George Washington's Axe & Band Member Changes

George Washington has an axe, it consists of a blade and a handle. He dies and its ownership passes on to someone else. The blade breaks and a new one is fitted to the original handle. Shortly thereafter, the original handle also breaks and a new one is fitted to the second blade. Is it still George Washington’s axe?

Now, let’s take that question and apply it to a rock band:

It’s announced tomorrow that The Beatles will be getting back together. Ringo’s playing drums, Julian Lennon is singing, Jack White is on guitar, and Paul is playing bass. They’ll be using the name “The Beatles,” playing only Beatles songs, and have the blessings of The Beatles’ record company, the estates of the dead members, and the copyright holders. Are they still The Beatles?

In your opinion, how many “original members” does a band need to keep if they’re going to claim to still be the same band?

George Washington was in a band and played an axe? :smiley:

(Personally, I prefer Ship of Theseus to ‘George Washington’s Ax’. :wink: )

Axe, ship…Same thing.

Cmon, answer the question.

Depends on how long they are together and how cohesively the secondary formation stays in your mind. It is possible to have a replacement schedule such that NONE of the members are the same and yet it still be the same band if they are rotated slowly enough and they don’t deviate too much for the original purpose and inspiration. Can’t point to an instance of that actually happening, though. (Although if Pink Floyd were to re-tour without Mason then that would count, although at that point I would feel that they were no longer Floyd.)

Replace Jack White with George Harrison’s kid and more people would be willing to accept them as The Beatles.

Here’s one for you. Is Starship, without any members of Jefferson Airplane, able to play any JA tunes in concert?

I thought of that at first but changed it because I wanted to make it even: two Beatles, two non-Beatles. Then I chose Julian just to make it a little more interesting.

To give my own answer: I think I could accept any band as the original band so long as the singer was the same. Anyone else could play the same guitar riffs as the original guitarist or the same drum beats as the original drummer, but when you change that unique voice that the singer has it becomes something else. If John Lennon was backed up by session musicians and called it “The Beatles” I could buy it, but if Ringo, George, and Paul were playing with another singer and called it “The Beatles” I couldn’t buy it (note: my references to The Beatles in this thread are just random, they were the first band I could think of. Feel free to substitute another band if you like).

I think it depends on the band, the style they play, and maybe the songs. Though a distinctive style may be down to one person.

Personally, I think of The Who as still being The Who (just older). But I don’t consider all the stages of Bad Company to be the same, even though there were just as many members that remained the entire time.

Suppose Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Pete Townshend decided to tour together. Would it a Beatles reunion or a Who reunion?

Depends on who is being replaced. Not to disrespect any of the drummers or bassists of the world but it is widely accepted that drummers and bass players who aren’t also the lead singer are easily and frequently replaceable. Guitarists can be replaced, but generally aren’t. Lead singers, with rare exception(Van Halen for instance), are seldom replaceable without completely becoming a new band.

Certain members are essential to the identity of each band. IMO the Beatles are dead and gone. No matter who you replaced John and George with they’d really just be a sort of all-star cover band, wouldn’t they? Guns ‘N’ Roses was Axl and Slash; without them both it’s just not G’n’R. Zeppelin was Plant and Page; I understand their loyalty to Bonham but they could have easily gone on without him or JPJ, frankly(sorry JPJ:().

They could call it “Who are the Beatles?”

Fairport Convention - during the period in the mid-'70s when Simon Nicol had left.

Soft Machine - after Mike Ratledge quit in 1976, the longest-serving member left in the band was John Marshall, who had joined during the recording of their fifth album!

Gong - enormously convoluted band history full of comings and goings and spinoffs and parallel lineups (Paragong, Planet Gong, Mother Gong, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong), but they did made numerous records as Gong with no founding members present.

You don’t want to get too emotionally attached to the drummers because they keep dying on you.

“Authorities said… best leave it… unsolved.”

After Jim Morrison died the remaining three Doors carried on for another couple years touring and releasing two albums as The Doors.
Recently, however, a legal judgement allowed Morrison’s estate to bar the others performing using the name. Including Manzarek, who was effectively co-founder and, I’d have thought, had as much right to use the name as Morrison…
It’s all very confusing but the Wiki article describes the situation fairly well.

Rick Wakeman once made an interesting comment on this subject. He was talking about ‘Yes’. which has been through many different line-ups. He said he’d like to think there was always going to be ‘Yes’ music available, and ‘Yes’ music being made, even if the line-up changes, just like the London Symphony Orchestra. The people in the band might change from time to time, but the band still has its identity and is still referred to by name.

It’s not an exact parallel, of course, as Wakeman was well aware at the time (largely because a symphony orchestra doesn’t exist to write the music). But it was just a good way to express the notion that maybe a rock band could have such a specific identity and approach to music that it could live on, even if the line-up changes completely.

To answer the OP, there’s no definitive answer because so much of our concept of ‘identity’ is tied up in perception, and this can be very subjective. I say, if the fans of a band accept the current line-up, and support it, then that’s as good a working definition as any.

This problem was recently highlighted here in the UK by the light soul/pop three girl trio ‘Sugababes’. There are now no members of the original line-up left in the group, but the record label is very much hoping fans will still buy ‘Sugababes’ merchandise. This led to many comments along the lines of ‘Is it a band or a brand?’.

To me, Zep died with Bonham. Page and Plant isn’t Zeppelin. Everybody focuses on the front line in that band, but I think it was Bonham and Jones that made the band great. Really, that’s one band where every member is equally a part of the identity. Hell, I don’t even want to call post-Keith Moon Who “The Who.” It truly sounds like a different band to me, and I’m not even a big Who fan.

I think the only real answer is “It depends on the band.” But most bands are more than just one person + anonymous backup musicians: that’s why they call themselves a “band” or “group” rather than just a solo artist. I don’t think most fans would accept Sting, accompanied by some non-Stewart, non-Andy musicians, calling himself “The Police.” I think The Kinks have to include both Ray and Dave Davies, regardless of who else plays with them. And, while it’s debatable whether Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend can still really be The Who, I don’t know anyone who claims that Roger without Pete could be.

Daltrey has been quoted as saying that he and Townshend are “the world’s most expensive Who cover band.”

The OP’s example would be a no, they are not the Beatles.
The problem gets bigger with groups that change their lineup step by step.
Beatles 1965: Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr
Beatles 1970: Lennon, Greg Lake, Harrison, Starr
Beatles 1975: Lennon, Lake, Harrison, Bill Bruford
Beatles 1980: Justin Hayward, Lake, Harrison, Bruford
Beatles 1985: Hayward, Lake, Mike Rutherford, Bruford.

When did they stop being the Beatles? There’s no clear line.

One thing that has surprised me is when I look up the Wikipedia page of a group, and I’ve looked up a lot, is that a lot of them have tons of former members. Very few bands that have been around for a while have all or even most of their original members. And a lot of the time the current lineup of a band is just one original member and a bunch of new people.

And there have always been bands who consist of one person and some other people. Whitesnake is David Coverdale and a bunch of other guys. Megadeth is Dave Mustaine and a bunch of other guys. Everclear is Art Alexakis and a bunch of other guys. And there are plenty of other examples as well.