September 26, 2017

Original Lineup Reunion in 2018? Not Likely, But...

By Brian Heaton Queensryche, circa 2002

Ever since Chris DeGarmo left Queensryche in 1997, there have been rumors of reuniting with the band. It almost happened in 2002/2003. During the Tribe recording sessions, Chris took promotional photos with the band, and was committed to doing the first leg (European) of the tour. But as most of you know who are reading this, DeGarmo was rumored to have left abruptly after disagreeing with Tate over how the vocals for the album were being recorded.

In 2007, DeGarmo got back in touch with Queensryche to finish recording "Justified," an unfinished track from the Tribe sessions, which now appears on the compilation titled Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensryche. Allegedly, DeGarmo was interested in making the collaboration a more permanent reunion, but again, it didn't happen – with the scuttlebutt being that Queensryche was not willing to invest money into working with a higher end producer and recording team, and management.

Over the last decade, when DeGarmo has been asked publicly about a return to Queensryche, he steadfastly replies (paraphrasing) that he'll never rule it out, and that the five of them know their creative chemistry is still intact.

Fast-forward to the present. Two landmark "release anniversary" years for Queensryche are on the immediate horizon. The band's legendary concept album, Operation: Mindcrime, turns 30 years-old in 2018. And two years later, Queensryche's best-selling work, Empire, also hits the three-decade mark. If there was a time for the original five members of the band to reunite and capitalize on their two most popular albums, it is now.

It sounds easy in theory -- put the band back together, go out for a nice run of shows reprising the Building Empires tour of 1990-1992, and hopefully make some decent money and raise Queensryche's public stature along the way. A lot of things would have to be worked out for it to happen, however. First and foremost, Queensryche has moved on without DeGarmo and Tate. And while Jackson, Rockenfield, and Wilton are happy with the band's current lead singer and its other guitar player, further upheaval in the lineup may be a double-edged sword for them. Sure, they might be able to do some more profitable tours with Tate and DeGarmo and a united original lineup of Queensryche. But once it was over, then what? It is a bit of an unknown prospect for a bunch of guys that are nearing retirement age.

In addition, while Tate, Jackson, and Wilton met for the first time in five years earlier this summer, and made small talk backstage, the truth of the matter is, a lot of bad blood likely exists due to Tate's assault on them in 2012, and his subsequent firing from Queensryche. For them to work together again, those guys need to work out their issues, before even picking up the phone to ring up DeGarmo.

The other consideration is just what kind of interest promoters might have. The guarantees (amount per show paid to the artist) Geoff Tate (solo, or with his other band) and current Queensryche get per show have, according to those in the know, have gone down over the last few years. There are so many bands out there touring, that competition is driving guaranteed money per-show rates down, forcing many groups to either do package tours or simply skip markets altogether.

A reunion of Queensryche's original lineup, playing Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety and also celebrating Empire would likely be celebrated by hardcore fans. But would such a tour give promoters confidence that they could sell it to the public at-large, and therefore offer Queensryche bigger places to play, and a bigger pay day per show? That's the key question that I think would drive the motivation to reunite with everyone in the band, except...DeGarmo.

DeGarmo's actions (or lack of) seem, based solely on observation, to be motivated on maintaining his (and Queensryche's) legacy to an extent. Although he's been involved with two albums many fans were critical of (Hear in the Now Frontier and Tribe), he's also the prime songwriting and arrangement architect of Queensryche's best records. In addition, he has always come off as thoughtful in the media, steering away from controversy. Wisely, he remained silent on the band's split with Tate in 2012, and has not taken up Tate's or current Queensryche's standing offers to join them on stage at any show -- living up to his reputation for being classy.

In addition, DeGarmo is very careful in how his words and image still impact Queensryche. For example, he wrote comments in the expansive liner notes of the Super Deluxe Edition of Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, praising the band for its work. He also appeared with Wilton and members of Heart and Alice in Chains to pay tribute to hard rock acts at a halftime show of the Seattle Seahawks. Seeing DeGarmo on-stage with Wilton for the first time since 1997 was great, but it was another part of the image that struck a chord -- the guitar Chris used was his notable, multi-colored tri-ryche guitar. Don't tell me that wasn't a silent nod to the fans. Of course it was. Everything the man does publicly regarding Queensryche remains positive, no matter how difficult the situation. Put simply, the man still very much cares for what he helped build from 1981-1997.

From a financial perspective, unlike the other members of Queensryche's original lineup, who depend on music to make ends meet, DeGarmo doesn't need any money. He has a lucrative career as a pilot, and as the primary songwriter of the band's biggest hits, his publishing income is the highest (most likely) in the band. (Although these days, its probably pennies, given that songs and albums from rock and metal acts don't sell like they used to.) He's well off financially, so money likely wouldn't be a big factor in his decision.

Therefore, the only motivation I can see for DeGarmo is -- closure. It has been 20 years since Chris was last on stage with Queensryche. He's shown a desire to reunite in the past, and as mentioned above, the band's most popular records are reaching milestones that generally help cement their legacy in the pantheon of hard rock classics -- albums DeGarmo spearheaded and shaped.

A reunion wouldn't have to be permanent either. Many bands have gotten their original or classic lineups together to celebrate milestones. Fates Warning (Awaken the Guardian lineup, and the Parallels lineup), Dokken, Foreigner, Alice Cooper, Kansas – the list is long and distinguished. After a string of dates, those groups then returned to their modern lineups and continued on.

It's hard to say if Queensryche will follow in their footsteps. You can certainly make a strong case that a reunion of the original lineup is pointless at this stage of Queensryche's career. They have a complete band, fans (for the most part) dig what they do, and they are able to go out and play 100 shows a year. Tate has his freedom to pursue whatever creative path he wants, without compromise. And, of course, promoters have to show interest and make it worth everyone's time.

But money talks. If enough of it is on the table, there will be interest in at least a temporary reunion from some band members. For others in the group, the opportunity to properly celebrate career milestones, on their own terms, may be a much larger motivating factor, particularly if everyone is on the same page, and committed to delivering the type of performance that does justice to Queensryche's legacy.

Time is running out for Chris DeGarmo, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Geoff Tate, and Michael Wilton to revisit the roads to madness together. Here's hoping they get the opportunity to come full-circle. Take hold.

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