Here's How Some of the Greatest Rock Bands Formed

Whether it's childhood friends trying to figure out how to write songs or seasoned professionals joining forces to pursue a dream, there are lots of ways (both remarkable and unremarkable) that successful bands form.

Below we've compiled origin stories of some of the biggest rock bands the world has ever seen. 

While their paths to success may differ drastically, each of the groups listed below grew from humble beginnings, playing to dozens in bars to playing to thousands in arenas. 

Aerosmith

Steve Tyler met guitarist Joe Perry while working at an ice cream shop in New Hampshire. Then a drummer, Tyler, Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton formed a trio. After meeting Berklee College of Music student and drummer Joey Kramer, Tyler stepped up as the group's frontman. Aerosmith then added guitarist Brad Whitford and the band relocated to Boston, where all five members shared an apartment, playing gigs almost every night.

The Beatles

In 1957, a 16-year-old John Lennon performed at a church picnic in Liverpool with his band, the Quarrymen. Soon afterwards, a friend introduced 15-year-old Paul McCartney to Lennon, who later invited McCartney to join the band and start writing songs with him. In 1958, McCartney’s friend George Harrison, then 14, asked to join the band. After a month, Lennon conceded to let Harrison join. The Beatles gigged regularly, changed names several times and finally got signed to EMI’s Parlophone label by producer George Martin in 1962. After being unimpressed with drummer Pete Best’s performance on record, The Beatles hired Ringo Starr to play drums.

Black Sabbath

In 1968, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward combined forces with bassist Geezer Butler and a singer named Ozzy Osbourne after answering a music shop’s ad that read “Ozzy Zig Needs a Gig.” After performing around its hometown of Birmingham, England, for a while under the name Earth, the band renamed itself Black Sabbath, after one of its songs that was inspired by a paranormal experience Butler had and a 1963 Italian horror film of the same name.  

Blondie

Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry began her music career in the late-‘60s, performing and recording in bands, in addition to working as a beautician, a Playboy bunny and a bartender in New York City. In 1973, Harry joined the Stilettos with guitarist Chris Stein and reshaped the band, first renaming it Angel and the Snakes, and then Blondie. Blondie got regular gigs at CBGB’s in its early years and found mainstream success with 1978’s Parallel Lines album, which also featured drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, bassist Nigel Harrison and guitarist Frank Infante.

Fleetwood Mac

Singer and guitarist Peter Green began forming Fleetwood Mac in 1967 with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie and holdover members from John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The band achieved early success in England with moderate hits like “Black Magic Woman” and “Albatross.” In 1970, Green abruptly left the band. The group added Christine Perfect in 1971, who later married McVie and changed her name. One of many periods of turmoil ensued and the band’s producer found American guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks. With the new lineup, Fleetwod Mac recorded its breakthrough album, Fleetwood Mac, in 1975 (the band's second self-titled album).

Genesis

Singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist Mike Rutherford met at England’s prestigious Charterhouse School in the mid-‘60s. Early Genesis released its debut, From Genesis to Revelation, in 1969 which achieved little commercial success. In 1970, shortly before the release of its second album, Trespass, the group was again looking for a drummer. After nailing his audition, Phil Collins joined the band. Guitarist Steve Hackett soon followed.

Guns N’ Roses

Frontman Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin’s band L.A. Guns had just fallen apart when they started forming a new band with Slash, whom they knew new from a previous band called Hollywood Rose, and bassist Duff McKagan, who was well-known in the local punk rock scene. The band dubbed itself Guns N’ Roses, combining the names of its two previous bands. Slash later recommended drummer Steven Adler to help them keep time.

Heart

While Heart is best known for singer Ann Wilson and her sister guitarist Nancy Wilson, the band began coming together in the mid-‘60s, several years before the “Heart sisters” joined. Bassist Steve Fossen formed a band called The Army in British Columbia with two guitar-playing brothers Roger Fisher and Mike Fisher. The band briefly changed its name to White Heart, before changing again to Heart in the early-‘70s. Ann Wilson arrived in 1972, followed by her sister Nancy in ’74. Mike Fisher left the band in ’74. The band’s manager helped complete the group’s lineup with keyboardist Howard Leese and drummer Michael Derosier. Heart’s 1975 debut, Dreamboat Annie, sold well in Canada (where the band’s label was based) and quickly went platinum when it was released in the U.S. in ’76.

KISS

Bassist Gene Simmons and frontman Paul Stanley began forming KISS in 1970. After finding drummer Peter Criss thanks to an ad in Rolling Stone, the band took out an ad in the Village Voice, saying they were looking for a guitarist with “flash and balls.” Ace Frehley responded and the four began rehearsing and crafting their signature image.

Led Zeppelin

Renowned session guitarist Jimmy Page was left with rights to the Yardbirds’ name after the band fell apart in 1968 with a number of gigs still booked. While Page had several ideas on how to fill out the lineup in order to fulfill its contract, his first choices all turned him down. He wound up with fellow session player John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant, who then recommended his friend John Bonham to play drums. The name Led Zeppelin was allegedly inspired by The Who’s Keith Moon, who used the term while trying to convey to Page what a bad idea he thought it was to try creating the loudest, heaviest blues band anyone had ever heard.

Metallica

Frontman James Hetfield answered drummer Lars Ulrich’s ad in the L.A. Recycler newspaper in October of 1981, and the two soon began writing songs. Dave Mustaine joined on lead guitar and Hetfield’s housemate Ron McGovney joined on bass. After relocating from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, Metallica replaced McGovney with Cliff Burton. Megaforce Records signed Metallica and in 1983, the band set out for New York to record their debut. Once in New York, Mustaine was fired in favor of Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett.

