Following DeGarmo’s initial departure in 1997, Queensryche continued with other lineups, to varying degrees of success and acceptance. When Kelly Gray replaced DeGarmo in 1998, many in the Seattle scene recalled Gray’s guitar playing as reminiscent of Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow. That was not the case when he played with Queensryche, however. Gray was not a very technical and precise guitarist and as a result, his style clashed with Wilton’s.
That was a problem for many fans of Queensryche, who were used to the complimentary guitar tandem of Wilton and DeGarmo. Fans reacted harshly to Gray from the get-go, clamoring for him to be replaced. Kelly led a much different life on the road than the rest of the band, according to Tate:
From the liner notes of the 2006 re-release of Q2k:
"We were in a brand-new world, Kelly's world … Kelly lived hard and fast, and the people around him were the same. I have personally never seen as many drugs and as much alcohol consumed as when Kelly was in the band …The toll of indulgence was heavy. The band wasn't speaking, the new manager was fired, we were looking for a new record company, and three of our friends were dead. Road life is tough. It's not for everyone, and some people can't pace themselves, and then they get into trouble."
Following the aborted return of DeGarmo in late 2002, Queensryche turned to journeyman Mike Stone to play guitar alongside Wilton. Prior to DeGarmo’s involvement in the Tribe sessions, Stone had been working with Tate as a songwriting collaborator. After things fell apart with DeGarmo, Stone was called on again in December 2002 to play a show Queensryche had booked in Anchorage, Alaska, on New Year’s Eve.
This kicked-off what is referred to by some as the “Tateryche” era of Queensryche. Stone’s involvement with the band coincided with an almost decade-long period where Geoff Tate would employ outside songwriters to bring his lyrical ideas to life, as opposed to his bandmates. Queensryche released three studio albums during this period, all of which featured more songs written musically by Tate’s friends and confidants – such as producer Jason Slater, former MYTH keyboardist Randy Gane, and Gray -- than the band itself.
Fan reception to this period was mixed. On one hand, people were excited to see Queensryche touring extensively. On the other hand, unbeknownst to the majority of the fanbase until years later, the essence of what made up the band was rotting on the inside. Stone remained with the band through 2008. Parker Lundgren – then Tate’s son-in-law – took over in 2009. Although Lundgren would later prove that his ability was up to the task, fans were getting sick of the nepotism, as it was the latest – albeit most high profile – instance of Tate controlling the direction of the band.
Queensryche fans were treated to a reunion of sorts on Jan. 8, 2011, when for the first time since December 1997, Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton were on a stage together -- this time performing a medley of hard rock and metal hits at halftime of the Seattle Seahawks playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. The Queensryche guitar duo performed with Mike Inez (bass, Alice in Chains) and Ben Smith (drums, Heart). DeGarmo, in what was a nice tip of the cap to Queensryche fans, played his iconic multi-color tri-ryche guitar. Below are some photos of the event:
The rest of 2011 wasn't as joyus for Queensryche fans. DeGarmo did not re-reunite with the group, and the discontent over Tate's direction was growing. Shortly after the Wilton-DeGarmo appearance, Wilton and Jackson took to social media to criticize and apologize, respectively, for the output on Dedicated to Chaos, Queensryche’s 12th studio album. Wilton thanked the fans for appreciating his “parts” on the record, while Jackson tweeted a vague apology. Both were removed and/or retracted later. An anniversary tour, doubling as a support tour for the record commenced, to less than stellar reviews.
A year later, Queensryche imploded. Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton fired Susan Tate as manager and most of the Tate family members being employed by the band. Tate snapped at a gig in Sao Paulo, Brazil, striking Wilton, tearing down Rockenfield’s drum kit and spitting on the band before and during a show.
Jackson, Rockenfield, Wilton and Lundgren – who had since divorced Tate’s daughter – had put together a side project called Rising West with then-Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. The idea formed when Wilton and La Torre met at the 2012 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Los Angeles. What began as a partnership to write music for television ads shifted to focusing on playing the music from the Queensryche EP through Empire under a new name. The duo got Rockenfield and Jackson on-board, with “WEST” initially standing for “Whip-Eddie-Scott-Todd.” When Lundgren was asked to be a part of the band, “W.E.S.T.” was then noted to be a reference to the lyric line in the song “Before the Storm,” that read “rising from the west.” Ironically, given the situation between the members of Rising West and Tate, the name was a perfect fit for the new side project.
Rising West made its debut with a pair of sold-out shows on June 8-9, 2012, at the Hard Rock Café in Seattle. Receiving a raucous ovation from the crowds, Rising West had many fans wondering if the end of Queensryche was near, particularly after the Brazil incident. Contractually, Queensryche had two more shows to play. The band fulfilled those dates and then fired Tate as lead singer. They subsequently announced La Torre as the new singer of Queensryche.
Tate filed a lawsuit claiming he was improperly terminated and created his own version of Queensryche with Gray, Gane, Rudy & Robert Sarzo and Simon Wright to compete with his former bandmates. The two “Queensryches” released competing albums in 2013.
After approximately two years of legal filings, battles in the press, and fan wars, a settlement was reached. Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton would retain all rights to the Queensryche name and tri-ryche symbol. Tate would have the exclusive right to perform Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety (although Queensryche may play songs from it when they so choose, just not from beginning to end as a complete work), and a sum equal to his share in the Queensryche name. Tate re-named his “Queensryche” band Operation: Mindcrime, after the album title.
In this writer’s opinion, the drama over the past decade illustrated just how special the original five-member lineup of Queensryche really was. The combination of Tate’s progressive rock interests and operatic vocal style, DeGarmo’s sense of melody and harmonics, Wilton’s metal riffs and aggression, and the underrated rhythms of Jackson and Rockenfield helped set Queensryche apart from its peers in those first 16 years.
As the original lineup’s sound morphed from album to album, it followed a natural evolution. Even as Tate lost much of his legendary high range and DeGarmo embraced a simpler approach to songwriting, the combination – particularly when joined by the others – maintained an identity that was distinctly…Queensryche. The likelihood that DeGarmo, Jackson, Rockenfield, Tate and Wilton will unite as Queensryche again in the future is miniscule at best. That ship sailed years ago before greed and lawsuits got in the way.
The jury is still out on modern-day Queensryche. Other than Wilton, it’s a different group of core songwriters determined to create new music in the vein of the original group’s most popular eras. Fairly or unfairly, even if the next few albums from Queensryche are successful, they will be compared against the template of what the original band established. Some may bristle at that notion and declare the comparisons ignorant and unimportant. But I believe that the drum-beating for the original lineup of Queensryche speaks volumes about the chemistry those five kids in the Seattle suburbs had as a creative unit and the impact their music had on listeners.
And if you’ve read this far, chances are you do too. End of line…
-- Brian Heaton
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