Although we think of rock bands as having no rules and leading a wild lifestyle (which is certainly true for many of them), that is not to say that there are no limits. Many musicians have been fired from their bands, and although sometimes this is due to creative differences, it is usually due to drugs and alcohol. Often the band is never the same, but in most cases, the musician has brought it on themselves by jeopardizing the band and consequently their bandmates’ careers. To get kicked out of a rock band you have to really screw up, and here are 20 famous examples.
20. Michael Anthony – Van Halen
In 1974, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony dropped the name Mammoth and then later became known as Van Halen. They rose to fame and were one of the biggest bands on the planet, but tensions were running high and Roth left the band. He was replaced with Sammy Hagar, which took the band in a new direction but maintained their success. Then there was a conflict with Hagar, who quit in 1996. Michael Anthony later got the boot, reportedly due to him playing shows and spending time with Hagar after he departed. Making matters even more complicated, Hagar then re-united with the band in 2003 and insisted that Anthony was involved (he became a contracted but not full-time member). Once the tour concluded in 2005, Hagar and Anthony left the band once again and now barely speak to the Van Halens.
19. Dave Mustaine – Metallica
After Lars Ulrich recruited James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner in 1981, the band Metallica formed. They were then completed with the addition of Dave Mustaine as lead guitarist and bassist Cliff Burton in 1982. The band was impressing in live shows, and in 1983 they were ready to record their debut album. By this point, however, Mustaine’s drinking was getting out of hand and a few incidents were causing friction. In April of 1983, they drove to New York to record their debut album, but Mustaine was sacked and dropped off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where he was then put on a bus back to L.A. He was fired due to his drinking, which often resulted in violent behavior. Metallica went on to have astronomical success and are deemed one of the “Big Four” thrash metal bands, with another being Mustaine’s consequent band—Megadeth.
18. Steve Perry – Journey
Vocalist Steve Perry played an integral role in taking Journey from struggling rock band to one of the most commercially successful pop acts of all time. From 1977 – 1987, Perry sang lead on such hits as “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Anyway You Want It” until the group disbanded. In 1994, Journey got back together and made a triumphant return formed around the success of the 1996 album Trial by Fire. In 1998, Perry broke his hip in a hiking accident but refused to undergo surgery that would have gotten him back on stage, in a repeat of the singer’s power-grabbing antics from the 1980s. Rather than bend to his will, the other members of Journey hired a soundalike replacement so they could continue touring. While Perry maintains that he left on his own accord, the truth seems to lie somewhere in-between.
17. Lemmy – Hawkwind
Before he fronted the beloved English rock band Motörhead, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister played bass and sang in the prog-rock band Hawkwind, despite having no prior experience as a bass guitarist. While he played an important role in shaping Hawkwind’s sound thanks to his distinctive playing style, Lemmy’s drug habit got the best of him and in 1975, he was arrested at the Canada/United States border in Windsor, Ontario on drug possession charges and spent five days in jail. Despite getting off with no criminal charges, Lemmy’s arrest was a step too far for his bandmates and he was subsequently fired from Hawkwind. Lemmy then started a band called “Bastard” but ended up changing the name to “Motörhead” – the title of the last song he ever wrote for Hawkwind.
16. David Ruffin – The Temptations
The Temptations are a longstanding vocal group typically comprised of five male singers and dancers at any one time. David Ruffin joined the group in 1964 and sang lead vocals on some of the group’s best-known songs, including “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. By 1967, Ruffin’s ego was getting the best of him, demanding special treatment and going so far as to call for the group to be renamed David Ruffin & the Temptations. Combine that with a cocaine habit and the group was ready to be rid of Ruffin by 1968, officially firing him on June 27 of that year.
Ruffin was replaced by his good friend Dennis Edwards and though he initially encouraged Edwards, Ruffin crashed several live performances by the Temptations, jumping on stage and stealing the microphone from his friend. After briefly considering rehiring Ruffin due to his popularity with audiences, the group decided to keep Edwards instead and firmly cut Ruffin out. The ousted singer enjoyed a successful solo career in the early 1970s, but he went into decline partly due to his coke habit, which ultimately played a role in his death in 1991.
