Country Music’s Nastiest Breakups
Country artists have a reputation for penning lyrics that tell tough stories, but one of the hardest things that some stars have to go through isn't always covered in the biggest hits: band breakups.
It's never pretty when the relationship between bandmates goes bad. Groups often become as close as family during their careers (occasionally they even really are family), but sometimes, the onstage appearance that everyone is filled with love for each other turns out to be a farce. Brooks & Dunn and Alabama both managed to keep internal tensions out of the public eye for years before their abrupt breakups.
In some cases, being in a band with a relative has ended up ruining the family dynamic offstage, too: The Everly Brothers, for instance, ended their duo in 1973 and were still estranged in 2014, when Phil Everly died; the Louvin Brothers had a similar fate a decade prior.
Check out the photo gallery below to learn the stories behind some of the country genre's worst musical breakups.
Brooks & Dunn Break Up
Brooks & Dunn appeared to be as close as brothers during their commercial run together, and they stunned the country world when they abruptly announced their breakup in 2009. The duo admitted later that they'd had friction for years, to the point where they had recorded separately for albums and entertained the possibility of calling it quits years earlier. They gave their fans a farewell tour, but Ronnie Dunn confessed that he was ready to walk away without doing it. After years apart and several solo projects, the duo reunited in 2015 for a series of Vegas shows with Reba McEntire.
Dolly Parton Leaves Porter Wagoner
They were successful together in the '60s and '70s, but when Dolly Parton left Porter Wagoner's band in 1974 (after writing "I Will Always Love You" for him), he filed a breach of contract lawsuit. Later, Parton revealed that things were often tense, citing what she says was his chauvinism. They reconciled before Wagoner died in 2007.
Kristen Hall Leaves Sugarland
Sugarland originally consisted of three members when they hit it big in 2005, but by the next year Kristen Hall had departed for unspecified reasons. In 2008 she filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against her former bandmates, claiming that she had been unfairly deprived of money owing to her. That lawsuit was settled out of court in 2010, and the terms are undisclosed.
Mark Herndon Departs Alabama
Drummer Mark Herndon joined Alabama a year before they hit it big, and he stayed with them until their farewell tour in 2003-2004. In his autobiography, he reveals that he was never a full profit participant in the group, and was paid as little as $45,000 during some of their peak years. Alabama sued him in 2008, claiming overpayment of royalties from the farewell tour, and in 2013 singer Randy Owen disavowed him in an interview, brushing him off as a sideman.
Heidi Newfield Leaves Trick Pony
Trick Pony scored a major hit in 2000 with their debut single, "Pour Me," but by 2006 the relationships in the trio were strained, and singer Heidi Newfield departed. She later said her bandmates would not speak to her while they toured to fulfill their obligations. The trio found a new singer, while she went on to a solo career. In 2013 the trio reunited for a one-off show, and in 2014 the original lineup announced new music and a tour. Ira Dean left just months later, and Trick Pony continued as a duo for a new EP titled Pony Up.
The Everly Brothers Break Up
The Everly Brothers were one of the most important acts of the early rock era, and helped bring the country and rock genres together with a string of iconic hit singles. Offstage they battled frequently, and in 1973 their differences came to a head onstage. In one of the most famous breakups in history, Don Everly smashed his guitar and walked offstage during a show, bringing the duo to an end. Despite periodic brief reunions, the brothers were still estranged at the time of Phil Everly's death in 2014.
The Mavericks Fire Robert Reynolds
The Mavericks were one of the most acclaimed groups of the 1990s. They disbanded in 1999, and reunited in 2013 to tour in support of their 25th anniversary. In December of 2014 they announced they had fired longtime bassist Robert Reynolds, claiming that he was struggling with addiction so badly that he had resorted to trying to scam money from fans online.
The Louvin Brothers Break Up
The Louvin Brothers were one of the most important acts in early country music. Charlie and Ira Louvin pioneered the family harmony style that would power so much country and gospel music, but offstage they had a tremendously contentious relationship, in no small part because of Ira's drinking. They broke up in 1964, and Ira died in a car accident the following year. Charlie spilled about their personal turmoil in his autobiography, which was released posthumously in 2012.
Allman Brothers Fire Dickey Betts
The Allman Brothers have had an unusually turbulent history, surviving the deaths of multiple members, struggles with addictions and more over the course of decades. The iconic Southern group has had its share of conflict, but none so bad as that which resulted in guitarist Dickey Betts being fired in 2000. Gregg Allman called Betts a "bully" in his autobiography, and claimed his drinking and bullying caused his ouster from the group. He was still on the outs with the other members when they went their separate ways in 2014.
Lonestar Part With John Rich
Lonestar's first two records featured bassist, songwriter and vocalist John Rich, but he was fired from the band prior to their breakthrough with the multi-Platinum Lonely Grill in 1999. Neither party has ever explained the firing, but Rich later admitted he was very resentful for a period afterward. But it turned out for the best; he went on to found Big & Rich, and has carved a multi-faceted career as a performer, songwriter, producer and multi-media personality.
The Eagles Break Up
The Eagles are a group whose offstage squabbles have become as much a part of their legend as the music they made together. The country-rock pioneers held it together until 1980, when they went their separate ways amid a great deal of acrimony. They reunited in 1994 for the comically-titled Hell Freezes Over album and tour, and remained together until Glenn Frey's death in 2016, but not without one final bump. In 2001 lead guitarist Don Felder was fired from the group, prompting an acrimonious lawsuit and a tell-all book about the group's inner workings.
Cheyenne Kimball Leaves Gloriana
Gloriana say that their first clue that Cheyenne Kimball had decided to leave the group came after she simply failed to return to the bus after a show one night. She broke the news of her departure in 2011 by tweeting her thanks to the fans, and cut off communication with her former bandmates, leaving them "saddened and hurt." They soldiered on without her, but in January of 2016, singer Rachel Reinert followed her out the door, leaving the future of the band in question.
Oak Ridge Boys Fire William Lee Golden
The Oak Ridge Boys were one of country music's first crossover successes, but by 1987 their relationship with singer William Lee Golden had turned sour, and they fired him over lifestyle differences. Golden sued the group for a reported $40 million, and they replaced him with another singer. But unlike most bitter breakups, this one had a happy ending; Golden returned to the group in 1996, and they have experienced a career resurgence since then, continuing on with a series of releases and annual concerts for another 20 years and still going strong.
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