The Family, as a musical group: We may think if we are old enough of The Osmands, the Partridge family, or a more recent group think Haim. A band of musicians grouped together by more than just music, but by blood, all of the below made great music. But some ended their bands due to ugly family feuds. From harmonies to dissonance find out more in It’s a Musical Family Affair.
Is blood thicker than water? And if so does it make for better music when we come to bands? Whether or not we know, the world of musical family groups have been around since the beginnings of popular music. Interestingly they seem to either be friends forever or break apart in the most combustable of ways.
‘It’s a family affair’, sang Sly and the Family Stone, with the 1971 number-one hit single.
The band’s core membership was true to the song and was led by Sly as singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist alongside Stone’s brother and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister and singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, as well as other non-family members. The beautiful video below is a moment where brother Sly and sister Rose sing together.
Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge, aka Sister Sledge.
The list is endless of family bands. Sister Sledge when they sang ‘We Are Family’ really weren’t kidding. An American musical vocal group from Philadelphia formed in 1971 that consisted of sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge.
The siblings achieved international success at the height of the disco era. Both their parents were in the entertainment industry but the most interesting family connection was that the sisters were given vocal training by their grandmother Viola Williams, a former lyric soprano opera singer and protégée of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
Louis and George Johnson: The Brothers Johnson
Louis Johnson and his older brother George initially made up the band The Brothers Johson who grew up in LA during the city’s musical heyday of the 50s and 60s.
Initially playing whilst at high school with their brother Tommy and their cousin Alex Weird before landing with Billy Preston’s group from 1971 to 1973 and later Quincy Jones.
Their musicianship was highly regarded and they even earned nicknames, ‘Lightning Licks’ for George’s slick guitar style and ‘Thunder Thumbs’ for Louis’ signature slap bass. They achieved their greatest success from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, with three singles topping the charts
Ron and Russell Mael: Sparks
If you lived in the UK in the 1970s then no doubt you would have watched Top of the Pops, a seminal chart pop music show on television on a Thursday night. Then you would have seen what seemed like the very strange site of two LA brothers Ron and Russell Mael who created the synth/pop/art band Sparks. Their idiosyncratic, stage presence, is typified by the contrast between Russell’s animated, hyperactive frontman performance and Ron’s deadpan visual. Russell Mael has a distinctive wide-ranging voice, while Ron Mael plays keyboards in an intricate and rhythmic style.
Over the course of four decades, they have created 23 albums, yet largely remained a cult act, but their influence is immeasurable, and they have affected many later genres including synth-pop, new wave, post-punk, and alternative rock While the band’s line-up has shifted over the years, the band in its early line up contained another set of brothers Earle and James Mankey. But the two industrious brothers are still a constant fixture.
Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas, The Jonas Brothers
In 2005, three brothers Joe, Kevin and Nick recorded “Please Be Mine”, Upon hearing the song, the Columbia Records president Steve Greenberg decided to sign the brothers as a group. They considered naming their group “Sons of Jonas” before settling on the name Jonas Brothers. Not just a brotherly connection with music but Jonas’ father is a songwriter, musician, and former ordained minister.
During the mid-00s, the sibling group turned teen sensations were seen everywhere, thanks in much to their exposure on the Disney Channel. A 3D concert movie, four studio albums, alongside stadium tours quickly followed before the band split up in 2013. However, the brotherly trio returned with a comeback album released on May 12, 2023
Jonny and Colin Greenwood, the brothers in Radiohead
All the members of English rock band Radiohead, formed whilst still at Abingdon School, an independent school for boys in Oxfordshire. The guitarist and singer Thom Yorke and the bassist Colin Greenwood were in the same year; the guitarist Ed O’Brien and the drummer Philip Selway the year above. Colin’s brother, the multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, was two years below Yorke and Colin, and the last to join. Initially, when these school boys formed the band in 1985, and they were called On a Friday, a reference to the day they rehearsed in the school’s music room.
