"Who's left from the original lineup?"
I posed the question to my longtime concert-going buddy when I heard the opening chords to "China Grove" in the midst of an encore. Onstage at Philadelphia's Tower Theatre two weeks ago, with a banner reading "The Doobie Brothers," behind them, were a half-dozen musicians who looked like a mirror image of much of the crowd, including us.
"Two," replied Paul Lauricella, without need for deliberation, naming Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons. He might be a trial lawyer by day, but ensconced in a rock hall, Paul is a walking encyclopedia. (That's a multivolume book set with information arranged alphabetically.)
On this early summer eve, the Doobies were opening for Peter Frampton, who I've pretty much been seeing annually since the summer after ninth grade. That year, 1977, I was among 91,000 others at JFK Stadium for a concert advertised as "High Noon," with Frampton headlining a bill that included Lynyrd Skynyrd and the J. Geils Band.
During the intermission, Paul and I perused the merchandise table in the Tower lobby, which included a Doobie Brothers multi-CD set called the "Farewell Tour" - as in, the 1983 farewell tour. Nearby were fliers advertising this summer's return of Yes, which will perform the albums "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge" in their entirety on July 19. Also on the wall was an ad for Styx, Foreigner, and Don Felder ("formerly of the Eagles") at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J.
This incarnation of Yes lacks legendary frontman Jon Anderson, and I told Paul that I had just seen an ad for a show noting that Dennis DeYoung will be performing "The Music of Styx." Paul noted that this version of Foreigner also lacks its original frontman, Lou Gramm, who left the band in 2004.
Hoisting a few draft Yuenglings, we 50ish aging rockers debated the propriety of 60-plus aging rock musicians using the original band name when there are so few original members in the lineup.
I proposed a two-fifths rule, but Paul waved me off. As best I recall, his answer was something like: "You can't do it with a simple mathematical analysis. You could just as easily say it's enough if at least half the band's members were with the original incarnation. But by that measure, Paul and Ringo can constitute a reunited Beatles, and those two guys currently calling themselves The Who would actually be The Who."
He then promptly dismissed the three-fifths compromise I offered.
"By that count, the current iteration of Creedence Clearwater Revival would be the genuine article, notwithstanding the conspicuous absence of John Fogerty - arguably the voice, the sound, and the spirit of the group."
So it's the quality of the personnel that counts, not the quantity. Consider that the current touring version of Cheap Trick wants you to want them despite the absence of Bun E. Carlos (the drummer who resembled an overweight, chain-smoking algebra teacher), but you get vocalist Robin Zander, cartoon-genius guitarist Rick Neilsen, and bass impresario Tom Petersson. So for the band that brought us "Live at Budokan," three-fourths of the group is enough to warrant a claim to authenticity based on the quality, not the 75 percent representation.
He's got a point. Math would never carry the day for the band currently billing itself as Chicago. Yes, it includes four out of seven of the band's members, but you'll be spending Saturday in the park watching the four most generic members of the band: the horn section and occasional vocalist Robert Lamm. The soul of the original band, Terry Kath (arguably rock's most unrecognized guitarist), died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in 1977, and Peter Cetera, the voice behind most of the group's biggest hits, has been out of the band since Bush 41. This version of Chicago is as authentically Chicago as a slice of Pizzeria Uno. It is a Chicago cover band, much the way today's Steve Perry-less Journey capably sounds like Journey without actually being Journey.
There's nothing new about disputes over when the curtain should finally close on bands touring under a particular name. At one point in the 1990s, three bands were billing themselves as the Platters, including one with no connection to the original group. On the other hand, '60s perennials the Turtles are still happy together. The two originals - Flo and Eddie - have been carrying on for decades, despite sometimes not owning the rights to the name. They've earned the right to call themselves the Turtles.
Even '90s grunge kings, Stone Temple Pilots, recently toured without frontman Scott Weiland. STP without Weiland is like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers without Tom Petty. Queen is another band touring with a new lead singer. Notwithstanding its likely spectacle, the Adam Lambert-fronted Queen is simply not Queen.
Good news is that this summer will also find Aerosmith on the road sporting the original Bostonians, including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The Eagles are doing a chronology tour with four-fifths of their classic lineup, while Rod Stewart, Tom Petty and Paul McCartney will all be playing themselves at an arena near you.
At 72, Sir Paul may only be 80 percent of the rocker he once was, but four-fifths of Paul McCartney still constitutes 20 percent of the Beatles, and that's all right.
Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. ET Saturdays on CNN.