s professed interest in punk with the dismissive, “I didn’t think John could even spell the word!”. Not even Pritchard’s death in 2004 has helped to heal those wounds.
A battle of words began when Campbell allegedly referred to Ronnie James Dio as “an awful businessman and way more importantly, one of the vilest people in the music industry”.
Dio countered when Classic Rock spoke to him, claiming Campbell “smelt like a Spaniard!”. Everything then further exploded when Dio appeared on a YouTube clip, reacting to a comment about Campbell by a fan.
“I hope he fucking dies,” he raged. “He’s a fucking asshole. He’s a piece of shit.”
When a band is run by an obsessive perfectionist (in this case guitarist Tom Scholz) it’s understandably exasperating for the rest of the members. When Boston released their spectacularly successful self-titled debut album in 1976, everyone clamoured for a quickfire follow-up.
Scholz took two years to craft record No.2, Don’t Look Back, but he still felt rushed. Cheesed off with Scholz’s purist approach, guitarist Barry Goodreau sloped off to record a solo offering with the help of fellow Boston-ites, singer Brad Delp and drummer Sib Hashian.
In their infinite wisdom record company CBS marketed Goodreau’s project as ‘Almost Boston’ and Scholz’s fury exploded in a rash of lawsuits. The 2007 suicide of Delp is attributed in part to his disillusionment over Boston’s ongoing trials and tribulations.
Michael Schenker and the rest of UFO have had so many disagreements, so let’s just concentrate on the first serious dispute, which occurred during the mixing of the Strangers In The Night live album. Opinions differ as to exactly what happened.
Singer Phil Mogg insists Schenker cracked up and flounced out of the studio when producer Ron Nevision refused to let the guitarist overdub a solo. However Schenker claims: “My departure was based on a punch from Phil. I said to Phil: ‘If you ever hit me, I’ll leave the band.’ So he hit me. And I left.”
Mogg sums up his relationship with Schenker in a nutshell: “It’s never easy being in a band with someone who’s nuts.”
Let’s face it: guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer Ian Gillan have never seen eye to eye. Back in 1993 Blackmore threatened: “One of these days I’m going to attack Ian Gillan in a back alley. He’s bigger than me, and he’s probably a better fighter, so I’m gonna do it with a few friends of mine. We’ll beat him up. But he won’t know it’s me.”
But the bitterness still lingers. In 2006, Gillan remarked: “That asshole – I will never speak to him again. He turned into a weird guy. There are certain personal issues that I have with Ritchie, which means that I will never speak to him again. Nothing I’m going to discuss publicly, but deeply personal stuff. As far as I’m concerned, the divorce came a long time ago. I never want to see or hear of him again.”
Having become disillusioned with the hardcore punk scene, the Dead Kennedys went on hiatus following 1986’s Bedtime For Democracy album. But a few years later a bunch of former members took ex-lead singer Jello Biafra to court in a bitter dispute over royalty payments.
In response Biafra accused his former bandmates of messing with the Kennedys’ anti-corporate conscience by negotiating with Levi’s to use the DK song Holiday In Cambodia in a commercial. As Biafra saw it, the heavily principled punks were intent on chucking away their heavy principles.
“They’re throwing it away by trying to recast the whole band as a toothless, fun, poppy, punk thing that just wants your money,” he fumed.
The Stone Roses
By 1996, the bond between Stone Roses’ singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire had crumbled in the face of cocaine and legal problems. Replacing the departed guitarist, the Roses hit the press conference for that year’s Reading Festival in bullish and defiant mood (“John Squire?” sneered bassist Mani, “Who?”) before turning in a performance that revealed they couldn’t survive without him.
A decade later, the pair still circled each other in the press, with Squire branding Brown a “tuneless knob” in 2004, Brown mocking Squire’s “butchering” of Roses hits – and both confirming a reunion will never happen. They reformed in 2011, but disbanded again before the decade was out.
Notoriously insular and wary of the press, there was no announcement from AC/DC that drummer Phil Rudd had been ousted from the band during the recording of 1983’s Flick Of The Switch album – he even appears on the credits despite session drummer B.J. Wilson being drafted in to help out.
There’s been no real explanation since, though it appears a growing problem between Rudd and Malcolm Young eventually descended into fisticuffs. Rudd was off until all was forgiven in 1994 and he rejoined the band. It wouldn't be the last time he was fired (or, apparently, reinstated).
Original bassist Mark Evans fared less well. Sacked after 1977’s Let There Be Rock due to problems with Angus Young, Evans was originally to be included in AC/DC’s induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. Then his name disappeared off the list with no explanation forthcoming.