7 musicians from iconic bands who had even bigger solo careers

News 19/03/2020

Being part of a band isn’t for every musician, what with splitting the creative control, collaborating ideas or sharing the spotlight. Some artists prefer to go it alone after starting off in a band, and while it’s not overly common, some who cut ties with their popular band to pursue solo endeavours actually end up becoming much bigger than their original claim to fame. 

Here are seven musicians who are examples of successfully becoming more relevant and recognisable than the bands they were in originally:

1. Peter Gabriel

Genesis was a big, influential and well-off band in the 70s - but all was not well within the band itself. Peter Gabriel was experiencing some personal drama, which made working with the rest of the band extremely hard and unproductive, especially considering there were some questions as to what direction Genesis should take with their music. While fans wanted the group to work out their differences and keep Genesis together, Peter Gabriel decided differently. He left the band, which left it in disarray, and started building his solo career where he always had the final say creatively. It was an incredibly successful move, with Gabriel reaching the heights of popularity Genesis originally had, and going further, selling millions of records, experimenting with sound and outliving the band creatively for many years.

2. Eric Clapton

Being inducted in the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame is a great honour and means that you’ve reached a certain level of fame and cultural importance, so being inducted three times is a pretty good sign you’ve done well with your career. Eric Clapton first had success in the mid-’60s with the legendary Yardbirds recording a hit song ‘For Your Love’. The track prompted the band to move towards a lighter pop-oriented sound, which didn’t sit well with Clapton - he left the band right after the song was released. His next project Cream was something more suitable to Clapton’s interests - the power-trio innovated the blues-rock genre with lengthy arrangements, emphasis on technically difficult instrumental parts, and jazz elements that made the band an instant hit. The project was short-lived though, disbanding just after two years and three studio albums.

Clapton, being hailed as a guitar God at this point, began working on his solo material producing the cult classic ‘Layla’ as one of the first singles. Eric Clapton has since become one of the most successful musicians in the world selling over a hundred million records.

3. Sting

Sting’s original band the Police had been getting progressively better and more popular throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, reaching an absolute peak with its 1983 album ‘Synchronicity’ becoming the biggest band in the world in terms of commercial success and demand. Leaving the band at that stage was seen as an insane move, but Sting was really dissatisfied with the collaborative process, wanting to explore different genres of music - so he left to pursue a solo career. No one expected him to have quite the phenomenal success he did with his solo albums. Hundreds of millions of sold albums later, Sting is a great example of an ultra-successful career, while his ex-bandmates Stuart Copeland and Andy Summers, despite doing well for themselves, never reached even a fraction of the success.

4. Phil Collins

Another ex-Genesis member, Phil Collins was originally just the drummer for the band, but after Peter Gabriel decided to leave the project in 1975, Collins also became the singer. Having a voice eerily similar to that of Gabriel’s, Collins was quickly accepted by the fans and things were great for a time, but soon Collins’ solo career was hard to ignore. Producing hits right from the start, Collins soon realised his solo career might be a better focus for him. He eventually split from the band in 1996 after successfully doing both Genesis and his solo recordings for 15 years at that point. While Genesis had great hits like ‘I Can’t Dance’ and ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ and sold millions of records, Collins was still more successful as a solo artist. 

5. Ozzy Osbourne

This one may be a bit controversial, with it being debatable whether Ozzy eclipsed Black Sabbath in terms of importance and influence, but there is no doubt who is more commercially successful of the two. Ozzy has had millions of sold records, Ozzfests, a reality-show, so much more recognition it’s ridiculous, and that’s not counting the fact that without him Black Sabbath’s albums were hit and miss, while the records that The Prince Of Darkness made constantly sold well. And as a surprise to anyone who is aware of Ozzy’s involvement in the world of heavy drugs, he actually creatively outlived his original bandmates, with his last album ‘Ordinary Man’ released last month. 

6. Ronnie James Dio

Another ex-Black Sabbath member, but Ronnie James Dio was also arguably the best vocalist Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow ever had. Starting his career playing with various small bands, Dio soon found himself fronting the band Elf which achieved a certain level of success and gave him an opportunity to befriend one Ritchie Blackmore. The pair formed a new band after Blackmore left Deep Purple, called it Rainbow and recorded together three amazing albums. Dio then joined Black Sabbath to record three albums with the pioneers of heavy metal. Neither of the bands allowed Dio to fully output his creativity though, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, creating the group ‘Dio’ together with Vinnie Appice. This solo project went on to become a great success both commercially and culturally. While both Black Sabbath and Rainbow probably made more money, the cultural impact of one Ronnie James Dio can not be overlooked. He was the man who came up with the rock n roll devil horns and will forever be an important figure in the heavy metal world. 

7. Iggy Pop

While Iggy Pop’s band the Stooges, the pioneers of punk, certainly have their share of fame, their success seemed to revolve around Pop. So when he left in 1974, the band faded away until Pop decided to reform it three decades later. He certainly owes his recovery and subsequent solo career to David Bowie, who took him under his wing in 1976, got him off drugs, and got him a record deal. But after the initial push, Pop did well himself taking part in numerous musical and art projects, acting in movies, and even doing voiceover work for video games. His influence and success stretched not only far beyond his former band, but also far beyond just music.