Bands Named After Real People (Who Aren't In The Band)

by Carl Wiser

How a gym teacher, a janitor, and a piano tuner became part of some very famous band names.

Some very regular people inspired some very famous band names. In some cases, it was an honor; in others, more of a dig. There are also bands named for folks you'll find in history books (including an 18th-century agricultural innovator), and others named after famous (or at least notable) people from modern times. We also found two rockers that sound like real people, but aren't.

Named After Normal Folks

Creedence Clearwater Revival
These swamp rockers from California were originally called The Golliwogs, a name their manager assigned them. When they decided to come up with their own name, they thought of Credence Newball, a custodian Tom Fogerty knew. Adding an "e" so he wouldn't sue them, they added "Clearwater" after an Olympia beer commercial (their slogan: "It's The Water"), and "Revival" because they were striking out anew.

CCR, with John Fogerty writing the songs, became one of the top bands of the late '60s and early '70s. In 1969, they released three albums, all of which sold over 2 million copies. But by 1972, the band was kaput, brought down by infighting and an onerous, lopsided record deal.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Leonard Skinner was a gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida, where his students included Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant. Skinner gave the guys a hard time about their long hair, which was one of many reasons they dropped out of school to focus on music. When it came time to name their band, they went with Lynyrd Skynyrd in tribute, changing the spelling so he wouldn't sue them.

Skinner wasn't happy about it at first, but there was something special about being the namesake for one of the greatest bands in Southern rock. He spoke well of the boys, and even introduced the band at a hometown concert (they paid him $100).

When Skinner died in 2010 at age 77, Rossington had kind words. "Coach Skinner had such a profound impact on our youth that ultimately led us to naming the band, which you know as Lynyrd Skynyrd, after him. Looking back, I cannot imagine it any other way."

The Marshall Tucker Band
The Marshall Tucker band, known for songs like "Can't You See" and "Heard It In A Love Song," formed in South Carolina in 1971. There is no Marshall Tucker in the band, but there is Toy Caldwell, so they were originally called Toy Factory. They came up with their new name when they found out a blind piano tuner named Marshall Tucker used to work in their rehearsal space. Tucker, last we checked, was still alive, living in Columbia, South Carolina.

Jane's Addiction

The Jane in Jane's Addiction is Jane Bainter, who was group founder Perry Farrell's roommate. They lived together, with about a dozen other people, in a Hollywood house where all kinds of creative debauchery took place - Farrell has fond memories of those days. Jane, who Farrell describes as a femme fatale, was an addict. Naming the band after her was his way of saluting Jane, who also inspired their song "Jane Says."

Hootie & The Blowfish
At the University of South Carolina, Darius Rucker was part of a vocal ensemble called Carolina Alive. One of the other singers, Donald Feaster, wore big glasses, so Rucker dubbed him "Hootie." Another, Ervin Harris, had puffy cheeks, so he was "Blowfish." Rucker formed a band with three other Gamecocks, but they needed a name. One night at a Carolina Alive gathering, Feaster and Harris walked in together. "It's Hootie and the Blowfish!" Rucker said. Right away, he knew he had his new band name.

Hootie & The Blowfish built a following on campus and released their first EP in 1990 on the JRS label. The label dumped them eight months later, but in 1993, Hootie issued an independent EP called Kootchypop that earned them a deal with Atlantic. Their first Atlantic album, Cracked Rear View, was released in 1994 and has since sold 21 million in America, second only to Led Zeppelin IV among Atlantic releases.


Named After Historical Figures

Jethro Tull
Here's a Jeopardy! question that would appear at the bottom of the board:

This British agriculturist invented the seed drill

The answer is Jethro Tull (1674-1741), whose invention revolutionized farming. But why is he the name of a flute-heavy prog-rock band known for their hits "Aqualung" and "Cross-Eyed Mary"? When the first iteration of the group formed in 1963, they were The Blades. They cycled through a series of names over the next few years because they weren't very good, and it was easier to get re-booked at clubs if they pretended to be a different band (this according to their frontman, Ian Anderson). But in 1968 when they got a regular gig at the Marquee Club in London, they had to settle on a name. Their agent, a history buff, suggested Jethro Tull, so they went with it. When they released their first single, "Sunshine Day," later that year, the label was misprinted "Jethro Toe."

