Web Extra: Famous Fill-Ins
The startling news came on April 9th that Lindsey Buckingham had been fired as guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. However, the band announced that guitar duties on a fall tour — which is scheduled to hit Pittsburgh on November 1st — would be taken over by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Neil Finn of Crowded House.
It is certainly notable that the newly-announced guitarists have such high profile resumes. The last time Buckingham was out of the band, from 1987 to 1995, he was replaced by Billy Burnette and Rick Vito—both musicians with impressive credits (and, in Burnette’s case, an impressive pedigree; he is the son and nephew, respectively, of rockabilly pioneers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette), but nowhere near as well-known as Campbell and Finn.
The hiring of Campbell and Finn made us here at WYEP think of other instances in which a renowned, established musician was brought in as a touring member of a famous band. Of course, many artists have brought in famous collaborators for appearances at benefits, festivals, or even otherwise run-of-the-mill concerts. At the 1985 Live Aid benefit alone, Thomas Dolby played keyboards for David Bowie, Sting sang with Dire Straits, Pat Metheny played guitar with Santana, the Thompson Twins performed with Madonna, and Keith Richards and Ron Wood backed up Bob Dylan on guitar.
But we didn’t want these one-shot appearances. We wanted genuine touring band only, musicians who performed on a real tour as a member of the group.
We also ruled out musicians who appeared on studio recordings with that band. This eliminated Adrian Belew with both David Bowie and Talking Heads (as Belew played guitar on Bowie’s Lodger album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light) and Johnny Marr with Modest Mouse (Marr was on the band’s 2007 release We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank).
We thought of seven other instances of Famous Fill-Ins. Here’s what we came up with.
1. The Grateful Dead, with Bruce Hornsby on keyboards (1990-92)
On July 26, 1990, Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose. By that time, Bruce Hornsby had already notched six top 40 hits as a headline performer with his backing band The Range. Hornsby was invited to join the Dead on piano to augment the sound of their new keyboardist Vince Welnick (who could also be considered for this list as he was formerly a member of The Tubes and never made a studio recording with the Dead despite performing with them until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 and the group’s subsequent demise). Hornsby ended up performing over 100 concerts with the Grateful Dead, continuing with them through March 24, 1992. After parting ways with the Dead as a touring member, Hornsby resumed his career as a solo artist. Although he never returned to the pop charts, Hornsby has had a solid career as a critically-acclaimed singer, songwriter, and performer.
Watch Hornsby’s entire first show with the Grateful Dead on September 15, 1990 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Hornsby is on piano; Vince Welnick is on synthesizer.
2. The Pogues, with Joe Strummer as frontman (1991-92)
The Pogues merged traditional Irish sounds and stories with a punk rock sensibility, but frontman Shane MacGowan had become erratic due to heavy drinking and drug use. The band fired him in September 1991, and they turned to the producer of their previous album (1990’s Hell’s Ditch) to fill in as their singer: Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash. Strummer only intended himself as a seat-warmer in the frontman gig until the band figured out their future plans, although some hoped the arrangement would be permanent. In fact, the traveling Lollapalooza festival had The Pogues with Strummer on a short list to book for its second outing during summer of 1992. After Strummer bowed out of the band, The Pogues’ tin whistle player Spider Stacy took over as lead singer. (The band would break up in 1996 and then reunite with MacGowan in 2001.) Joe Strummer would go on to form The Mescaleros in the later 1990s to back him for three albums until his death on December 22, 2002.
Listen to a concert with Strummer fronting The Pogues at the London Forum in December 1991:
3. Neil Young, with Booker T. & The MG's as his backing band (1993)
In the fall of 1992, at a massive tribute to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden, three of the members of the legendary Stax Records house band, Booker T. & The MG’s, were backing many of the musicians paying tribute to the rock icon. Neil Young was among those performing, and at the event, he asked if they would tour with him the following year as his backing band. The tour was a bit of a hodgepodge, with Blind Melon as opening act and, on some dates, Soundgarden. (To be fair, Booker T. Jones and Donald “Duck” Dunn of the band did later appear on Young’s 2002 album Are You Passionate?, but we’ll still include them on this list, as it wasn’t the full band appearing on a record with Neil.)
