5 Musicians Who Quit Before Their Bands Went on to Make a Killing

Everyone boy wants to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band. World domination and female adoration are heady things. Yet fame is elusive, hard to get, and most of us never get near it. Here are a few boys who had it within their grasp – they were in a little band, they strummed the guitar, they bashed the drums, then they got fed up and left, or were kicked out. And then the band got big and made a killing. Hindsight can be painful.

Stuart Sutcliffe (The Beatles)

This is Stuart Sutcliffe, sometimes known as the ‘fifth Beatle’. Thanks to the stratospheric success of The Beatles, Sutcliffe is possibly the most famous former member of any band; our fascination with ‘what could have been’ culminating in something like collective schadenfreude. Sutcliffe’s story is a tragic one. He was the original bassist and founding member of the band, who is credited, along with John Lennon, for coming up with the now unforgettable ‘Beatles’ moniker. Yet, in 1961, lacking a crystal ball, he left the band and enrolled at Hamburg College of Art. Though he won esteem for his abstract painting, he was ultimately unable to forge an art career to rival the musical one he walked out on, dying a lamentably early death in 1962. The cause of his death was cerebral paralysis. He was just 21.

Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd)

Syd Barrett’s fate was more protracted than Sutcliffe’s, though, like Sutcliffe, Barrett took to art (and gardening) after the demise of his musical associations. In 1964 he became a founding member of progressive rock band, Pink Floyd, recording two albums as a songwriter and guitarist. But while he played a major part in forming the band’s early musical identity, he left in 1968 amid speculation of heavy drug use leading to mental illness. Though after his departure the band recorded in his honour the song ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ on the 1975 album Wish You Were Here, Barrett failed to shine, leading for more than thirty years a life of seclusion; the incredible success of Pink Floyd no doubt providing little amelioration to his unrest. He died in 2006.

Ron McGovney (Metallica)

Ron McGovney’s departure from US heavy metal band, Metallica, is less poetic than the denouements of Sutcliffe and Barrett. McGovney is one of five former members of the band, though he was the band’s first casualty, leaving in 1982 (Metallica formed in ’81). The exact nature of his departure is unclear – with those in McGovney’s camp suggesting the bassist quit, while others imply he was overthrown by his replacement, Cliff Burton. As well as missing out on Metallica’s lucrative popularity with troubled teens the world over, the experience also led him to quit his later band, Phantasm, because he found the ‘Metallica’s first bassist’ tag too bitter a pill to swallow. The image of him shown is the largest we could lay our hands on: the sorry size of it reflecting the measure of his success.

Aaron Burckhard (Nirvana)

The high-octane, high-drama Nirvana went through a few drummers before settling on the brilliant Dave Grohl – the multi-instrumentalist who helped bring the band their famous sound – but Aaron Burckhard was the first. Burckhard joined Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in Nirvana’s first incarnation in early 1987, though by the end of the same year he was out. It’s rumoured Burckhard’s short-lived stint with the two men who would go on to establish one of the biggest grunge acts in the world was due to his volatile, truculent character. Being all too fond of a fight, failing to turn up to band practice, and allegedly getting Cobain’s car impounded after being arrested for a fracas with a police officer led the duo to give him the boot. As we know, Cobain was a model of good behaviour.

Mike Starr (Alice in Chains)

Mike Starr, failed rock star and star of Celebrity Rehab, is the original bassist of American rock band, Alice in Chains. Though he formed the group in 1987, along with guitarist Jerry Cantrell and vocalist Layne Staley, he left the band in the middle of their 1993 Dirt tour. While the official line had been that Starr had departed amicably, in order to spend more time with his family, during an episode of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab he peddled the more rock ‘n’ roll line that he had in fact been kicked out due to drug addiction. Certainly, he is no stranger to malfeasance, having been arrested on various occasions for drug related crimes – most recently in 2009. Perhaps last year’s revival of his former band’s success – they released a new album, Black Gives Way to Blue – had been getting up his nose.

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Julian