Being in a successful rock band can be the dream of many aspiring musicians. But as rewarding as it may seem, it can also be a challenging experience. The pressure to perform and maintain the quality of music, along with personal and professional tensions, can lead to conflicts among band members. In some cases, the tensions become too much to bear, causing one of the core members to leave the band, either to pursue a solo career or to escape the intensity of being part of a successful band.
However, leaving a band doesn’t always mean that it’s over for good. In some cases, rockstars that left their bands eventually come back to rejoin their former bandmates. Here are some of the most notable examples:
Vince Neil – Motley Crue
In 1991, after the successful sales of “Dr. Feelgood” album, Motley Crue was offered a $25 million contract by Elektra Records. However, soon after, the popularity of hair metal was replaced by grunge music, and lead vocalist Vince Neil decided to leave the band. According to the group’s autobiography “Motley Crue: The Dirt,” Neil’s excessive drinking led to him being tardy or completely missing rehearsal sessions. In February 1992, the band informed Neil that they were considering finding a replacement for him, which led to him leaving the studio, claiming that he was fired, while bassist Nikki Sixx stated that Neil quit.
John Corabi was brought in to sing on Motley Crue’s 1994 self-titled album, which was a commercial failure. The accompanying tour only drew small crowds, which eventually led to Corabi’s departure. Neil spent four years attempting to make amends with his former bandmates before finally getting everyone together in one room. Neil recounted that the reunion was strange, but it felt right. After Corabi left the band, Neil was back in the Crue, performing with them gratefully at the 1997 American Music Awards. He said that the experience made him realize how much he loved the band, even though he had previously tried to deny it. Neil also stated that none of them had realized how important it was to have the band back together.
John Frusciante – Red Hot Chili Peppers
John Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band’s fourth lead guitarist in 1988, following the likes of Hillel Slovak, Jack Sherman, and DeWayne McKnight. He played on several hit songs, such as “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge,” but became unsettled by the band’s success. According to “Scar Tissue,” a book written by singer Anthony Kiedis, Frusciante did not want to be part of a highly successful band. By 1991, Kiedis and Frusciante were no longer on speaking terms, and Frusciante deliberately performed poorly when the band appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992. He quit the band during the Japan tour of 1992, and the Chili Peppers went through three guitarists with short tenures.
In 1998, Frusciante entered a drug rehabilitation program to overcome his addiction to heroin, alcohol, and crack cocaine. After completing his treatment, bassist Flea asked Frusciante to rejoin the band, and Frusciante agreed tearfully, stating that nothing would make him happier. Frusciante played on three albums before leaving again in 2009, citing mental imbalance. However, in 2019, he returned again to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, replacing his replacement, Josh Klinghoffer.
Pat Smear – Foo Fighters
Following the dissolution of Nirvana after the death of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl recorded an album under the name “Foo Fighters.” He then assembled a full band, including Nirvana’s auxiliary member Pat Smear on guitar. However, Smear left the group in part due to personal issues with Grohl, stemming from the frontman’s divorce from Smear’s close friend. Smear also grew tired of being in a successful rock band. To replace him, Grohl hired Franz Stahl, another member of his former band Scream, who was eventually fired and replaced by Chris Shiflett. Eventually, Smear reconciled with Grohl, missing being a part of the band and joined as a touring guitarist. He later rejoined the Foo Fighters as a full-time member in 2010.
Rob Halford – Judas Priest
Initially a hard-edged progressive rock band in 1969, Judas Priest transformed into one of the leading bands in British heavy metal after the addition of operatic lead singer Rob Halford. Halford’s soaring vocals about darkness, crime, aggression, and lust became iconic on tracks such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” and “Turbo Lover.”
However, Halford left the band in 1992 to pursue a solo career. His departure was due to personal reasons, which many of his fellow lead singers also experienced. Judas Priest went on to hire Tim “Ripper” Owens as Halford’s replacement, who was a member of a Judas Priest cover band.
In 2003, Halford returned to Judas Priest as the lead vocalist. This reunion occurred because Halford deeply regretted leaving the band and missed his bandmates. He wrote an emotionally raw letter to his old bandmates, pouring his heart out in six to eight pages, and expressing his desire to reconnect. Following their meeting to discuss the release of the “Metalogy” box set in 2004, Halford was promptly welcomed back into the band.
Peter Criss – Kiss
Kiss donned fantastical stage makeup that reflected their personae in the 1970s. Drummer Peter Criss took on the persona of “The Cat,” and he sang lead on the band’s top hit “Beth,” which reached #7 in 1976. However, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley believed that Criss’ drumming was inadequate and therefore, they held an audition in 1980, as revealed in Stanley’s memoir “Face the Music.” The audition didn’t go well, and Criss subsequently left the band.