Watch a full concert with Neil Young backed by Booker T. & The MG’s in July 1993 at the Torhout Festival in Belgium:
4. Squeeze, with Aimee Mann as guitarist/singer (1994)
Following Aimee Mann’s 1993 solo debut album, she performed acoustically while doing a radio interview. Squeeze’s Chris Difford was among the radio audience and contacted Mann by sending a fax to the radio station. Although it took her a few days to respond (when she did, Difford reportedly asked her, “Did they deliver that fax by Pony Express?”), they soon became friends. Eventually, the connection resulted in an invitation for her to join Squeeze as a temporary member of the band for a 20 or so date acoustic tour in 1994. (And, as above with Neil Young and Booker T. & The MG’s, Squeeze’s Difford and Glenn Tilbrook sang background vocals on Mann’s subsequent album, 1995’s I’m With Stupid; however, since it wasn’t the full band, it still fits our criteria here.)
Hear a full concert of Squeeze with Aimee Mann in Chicago’s Grant Park on July 4, 1994:
5. Iron & Wine, with Marketa Irglova and Rosie Thomas as backing vocalists (2011)
When Iron & Wine released the Kiss Each Other Clean album in January 2011, band leader Sam Beam seemingly wanted to make a great impression performing live. He’s “pulling out all the stops to promote the release,” according to Seattle singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas at the time. Beam enlisted Thomas and Marketa Irglova (the Oscar-winning songwriter of The Swell Season and Once movie fame) as backup singers for a tour supporting the new album. They made a lot of promotional stops, like on the TBS talk show Conan and at a number of radio stations (including a visit to WYEP!), and performed a series of regular concerts through the spring. On some dates, one of the backing singers wasn’t available—sometimes subbed by Beam’s sister Sarah Simpson or, at the Bonnaroo festival on June 12, 2011, by Minneapolis vocalist Aida Shahghasemi.
6. The Decemberists, with Sara Watkins on fiddle, guitar, percussion, and vocals (2011)
During the same period that Iron & Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean was released (January 2011), the Portland, Oregon group The Decemberists debuted their sixth album The King Is Dead. When they kicked off “The Popes of Pendarvia World Tour” after the album release on January 24th at New York’s Beacon Theater, the band had a temporary member in tow: Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins. Watkins would sit in with the group during the entire tour, and she later commented about her experience playing with The Decemberists, “It was refreshing; it was a great way to wipe my slate clean and tap into who I was.”
7. The Black Crowes, with Jackie Greene as guitarist and singer (2013)
Jackie Greene started his career as a talented if Dylanesque singer-songwriter from central California, but he’s undergone a few notable metamorphoses over the years. In the mid- to late-aughts, Greene began playing guitar with Phil Lesh & Friends. In 2012, he continued his Dead connection by forming a short-lived trio with Bob Weir and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. Meanwhile, Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, who had been serving as a guitar player for the Black Crowes, had returned to his main band. So, when the Crowes decided to return to the road in 2013, Robinson tapped Greene to step into the fold. Greene toured with the Crowes for the better part of a year (including a summer run with Tedeschi Trucks Band that stopped at Stage AE here in Pittsburgh). Despite the fact that the Black Crowes announced the band’s dissolution in early 2015, Greene remains listed as a band member on the official Black Crowes website like an insect frozen in amber. Greene, however, has been on the move since his stint as a touring member of the Crowes with solo recordings as well as forming the band Trigger Hippy with other ex-Crowes and Joan Osborne.
Listen to an entire concert by The Black Crowes with Jackie Greene on guitar from their last concert (December 14, 2013, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco):