Part 1, 10cc to Creedence Clearwater Revival
Part 2, Deep Purple to The Grateful Dead
Part 3, Heart to Judas Priest
Part 4, Kansas to Mott the Hoople
Part 5, Nazareth to Ozzy Osbourne
Part 6, Paper Lace to Quiet Riot
Part 7, Radiohead to Rush
Back in the early 80s I was roadying for a band from the Illinois Valley called The Jerks that had been originally called Hamburger and the Works. Now, Hamburger and the Works is a catchy name for a band, especially if you like your burgers with the works. On the other hand it might be a little hard trying to get that name on the kick drum.
Fate would step in one day or should I say one night when the band was playing some bar in Peru, Illinois and some patrons started yelling at the band that they were “a bunch of jerks” for playing the kind of music they did, which back then was a lot of New Wave covers like “Turning Japanese,” “Life Begins at the Hop,” “Bionic Man,” and “Starry Eyes.” The name stuck and shortly thereafter the band became The Jerks.
Whether it actually happened that way or if it is the stuff that makes an urban legend, have you ever thought about how your favorite band came up with their catchy, interesting, or esoteric name? Have you ever wondered about the origins of the names for bands like The B-52’s, Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, Ramones and Ultravox?
Perhaps some of you already know these—as some of these names are the stuff that urban legends are made of—while other names, at least the origins of these names just might surprise you. I’ve added some commentary and musical references (some a little esoteric, so you better pay attention because there will be a short quiz afterwards) to spice things up a bit.
If I missed any of your favorite bands or forgot to include others I apologize.
Also, please check out the Shoes video. They are one of my favorite bands.
SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHARAOHS
Domingo “Sam” Samudio from Dallas, Texas formed a band in 1961 that he called The Pharaohs but after one record, the band split up. Later, when the band Andy and the Nightriders needed an organist, Sam joined the band. Sam became the “Sham” in a dual reference to the fact that the band’s name was “Andy and The Nightriders” and Andy Anderson was the leader but everyone came to hear Sam sing and the fact that Sam couldn’t really play the organ – he could only play chords. And that was the sham, and that’s no wooly bully.
Originally the band was called Savoy Brown Blues Band to emphasize their Chicago Blues-style repertoire. They took Savoy from the US blues label, Savoy Records, which they thought sounded elegant and “Brown” because they perceived it as being about as plain as you can get. Strung together, the words created a balance of opposites. Later they dropped the “Blues Band” and simply became Savoy Brown.
Originally the band was called Nameless because they couldn’t come up with a name and in the beginning Rudolph Schenker had an idea call the band Scorpions because it was a strong name and would be easy to remember.
Yes, it has been easy to remember and over the years the band has rocked us like a hurricane.
The band, which was formed in 1975, allegedly got their name from some graffiti one of the band members saw on a wall. Although not as commercially successful as their contemporaries, the band had a number of hits and later, crossed-over into other genres.
These ladies were without question the leader of the pack when it came to one of the top all girl groups of the sixties other than The Supremes. The group was formed at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, a part of Queens, New York. They called themselves the Shangri-Las after a restaurant in Queens.
Formed in 1967, the origin of this Dutch band’s name was inspired by the Eric Clapton song “Electric Blue.”
Despite having numerous hits, they would unfortunately be lopped together with other 60’s “one-hit wonders” with their classic song “Venus.”
You know, all these years I could have sworn the lead singer was a man. Oops!
This Zion, Illinois band came up with their name because it was simple and common. It’s not too late to listen to this band. They are still recording.
In 1983, when I was roadying for 87 Men (formerly The Jerks) we opened for Shoes at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Four years later, I was attending graduate school at Western.
Don’t you forget about me or this band’s name (they had originally been called Johnny & the Self Abusers and it was probably time for a major name change) which was inspired and taken from David Bowie’s song “Jean Genie” – “so simpleminded he can’t drive his module.”
The group took their name from a remark by a female friend of band member Steve Marriott, who noted that the band members all had “small faces”. The name stuck in part because of the mod slang usage of the word “face” to mean a popular, trend setting individual.
Perhaps it was better to have a small face than be a tin soldier.
The origin of this band’s name is probably too obvious, but what the heck. Billy Corgan, the founder of the band claimed that when he was younger, he had heard a friend say during Halloween that he was going out and would be “smashing pumpkins.” Billy thought that was a good name for a band and long before he was ever in a band, he would tell friends that he was in a band called Smashing Pumpkins.
So, if you are ever at a party and someone asks, “how about smashing pumpkins tonight?” – you might want to ask them what they have in mind.
Supposedly they named themselves Smash Mouth after a football term coined by former Chicago Bears (Da Bears) Coach Mike Ditka describing a style of hard, straightforward and bare-knuckles way of playing football that could obviously be applied to playing rock and roll.
Morrissey chose this name because he wanted a very simple and ordinary name—unlike fancy and pompous names like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and Spandau Ballet.
