What if Bands Traded Musicians Like Sports Teams?

by | Jun 23, 2014 | Band Life, Guitar Store Gospel, Silly

It’s officially the offseason for basketball and football here in the States.  And it’s the time of year where baseball teams start talking about acquiring someone to push for a title.  Basically, there’s a whole lot of sportball dorks going on and on about what-if stories to make their favorite team better.

There are 24-7 TV networks dedicated to this sort of talk.  Yet, it almost never comes up outside of this world.  Sure, companies may look at a rival executive and wish they could steal them away, but WSJ never runs editorials assembling dream recruiting moves.

In music, we mainly play the what-if game when it comes to break ups or death.  What if Hendrix lived?  What if the Beatles didn’t split?  What if Rodger Waters wasn’t such an asshole?  But rarely, if ever, do we say “what if” to swapping pieces in bands.  We just assume that it can’t happen because it will destroy the mojo of that band.

In reality, most bands have one or two people carrying the thing, and the rest are along for the ride.  Or bringing in someone new can inspire everyone or quell a fight.  So why couldn’t we swap some pieces to make things even better or at least more interesting?

I say let’s try it.  These trades go back in time, but some logic applies.  IE – you can’t bend the rules of time and space and trade Scotty Moore for Brian Setzer or something goofy like that.  Also, I’m trying to make things fair for all sides.

Late 2000: Metallica trades Kirk Hammett to RATM/Audioslave for Tom Morello

This sounds absurd at first, but think about it for a moment.  Metallica was a couple years post-Reload at this point and facing declining sales and a loss of direction.  Were they trying to jump onto the Nu Metal bandwagon late?  Were they becoming a classic rock band?

Rage Against the Machine broke up, and the band was looking for a new singer.  Even though Audioslave was technically a new band, they basically just hired Chris Cornell as a free agent singer.  They never really clicked and sold a lot of copies of their first album on reputation only.  This *should* have been a great band, but thing never really meshed.  They tried to all be friends and write songs as a team, that doesn’t fly unless you’re a jam band.

Going further back, it’s easy to say that Kirk never really mattered for Metallica.  In the beginning, he was just filling in as a clone of Dave Mustaine, minus the crazy.  As time went on, he never contributed all that much 1.

So what does each side get out of this?  Metallica gets a completely fresh look from the lead guitar spot.  Somebody who can keep up with James from a rhythm standpoint, push the band into modern times musically and as a lead guitarist, and actually contribute as a songwriter.  Also, who knows, but they might keep Jason Newsted on bass as it seems Morello is a team guy that may have patched up some of the issues between Jason, James and Lars.  That last part is just a bonus.

Regardless, Metallica could’ve been taken into the 21st century with this change.  St Anger never happens, record sales spike just due to the excitement over the change, and the band potentially finds a fountain of youth.

What about the other side?  Well, as I mentioned, Audioslave never really worked.  As much as the RATM team probably wanted to stay together, they needed to realize that de la Rocha was really carrying the band and simply finding a new singer wouldn’t cut it.  Cornell is used to being the face of a band as well, but tried to be just one of the guys here.  He needs to be a true frontman, and having Hammett as his main supporting cast would really allow him to do so.  Plus Kirk could get out from Hetfield’s shadow and really shine as the only guitarist 2.

In the end this band isn’t Audioslave or RATM.  It’s more like Soundgarden rebooted.  Maybe Commerford and Wilk don’t stick around in this scenario.  Maybe they reunite with de la Rocha sooner and RATM lives on.  Kind of a fun possibility, that this move could essentially turn two bands into three.  Either way, Cornell needs to be the star of a band, but he’s not a strong enough musician to carry the songwriting.  So getting a seasoned vet like Hammett to fill in the blanks should definitely have helped him out.  I’d like to think that this Soundgarden 2.0 could have been a lot more successful than Audioslave was.

January 1978: Sex Pistols Trade Sid Vicious to the Damned for Algy Ward

Really this could be “Sex Pistols dump Vicious for – anyone else.”  But since Ward was cast off from the Damned early on and the band was trying hard to make their way up in the late 70’s British punk ranks, this seems like a logical move.

The Damned really didn’t matter at the time.  They were one of the first bands to leave the UK punk scene and get some notability in the US, but nobody really cared until the next decade.  Landing Vicious at this point would’ve really helped them gain notoriety and even if he had only lasted a year or so, the Damned went though tons of members and would’ve likely coasted on without him.

The Sex Pistols, however, may have had a completely different fate if they dumped Vicious early.  Everyone likes to romantacize Sid’s importance to the band, but let’s be honest here, he really just helped destroy things.

Sid didn’t play bass on their only album, he could barely play bass period.  His crazy drug use just pushed the band further into a death spiral.  He also got them in plenty of legal trouble with his antics on and off stage.

And the Pistols were big before Sid.  Yes, he was the face of punk at the time, but this was a band very much rising to the top without him.  They may have crashed regardless, but if Rotten didn’t have an immensely destructive personality pushing him, they may have stuck it out for at least a second album.  Maybe they survive into that awkward marriage of punk and new wave in the 80’s.  Maybe punk stays punk a few years longer if the Sex Pistols are leading the charge.

