The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands

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Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

From fistfights on stage to international multi-platinum success to ugly break ups and what I can only imagine to be awkward Christmas dinners, is there anything more entertaining than brothers who form bands? The chemistry of every band is different. For every band like Rush or U2 who appear to exist in perfect harmony you have your Van Halen or the Who where the internal conflict is part of the creative process. You take a sibling rivalry and drop that into the crucible of being in a band and it can make for some fabulous music and explosive interpersonal conflict.

Brothers are a tricky lot. Dating all the way back to when Cain slayed Abel, if you believe in that sort of thing, brothers have had a rocky relationship. I’ve got friends who are extremely close to their brothers and claim their brothers are their best friends. I have some friends who haven’t spoken to their brothers in decades. My relationship with my lone sibling is more complicated than that. Yes, I love my brother and would do anything for him, but I don’t think he and I would ever work well together in a band. I’m talentless with a musical instrument so, that makes it a difficult proposition to begin with. Being the opposite of me, he plays exquisite acoustic guitar so I’m the drag on the whole band idea.

My mother is fond of telling the story of when they first moved my brother out of the nursery to share my bedroom. She says we were both so happy we laughed and laughed. So, at least we started in a good place. Over the years however, our personalities diverged so much that we never developed that closeness that some brothers do. My brother and I are just polar opposites. He’s quiet, I can’t stop talking. He liked the Beatles, I was a Stones guy. He is basically a tea-totaller now and well, I like bourbon. Our differences were so pronounced growing up, I’d open the fridge and ask my mother whether my brother liked a certain dish of leftovers or not, knowing that if he did, I likely wouldn’t enjoy it. I was rarely wrong.

I can remember going to have dinner at a sub shop with him when he was still in college. “Civil War” by Guns N Roses came on, and it was only the second time I’d heard it. I was gyrating in my chair and I’m embarrassed to admit I started air-guitaring. My brother was sitting across from me, just sort of staring at me, blank faced. “Don’t you just love this, I mean, man you looked bored?” He pushed his glasses back up  his nose and said, in his most sanctimonious voice, “Yes, I like this song, but I can listen to it without acting like an  idiot.” I didn’t talk to him for 20 years after that. Luckily time has been kind to us. I’ve mellowed out on the whole “big brother as an asshole” act. Social media, texting and emails have opened up avenues of conversation. My relationship with my brother is now cordial if not close. And I think he’d do anything for me if I needed help.

I say all that, because I can’t imagine being in a band where all of that history and antipathy lurks under the surface… usually only to break through to the surface in very public ways. Flea and Anthony, Mick and Keith, they can all say they’re like brothers, but there’s nothing like a brother. I started thinking about all the bands I like who have brothers in their ranks. It’s a pretty awful history. I began to wonder if maybe bands with brothers are cursed, like Cain. Sure, they may have some success, world wide fame and make a ton of money, but there’s a lot of bad things that have happened. Here are my favorite bands of brohters:

