Music Over 40: Its the singer, not the song ...
The road to the riches or the road to ruin?
Quck quiz for all of you music lovers. Look at the following two lists of names and see what you can make of it.
John Corabi, Tim Owens, Blaze Bayley, Brian Howe, Ray Wilson, Johnny Edwards, Gary Cherone and JD Fortune.
Phil Collins, Bruce Dickinson, Brian Johnson, Ronnie James Dio, Sammy Hagar, Ian Gillan, Joe Lynn Turner and David Gilmour
First off, even casual music fans will recognize the names on list two. Many music lovers will not recognize at least some of the names on list one. But they all have one thing in common. They all replaced another singer that already had a track record of success.
The folks on list one did not fare so well and in some cases, disastrously. The men on list two not only kept the music alive for their bands, but in many cases moved it forward.
Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to who succeeds and who doesn't. Soundalikes have succeeded. Great voices have failed. Unknowns have flourished. Established singers have been one step behind.
Some bands have had replacements both flourish and flounder in their existence. Genesis replaced the irreplaceable Peter Gabriel from within with Phil Collins. They went on to flourish commercially, though not without significant backlash from longtime fans. To be fair, for my money their best album is the Collins-sang Trick of the Tail. Yet, when it became time to replace the pop version of Collins, Ray Wilson failed miserably with the ill received Calling All Stations.
Iron Maiden replaced Paul Dianno with Bruce Dickinson from Samson and took a rising band on the metal scene to unprecedented global popularity. When Bruce decided it was time to go a decade later, former Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley, did not fare so well in his stead. He may have fallen victim to the times as metal was in a very down period in the wake of the grunge scene but many just could not accept Maiden without the "Air Raid Siren".
How about Van Halen. Who could replace Diamond Dave? At least commercially, Sammy Hagar could as they went on a successful run of hit albums, videos and singles for over a decade. Went it came time to replace Sammy, who was considered inferior to Dave by many old fans, Gary Cherone hit the skids with the awful Van Halen III. And Cherone came from a pedigree of some success having led the band Extreme to mass popularity with the single More Than Words.
You would think replacing icons would be nigh on impossible. Don't tell that to Ronnie James Dio, who more than ably replaced the venerable Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath for two well received albums in the early 80's. Brian Johnson has capably filled Bon Scott's shoes for over 30 years in AC/DC even while honoring the storied past of the band.
Tim "Ripper" Owens, a Rob Halford sound-alike singing in a Judas Preist cover band (the movie Rock Star is at least in part based on his story), replaced the legendary Halford for two albums in the 90's, but Priest fans found it impossible to accept anything other than the real thing. Brian Howe, who had already sang leads with Ted Nugent, had some limited success replacing Paul Rodgers in Bad Company, at least commercially. He was never accepted by either Bad Company fans or his bandmates and the music bore little to no resemblance to the classic Bad Company sound. They settled for a light weight arena rock sound which may have sold some copies, but left a bad taste in the mouths of long time fans.
Maybe it was easier in the 60's and 70's. Ian Gillan took over from Rod Evans (the singer for two US Top 40 songs) and brought Deep Purple to forefront of the new hard rock movement with a slew of classic rock staples. David Gilmour, guitar player extraordinaire, took over the lions share of the lead vocals in Pink Floyd from Syd Barret after his LSD aided self destruction. This was at a time when the Floyd, already buoyed by the Arnold Layne and See Emily Play singles, were already heralded as the coming kings of British Psychadelia. The heights the Gilmour sung/Roger Waters led Pink Floyd to over the next decade are the stuff of dreams.
The 90's and 00's were not quite as kind. John Corabi spent a horrific 2 year stint as Vince Neil's replacement in Motley Cure. Though possessed with a hard rock rasp along with good songwriting and guitar playing skills, it was hard to replace the charismatic Neil, especially after their biggest success, Dr Feelgood. Johnny Edwards tried to fill Lou Gramm's shoes with Foreigner after a 12 year winning streak and 30 million albums and was met with an apathetic response.
Maybe the most ill advised was the the case of JD Fortune. He won a TV Show competition to be the replacement for the much loved and revered Michael Hutchence in INXS. They had a brief flicker when the attention from Rock Star:INXS pushed Pretty Vegas into the top ten, but the relationship was a contentious one. Though they had enough hits to tour the world over, the problems of an unknown being pushed into the spotlight led to an erratic touring schedule and the firing of Fortune not once, but twice.
Finally, Joe Lynn Turner could be on this both lists. He had great success with Ritchie Blackmore and Rainbow, including their biggest hit Stone Cold, coming on the heels of not one, but two, successful singers (Ronnie James Dio and Graham Bonnett). His first two albums were both well received and with the advent of MTV, they became one of the more visible bands of the early 80's. Apparently, a glutton for punishment, he also joined the Blackmore led Deep Purple in the late 80's for one album, Slaves & Masters. The results were middling as Ian Gillan was brought back into the fold in the early 90's after one album and tour.
Its the singer not the song, as the old saying goes. Some fit the fans image of where they want their band to be and some don't. Usually, what is old is new again and the originals come back for another shot. Maybe that is the way it should be. Sometimes seeing your favorite band with a new singer is like watching a cover band. As the classic rock generation gets older, we can only expect to see more shuffling of the deck.