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Before They Were Famous
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16 Bands Your Favourite Rock Stars Were In Before They Were Famous

Only the lucky few achieve fame and fortune with their first swing at success. Looking back, we rediscover the formative projects of 16 future stars…

Before he conquered the world with Linkin Park, the late Chester Bennington cut his musical teeth through the ’90s with Arizonan grunge-rockers Grey Daze. As that band – who were plotting a reunion before Chester’s passing – drop lead single What’s In The Eye and prep the release of a full tribute LP, we got to thinking about the unheralded early work of so many other rock stars.

Varying from the ridiculous to the sublime, it’s safe to say that not all of these forgotten outfits are crying out for the reunion treatment, but like a formative years photo album, there’s much pleasure to be had in revisiting the dodgy haircuts, questionable fashion and, er, interesting creative decisions being shown off by these uncut gems.

Beyond that, it gives us an extra appreciation for the finished articles, too…

Eddie Vedder, Bad Radio

Before he fronted Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder was already a musical obsessive. Answering an ad in the San Diego Reader for a band in search of a new singer with a demo tape cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City, he was promptly recruited as the frontman for New Wave collective Bad Radio. Driving them in an unexpected funk rock direction, he released two tapes in their company, Tower Records Demo and What The Funk. Eddie’s relentless work ethic and ravenous hunger for success was incompatible with his bandmates, though, leading to disagreements before he eventually departed in February 1990.

Maynard James Keenan, Texa.N.S. / Children Of The Anachronistic Dynasty

Flitting between Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer these days, Maynard James Keenan has never been a singer to sit idle for too long. A semi acronym for Tex And The Anti-Nazi Squad, TEXA.N.S marked his earliest foray into music, with two 1986 tracks recently posted online. One featured Maynard on bass (Tweeked & In God God We Trust), while his vocals showed up on another, Who Leads You. He continued further in the chaotically funky direction with Children Of The Anachronistic Dynasty on 1986’s Fingernails and 1987’s Dog House, too.

Brent Hinds & Troy Sanders, Four Hour Fogger

While Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher were busy plying their trade with Lethargy and Today Is The Day in New York for the best part of the ’90s, the other half of Mastodon – guitarist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders – were busy in the Atlantan underground, churning out an experimental brand of sludgy noise-rock/grindcore and famed for raucous live shows with early project Four Hour Fogger. Their sole LP Dollars For Red Books was released in 1999 dropped in 1999, right before the band split.

Richard Z. Kruspe, Orgasm Death Gimmick

Before he caught fire with German industrial behemoth Rammstein, guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe (then performing as ‘Sven’ Kruspe) was tearing up the East Berlin underground with provocatively experimental collective Orgasm Death Gimmick. Combining elements of metal, jazz, grunge, reggae and funk, they were primarily a live band, but did record three untitled demo tapes between their formation in May 1991 and disbanding in 1993.

Zack de La Rocha, Inside Out

True story: Rage Against The Machine took their name from a song by Zack’s previous band, Orange County hardcore punks Inside Out, whom he fronted from 1988 until their dissolution in 1991. Having released a single 7” EP – 1990’s No Spiritual Surrendur – copies of the band’s demos and live shows have been shared online for a number of years, with two early ’90s live sets unearthed within the past couple.

Tom Morello, Lock Up

While Zack was busy with Inside Out, his future six-string co-conspirator was in Los Angeles metallers Lock Up. Compared to Rage Against The Machine’s non-commercial, neo-socialist, multi-ethnic rap-metal, Morello has noted that Lock Up was a band trying to do exactly what the A&R guys, managers and record labels wanted. After releasing 1989 LP Something Bitchin’ This Way Comes, however, they were promptly dropped. Proof indeed, that you can’t roadmap genius.

Trent Reznor, Exotic Birds

Formed in 1983, Ohioan synth-pop collective Exotic Birds shares scant DNA with Trent Reznor’s eventual output through Nine Inch Nails, but the love of envelope pushing electronica was buried in there for anyone who cared enough to dig it out. Joining in 1985, on keyboards, programming and backing vocals, Trent contributed to 1986’s six-track L’oiseau EP and the accompanying live dates, but with mainman Andy Kubiszewski maintaining a tight creative grip, the band had broken up by 1988.