15. Dennis DeYoung – Styx
Dennis DeYoung is a founding member of Styx, serving as the band’s primary vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter for nearly three decades before he was let go in 1999. Already on shaky ground with the rest of the band over differences in musical direction, DeYoung was plagued by a chronic fatigue disorder during the recording of the album Brave New World, forcing him to tell his bandmates that he would be unable to perform onstage due to light sensitivity.
As Styx was contractually obligated to tour in support of their new album, DeYoung was replaced by Lawrence Gowan, prompting the ousted singer to sue the band in order to retain the right to use the Styx name in support of his solo career. The suit was settled in 2001, with DeYoung allowed to use the band name in descriptive phrases (think “the music of Styx”) only. Nowadays, DeYoung tours as “Dennis DeYoung: the Music of Styx” but says he’s still open to the idea of reuniting with Styx someday.
14. Jon Anderson – Yes
In a similar situation to Styx, prog-rock legends Yes fired their longtime lead singer due to the onset of illness. Jon Anderson, who co-founded the band in 1968 with bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and drummer Bill Bruford, served as the band’s lead vocalist for a whopping 40 years until he was, for all intents and purposes, fired in 2008. That year, Anderson suffered an asthma attack and was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure, with his doctors advising him to avoid touring for at least six months while he recovered.
Unfortunately, the rest of the band were eager to tour and rather than waiting for Anderson to recover, they replaced him with singer Benoit David. Anderson expressed his disappointment with the band’s decision at the time, stating that he wished they had handled the situation “in a more gentlemanly fashion” but ultimately wished them well. Since then, Anderson has focused on his solo career.
13. Syd Barrett – Pink Floyd
During the height of Pink Floyd’s commercial and critical success in the 1970s, the band was spearheaded by Roger Waters and to a lesser extent David Gilmour, but the psychedelic rock group was very much Syd Barrett’s baby in its early days. Barrett founded the group alongside Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright in 1965 and was the driving creative force behind Pink Floyd’s debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). However, Barrett’s increasing use of LSD and erratic behavior prompted the band to add Gilmour as a second guitarist in December 1967, with the intention of Barrett continuing in a nonperforming, songwriting capacity.
Barrett was frustrated by this and was asked to leave the band a few months later. Nearly a decade later, Barrett showed up during the recording of Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here and was nearly unrecognizable, having shaved his eyebrows and gained a large amount of weight. Waters was reportedly reduced to tears by the sight of his friend and former bandmate, and several of the songs on Wish You Were Here were recorded as tributes to Barrett. Barrett spent his later years retired from public life until his death in 2006 at the age of 60.
12. Richard Wright – Pink Floyd
Things weren’t all sunshine and roses for Pink Floyd after the dismissal of Syd Barrett in 1968; far from it, in fact. Much of the band’s tenure was characterized by interpersonal tensions, driven primarily by Roger Waters’ overbearing control over creative direction. Keyboardist/vocalist Richard Wright had been a regular contributor to songwriting in the band’s early career but by the late 1970s, his involvement had dropped off dramatically. During the recording of The Wall in 1979, the rest of Pink Floyd (but Waters especially) became frustrated by Wright’s overall lack of effort and desire to still claim an equal share of production royalties. At the time, Wright was going through a divorce and was depressed that his music career prevented him from seeing enough of his children.
Ultimately, Wright was asked to leave the group, but stayed on as a salaried session musician during The Wall tour in 1980-81. Ironically, due to cost overruns, Wright was the only member of Pink Floyd to profit from the tour. Waters ended up leaving the band in 1985 but David Gilmour and Nick Mason continued to record and perform as Pink Floyd and Wright later rejoined the band, first as a session musician in 1987 and later as an official band member. At the time of his death in 2008, Wright was on good terms with the other surviving members of Pink Floyd.
