Al I. Husain writes …..
This is an interesting question as my interpretation of the answer is people who intentionally left and/or voluntarily left rather being dismissed or succumbing to illness or death, which is also leaving I suppose, but not necessarily by someone’s own volition. I’m also trying to apply some measures around the word “famous” as that can be defined in multiple ways. But I assume music which has been accepted by the mainstream and translates into lots of $$ and recognition is the easiest control to set.
There are a few people that come to mind when I think of those who left prior to the stardom of the band. Here are some:
1: Vince Clarke (Presently in Erasure; formerly in Depeche Mode)— while Clarke did help write 1981’s classic Just Can’t Get Enough (as well as a handful of others), he left the band after their debut Speak & Spell. The rumors floating around at the time was that Depeche Mode had headed in a darker direction that Clarke did not fancy and thought best to leave, which was a perfectly fine move as he went on to have great success with his own band, Erasure. Depeche Mode of course, a few years later became a global household name.
2: Peter Gabriel—(Solo Artist, formerly in Genesis) it can be argued that Genesis was gaining star traction prior to Gabriel leaving the band. By 1975, with the release of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Genesis was at the very least, a progressive rock band with a dedicated cult fan base. However, it is nowhere compared to where Genesis was 5 years later with the transition of Phil Collins on vocals as well as a heavy bent on pop compositions. It’s also worth mentioning that while Gabriel missed the opportunity to have garnered international fame once Genesis turned more mainstream, the band may have not been able to achieve such a status with him in it. Its only upon his departure did they slowly make the move with Collins leading the course. While Gabriel did move towards a more accessible sound even with his 1977 debut album Peter Gabriel, he did so on his terms and pace. Eventually, both Genesis and Gabriel found massive success.
3: Bob Welch (Formerly in Fleetwood Mac). Bob Welch had been one of the primary songwriters, if not the primary songwriter for the Mac in the early 70s. He had played on multiple albums as the lead guitarist contributing to nearly 50–60% of the material. His last Fleetwood Mac involvement would be on 1974’s Heroes are Hard to Find where he wrote 7 out of the 11 songs. However the results of his output were mixed in terms of acclaim and appeal. Most of the albums that he played on did not sell well nor were the reviews rather friendly. Welch resigned at the end of 1974 which opened the door to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The rest as we know is history.
4: Hiro Yamamoto (Presently in Stereo Donkey, formerly in Soundgarden)— Hiro was a founding member of Soundgarden and the original bassist of the band. Although his time was short, his contributions in developing the Soundgarden “sound” was instrumental in what yet was to come. While he did play on the first two albums, the last of these two being the fantastic Louder Than Love, Yamamoto left in 1989. He was replaced by Ben Sheppard and two years later, the entire country would know of the band with their double platinum selling Bad Motorfinger. Soundgarden would go on to dominate the rest of the early 90s with several more albums, influencing legions of new rock bands with grunge and also being nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
5: Dave Krusen (Formerly in Pearl Jam)— Krusen was the 1st full-time drummer of Pearl Jam and played on the entire 1991 album, Ten. However, he left shortly afterwards for personal issues. While Ten did launch the band into the stratosphere, Krusen was unfortunately not with the band as they proceeded to tour the country in support of their album, being replaced with Dave Abruzzese.
6: Aynlsey Dunbar Drummer (Formerly in Journey)—its not that Dunbar made a bad decision by leaving Journey just as they hit big with their 1978 album Infinity (which coincidentally was the first album Steve Perry joined the band). Dunbar was a very well seasoned, experienced and accomplished drummer who had previously worked with Frank Zappa, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, King Crimson, Jefferson Starship and a handful of others. But he did leave a band on the verge of exploding on to the mainstream with a singer whose voice was golden. Whether that was a smart decision or not is debatable. He was honored by the band as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an inductee. But drummer extraordinaire Steve Smith gathered a lot of accolades once he took over the kit. Its safe to say that Dunbar wasn’t very missed.
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