Tehee: 'Once Bitten,' twice smitten with shuffled bands

FresnoJuly 3, 2013 

Great White is playing in Fresno this weekend.

Or not, depending on your perspective.

Officially, the band playing at the Tower Theatre on Saturday night is Great White featuring Jack Russell, the original singer for the '80s hair-metal band.

That distinction must be made because the band parted ways in 2011 and there are legal issues. Another Great White is out there playing shows and selling shirts and new albums. It features Terry Ilous on vocals and the group's original guitar player Mark Kendall. On Saturday, it's scheduled to play in Hollister.

This name game may not matter to fans who just want to first-pump and sing along to "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" — Great White's 1989 hit that sold close to 10 million copies worldwide. But the two bands offer an interesting look at the business of music and leave me wondering: At what point does a band cease being a band?

If there is an answer, it has little to do with the musicians themselves.

There are lots of examples of bands that lost key members and continued on with as much — if not more success. AC/DC and Black Sabbath enjoyed entire second careers after losing original members. It's been closer to three careers in the case of Metallica.

At a certain level of success, a band takes on a life of its own. It becomes its own brand, a product beyond the music or musicians.

During its run, the seminal punk band Black Flag had so many line-up changes no one could keep the members straight. There are 20-plus members and past members listed on its Wikipedia page. The band broke up in the 1980s, but to this day you can see Black Flag's logo — four zig-zagged black blocks — emblazoned on T-shirts and tattooed on punk rockers everywhere.

So you can't blame guitarist Greg Ginn for reuniting Black Flag this summer for a tour and new album — especially if you saw the turnout when his solo act was here last June. Trading on that brand makes for big business.

It just feels like musicians understand that all too well, and some do it beyond the point of appropriateness.

Ska band Sublime reformed as Sublime with Rome a dozen years after its founding member Bradley Nowell died of a drug overdose. Presumably, the remaining band members went this direction because they never found the same level of success with their next band, the Long Beach Dub Allstars.

When the Pixies, the seminal indie-rock band from Boston, reunited in 2004, it was to the adoration of fans and a slew of sold-out shows. This didn't feel like a money grab. Members of the band had performed together before that, but it wasn't the Pixies until all the original members were on board.

Which makes me question the integrity of the Pixies name, when this week — less than a week after bassist Kim Deal quit — the band released a new single and announced they've hired a new bass player for a string of European tour dates.

Of course, I'm probably preaching to the music-snob choir. All but the most hard-core of fans don't care if it's Dennis Wilson or John Stamo or some nameless drummer sitting behind the kit backing up the Beach Boys, as long as they hear "Kokomo."

It's why tribute bands do so well, and why I was center stage, smashed up against the railing to see the reunited punk band Misfits on its first West Coast tour in 1997 — without original singer Glenn Danzig. I wanted to hear those songs played live, and if this was as close as I was going to get, so be it.

There will no doubt be fans who balk at paying up to $200 to see Bon Jovi when the band comes to the Save Mart Center in October because Richie Sambora has not been on tour with the band. The majority, however, will enjoy the show without even realizing the guitarist is gone.

On that note, I will never call whatever band Axl Rose is playing with now Guns N Roses. In an ideal world, neither would he. But Rose will continue to sell out arenas under the name because "November Rain" is a classic, regardless of who's playing the guitar solos.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.

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