11. Dave Evans – AC/DC
Most people think of Bon Scott as being the original singer of Australian hard rockers AC/DC, but the band actually started out with a guy named Dave Evans on vocals. In 1974, AC/DC was booked by veteran Melbourne promoter Michael Browning to play at his club. While he was impressed by the guitar playing of brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, Browning did not like AC/DC’s glam rock image and felt that Evans was ill-suited to be the band’s singer. Ultimately, the Young brothers got on the same page and after deciding to shift focus from glam to a harder blues-rock sound, Evans was fired and Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott was brought in as his replacement in September 1974.
Scott went on to record several albums with AC/DC, singing vocals on such classics as “Highway to Hell” and “T.N.T.” before his untimely death in 1980 at the age of 33 (the official cause of death was listed as “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure”). Fortunately, the band was able to pick up after Scott’s death thanks to the hiring of vocalist Brian Johnson, who played with the band from 1980 until 2016 when he was forced to quit touring due to hearing problems.
10. Don Felder – The Eagles
Guitarist Don Felder joined the Eagles during the recording of the band’s third album, On the Border, in 1974, becoming their fifth member. He would go on to play with the west coast rock band for nearly 30 years, helping co-write songs such as “Hotel California” and “Victim of Love”, until he was fired in 2001. According to official court documents filed by Don Henley and Glenn Frey’s attorney, Felder was sacked because he no longer fit in the band “creatively, chemistry-wise and performance-wise.” In response, Felder filed two lawsuits alleging wrongful termination, seeking $50 million in damages.
Henley and Frey counter-sued Felder for breach of contract and after six years, the case was finally settled out of court in 2007 for an undisclosed amount. Felder has since filed other lawsuits against the Eagles and is still on bad terms with the remaining band members, though he expressed “unbelievable sorrow” in response to Frey’s death in 2016, stating “I had always hoped somewhere along the line, he and I would have dinner together, talking about old times and letting it go with a handshake and a hug.”
9. Alec John Such – Bon Jovi
Alec John Such was a founding member of Bon Jovi, recruited alongside drummer Tico Rorres by Jon Bon Jovi in 1983, and played with the band for over a decade. In 1994, Such was fired and replaced by session musician Hugh McDonald, who didn’t become an official member of the band until 2016 (McDonald recorded and toured with Bon Jovi, but was left out of most publicity shots and album covers). An official reason for Such’s dismissal has never been given, but fans have cited the declining quality of his onstage performances and a tell-all interview he gave to a British music magazine as the most likely contributing factor.
8. Dave Navarro – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Dave Navarro is an enormously successful guitarist who is best known as a founding member of Jane’s Addiction. Following three popular records with Jane’s Addiction, he was recruited to join fellow L.A. rock act the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had recently become global superstars. Legendary guitarist John Frusciante did not enjoy their new fame and quit in 1992. Navarro joined on lead guitar in 1993, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded One Hot Minute to mixed reviews. Navarro was fired in 1998 citing creative differences, but it was also reported that he was sacked after attending band practice under the influence and fell over his amp. Navarro claims “he (Kiedis) was on more drugs than me at that point. We both had a loose relationship with reality. Who do you want to believe?” Frusciante had also developed a serious drug problem, but after cleaning up, he was invited back into the band.
7. Pete Willis – Def Leppard
Guitarist Pete Willis was a founding member of legendary rock act Def Leppard in 1977, and a few years later they have deemed the leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. The band released two well-received albums and appealed to the American market (despite some displeasure from British fans), and in 1982 they opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot. Trouble was ahead, however, as Pete Willis had begun abusing alcohol and even whilst on the job. The founding member was dismissed during the recording of their third album, Pyromania. He was replaced with Girl guitarist Phil Collen, who remains in the band to this day. Willis went on to perform with Gogmagog (which featured members from Iron Maiden) and Roadhouse before leaving the music business in 2003.
6. Steven Adler – Guns N’ Roses
As this list demonstrates, it is often drug and alcohol abuse problems that cause a member to be kicked out of a band. One very notable example of this is Steven Adler, who was a co-writer and original drummer in Guns N’ Roses. Their first album, Appetite for Destruction, is widely heralded as the best debut of all-time, but soon Adler was missing shows. This was later revealed to be because he was in rehab due to a heroin addiction. He vowed to stay clean but struggled with his addiction, seeing him briefly fired in 1990. He was then given a second chance by signing a contract stating he would stay clean, but unfortunately was unable to do so and found himself unable to perform in the studio. He was officially dismissed from the band later in 1990 and replaced with Matt Sorum, which significantly changed the sound of the band.