They got the name from the classic Warner Brothers cartoon character when Yosemite Sam told Bugs Bunny he was going to “blow this lovable rabbit to “smithereens.” Whether this true or not, the band later used this phrase for a B-sides and rarities compilation.
The origin of this band’s name, which was founded in 1980, was by combining “Sonic” after MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith with the trend of reggae artists at the time who used “youth” in their names.
Originally called ‘The Makers, one of the more infamous and gruesome urban legends surrounding the origin of this band’s name the band came from Spandau Prison in Berlin. The term Spandau Ballet referred to spasms of Nazi war criminals “as they danced at the end of the rope” when they were hung at the prison.
However, this has proven to be false.
Well, to cut a long story short, the origin of the band’s name came from some graffiti in the lavatory at The Venue in London where some of the band members worked.
In the “ars gratia artis” world of coming up with cool sounding band names, the origin of this band’s name was after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture, “The Sound Garden” located in Magnuson Park, Seattle.
Seems only appropriate for a band who would go onto record such deep and meaningful songs like Black Hole Sun.
Originally the band was called Halfnelson, but was later changed to Sparks a play on the Marx Brothers. Their biggest commercial hit “Cool Places” was actually a collaboration with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s.
Oh yeah, and that’s kind of how I got my nickname. Pat Hardy said that because I liked the band so much people out to call me Sparks.
The name stuck.
After being formed in 1977 by Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter, the band was first called The Automatics, and then The Coventry Automatics. Terry Hall and Roddy Radiation joined the band the following year, and the band changed its name to The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics, and then to The Special AKA. Later, they changed their name to The Specials.
Tim Finn, one of the founding members of the band wrote “split ends” down in a book. One day as he and Phil Judd were trying to find a name for the band, Phil flipped through the book and saw “Split Ends” The name stuck. Later, the “Ends” was changed to “Enz” to show their love for their home country of New Zealand—“nz”. I got you, didn’t I? That’s a pretty good explanation for their origin.
Originally called Art, when this progressive rock band formed in 1967, the band changed their name to Spooky Tooth after the title of their second album Spooky Two.
The lead singer Gary Wright was from New Jersey who would have a big hit in the mid 70s with Dream Weaver.
The engineer on their first album was Glyn Johns who would go on to work with the Eagles and Buckacre (a band from the LaSalle-Peru, Illinois area).
The band chose this name as a “facetious tribute” to The Velvet Underground’s often-derided 1973 album of the same name.
Once again, choosing the right name for a band doesn’t have to be like pulling mussels from a shell. Just borrow a name from a group you like and everyone can be cool for cats.
One of the more legendary origins of a band’s name belongs to Steely Dan that got their name from “Steely Dan III from Yokohama”—a strap-on dildo—from William S. Burroughs classic novel Naked Lunch.
Name origins aside, this band could buy themselves a thrill with their first album and have been reelin in the years ever since.
Originally called Sparrows, lead singer John Kay suggested Steppenwolf, after being inspired by Herman Hesse’s autobiographical novel of the same name. Now that’s what you call born to wild when you come up with a cool name change like that one.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS
Originally called Highway Star, this punk rock band from Belfast changed their name to Stiff Little Fingers after The Vibrators song of the same name.
Originally they were called The Tomcats when they were playing around the band’s hometown of Massapequa, New York in early 1980. Later, after the band had gone to London, bass player Lee Rocker suggested the name Stray Cats.
After a little help from Dave Edmunds, they were ready to strut their stuff—Stray Cat Strut that is—and rock this town, that town, every town they played in.
I had the chance to see them at a small bar in Chicago in December 1981. It was one of the best concerts I have been to—right up there with Devo, Ultravox, and Pretenders.
Originally named “The Guilford Stranglers” after a notorious early 70’s South London multiple murderer nicknamed “The Guilford Strangler” this name became too offensive and not commercially viable especially as they played most of their early gigs in South London where the murderer had still not been caught. Hence they changed it to just “The Stranglers”.
Originally this band—that started out playing bluegrass and eventually moved on to folk rock, glam rock and progressive rock—was called The Strawberry Hill Boys because they rehearsed at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. Later, fans affectionately started calling them Strawbs and the name stuck.
While the name Styx is a reference to the mythical river leading to Hades in Greek Mythology that was not the reason it was chosen; it was chosen because according to Dennis DeYoung, “it was the only name that none of us hated.”
Originally called Daddy when they formed in 1968, the band later changed its name to Supertramp after a book called Autobiography Of A Supertramp written by R.E. Davies in 1910.
That sounds logical.
The origins of this band go back to the 1965 band Wainwright’s Gentlemen that included vocalist Ian Gillan who would later be the lead singer in Deep Purple. Later, Brian Connolly (who had replaced Ian Gillan) and drummer Mick Tucker left Wainwright’s Gentlemen to form another band, calling themselves The Sweetshop. Later this name was shortened to The Sweet and finally just Sweet.
However, life was not too sweet for the band and it wouldn’t be until the early 70s when they finally had some hit records. And after that, it was a ballroom blitz for these glam rock kings.