No Surprises video was just one of many music films the band was heralded for and the fact the band often worked with new and young directors. Consistently praised the band is considered with their experimental approach, of advancing the sound of alternative rock and has gone on to influence many musicians. The name ‘Radiohead’ was chosen as the band’s new name at the end of 1991 and was taken from the song ‘Radio Head’ on the Talking Heads album True Stories. Yorke said the name ‘sums up all these things about receiving stuff … It’s about the way you take information in, the way you respond to the environment you’re put in’.
Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael Jackson: Jackson 5
Probably one of the mostfamous sibling groups of all time before the then 5-year-old little Michael went on to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world. During the 70s they were a hitmaking machine for Motown and their funky, soul-pop sound took a big step away from bubble gum pop teen bands of the period.
The group was founded in 1964 in Gary, Indiana, and for most of their career, their father Joe acted as their manager. The group was among the first African American performers to attain a crossover following, but overexposure and solo careers saw the demise of the group.
Finally, in the ‘happy families’ band, there has to be The Bee Gees.
Formed in 1958 by brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb the trio who made up the group The Bee Gees (the brothers Gibb). The brothers spent almost 20 years having success with ballads, three-part tight harmonies, and pop standards throughout the 1960s and part of the 1970s. But it was at a point when the band was on the slid down, that producer Robert Stigwood asked them to create the music for the film Saturday Night Fever. The opening credits to the film, literally set the scene for the music medley to follow.
The film and the music were hugely successful and the band became the most prominent performers in the disco music era in the mid to late 1970s and gained worldwide recognition. Interestingly although disco was in fact on the ‘way out’ the music they created for the film blew the disco music wide open again and it resurged and became popular all over the world.
The Kinks INXS, ACDC, Hiam, and countless other bands made up of family members had great success and stayed together producing music as a united group. But then there were the famous siblings, (think of those Oasis brothers) that had spates, epic fallouts, public arguments, and even violent breakups.
Don and Phil Everly: Everly Brothers
Don and Phil Everly were the perfect harmony singers. But offstage the brothers had a very different ‘song to sing’. It probably didn’t help that they were forced to perform together from the ages of six and eight for their family’s radio show throughout the late 40s. In the late 50s, the duo rose to fame as theytook off with hits in the US and the UK. Known for their country-inflected rock with steel-string guitar, the brothers held it together long enough to inspire an entire generation of artists.
By 1964 both of the Everlys were addicted to amphetamines. Don’s condition was worse, as he was taking Ritalin; his addiction lasted three years until he suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized to treat his addiction, and this became the beginning of the end. The big hits started to fad by this point too. By the late 1960s success started to appear again but behind the scenes, things were beginning to truly fray between the brothers.
All of this led up to what was announced as the final performance before a two-year break for The Everly Brothers set to take place at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California on July 13th and 14th, 1973.
But by the time Don Everly was set to take the stage on July 14th, he was clearly drunk. He was slurring words and forgetting some of the lyrics to the songs, something unheard of for Don Everly even in his worst state.
Don Everly lashed out at Phil. Embarrassed and frustrated, Phil slammed his guitar down on the stage, smashing it. As he walked off the stage, he said to the promoter, “I’m really sorry, Bill, I have to go. I can’t go back on stage with that man again.” As Phil once said, “We only ever had one argument. It’s been lasting for 25 years.”
Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson: The Beach Boys
If two brothers were bad what happens when three brothers are in a band together? The Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl, add in their cousin Mike and friend Al Jardine this group turned into one of the most compelling groups in popular music; the Beach Boys.
Since their formation in Hawthorne, California in 1961, the band seemed to represent the California Sound and the ‘All American dream’, Defined by their harmonies, the band was all, sunshine, girls, and cars. They evolved into one of the most influential bands and sibling groups in pop and rock history. But it was not a happy band of campers. Technically they’ve never “broken up” since they first formed way back in 1961, but it’s not exactly been calm waves and sunshine.
In their earliest days, the main tension in the group wasn’t between its members, but between the young lads and Brian, Dennis, and Carl’s dad Murry who was a musician of sorts and the band’s manager. But he was undoubtedly verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to all his sons.
The only non-family member Al Jardine quit the group a few months after their debut single. His replacement David Marks was out quite soon too, having seriously fallen out with Murry Wilson. Eventually, the band separated from patriarchal management.