Better Than Ezra

"Ezra" is the poet Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972), a literary giant whose musical aspirations didn't pan out. Pound tried his hand at kettle drums, reciting his poem The Seafarer as he played. It wasn't good, but far worse was his singing. Admittedly tone deaf, he was known to play piano and sing for his friends, who indulged him but often wondered why he pursued such a hopeless hobby.

One day, he bought a bassoon, figuring he might have a flair for the woodwinds. He didn't, but his painful playing earned him a mention in Ernest Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, where Hemingway described his efforts to write in a noisy café:

I found I could go on writing and that it was was no worse than other noises, certainly better than Ezra learning to play the bassoon.

Formed at Louisiana State University, Better Than Ezra landed hits in the '90s with "Good," "Desperately Wanting" and "In The Blood." They remain active, and frontman Kevin Griffin has forged a concurrent career as a songwriter for hire; he co-wrote Howie Day's hit "Collide."


Named After Famous People

Luscious Jackson
Lucious Jackson won a gold medal with the US Olympic basketball team in 1964 and an NBA championship in 1967 with the Philadelphia 76ers. He also has one of the coolest names in hoop history, so when longtime friends Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser formed a rock/hip-hop hybrid, they named it after a misspelling of the basketball star. Vivian Trimble and Kate Schellenbach rounded out the group, which in 1992 became the first act signed to the Beastie Boys' label, Grand Royal (Schellenbach was a Beastie Girl for a short time). They became one of the few female acts on the Lollapalooza tour, and in 1995 their song "Here" made the Clueless soundtrack. Their big hit came in 1996 with "Naked Eye."

Jackson has lived in Beaumont, Texas, since 1973, where he stays out of the public eye. He isn't the only NBA star to become a band name: before they were Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder and co. used the name Mookie Blaylock, who at the time was playing for the New Jersey Nets.

Marilyn Manson

This one is a combination of actress/bombshell Marilyn Monroe and psychopath/cult leader Charles Manson. The mashup conveys both glamor and horror, which is what Brian Warner was after when he took the name.

Marilyn Manson is technically a band, and also the name of their frontman. The many members over the years often took similar serial killer/wholesome-female-archetype monikers:

Twiggy Ramirez (British actress Twiggy, Richard Ramirez)
Gidget Gein (Gidget from the '60s Sally Field sitcom, Ed Gein)
Daisy Berkowitz (Daisy Duke, David Berkowitz)
Olivia Newton Bundy (Olivia Newton-John, Ted Bundy)


Named After Other Musicians

Pink Floyd

When they formed in 1965, Pink Floyd was a blues band led by Syd Barrett. Like many English musicians with a guitar, he was a big fan of American blues, so he named the band after two guys he read about in the liner notes of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

In 1968, Barrett's mental health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer function in the band. He was replaced by David Gilmour, who brought a modern psychedelic sound that made them one of the biggest bands of the '70s.

Many assumed there was an actual Pink Floyd in the band. At least one record company honcho made this mistake, asking, "Which one's Pink." The band wrote that line into the lyric of "Have A Cigar" from their 1975 album, Wish You Were Here.

Pink Floyd isn't the only big-time British band that looked to American blues for their name: The Rolling Stones are named after a Muddy Waters song called "Rollin' Stone."

The Hollies

Another British group named after an American. Their name comes from Buddy Holly, who was a big influence on the group. They took the moniker in 1962, three years after Holly was killed in a plane crash at 22.

Led by Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, the Hollies were one of the biggest hitmakers in the UK into the early '70s. Nash moved on to Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

The Brits really have a thing for American musicians, don't they? Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the erotic electro-pop outfit from Liverpool, took their name from a faux headline in the 1976 book Rock Dreams that reads, "Frankie Goes Hollywood." Rock Dreams is filled with photorealistic depictions of famous musicians in bizarre settings: Johnny Cash as a prisoner on a chain gang; Chubby Checker in an abattoir; The Rolling Stones in drag. It's illustrated by the Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, with text by rock journalist Nik Cohn.