Mötley Crüe

Bassist Nikki Sixx set out to form a band in Los Angeles in the winter of 1981. After recruiting drummer Tommy Lee, Sixx contacted guitarist Mick Mars through a classified ad which read, “Loud rude aggressive guitarist available.” Singer Vince Neil was singing in a Cheap Trick cover band when he was recruited. Mars soon suggested the band change its name from Christmas to Mötley Crüe.

Nirvana

Frontman Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic both grew up in Aberdeen, WA, but didn’t meet until Melvins mainman Buzz Osborne introduced them as teens to one another, and to punk rock. Cobain and Novoselic were inspired by their punk heroes to form Nirvana in 1987; the band released its debut, Bleach, in 1989. After letting drummer Chad Channing go in 1990, Nirvana hired Dave Grohl.

Pearl Jam

Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard’s band Green River split up in 1987. Half of the band formed Mudhoney, while Ament and Gossard joined up with their friend Andrew Wood in Mother Love Bone. Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990 and Ament and Gossard refused their record label’s offer to record with a new singer. The pair began working on songs with their friend, guitarist Mike McCready. The three gave a demo to drummer Jack Irons who declined due to a previous commitment but passed the songs along to a San Diego-based singer named Eddie Vedder. Vedder sent back a tape of himself singing over the demo and was invited up to Seattle to join. The band added drummer Dave Krusen (and later many others) and called itself Mookie Blaylock (named for the NBA player of the same name). Later they would rename the band Pearl Jam, but they still acknowledged the then-New Jersey Nets guard by calling their debut album Ten, a reference to Blaylock’s jersey number.

Pink Floyd

Bassist Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason were studying architecture in London in 1964 when they formed a band with fellow students, including keyboardist Rick Wright. The band called itself Sigma 6 and played R&B covers and original songs. Syd Barrett soon joined and suggested the name Pink Floyd, after one of his favorite blues records by Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. In the ensuing years, Pink Floyd began experimenting with a more psychedelic sound, and in 1967 the band added Barrett's friend David Gilmour as a second guitarist. But Barrett's erratic behavior, depression and drug use began to wear on the band. In 1968 he agreed to part ways, leaving Pink Floyd a four-piece.

Queen

Guitarist Brian May, bassist Tim Staffell and drummer Roger Taylor formed a group called Smile in 1967 at London’s prestigious Imperial College. A local singer named Farrokh Bulsara, also a friend of Staffell, became a fan of Smile after seeing them perform. Staffell left to go solo around the same time Bulsara’s band broke up. Bulsara joined and Smile soon changed its name to Queen at his urging; Bulsara then assumed the stage name Freddie Mercury. In 1971, Queen hired bassist John Deacon. Once the members finished school, Queen hit the road on its first tour.

The Rolling Stones

Frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards first met at Dartford Maypole County Primary School. But it wasn’t until they ran into one another 10 years later in 1960 at Dartford railway station that The Rolling Stones got rolling. Jagger was carrying albums by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, Richards was carrying a guitar and the two got to talking. There’s now a plaque at the spot on the platform where that conversation took place. Jagger and Richards later met guitarist Brian Jones at a local jazz club, where he was sitting in with a band featuring keyboardist Ian Stewart and future Stones drummer Charlie Watts. By 1962, Bill Wyman joined on bass. About six months later, Watts joined on drums.

Rush

Bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson began their friendship in high school in the late-‘60s discussing the finer points of psychedelic rock and heavy blues rock. After several lineup changes, that included Lee leaving the band and then returning, Rush solidified a lineup in 1971 with John Rutsey on drums. By 1974, Rutsey was forced to leave the band due to health issues. Neil Peart auditioned and joined later that year.

Soundgarden

After kicking around the Seattle music scene for much of the early ‘80s, bassist Hiro Yamamoto decided to form a band with his roommate, a singing drummer called Chris Cornell in 1984. Yamamoto’s longtime friend guitarist Kim Thayil soon signed on and the trio called themselves Soundgarden. In 1985, the band decided Cornell should be their frontman; Soundgarden added drummer Scott Sundquist, who was later replaced by Matt Cameron in 1986. After several indie label releases in the late-‘80s, Yamamoto left the band to go back to school. Ben Shepherd joined on bass in 1990.

Van Halen

The Van Halen brothers, Alex and Eddie, began receiving classical music training at about age six in Pasadena, CA, where their parents settled after moving from the Netherlands in 1967. After discovering rock and roll, Eddie began learning to play drums and Alex learned to play guitar. The two eventually switched instruments and started a band called Genesis, which they later renamed Mammoth after learning of the British band of the same name. After recruiting frontman David Lee Roth from a rival band and later bassist Michael Anthony, the group learned there was, in fact, another band called Mammoth, so they settled on Van Halen in 1974.

The Who

Guitarist Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle were school friends in the late-‘50s and even played together in a Dixieland band in their early teens with Townshend on banjo and Entwistle on trumpet. Entwistle later joined a band called the Detours, featuring then-guitarist Roger Daltrey. When the Detours lost their guitarist, Entwistle suggested Townshend. Shortly thereafter, in 1963, the Detours’ singer left the group, making Daltrey the lead singer. When the Detours' drummer left, Keith Moon was hired. In 1964, the Detours changed their name to The Who, and no guitar, drum set or hotel room was safe.


Photos: Getty Images

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