Iron Maiden Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
Even more so than most bands, the course of Iron Maiden’s career has been affected and defined by a series of lineup changes — each of them challenging yet always overcome by their stalwart founder and leader Steve Harris. But perhaps best of all for fans interested in all things Maiden is how well these periodic personnel upheavals have been documented — even those that took place before the band recorded their first album. So it is with that comprehensive mindset that we dive into our complete guide of Iron Maiden lineup changes.
Iron Maiden was founded on Christmas day 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, but the band’s first singer, Paul Day, was quickly deemed too uncharismatic and replaced by Dennis Wilcock (more on him in a minute). Guitarists Dave Sullivan and Terry Rance, too, soon wore out their welcome and were told by Harris that the band was breaking up so he could turn a new leaf with a new six-string hot shot named Dave Murray. You can learn about the band's early residency at the London East End club Cart and Horses right here.
Iron Maiden spent the following year honing its chops on stage and in rehearsal, and the opinionated Wilcock actually pushed the group to embrace the theatrical shock rock direction of Kiss and Alice Cooper, for a time. Wilcock also butted heads with almost all of his bandmates, eventually driving both Murray and founding drummer Matthews out the door. A second guitarist named Bob Sawyer also quickly ran afoul of Steve Harris, who fired him for trying to upstage everyone else!
As result of all this, 1977 was a particularly confused year in Iron Maiden’s history. Terry Wapram, who was brought on aboard to replace Dave Murray on guitar, managed to stick around for a while, but drummer Barry ‘Thunderstick’ Purvis (later to achieve no small notoriety as the black-hooded drummer of Samson) never really fit in, and Maiden’s only attempt to work with a keyboard player, Tony Moore, reportedly lasted all of one show.
Iron Maiden stuck with a four-man lineup through the winter of 1977 and ’78, but a crucial addition came by way of their next drummer, Doug Sampson, who had played with Harris in an earlier group Smiler and remained with the band for the next two years. It was Sampson who held down the beat during Maiden’s inexorable rise through the ranks of unsigned New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, and who played on their legendary 1979 demo, ‘The Soundhouse Tapes,’ which led to their deal with EMI Records.
But before they reached the promised land, Iron Maiden still had to go through a few pivotal lineup shakeups -- namely the return of Dave Murray and the departure of Dennis Wilcock, which opened the door for a magnetic young singer named Paul Di’Anno. Out, too, went Terry Wapram, who didn’t like sharing six-string duties, and along came a string of part-time replacements in Paul Todd, Tony Parsons and Paul Cairns -- the last of which actually played on the aforementioned ‘Soundhouse Tapes,’ though he went uncredited.
Iron Maiden’s arduous search for a copacetic second guitarist finally paid off with the recruitment of the both talented and experienced Dennis Stratton, but their drum stool’s relatively long period of stability was about to end, along with Doug Sampson’s tenure in the group. This time, the problem wasn’t a personal one, but rather Sampson’s poor health, which was threading to become a liability as Maiden’s touring workload continued to increase, week by week. Unwilling to take any chances now that the big time was in his sights, Steve Harris made the difficult decision to dismiss Sampson and hire Clive Burr, who completed the five-man lineup that recorded Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut album in the early weeks of 1980.
Iron Maiden hit the road just as soon as their first album arrived in record stores; beginning in the UK before criss-crossing Europe in support of Kiss, and it was there that Dennis Stratton began distancing himself from his bandmates and even choosing to ride with the crew between gigs. This attitude simply would not fly with Harris and Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, who promptly fired Stratton at tour’s end and called upon an old mate of Dave Murray’s named Adrian Smith, who had recently given up on his own band, Urchin, and was ready to hop a ride on the Iron Maiden juggernaut and silence any doubters with his work on the band’s excellent sophomore album, ‘Killers.’
But Iron Maiden’s membership troubles weren't over yet, oh no! Now it was singer Paul Di’Anno’s turn to rock the group’s tightly run ship, as his once casual drug and alcohol use had grown increasingly at odds with Harris and Smallwood’s regimented schedule and tall professional expectations. So after mutually agreeing it would be in everyone’s best interest to go their separate ways, Maiden moved quickly to poach a promising young singer named Bruce Dickinson from their N.W.O.B.H.M. rivals Samson, and his powerful voice (along with Adrian Smith’s first songwriting) would indeed contribute to the breakthrough success of 1982’s ‘The Number of the Beast.’
Iron Maiden looked like a lean and mean fighting machine as they set off to conquer America with their ‘Beast on the Road’ tour; but the heightened pressures of success started pushing drummer Clive Burr over the edge of alcohol abuse, to the detriment of his ability to perform night in and night out. Once again, Steve Harris showed little patience for this sort of behavior and by the time work began on 1983’s ‘Piece of Mind,’ drummer Nicko McBrain had been added to consolidate, at last, the classic Iron Maiden lineup. Bucking every trend that had come before, this quintet would carry on and prosper, unchanged, through to the end of the '80s, firmly establishing their legacy with incredible albums like ‘Powerslave,’ ‘Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.’
As they say, though, all good things must come to an end, and 1990 saw the departure of guitarist Adrian Smith, who had grown restless inside the Iron Maiden sarcophagus and disapproved of the bare bones direction chosen for next album, ‘No Prayer for the Dying.’ Luckily, another N.W.O.B.H.M. veteran was waiting in the wings in the shape of former White Spirit and Gillan guitarist Janick Gers, who had only recently played on Bruce Dickinson’s solo debut, ‘Tattooed Millionaire,’ and provided a nearly seamless transition on ‘No Prayer’ and its successor, ‘Fear of the Dark.’
But soon it was Dickinson’s turn to succumb to creative wanderlust, and as the grunge revolution encroached ever closer into heavy metal’s commercial relevance, the singer left Iron Maiden for what proved to be a colorful solo career. In his absence, Steve Harris auditioned several candidates before settling on Blaze Bailey, who was relatively well-known to U.K. audiences as the frontman of heavy rockers Wolfsbane, but hardly anywhere else. Still, most Maiden fans were initially willing to give Bailey a chance until 1995’s ‘The X Factor’ and ’98’s ‘Virtual XI’ revealed the matchup's less-than-perfect nature and bombed in stores.
And so, the new millennium brought with it a spirit of reconciliation that duly buried all hatchets and welcomed Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith back into the Iron Maiden fold (once the messy business of dispensing with Blaze had been taken care of, naturally). Even better, the popular Janick Gers was retained to form a novel, three-guitar front with Smith and Dave Murray, while Harris and McBrain provided their typically virtuosic rhythm section behind Dickinson’s soaring air-raid-siren voice, to expand Iron Maiden to a new and improved sextet. Together, they reconquered their former glories behind worthy albums such as ‘Brave New World,’ ‘Dance of Death,’ ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and ‘The Final Frontier,’ and the story goes on…