The "Frankie Goes Hollywood" story shows a young Sinatra being mobbed by teenyboppers. That particular page was mounted to a wall at a Liverpool venue where Holly Johnson was rehearsing. When he needed a name for his band, he remembered the image and decided on Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The group had a huge impact with their first single, "Relax," which caught fire when it was banned by the BBC.

Johnson was born William Johnson; "Holly" came from Holly Woodlawn, as mentioned in the Lou Reed (another American) song "Walk On The Wild Side."


Sounds Like A Real Person, But Isn't

Alice Cooper

Unlike Lizzie Borden, Alice Cooper isn't real.

The horror-rock group, fronted by Vincent Furnier, was known as The Nazz in 1968, until they found out another band (with Todd Rundgren) had already claimed it. According to legend, Alice Cooper was a 17th-century witch whose name appeared when the group was using a Ouija board. That legend was propagated by the band because it's better than the real story: The name just popped into Furnier's head - she's a work of fiction.

Furnier thought "Alice Cooper" would evoke images of a demon spawn covered in blood and lace, but most people thought it was a female folk singer, resulting in some sitcom-plot-level confusion when unsuspecting audiences were treated to a rock show with snakes and beheadings.

Also confusing, Alice Cooper was a band name, but it became the identity of their lead singer, who eventually appropriated it as a solo artist when the group split in the mid-'70s. The group was quite formidable, with every member contributing to the songwriting process (here's drummer Neal Smith explaining how "I'm Eighteen" came together). When Alice Cooper entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, it was as a band.

Sidenote: There was no Alice in Chains either.

Judas Priest
Judas Priest is a fictional character as portrayed by Bob Dylan in his 1967 song "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," but the phrase is also a stand-in for "Jesus Christ" when trying to curse without taking the Lord's name in vain. The Judas Priest fronted by Rob Halford took the name when it was discarded by another act in the Birmingham, England, area that broke up, so it's impossible to know where it originated.


The Other Paul Revere

Paul Revere and the Raiders

Paul Revere and the Raiders seem like an shoo-in for this list, but the group was not named after the patriot whose midnight ride in 1775 let American forces know the British were coming. Paul Revere (real name: Paul Revere Dick) was a member of the group. When the band signed a record deal, they were The Downbeats, but when the label learned they had a Paul Revere in the group, they suggested Paul Revere and the Raiders, which also gave them a Revolutionary War gimmick.

December 5, 2019
Want more band name origin stories? Try the Fact or Fiction: Band Names Edition

More Song Writing

Comments: 4

  • Bruce Meyer from Arlington MaAn early CCM group, "A Band Called David", named after King David, who wrote many Psalms in the Bible. And there is a Country Pop band named The Band Perry, with no one named Perry in the group.
  • Dennis Craig from Kathleen, Ga 31047You left out Molly Hatchet who was really Hatchet Molly who beheaded he lovers
  • AnonymousFranz Ferdinand, Tesla
  • Michael from Essex, EnglandWhat about the band best known for Mary's Prayer - Danny Wilson? They got their name from Frank Sinatra's character in the film Meet Danny Wilson.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Tony Banks of Genesis

Tony Banks of GenesisSongwriter Interviews

Genesis' key-man re-examines his solo career and the early days of music video.

Lita Ford

Lita FordSongwriter Interviews

Lita talks about how they wrote songs in The Runaways, and how she feels about her biggest hit being written by somebody else.

Mark Arm of Mudhoney

Mark Arm of MudhoneySongwriter Interviews

When he was asked to write a song for the Singles soundtrack, Mark thought the Seattle grunge scene was already overblown, so that's what he wrote about.

Yacht Rock Quiz

Yacht Rock QuizFact or Fiction

Christopher Cross with Deep Purple? Kenny Loggins in Caddyshack? A Fact or Fiction all about yacht rock and those who made it.

Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go's

Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go'sSongwriter Interviews

Charlotte was established in the LA punk scene when a freaky girl named Belinda approached her wearing a garbage bag.

How "A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss" Became Rock's Top Proverb

How "A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss" Became Rock's Top ProverbSong Writing

How a country weeper and a blues number made "rolling stone" the most popular phrase in rock.