  1. The Kinks – these guys may be the original hateful brothers in a band together. The Kinks are one of the greatest if not under appreciated bands in history. Dave Davies, the guitarist and younger brother has always claimed that Ray, the lead singer, stole the band from him. Ray basically took it over apparently. They fight about everything including who wrote what song. They make Mick and Keith look cordial. So while they did well I think they chronically underachieved in terms of success because of the conflict at the inner core of the band. Dave had a stroke a few years ago but they still grumble about having a reunion tour… I think it best to let sleeping dogs lie…
  2. Oasis – Are there a stupider couple of siblings than the Brothers Gallagher? These guys had it all, world wide fame, they were the biggest band in the world and they blew it. They couldn’t resist getting into fights on stage. Their rants about each other are the thing of British press legend. Liam recently said, after they split up, he’d rather vomit than work with Noel again. I think that says it all. The Rock Chick loves these guys and we went and saw them in the front row at Red Rocks. I lapsed into that old habit of air-guitaring… legs together, bending only at the knee, the white-man’s overbite, the whole ugly act… and while I’m not proud of that, Liam saw me and actually mocked me from the stage. Yeah, not a high point for me. I’m definitely on team Noel here.
  3. The Black Crowes – Chris and Rich Robinson’s band, the Black Crowes burst onto the rock scene about the time Guns N Roses came out. I saw these guys several times. You could feel the conflict between the lead singer, Chris and guitarist, Rich. They’re like a mini-Oasis. They squabble in the press and have had the usual fist fights on stage. They keep getting back together but they eventually morphed from a rock band to a jam band… Is there any worse thing in rock than a jam band? I blame Chris… I should have put him on my “Greatest LSD” list.
  4. The Stooges – When Iggy formed the Stooges in Detroit with the Asheton brothers they basically created the punk rock blue print. While they never had the success they deserved, the pressures inside the band were equally as great. After firing the original bass player, they demoted Ron Asheton from guitar to bass. His brother Scott just let it happen. They say the tension in the studio when they were recording “Raw Power” with a new guitarist was palpable. They split soon after that and I don’t think anybody talked to each other for 30 years. I wonder what the ol’ Asheton Thanksgiving dinners were like.
  5. Van Halen – While Edward and Alex Van Halen seem to get along pretty well together, I don’t think their parents taught them how to play well with others. Oh sure, Van Halen is awesome, and I love their music, but these guys are just assholes. They ran off David Lee Roth at the peak of their popularity (now I’m the first to admit Dave was probably more at fault here) but also succeeded in recently running him off a second time. These guys even managed to piss off Sammy Hagar, one of rock’s most happy-go-lucky tequila soaked guys out there. Sammy’s even recently suggested he misses their friendship. I don’t know why, Van Halen “mountain” seems like a pretty arrogant place.
  6. Credence Clearwater Revival – formed with John and Tom Fogerty both guitar and John on lead vocals. John was so controlling and dictatorial, Tom finally got fed up and left the band at the height of their popularity. I don’t think they ever spoke again until right before Tom passed in 1990. Sad ending to a great band. John and the remaining members in the band have been locked in a decades long feud that has included law suits and a Hall of Fame ceremony performance snub when John refused to share the stage with the original rhythm section. Cursed? I think so.
  7. The Allman Brothers – Finally a band named after the theme of this article. While the Allman Brothers, Gregg (keyboards) and Duane (lead guitar) got along, my curse theory jumps into high gear with them. As they began to get really big, Duane died in a tragic motorcycle crash. A year later Barry Oakley the bass player dies the same way. Gregg eventually alienated the rest of the band by testifying against their road manager in a drug case. When they finally got it back together in the 90s they ended up having to fire Dickey Betts for all sorts of misdeeds. I think I sense the mark of Cain here…
  8. AC/DC – AC/DC’s Young brothers are some of my favorite people in rock and roll. But you have to wonder about their being cursed a little bit. Just as “Highway To Hell” poises them for world domination, the lead singer Bon Scott chokes on his own vomit, which is the way true rock stars should go, in my opinion. Brian Johnson joins and history is made. Their popularity waned but about the time of “Razor’s Edge” they pulled it back together and started making great hard rock again. Then Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitarist fell victim to dementia. Brian Johnson has gone deaf and has been replaced by Axl Rose of all people. Worse yet, Phil Rudd their intrepid drummer has become a meth dealing thug. I just heard he may have had a heart attack. Heavy weighs the crown of the hard rock world.
  9. The Wailers – as in, Bob Marley and the Wailers. The Wailers were originally formed as a vocal trio, like a doo-wop group. Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer got together to sing and harmonize together. Eventually they morphed into an actual band and around 1970, they recruited Lee Perry’s rhythm section, brothers drummer Carlton Barrett and bass player Ashton “Family Man” Barrett. After making reggae a world wide phenomenon, Tosh and Bunny both quit. Bob carried on until he succumbed to brain cancer. Peter Tosh was shot and killed. Sadly, drummer Carlton Barrett suffered the same fate, when he was shot by an unknown gunman in his front yard. That’s a pretty awful story. Babylon system indeed.
  10. INXS – I loved INXS, Michael Hutchence and the Farriss brothers, from Australia almost from the first. With Hutchence good looks they were the darling of early MTV. The three Farriss brothers were pretty goofy looking side kicks but they could play. Sadly, the curse of brother bands struck them when Hutchence either committed suicide or died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, a phrase that I never would have imagined would exist. Sure, INXS was on the downward slide at the time, but you never know when the come back is right around the corner. Many of us had to cringe as the Farriss brothers used a reality TV show to recruit a new singer. You don’t replace a messianic lead singer like Michael Hutchence with a TV show. They should have changed their name…

As the sun sets tonight… my advice as always, is to pour something strong and murky, perhaps a nice Blanton’s and call your brother. He probably hasn’t heard from you in a while and it’d be nice if he did.

Cheers!

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