5 Years Ago: Geoff Tate Ends the Era of Two Queensryches
On Aug. 30, 2014, 14 songs into their performance at Tailgater’s Sports Bar in Bolingbrook, Ill., the band named Queensryche Starring Geoff Tate took a short break while the audience was still applauding their take on Queensryche's 1990 song “Empire.”
“Hey, guess what? This is our last show as Queensryche tonight,” the singer announced. “We can no longer use the name or the Tri Ryche symbol, so I’m going to cut this from my belt right now.”
He lifted up the emblem he’d been associated with for 34 years, looked at it for a moment and said “goodbye” before putting it away. Turning to the audience, he asked, “One more?” and his band broke into “Eyes of a Stranger.”
And so ended the confusing era of two separate Queensryche bands that was the result of tensions boiling over between Tate and his bandmates. In April 2012, Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield and Parker Lundgren called a band meeting and decided to fire the singer’s wife as their manager and his daughter as their fan-club manager. Two days later, the underlying bitterness exploded into public view, as Tate was seen assaulted his colleagues during a show in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The incident came to be known as "Operation Knifecrime," even though no such weapon was involved.
"I could not believe it," guitarist Wilton said later. "This guy I've been working with for 30-plus years spits in my face, in my eyes, and then calls me superlatives, and then comes and pushes me and then punches me in the side of the face! It was abhorrent behavior. It was vicious. I'm in shock, because, there's obviously a curtain drawn on the stage, [but] all this is happening and we're to perform in, like, five minutes! And he's knocking things over, he's spitting on our amps, he's knocking Scott's drums over, he's spitting on Scott, he's calling everybody names. … When we had this meeting in the dressing room before the show, he's saying that we fired him. We had no intention of firing him. This was pure business. We wanted to be represented a different way, and we did not fire Geoff Tate."
Bassist Jackson said he felt "more embarrassed than I did hurt." "The promoter was there, his assistant, the local crew was there, the opening act," he recalled. "To me, [by the] end of the night, it was just like this whirlwind of events that happened." In June, deciding they could no longer work with Tate, the rest of the band dismissed the singer, and replaced him with Todd La Torre, who’d been fronting the side project Rising West that included the four other members of Queensryche.
Watch Geoff Tate Say Goodbye to Tri Ryche
Tate didn’t want to go quietly, and as a result the dispute went to court. That’s when further allegations of violent behavior from Tate were revealed; it was also claimed he had cut a deal to make a movie based on Queensryche's groundbreaking 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime without telling the others. In turn, Tate accused them of failing to contribute creatively to the band, and claimed none of them had appeared on 2006's Operation: Mindcrime II. It appeared relations had not been good within the band for a decade.
“It's been, like, 10 years – things were starting to become uncomfortable,” drummer Rockenfield said in 2013. “It was a slow process, but over time if became apparent that Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and I were drifting apart from Geoff, especially when it came down to the music and the general direction of Queensryche. You keep doing your best at it. But things kept getting worse and worse. It got to the point that we had to move on without Geoff."
“We were never close,” Tate said in a separate interview. “We never hung out doing stuff and sharing life. It was always just, ‘Hey, we have another record to make. Anyone have any ideas? Let's try to make a record. Here we go.’”
He said he regretted how the drama had come to public attention. “I wish it would have been handled with a lot more privacy and decorum," he explained. "I wish we could have settled it like gentlemen and moved on with our lives without … playing it out on the internet like some sick drama."
Tate told Classic Rock that "it wasn't my decision to form an "alternative" Queensryche. "I never would have done something like this – it's an insane, desperate endeavor," he explained. "It makes no sense that you'd take this very successful band that takes care of you and all of our families, and just crush it, all with the idea you're going to rebuild it and make it better. In the real world that doesn't happen. Why would you take a successful thing and smash it, only to try and rebuilt it in one of the worst economic times in history? It's shortsighted. It's disappointing. It's heartbreaking. It's devastating."
When legal action failed to resolve the issues, Tate launched his own Queensryche, arguing that his former colleagues needed 80 percent band ownership to stop him, and they couldn’t achieve that since he owned 25 percent. After a series of lineup changes, Queensryche Starring Geoff Tate hit the road, while Queensryche themselves continued with La Torre. The nearly original lineup released an album simply titled Queensryche, while Tate’s group put out Frequency Unknown – leading to accusations that he’d chosen the name so he could use the characters “FU” and their associated alternative meaning against his former bandmates.
Eventually, two years after the firing of Tate’s family, a legal settlement was reached in which Tate lost the name to Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield, who would continue as “the sole band recording and touring as Queensryche.” The singer secured exclusive rights to play Operation: Mindcrime and its sequel in “unique performances.”
The deal came into effect on Sept. 1, 2014, meaning that after the night of his Tri Ryche removal action, Tate would continue with the new name Operation: Mindcrime. Speaking a few weeks before that final show, Tate expressed relief it was almost over. “There's a lot of mixed emotions,” he told One on One With Mitch Lafon. “I’m glad I'm moving on. I wish things were different – I wish it hadn't gone to the level it went to with the lawsuits and all that stuff, and all the horrible negative stuff that's been said.
"That never was what I thought Queensryche was about. When I wrote Operation: Mindcrime people started saying, 'This is a thinking man's band,' and I was very pleased with that moniker. That's what Queensryche meant to me: thinking music. Now the name means something different. It means this awful lawsuit, this fight, these terrible, negative things. That's not my idea of what Queensryche is. So I think it's a good time to put an end to that.”