The most traumatic firings in rock history

By Sergio Ariza

Pete Best of the Beatles

Popular wisdom often gives Ringo Starr the role of the luckiest man on planet Earth, which makes Pete Best
one of the unluckiest, the man who stayed behind the doors of glory and saw his band members become the most famous band of all time.
His entry into the band came by chance, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe had a contract to perform in Hamburg but they didn’t have a drummer. Paul called him because he knew him from a band called The Blackjacks, despite everything they gave him an audition one day before leaving for Germany, to scrimp on the pay. Although he would stay 2 years in the band, he was never fully integrated with the other 3, who would hang out without him, he didn’t even have the famous mop top haircut that they adopted in Germany. Each time he couldn’t make it, they brought in Ringo, a guy with whom they seemed to get on much better, so after being signed by EMI, when the producer George Martin told them not to bring a drummer because he was going to get a session player (something rather normal in those days), John, Paul, and George used this as an excuse to give him the final kick, and stuck with good old Ringo. The worst of all was how it was done, none of the 3 told him in person, and they left the unpleasant job to Brian Epstein, the band’s manager, who was not at all clear about changing the handsome Best for the nice Ringo. In the end he decided to keep the others happy and on August 16, 1962, he called Best into his office to tell him he was fired. To add a bit more cruelty to the mix he asked him to stay on until Ringo could join up on the 18th of August, that night they played in the Riverpark Ballroom but Best didn’t show up, in view of the fans deception who came up with the motto, “Pete forever, Ringo never. On September 4th they returned to the studios at EMI with a brand new drummer but Martin was shocked to see that Best had been replaced and decided to use the session drummer he had brought anyway, poor Ringo thought, “this is the end, they’re going to turn a Pete Best on me. It didn’t turn out that way and Ringo became the band’s definitive drummer. Best had to watch their interminable rise to Olympus from the outside, from behind the desk in his office. From the day Brian Epstein told him, “Pete, I don’t know how to say this, but the lads want you to leave…”, he never saw his band mates again. After Lennon and Harrison’s deaths Best is still waiting, with a bottle of scotch on hand, for McCartney to gather the courage to give him explanations, personally...  


Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds

In 1966 Jeff Beck
had convinced his mate Jimmy Page to join the Yardbirds as a replacement for bassman Samwell-Smith. On tour in the U.S. (August 25), Beck fell ill and Page filled in as lead guitarist while Chris Dreja played bass. As the group finished the tour with this setup, Beck was recovering in San Francisco by his girlfriend’s side. To the rest of the band that seemed like a cheeky vacation. When they got back to England they recorded the only song with the two guitar Gods, Happenings Ten Years Time Ago. Then they recorded the legendary scene of Blow Up by Antonioni and got back on the road, at first as back up for the Rolling Stones, and later another tour of the USA. After a few gigs there, Beck went missing again, off to San Francisco and returned to the fold in November but the rest of the band had had enough of his defections and let him go on November 30, 1966. It was never clear if it was a firing or that Beck had been the one to leave, but when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Beck, between chuckles, said a small speech, Someone told me I should feel proud tonight, but I’m not, because they kicked me out... fuck them”.      


David Crosby of the Byrds

The Notorious Byrd Brothers was recorded amidst countless disputes and ego trips among its members, mainly between the ornery David Crosby and the quiet Roger McGuinn. The refusal of the former to record Goin’ Back was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the patient McGuinn decided to fire him. The resentment lasted a long time, the fact that McGuinn and Hillman chose to replace him for a horse on the album cover did not help the matter. Over time, of course, they reconciled and in 2017 McGuinn and Crosby buried the hatchet on Twitter with Crosby writing, “I have made many mistakes in my of those was forgetting for a moment who was the real leader of the Byrds. To which McGuinn didn’t hesitate a response, “I have made many mistakes in my life and one of those was firing the best harmony singer in the world”.   


Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones

Being let go by a band is always hard, but being fired by a band that you created, to which you gave its name and one which you led in the early years must be crushing. Brian Jones didn’t live long to talk about it, but of course his lifestyle had to do as much or more with that. It’s clear that when Keith Richards tells you that you’re going too far with the drugs you know it’s the point of no return. Certainly Jones wasn’t about to listen to advice from Richards after he stole his girlfriend from him, one Anita Pallenberg. Of course his detachment had been there for some time, being a fan of Chicago blues, he didn’t take kindly to Richard’s fandom towards Chuck Berry, but he let it go. When the band’s manager turned Mick Jagger and Richards into the band’s songwriting team, the balance of leadership went against him.  

In spite of everything, his iconic image of the blond prince with a Vox Teardrop or a Firebird strapped over his shoulder made him the most popular Stone in the U.S., but he lost the creative battle and his booze and drug abuse and arrogant personality saw him, more and more relegated in the band until on June 8, 1969 Jagger, Richards and drummer Charlie Watts paid him a visit to fire him. He didn’t seem especially surprised and on June 10th he issued the following statement, “We no longer communicate musically. The Stones' music is not to my taste any more. I have a desire to play my own brand of music rather than that of others... The only solution is to go our separate ways, but we shall remain friends. I love those fellows". Less than a month later he was found floating, lifeless, in his swimming pool. At the start of his career he declared, “Yes, I want to be famous. And no, I don’t want to reach 30”. He got both.  

Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath
was in one of its lowest moments in the late 70s, they had just finished a world tour with Van Halen as opening act, and the whole world agreed that they weren’t at the same level as the new band. In 1979 they returned to the studio once again but the fighting went on, the use of drugs and alcohol was as scandalous as usual but now, after nearly a decade of excesses the hangovers got worse and worse. On top of that, perfectionist Tony Iommi felt limited by the volcanic Ozzy Osbourne, who, in turn, was fed up with the countless takes they made him do. In the end, Iommi convinced the rest of the band to fire Osbourne on the 27th of April 1979. They replaced him with Ronnie James Dio of Rainbow and Ozzy spent the compensation on a last big party of liquor and cocaine that lasted 3 months. They all thought, as did he, that he was finished. However, in late ’79, he formed a new band called Blizzard of Oz, together with drummer Lee Kerslake, bassman Bob Daisley, keyboardist Don Airey and guitarist Randy Rhoads, with his ‘74 Les Paul Custom, and arose from the ashes with a new record that got him back to become one of the biggest names in heavy metal history. The band didn’t do too badly themselves and they recorded, with Dio, the remarkable Heaven & Hell. Over time, the original band would get back together for some gigs in the 90s and even managed to cut a last record, 13, in 2013, although this time without Bill Ward.


Richard Wright of Pink Floyd

By the time Pink Floyd went to work on The Wall, the band had not been a democracy for quite a while. The record was a personal project of Roger Waters, and Richard Wright contributed less and less. The keyboardist was also suffering a marital crisis and his involvement on the album was minimal. Waters, fed up, fired him. On the promotional tour, he was signed as a session player, which was, by chance, a little revenge for Wright because, due to the heavy costs of production, the tour made no money for the band and Wright was the only one who saw some money for it. Wright wasn’t in on the last record with Waters in the band, The Final Cut, but would return after he left, in the stage led by David Gilmour. Although it wasn’t a complete reconciliation, the 4 would get together to play on Live 8, in 2005.


Dave Mustaine of Metallica

Dave Mustaine had had one of the most successful metal careers with Megadeth, one of the ‘Big Four’ of Thrash Metal alongside Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, but never managed to overcome his dismissal from Metallica. The more than 38 million records sold by his band had not been a cure for a wound that still bleeds, as you can see in the documentary Some Kind of Monster (an ode to psychoanalysis), in which Mustaine still appears crying over having been cut without a chance for redemption. In fact, his time with the band had been tortuous from the start. His firing came on April 11, 1983, when the band arrived in New York to record their first album. Fed up with his aggressive behavior, his drunkenness and constant drug use, Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield packed up his BC Richs and the rest of his stuff and put him on a bus heading to Los Angeles. In less than a month Kirk Hammett was recording the album with the rest of the band, using part of Mustaine’s solos, something the band has always admitted, giving him credit on 4 of the songs of Kill ‘Em All, and Mustaine began a long life of resentment towards his ex-colleagues that lasted until 2010, when Metallica and Megadeth shared the stage, along with Anthrax and Slayer, at a gig in Poland.

Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers

Dickey Betts was in the Allman Brothers band since the beginning, forming with Duane Allman one of the best guitar duos in history. After the death of Duane, Dickey took a step forward and became the virtual leader of the band, but his squabbling with Gregg Allman led the band to dissolve in 1976. Over the following years there were several reunions and new ruptures until in 2000, after the release of the live Peakin’ at the Beacon, the only Allman brother alive and the other 2 original members that remained, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, told Betts, via fax, that he was out of the band due to his alcohol problem. There were trials in between and a confidential agreement, but relations soured forever and Betts was absent in the band’s last concert, on October 28, 2014, a day when the 3 Les Pauls of Duane Allman did make an appearance.

Jay Bennett of Wilco

Jay Bennett had become Jeff Tweedy
s right-hand-man on Summerteeth, collaborating ever closer to each other. But after a concert with Jim O ‘Rourke and drummer Glenn Kotche in 2000, Tweedy began to trust these guys more. When they started recording what would be their masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the relationship between Tweedy and Bennett was on the edge of collapse, with constant arguing about anything, as seen in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart which tapes the recording of the album. Once the record was finished, Tweedy fired Bennett for good, whose death in 2010 was preceded by a lawsuit against Tweedy.


Lindsey Buckingham de Fleetwood Mac

The story of Fleetwood Mac
is one of the oddest in history, having been founded by Peter Green in England as one of the flagship groups of British blues, reaching international fame in the mid-70s with a formation and totally distinct sound led by Californian Lindsey Buckingham. He brought his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks with him when he was signed by Mick Fleetwood into the band, leading to the classic setup of Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie. But this band was always on the brink of breaking since they broke record sales with their record Rumours, which was nothing more than a diary of the break-ups of the 2 couples in the band, being Buckingham and Nicks, and the McVies. Since then the fights, disputes and enmity have been countless right up until the current situation where the other 4 ended up firing Buckingham in January 2018 and replaced him with Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, in what can be considered a backhand compliment to Buckingham’s capacity as composer and guitarist.