When bands fight: The 40 bitterest bust-ups in rock history

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. They haven't played together since 2011.    


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 Both Frehley and Criss have been replaced by look-alikes (Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer respectively) as the Kiss war machine rumbles on, so a further reunion of the classic quartet seems unlikely,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.

The Eagles

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 2019 they continue to tour, although Frey has passed on and Felder is no longer part of the package. 

Iron Maiden

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.”

The Smiths

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.” 


After playing a show in their home town of Helsinki on October 21, 2005, Nightwish handed their singer Tarja Turunen a letter dismissing her. 

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

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 recently 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.

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.


Dio plucked Vivian Campbell from NWOBHM act Sweet Savage and turned him into Dio’s guitar hero. However the relationship disintegrated and Campbell quit for Whitesnake before joining Def Leppard

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.”

Deep Purple

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.” 

Now that Ritchie has retreated into the forest with Blackmore’s Night, only emerging for the occasional Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow show, Deep Purple has become very much Gillan’s band. 

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.”

Dead Kennedys

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.  


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!

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.