Dave Grohl, Dain Bramage

In 1984, a 15-year-old Dave Grohl perceived himself as a guitar player rather than a sticksman. After seeing him cut loose behind the kit, however, his bandmates in Washington, D.C. high school band Freak Baby (later rechristened Mission Impossible) re-jigged their line-up and went on to support Fugazi and Troublefunk. With members leaving to go to college, the band metamorphosed again to Dain Bramage (its name taken from a Saturday Night Live skit). In the summer of 1986 they made their only album I Scream Not Coming Down, which overflowed with youthful exuberance. In March 1987, Dave’s dizzying ascent would continue when he joined local D.C. legends Scream at just 17.

Bruce Dickinson, Samson

Known as ‘Bruce Bruce’ at the time, legendary Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson started his career with English NWOBHM wildmen Samson. Although Bruce completed three albums with the band – 1979’s Survivors, 1980’s Head On and 1981’s Shock Tactics – he found that they never met his exacting standards. “In my naivety, I thought people who were in rock’n’roll bands were great artists,” he said, “and it was a huge shock to the system to realise that they weren’t, that they didn’t even aspire to be, really.”

William Duvall, Comes With The Fall

Although William DuVall seemed to appear from nowhere, as a custom tuned replacement for the late Layne Staley, when he first joined Alice In Chains onstage in 2006, he’d actually been building up expertise with Atlantan rockers Comes With The Fall since 1999. The group cranked out three LPs – the self-titled 2000 debut, 2001’s The Year Is One, 2007’s Beyond The Last Light – and even opened for AIC’s Jerry Cantrell on his solo tours in 2001 and 2002. Evidently Jerry wasn’t above talent scouting his supports.

Frank Iero, Pencey Prep

Having been a fixture on the New Jersey punk scene since he was 11 years old with outfits like Sector 12, Frank Iero certainly wasn’t short on experience before he joined My Chemical Romance. It was as lead vocalist and guitarist for Belleville post-hardcore crew Pencey Prep, however, while a student at Rutgers University, that he made his first real mark. Having signed to Eyeball Records and released 2001’s debut (and only) album Heartbreak In Stereo, there was plenty of promise, but a lack of audience interest ensured the members had parted ways by May 2002.

Ronnie James Dio, Vegas Kings

Before he became Rainbow/Black Sabbath frontman and all-round metal legend, Ronnie James Dio was a high school student in Cortland, New York still known as Ronald James Padavona. Starting his first band, pop outfit Vegas Kings, in 1957, with himself on bass and trumpet, before quickly taking over vocal duties because no-one else wanted the job. Changing their name to Ronnie & The Rumblers, then Ronnie & The Red Caps before eventually becoming Ronnie Dio & The Prophets the band actually had a decade of moderate success. By 1967, though, they had morphed into the Electric Elves – later shortened to Elf – and metal history was made.

Courtney Love, Pagan Babies

Before finding fame with Hole, Courtney Love fronted short-lived west coast new wave rock quintet Pagan Babies for a brief time in the mid-’80s. While Hole would later re-record one of the band’s songs – Best Sunday Dress, for 1998’s Celebrity Skin single, it wasn’t until four years later that the rest of the band’s dreamy four-track 1985 demo-tape surfaced online. They reportedly only ever managed two live performances.

Lemmy, The Rockin’ Vickers

Although his father was famously a man of the cloth, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister’s tenure with The Rockin’ Vicars was not a jab at his old man. Having developed a love of rock’n’roll young, Lemmy dabbled with low profile Manchester acts The Rainmakers and The Motown Sect before moving north in 1965 to pick up guitar for the relatively professional ‘Vickers on the the Blackpool Pier cabaret circuit. His time with the band would end in 1967, when he moved south to get in with the London set, serving as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix before establishing himself with psych-rockers Sam Gopal and Hawkwind, then finally setting up Motörhead.

Jordan Fish, Worship

There was actually some real buzz around Reading-based synth-rockers Worship before their bassist/programmer Jordan Fish jumped ship to Bring Me The Horizon to take over synths and backing vocals on the Sheffield metalcore giants’ crushing Sempiternal. Although his former charges’ singles like Collateral, Distant Sirens and The Midnight Sun pulsated with goosebump-tugging sonic grandeur, their exploits were cut short before they ever really got started.

Corey Taylor, Smakdab

Recently rediscovered on the internet, the long lost track Shadowed from Iowa’s nu-metal hopefuls Smakdab recently received a flurry of online listens. The reason? The guest vocalist for the 1998 track was revealed to be none other than Slipknot and Stone Sour totem, Corey Taylor. Sure, Corey had started Stone Sour in 1992 and had performed his first show with Slipknot in 1997, but this recording shows a slightly different side of the motor-mouthed one’s early days.

Posted on January 21st 2020, 2:00pm
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