When ’70s bands make comebacks, what’s in a name? Not much. If you bought the new Foreigner album, Unusual Heat, you probably expected to hear singer Lou Gramm’s distinctive arena-size croon. No luck — he left the band last year, and it carries on with a replacement as if Gramm had never existed. It’s the same with Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991. The Southern rock group’s singer-songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant, died in the band’s 1977 plane crash, but that hardly deterred four other members from recruiting another Van Zant, Ronnie’s brother Johnny, and re-forming the band (albeit, due to consumer-protection law, under the revised name that is their album’s title). There’s a new Electric Light Orchestra album too, but founder, singer, and songwriter Jeff Lynne isn’t on it; he prefers his new role as Traveling Wilbury and big-time producer for the likes of Tom Petty and George Harrison.
Misleading band names are, of course, nearly as old as rock itself: Since the ’60s, the public has been confronted with bogus or at best semi-authentic touring versions of the Drifters, the Coasters, the Platters, Fleetwood Mac, the Byrds, and the Guess Who. In the ’90s, the saga continues but with a difference. Bands from the ’70s have routinely changed personnel and, via smooth legal maneuvers, have actually made their changes seem legitimate. Kansas and Chicago, two ’70s bands who overhauled their lineups in the late ’80s, then registered their names as trademarks. Only a few old fans seemed to mind.
The return of ELO required an extra effort. ELO disbanded in 1986, but two years ago the group’s drummer, Bev Bevan, decided, partly out of boredom, that it was time to hit the road again. The only problem was Jeff Lynne, who, says Bevan, ”wasn’t interested at all.” Since Lynne and Bevan co-own the name, what followed were months of negotiations, costing them over $100,000 in legal fees. The end result: Bevan can call his group ”Electric Light Orchestra Part Two” in exchange for granting Lynne an undisclosed share of album and tour grosses. ”Jeff was never keen on live work anyway,” Bevan says. ”He’s happier in the studio.” Still, Lynne’s cut may not amount to much: The group’s summer tour with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra was canceled. The official explanation was ”technical difficulties,” but low ticket sales at venues like New York’s Radio City Music Hall suggest the public realized that the revival was not, to quote an old ELO hit, a truly livin’ thing.