5. Nick Oliveri – Queens of the Stone Age
Childhood friends and former bandmates in the pioneering desert rock act Kyuss, bearded bassist Nick Oliveri joined Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age following the release of their 1998 eponymous debut record. He helped to write and provided vocals on their next two records, Rated R and Songs for the Deaf (where they were joined by Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan), which earned the band critical acclaim. As a band famous for their live performances, Oliveri brought unpredictability to their shows and was famous for playing naked. The world was then stunned when Homme fired his friend and musical partner on tour in 2004, with reports that Oliveri had abused his girlfriend. For some fans, the band lost its “edge” and has never been the same. They have since reconciled, with Oliveri performing a few songs at a show and contributing backing vocals on “If I Had a Tail.”
4. Scott Weiland – Stone Temple Pilots
Scott Weiland, unfortunately, passed away recently, and it’s thought that this was a result of drug abuse, as the legendary singer and frontman notoriously battled with addiction. Weiland formed Stone Temple Pilots in 1986, but they worked inconsistently as Weiland was involved in other projects and also encountered troubles with drugs (which also led to prison time). From 2003 to 2008 he worked with the supergroup Velvet Revolver, before reuniting with the Stone Temple Pilots. They were a huge success until 2012 when tensions developed between Weiland and the band. He was fired in 2013, causing him to lash out and state how he could not be fired from a band he founded, fronted and co-wrote many songs for, and that they should not be using the name. He worked on a few other projects, including the Wildabouts. The day before The Wildabouts were due to perform, Weiland was found dead on the band’s tour bus.
3. Pete Best – The Beatles
Of all bands to get fired from, The Beatles would be many people’s last choice. One of the greatest and most important bands of all time, the band started without a full-time drummer until they hired Pete Best in August of 1960. He played with The Beatles during their season of bookings in Hamburg, and he proved to be popular with the fans. Upon returning to England, the group had their first recording session at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios). The producer, George Martin, was impressed and believed that they were good enough to sign, but he wanted to use an experienced session drummer instead of Best. After struggling with the decision, manager Brian Epstein fired Best shortly after and he was replaced with Ringo Starr. All involved later regretted how the sacking was handled, but The Beatles, of course, went on to dominate the music industry.
2. Brian Jones – The Rolling Stones
Another band you wouldn’t want to get fired from is The Rolling Stones, who also went on to become one of the greatest bands of all time and are (somehow) still performing today. What makes Brian Jones’ sacking even more painful is the fact that he was the founder of the band in 1962. Jones, Jagger, Stewart, and Taylor were soon joined by Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, and the band quickly built a following. By the late ’60s they were topping the charts both in the UK and U.S. However, Jagger and Richards’ songwriting started to overshadow Jones, who was also developing a drug problem. He was asked to leave in 1969 due to his addiction struggles, being estranged from the band and inability to obtain a U.S. visa. He was replaced by Mick Taylor, and tragically Jones was found dead in his swimming pool less than a month later.
1. Ozzy Osbourne – Black Sabbath
Things must be seriously wrong if you give your lead vocalist the boot, as this is a very difficult role to replace, particularly when it is The Prince of Darkness himself. Ozzy Osbourne’s eerie vocals were a key part of Black Sabbath’s rise to success as part of what many consider the first heavy metal act. In the late ’70s, Osbourne briefly quit the band before returning, but the band was struggling in the studio largely due to the number of drugs they were taking. Then, after a conflict in the studio in 1979, Tommy Iommi insisted Osbourne was fired and he received support from both Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Regular abuse of alcohol and drugs were the reasons cited, and he was replaced with former Rainbow singer Ronny James Dio. Ozzy went on to launch a successful solo career, and the band would reunite with a world tour and album in 2013.