The only real sacrifice in this scenario is we probably never get all those good Sid and Nancy stories, and Public Image Ltd doesn’t happen.  The former is a big loss for rock lore, but ultimately a win for the continued creation of good music.

October 1968: Cream cuts Eric Clapton, Signs Jimi Hendrix

All the credit goes to GE for thinking up this concept.  I didn’t think it would work, but the timing seems about perfect.  Electric Ladyland was released a month prior, and while it’s a masterpiece, it was the end of Jimi’s band the Experience.  It ended up being Hendrix’s last album, which simply implies he wasn’t in the middle of anything else at the time.  He was also pushing further and further into experimentation with music and trying to find others who could help fulfill his vision.

Cream, on the other hand, had just called it quits.  Clapton wanted nothing to do with it, and Bruce/Baker were at odds.  It was a time when Cream was getting a lot more jazzy and progressive, moving away from the straight blues rock that made Clapton comfortable.

So what if rather than splitting, Bruce & Baker were able to take a chance on recruiting the biggest name in guitar at the time.  It could have worked, as they definitely had the musical chops to keep up with Hendrix, and all three were interested in going in non-poppy directions with songwriting.

Hendrix still may end up dead in less than two years, but maybe not.  Rather than sitting around getting high while trying to get his studio built, he could’ve dived right in with Cream to writing and recording.  Even if that death is a fixed point in time, maybe they get out one or two LPs and it expands the legacy of both Cream and Hendrix.

Meanwhile, Clapton’s timeline doesn’t change one bit.  Maybe he feels a little different being replaced in Cream, but likely he still goes on to having the same career he’s had.  He just gets to start a few months earlier and avoid that awkward Goodbye album/tour.

The toughest part would be the timing.  Cream would probably have to do this earlier than October and try to convince Hendrix to join up before the release of Ladyland.  There could be a strange arrangement with the record label involved.  Maybe their first tour includes a mix of Cream and Hendrix songs while sprinkling in new material.  I feel like Cream would play Hendrix songs, Hendrix wouldn’t play Cream songs.  But if they were creating amazing stuff outside of that, compromise gets easier.

 Late 1997: Faith No More trades Jon Hudson to Tool for Adam Jones3

One-sided, right?  But Tool was entering a weird place at the time.  Ænima was eventually a good seller for them, but was seen as too vulgar for most radio and video play.  Maynard was starting to look outside the band and at this point was on his way to the A Perfect Circle project.  It just seemed like everyone in Tool had other things they were interested in.

Meanwhile, FNM was going through guitarists like Spinal Tap goes through drummers.  Hudson joined just for Album of the Year and that was it for him.  He’s a pretty accomplished guitarist, but never would really fit in Tool.  This trade would simply signify and early end for Tool, allowing everyone to freely pursue their own interests.

But this would be huge for Faith No More.  The biggest problem with the band is it eventually became Mike Patton’s solo project, but the band held him back from really doing everything he wanted.  Patton never had a mind as wildly creative as his own to work with.  Direction constantly changed, band members came and went, things were chaotic.

Bring in Jones, a real visionary not just on guitar but with all forms of art 4.  He has the ability to out-crazy Patton, but has proven to be focused with his work.  The two could go on to make melodic and experimental heavy metal.  Jones keeps Patton from getting bored and drifting.  Maybe we get three or four really good FNM albums and Mr Bungle never happens.  This should’ve been a band that was hugely successful into the 00’s, and this kind of move would make it possible.

On a sidenote, I’m always bummed that former FNM guitarist Jim Martin didn’t go onto something else.  He was trying to keep the band more rooted in metal and fought the experimental side of things.  But he was really really good.  I’d love to see a world where Glenn Danzig signs him as a free agent shortly after FNM.  It would’ve been just in time for Danzig 4, which wasn’t all that notable.  Danzig is an incredible songwriter, but it just seemed he lacked direction after the first couple solo albums.  Getting someone like Martin in seems like a perfect fit to me.  I’d love to have seen a few more really good Danzig albums come out in the mid-late 90’s.

This could go on forever…

I could probably make this post 20,000 words, because there are so many bands that could have way different legacies if trades like these happened.  Feel free to debate any of these or throw your own ideas out.  I’d love to hear them.

  1. Look at the songwriting credits over the years
  2. I mean, it’s debatable whether Kirk really could shine, but you’d have to think he’d want this opportunity.  Obviously Cornell is going to play some guitar, but he won’t ever be showing up Hammett with his chops.
  3. GE mentioned James Hetfield going to FNM to replace Jim Martin.  I love this idea, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work.  Metallica would have to break up between the s/t album and Load.  I don’t see that happening.  But I wanted to see FNM continue.
  4. Jones did the majority of the work on Tool’s videos and the artwork for album covers, linear notes, etc.  Dude is talented.