By Hans Ebert
When forming that first band, there weren’t too many takers for the role of frontman. There might have been a lead singer like a Lennon or a McCartney who played guitars, but to actually have the balls to get out there in front of an audience with only a voice, and, basically, carry the entire band was a responsibility many shied away from. Most wanted to be the lead guitarist in a band, whereas the ones who were barely competent, took over rhythm and bass guitar chores while the more Neanderthal became the drummer- the Animal in the band- with vocals shared by the guitarists.
Bands were mainly quartets until, one guesses, the Rolling Stones gathered more success, and, from wanting to be Brian Jones playing his Vox Teardrop 12-string, there was something to be said for prancing around being as foppish as possible albeit like a mannish boy, and when Mick Jagger took over centre stage.
Once this happened, Brian Jones lost his role in the band he created. By the time of the “Let It Bleed” sessions, he had become a liability and was fired. And then “Not Fade Away” became fade to black and the ex-Stone was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool, and the band rocked on to “Sympathy For The Devil”.
Though the British Beat Boom saw frontmen like Peter Noone- the cartoon-like Herman with the Hermits, the extremely bland Bryan Poole and the Tremelos, the gimmicky Freddie with his Dreamers, the Yardbirds with Keith Relf, who was completely overshadowed by the brilliant guitarists who popped in and out of the band- Clapton. Page and Beck- the only real frontman making a dent on music at the time was Eric Burden with the Animals. “The House Of The Rising Sun” aside, Eric Burden lent his amazing voice to some equally amazing records.
A few years later, Bowie became the man who fell to earth as Ziggy Stardust with the Spiders From Mars in tow, the frontman was born and androgyny unleashed.
Bowie made it fashionable for boys to wear mascara, pout and walk around with a limp wrist. It was a passing phase by easily influenced youth, something lost on many concerned parents, but chicks dug it. One can only suppose that, for them, it was the thrill of the chase and the challenge to straighten the confused boys out. It probably still is.
Over the years, there have been great frontmen- Jagger, Steve Tyler, Bowie when channeling Ziggy, Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, the great Freddy Mercury, Axl Rose, Ozzie, Bono, David Lee Roth, Thom Yorke, Bon Scott, Eddie Vedder, Steve Perry etc- those singers out there without guitars- frontmen and showmen without strings attached and only incredible bravado, lotsa hair, and humongous balls for company.
Roger Daltrey, along with the awful Mike Love of the Beach Boys, was one of the few frontmen I never could get into, probably because his bombastic vocals bordered on theatrics, and were never as good as Peter Townshend’s demos of the songs for The Who.
There were also the brilliant musicians around Daltrey- Townshend, the manic and inventive Keith Moon, and the very underrated John Entwhistle. Some Rock writer needs to rectify this and give The Who bass guitarist the credit he deserves along with reminding everyone of the musical partnership and Rock and Roll marriage that existed between Entwhistle and Moon.
Getting back to the frontmen in Rock bands, have any not being paid their rightful dues? Definitely. Back during the British Beat Boom, hugely underrated were the Zombies with Colin Blunstone’s vocals turning brilliant songs like “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” into incredibly stylish pop. The songwriting skills of keyboardist Rod Argent cannot be praised enough. Neither can the creative output of the Zombies.
Michael Hutchence, though modelled along the lines of Jagger, was another great frontman, and the face and heartbeat of INXS.
Often overlooked was his incredible discipline before embarking on a world tour, where he would work damn hard to shed the extra pounds put on because of bouts of excess. In months, he was able to transform himself and become the Rock God, singing and teasing how he wanted a Suicide Blonde to need him tonight.
Peter Wolf with the J Geils Band was another overlooked frontman with his performance in the video for “Centerfold” being a preening Rock classic.
Who would have thought that at the time, Wolf, the epitome of the Rock Star, was married to the oh-so-refined and very sexy Actress Faye Dunaway?
And what about the women in Rock- those out there also occupying centre stage? Though too young to “get” Janis Joplin, but appreciating Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane videos, there’s no ignoring Stevie Nicks.
Though a massive fan of guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, Ms Nicks twirling around onstage with Fleetwood Mac, and playing the friendly witch of Pop-Rock, gave the band an image- and focal point. She also gave new meaning to the line, “Players only love you when they’re playing”.
Lead singers and fronting a Rock band- two very different things, but let’s be thankful for both. Some inspired us to pick up that guitar and learn to write and sing while others gave us the courage to get out there and not be shy to show the world the madman lying dormant in each of us and thrashing around to be released.