As well as being the key songwriter in the band, Brian also produced the band’s albums, remarkable for someone barely out of their teens. In the winter of 1964, Brian suffered a nervous breakdown and retired from touring with The Beach Boys, whilst remaining their principal songwriter and producer.
Despite previously being anti-drugs, Brian leaped into the use of mind-bending substances. Graduating from marijuana into LSD, he was never quite the same again. A change in musical direction driven by Brian was the beginning of the end. The album Pet Sounds was seen by many as if it was a Brian Wilson Solo Album in all but name.
Mike Love and Al Jardine were said to think the music was too “arty” for The Beach Boys. All of the band (and especially Mike) had some reservations about the oblique lyrics. Dennis and Carl have insisted that they all loved Brian’s material. Al has admitted on the record to being blindsided by the changes. More albums came but after the years of Brian’s creative dominance of the group, his cousin Mike Love slowly started to wrest control.
By the time of 1969’s album 20/20, Brian had admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital, leaving the rest of the band to piece the record together. Stangly At that time, Dennis was said to be inseparable from killer Charles Manson (before the murders).
A long story told short Brian had severe mental health issues and members of the group struggled with alcohol, drugs, and love-life issues and Brian occasionally turned up to live shows all aided the cracks to deepen. The sacking of members added new members all fuelled the turbulent relationships to the breakpoint.
Mike Love attacked Brian with a piano stool during a show at Wembley Stadium in 1977, members of the band took sides meaning the band travelled separately to the same gigs.
Dennis was ordered to go to rehab with the threat of being banned from live performances with the band. The following month he drowned while diving from a friend’s boat in Marina Del Rey. He was only 39. However, things finally gave when in 1992 Brian Wilson released his memoir Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story. It sparked a load of lawsuits, with Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Wilson’s matriarch Audree all filing claims.
Mike Love settled for $1.5 million for defamation and later won $13 million for lost royalties and was added as a co-writer to 35 Beach Boys songs.
In 1997, Carl Wilson was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer. He continued to tour with The Beach Boys until his death in February 1998 at the age of 51. Over the next decade or so after Carl Wilson’s death, it seemed like the Beach Boys couldn’t stop suing each other.
Although different members of the band did play together again fractionally in the end, two separate bands existed one called The Beach Boys and one under the banner of Brian Wilson Presents
The Beach Boys, Good Vibrations seems somewhat untruthful once you know the family and band’s story
And finally, two bands and two sets of brothers do not make for a harmonious trip. When Oasis and the Black Crowes hit the road together in the summer of 2001, they jokingly called the tour Brotherly Love. That’s because the brothers at the core of both bands had spent the past decade very publically fighting.
Chris and Rich Robinson dissolved the band just a few months later, reunited it three years after that, and then saw it collapse yet again in 2015. Rich Robinson said it came down to a business dispute.
Liam, and older brother Noel, Gallager have had major tensions from when Oasis hit the big time in the 1990s. Initial fights seem to have started between the pair when they emerged on their first American tour in 1994, because Liam frequently changed the lyrics of Noel’s songs to annoy both his brother and American listeners. The result was a physical clash between the boys and a chair being thrown, prompting Noel to abruptly quit the tour.
Similar anger emerged a year later during recording sessions, as Liam invited an entire pub’s worth of people to the studio where the band was working and this considerably riled Noel so much so that he hit Liam with a cricket bat.
A little bit of quiet time before it kicked off again on tour in Spain which saw a drunken altercation occur between the pair. Noel punched his brother and split his lip open after Liam questioned the paternity of Noel’s child with Meg Matthews, Anais. This even prompted Noel to briefly depart the band before returning days later.
Liam went on to have what Noel described as a “diva fit” when performing in Japan by acting up and walking off of the stage during the show. However, the final straw came for Noel in 2009 when he publicly quit the band. Still to this day, they are feuding mainly on social media and in the press.
As much as blood makes a family, it really can be anyone you want that makes up your unit, whether it be bandmates or actual family relatives, certainly neither guarantees any kind of harmony.