5 Classic Rock Bands Before They Were Famous

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Think of the image that comes to mind when someone mentions your favorite classic rock band. Chances are it’s an image from the group’s peak years, maybe cover art from an album or CD, or a poster. No one ever recalls their favorite band’s pre-fame days, when hairstyles were radically different and band members who have long since departed held key roles. But sometimes it’s fun to take a look at the past. Here are five interesting videos of classic rock groups before they became famous.


5. Bob Seger

Bob Seger rocketed to fame in late 1976 with the release of the album Night Moves, which was his ninth album, but the first with his most famous backing group, The Silver Bullet Band. The album peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard chart. It was a well-deserved reward for the hard-working Seger, who first broke into the Detroit-area music scene in 1961 at the age of 16, but toiled in anonymity for most of the decade. He enjoyed his first major success when the Bob Seger System released the single Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man in February 1968. Younger fans that grew up mostly familiar with Seger’s soft-rock ballads from the 1980s might be surprised to see how he once rocked. The song reached No. 17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, although Seger would undoubtedly like to forget this lip-synched performance on the TV show Happenin’.


4. REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon is the prime example of a rock and roll band that ignored the critics and was persistent enough to finally enjoy success. Founded in 1967, at one point during the mid-1970s, REO Speedwagon was voted the worst rock and roll band in a readers’ poll in Circus Magazine, an influential rock magazine. Yet the band kept pushing on and enjoyed moderate success in the late 1970s with a live album and then the bizarrely titled 1978 album, You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish. Their biggest-selling record, however, was the 1980 release of the pop-friendly Hi Infidelity. Although singer Kevin Cronin and guitarist Gary Richrath collaborated on the album, Cronin’s pop sensibilities were already clashing with Richrath’s more arena-rock-guitar style, leading to Richrath’s departure a few years later. Here’s a strange clip from 1971, years before the band made it big, with many original REO members, including Richrath, keyboardist Neil Doughty — who was still with the band as of 2011 — bassist Gregg Philbin, drummer Alan Gratzer and lead vocalist Terry Luttrell. Cronin would join the band a year later.


3. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Want to start an argument between Lynyrd Skynyrd fans? Bring up the Ed King vs. Steve Gaines debate and stand back and watch the sparks fly. In this video from December 1974 in Hamburg, Germany, King is the guy in the white shirt who plays the intro to Sweet Home Alabama. A former member of the band Strawberry Alarm Clock, King joined the band as bass player on the first album but then moved over to the third guitar spot behind Gary Rossington and  Allen Collins. King co-wrote many of the group’s classics, including Saturday Night Special, Workin’ For MCA and Sweet Home Alabama. Although the band enjoyed some moderate success with King on its first three albums (Alabama was the band’s biggest pop hit ever, peaking at No. 8) King departed the band in 1975, tired of the group’s brutal tour schedule. That opened the door for Gaines to join the group. Coincidence or not, Gaines’ arrival coincided with the band’s explosion into the rock and roll mainstream, with the 1976 live album One More From the Road, and the 1977 studio release, Street Survivors. Gaines’ guitar talents shone on popular songs such as I Know a Little and You Got That Right. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tragic plane crash on Oct. 20, 1977 came at the height of the group’s popularity, claiming the lives of Gaines, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and three others. King toured with the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1987 through 1996, exposing his talents to a new generation of fans, but never putting to rest the question of which Lynyrd Skynyrd version was better.


2. Journey

Journey achieved mega-stardom in 1981 with the multi-platinum album Escape, featuring top 10 pop hits such as Don’t Stop Believin’, Who’s Cryin’ Now and Open Arms. That pop sound was a sharp break from the jazz-fusion/progressive rock sound the band boasted when it formed in the early 1970s with former Santana members Neal Schon on guitar and Gregg Rolie on keyboards and vocals. Journey’s signature pop sound emerged in late 1977 with the addition of singer Steve Perry. In January 1978, the band released its first album to hit platinum status, Infinity, with Perry’s distinctive tenor powering hit singles such as Wheel in the Sky and Lights. While Perry is the name and face most casual fans associate with the band, Schon and Rolie deserve plenty of credit. Schon is still part of the group today, more than 30 years later. Here’s a clip of Journey from April 1978, just as they were first achieving fame.


1. Chicago

This is a remarkable clip of the band Chicago circa 1970. Formed in 1967 as Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago reached its creative peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with a bright horn section that carved out solid rhythms and creative leads. In the band’s early years, however, guitarist Terry Kath clearly held center stage. One of the most underrated guitarists in rock history, Kath was no secret to those in the industry. Once, after catching a Chicago gig in Los Angeles, Jimi Hendrix told the group’s saxophonist Walter Parazalder, “Your guitarist is better than me.” Kath’s death in 1978 from an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound clearly altered the band’s style of music. Here Kath hammers out a blistering lead solo on 25 or 6 to 4 as his fellow band mates look on.


One More: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin

There’s not much you can say about this clip other than to marvel at the fact that Jimmy Page is only 13 years old in this BBC video from 1957. In the next 12 years he would go on to play with both the Yardbirds and serve as a founding member of the seminal band Led Zeppelin.


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