Years later, in 1995, Criss returned to the band due to a combination of reasons, including a failed solo career, Simmons and Stanley being swindled by a manager, and the promise of financial gain. Simmons and Stanley reached out to former bandmates, Ace Frehley and Criss, to perform at a Kiss convention and tape an episode of “MTV Unplugged.” Criss initially refused, but he ultimately agreed when the band’s manager explained the potential financial benefits. At the convention’s mini-concert, Criss and Frehley joined Stanley and Simmons on stage, creating an electrifying experience for the audience. The 1996 Kiss reunion tour was the most profitable tour of the year, according to The Washington Post, and Criss was just as eager to cash in as Simmons.
Mickey Hart – The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead had two drummers, one of whom was Mickey Hart. He joined the band alongside Bill Kreutzmann in 1967. However, in 1970, the band’s financial manager, Lenny Hart (who was also Mickey’s father), was confronted about thousands of missing funds. After paying back $10,000, Lenny disappeared with all the Grateful Dead’s cash, causing the band to miss tour dates. A court convicted Lenny Hart of embezzlement, and he spent six months in jail. Mickey Hart left the band in 1971 due to his father’s criminal activities. He found it especially difficult since his father was the one who had taken his money. After Lenny Hart’s death in 1975, Mickey rejoined the band in 1976. His bandmates were sympathetic, but he still had to convince them to reinstate him. Kreutzmann was the toughest to convince, as he did not think it was a good idea. However, while high on opiates, he eventually relented.
Richard Wright – Pink Floyd
During the creation of Pink Floyd’s 1979 album “The Wall,” Roger Waters, the band’s bassist and songwriter, was displeased with keyboardist Richard Wright’s contributions, feeling that Wright was not pulling his weight. Wright, who was going through a divorce, decided to spend time with his children, leading Waters to threaten to cancel the album unless Wright left the band. Wright returned to Pink Floyd, but as an employee and a salaried touring musician rather than a full and official member of the band, which ultimately worked out well for him financially. While the full-status members of the band lost a lot of money from the expensive “Wall” tour, Wright made more money than if he had remained a member of the band.
Steve Perry – Journey
Journey was originally a jazz-rock band that experimented with instrumentals in the early 1970s. However, in 1977, they shifted to a more commercial style, hired Steve Perry as their lead singer, and achieved massive success. Over a decade, Journey released eight multi-platinum albums and had a string of chart-topping hits such as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” and “Separate Ways.” In 1987, Perry abruptly announced his departure from the band, effectively ending Journey. Perry took a break from music to rest his voice and mourn his mother’s death, rather than pursuing a solo career, as his former bandmates may have thought.
Journey reunited in the 1990s, thanks to Perry’s nostalgia and initiative. He reached out to his former bandmates, and they all agreed to record a new album, “Trial By Fire,” and plan a tour. However, Perry suffered from severe hip pain while on a hike in Hawaii and needed surgery, giving his blessing for the band to tour without him and with another singer under a different name. Journey ultimately reunited under their original name, but Perry, the one who brought them back together, was not part of the band.
Bruce Dickinson – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden has been rocking out since 1975, and it wasn’t until Bruce Dickinson joined the band as their fourth lead singer in 1981 that they achieved their greatest success. Dickinson’s distinct voice powered Iron Maiden’s most popular songs, such as “The Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills,” and “Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter.” However, Dickinson left the band in 1993 to pursue other musical ventures, feeling that he needed to learn more about music beyond Iron Maiden. The band then hired Blaze Bayley, whose two albums with Iron Maiden were their lowest-selling at the time. Dickinson also struggled with his solo career, achieving only a few minor hits in the UK.
Iron Maiden eventually fired Bayley due to dissatisfaction with his vocals, and their manager convinced Steve Harris to ask Dickinson to return. Harris was apprehensive about the reunion, but ultimately agreed, feeling that it was better to work with the “devil you know.” Despite initial reluctance, Dickinson and Harris eventually warmed up to the idea of reuniting during their first meeting.
Tom DeLonge – Blink-182
Blink-182, a pop-punk trio, achieved great commercial success in the early 2000s with hit songs like “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?” Despite initially announcing a hiatus in 2005, the band effectively split up with guitarist Tom DeLonge forming Angels and Airwaves while bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker continued on as +44.
In 2009, Blink-182 revealed that they were reuniting after the band members had sorted out their personal issues. The drummer, Barker, had survived a private plane crash in the previous year, which motivated the reunion. However, the band broke up again in 2015 with Hoppus and Barker placing blame on DeLonge for leaving the band, which the guitarist denied. Alkaline Trio guitarist Matt Skiba was brought in to replace DeLonge due to creative and personal tensions.
Years later, DeLonge resolved his issues with his bandmates because of a significant event: Hoppus’s cancer diagnosis. Blink-182 announced their reunion with DeLonge in 2022, and he explained his return in an Instagram post, citing Hoppus’s cancer as a perspective-changer. He also expressed gratitude towards his replacement, Matt Skiba.