How Some Bands Got Their Names

by James Harbeck, The Week

Walter Becker, the guitarist for Steely Dan, died on Sept. 3. His death has been followed by eulogies, tributes, binge album-buying, and — undoubtedly — numerous instances of people from the wrong generation seeing a picture of Becker with Donald Fagen, the other core member of the group, and asking, “Which one of them is Steely Dan?”

Musical groups, of course, very often bear names that don’t reflect group membership, but there is a select set that bear names that look like they should be the name of someone in the group. Here, in honor of Steely Dan, is a greatest-hits list of groups that have made thousands of clueless dads ask, “Which one of them is … ?”

1. Steely Dan

Steely Dan, a group famous for such hits as “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Do It Again,” and “Hey Nineteen,” was founded by Becker and Fagen. Although the duo played with many other musicians over the years, they remained the core.

So who is Steely Dan? “Steely Dan III from Yokohama” is the name of an oversized steam-powered strap-on dildo mentioned in William S. Burroughs’s psychotropic textgasm Naked Lunch.

2. Pink Floyd

Do I really need to tell you who Pink Floyd is? Its all-time hit albums Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979) are still popular. It was founded in 1965 by Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd Barrett, with David Gilmour added in 1967. Barrett was dropped from the group due to mental health problems in 1968.

So who is Pink Floyd? Pink Floyd was never one person. He was two: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two blues musicians whose records were in Syd Barrett’s collection. Anderson died in 1974, Council in 1976.

3. Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull is an English rock group founded in 1967, famous for prog-rock albums such as Aqualung and for prominent use of the flute. The flute player and singer is founder and frontman Ian Anderson, who is also the only consistent member throughout the history of the group. There have been 28 other members over the years, but usually only four others at a time.

So who is Jethro Tull? Jethro Tull (1674–1741) was one of the great early innovators of modern agriculture. He invented a horse-drawn seed drill and a horse-drawn hoe. Trust me, these things made a big difference. No word on whether he played the flute.

4. Veruca Salt

Veruca Salt is an alt-rock group founded in 1992 by Nina Gordon and Louise Post, with various other members over the years (Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack are early and current members). Hits include “Shutterbug,” “Seether,” and “Volcano Girls.”

So who is Veruca Salt? A spoiled rich girl from Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She ends up being dumped down a garbage chute by squirrels.

5. The Doobie Brothers

The Doobies (for short) were founded in 1970 by Tom Johnston, John Hartman, Patrick Simmons, and David Shogren. Members have come and gone over the years, but Johnston and Simmons are two of the three in the band now. The group is known for hits such as “Listen to the Music,” “China Grove,” “Black Water,” and “Takin’ It to the Streets.”

So who are the Doobie Brothers? Um … do you know what a doobie is? (Whispers: It’s a marijuana cigarette.) So … yeah. Just, you know, brothers in arms, not real brothers. Who like doobies. Yeah.

6. The Smiths

In the 1980s, if you didn’t know who The Smiths were, you could never show your face in a college radio station studio or similar place. Albums such as Meat Is Murder and songs such as “How Soon Is Now” vaulted members Morrissey (no first name, please), Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce, and Andy Rourke to international fame.

So who are The Smiths? There are no people named Smith in the band and none of the members are related. Morrissey just wanted “the most ordinary name.”

7. Dr. Hook

The group, originally named Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, was founded in 1967 by George Cummings, Billy Francis, and Ray Sawyer. Sawyer lost an eye in an accident and wears an eye patch — and, usually, a well-worn cowboy hat. Their most durable hit was “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’,” which landed them the feature photo spot they sang about wanting. Another song they’re known for is “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman.”

So who is Dr. Hook? Sawyer’s eye patch inspired the name as a reference to Captain Hook from Peter Pan, but Sawyer wasn’t playing the role of Dr. Hook. When people asked the band which one was Dr. Hook, they directed them to the bus driver.

8. Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep is a prog-metal band founded in 1969. If you’ve never heard of them you probably won’t recognize the names of their songs either, but songs such as “Lady in Black” were big in their time. The band is still playing.

So who is Uriah Heep? A dreadful sycophantic hypocrite from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.

9. Lynyrd Skynyrd

This southern rock group became famous for their 1974 song “Sweet Home Alabama,” but they had other hits as well, such as “Free Bird.” They were founded in 1969 by Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns, with others joining later. Van Zant and several others associated with the band were killed in a 1977 plane crash.

So who is Lynyrd Skynyrd? If the name doesn’t quite look like a person’s name, that’s because the real guy was Leonard Skinner. He was the phys ed teacher at the founders’ high school in Jacksonville, and he was strict in his enforcement of the school’s hair length policy.

10. Molly Hatchet

Molly Hatchet was formed in 1975 in Jacksonville and is part of the same genre as Lynyrd Skynyrd; its best known song is “Flirtin’ with Disaster.” The band was founded by Dave Hlubek, who left it in 1987; the band kept going without him. (Hey, it’s not like it was called Dave Hlubek.) He rejoined in 2005 and stayed with the group until he died on Sept. 3, 2017 — the same day as Walter Becker.

So who is Molly Hatchet? Molly Hatchet was a possibly legendary serial killer from South Carolina in the late 1870s: a beautiful woman who lured men and cut their heads off.

11. Monty Python

Okay, Monty Python is a comedy troupe, not a musical group, but they did do some songs (for example “The Lumberjack Song”). They had a TV series from 1969 to 1974 called Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and they made several movies, including The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. The troupe were Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and animator Terry Gilliam. Cleese, Palin, and Idle have had very successful solo acting careers since.

So who is Monty Python? No one, really. The group had several brainstorming sessions and went through a number of names they thought could be suitable. Finally the British Broadcasting Company told them they couldn’t change the name anymore because the schedules had been printed up, so Monty Python it was.