by Justin Farrar | September 7, 2012
Tagged everything from "grunge voice" to "Seattle's curse," the hard-rock baritone wail has displayed a commercial resiliency and adaptability that's truly impressive. In the 20 years since the Singles soundtrack turned American pop culture upside down, it has seeped into contemporary Christian music, mainstream country, coffeehouse confessional, emo pop and even club music.
To this very day, however, its home base remains the post-grunge diaspora: meaty, take-no-crap-from-no-one bros like Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, mohawk'd weightlifter Rich Luzzi of Rev Theory, American Idol hellraiser (and Vin Diesel lookalike) Chris Daughtry and so many more. The birth of this singing style is most often credited to Eddie Vedder and late fellow Seattle rocker Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. And that's true for the most part. Party-hard über-bro Scott Weiland, Godsmack's Sully Erna, Scott "It's Good to Be the King" Stapp, Gwen's boy toy Gavin Rossdale ... they all owe their fame, riches and nut-busting histrionics to those two dudes.
But there exist other frontmen who deserve credit for having made the baritone a viable pop commodity. Ed Kowalczyk is a biggie, of course. The little fella whose tortured howl helped send Live to the top of the Billboard charts, he started doing his thing way back in the late '80s; Pearl Jam wasn't even a band then. Axl Rose is another. He's an interesting one: though he's far more renowned for his piercing screech (which grew out of '80s hair metal), he used his lower register exceedingly well on hits "Patience" and "Don't Cry," as well as deep cuts like "It's So Easy" and the mind-assaulting harangue that closes "Get in the Ring" ("And that goes for all of you punks in the press that want to start s*** by printin' lies instead of the things we said..."). As a matter of fact, Rose is nearly as important to the evolution of the hard-rock baritone as Vedder and Staley. After all, GnR are one of the biggest-selling bands in pop music history.
Lastly, another significant -- if seldom appreciated -- sphere of influence was jam pop and alternative folk. Both Mr. Hootie (Darius Rucker) and Brad Roberts, the dude from Canadian troubadours Crash Test Dummies, scored big with hits that spotlighted their deep, robust baritones. And in the case of Roberts, he even went full-on basso profondo! Here's a tribute to all of 'em.