Todd LaTorre is one of a long line of singers replacing other singers and it is yet to be seen if he will rise in the ranks like Phil Collins, Brian Johnson, and heck, let’s be generous…Brian Howe. With that in mind, here are nine other performers posed with the unenviable duty of making an audience forget who they are replacing.
9. Blaze Bayley – Iron Maiden: Blaze Bayley, like another singer on this list, had the good fortune to be picked up as lead singer when a band required the services of a new frontman. The bad news was that the shoes he needed to fill were huge and, even worse, the band was the beloved metal outfit Iron Maiden. Metal is a genre that can be stridently change-averse, and although Bayley hung in for two recordings — The X Factor and Virtual XI — the audience never quite warmed to him. He would eventually return to the band he came from, Wolfsbane, and Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson would take his place once again as vocalist.
The kicker is that Dickinson himself was a replacement, stepping in for Paul Di’anno after the Killers album. With his performance on The Number Of The Beast, Dickinson effectively locked up the position for life, whether he liked it or not.
8. Tim “Ripper” Owens – Judas Priest: Famously (and loosely) fictionalized in the movie Rock Star, Tim “Ripper” Owens was plucked from obscurity in a Judas Priest tribute band to actually front the group. His misfortune mirrored that of Blaze Bayley’s. Few could accept him taking over for Priest’s irreplaceable Rob Halford, even though Owens gives it all he’s got on the album with the cringe-inducing title Jugulator, specifically on the track “Cathedral Spires.” It just didn’t stick. Owens left the band (or more honestly was put out by the band) after the less-silly-titled Demolition album and subsequently replaced Matt Barlow in Iced Earth, but wasn’t in that band for long either (the turnover rate in Iced Earth, except for founder/guitarist Jon Schaffer, is pretty high).
Again, like Maiden, Priest had original lead singer Al Atkins replaced by Halford, with Halford singing tracks meant for Atkins on the Rocka Rolla record. Since there was no official release with Atkins as Priest vocalist, the public cemented the notion that Halford was the one and only vocalist for the band.
7. Johnny Edwards – Foreigner: Not much that I can say about the Unusual Heat album, as I can barely remember anything from it (and I own it!), other than it was probably doomed from the start. Lou Gramm’s solo career was strong and the response to his last outing with Foreigner, Inside Information, was relatively weak. “Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want To Live Without You” fared okay, but the returns just were not the same as in the 4/Agent Provocateur heyday. So it is not a stretch to feel that the solo route was the winning horse in this race (incidentally, there is a race horse named Unusual Heat).
But Johnny Edwards…what is there to say? He came, he stayed a while, and then he was gone. Gramm came back, recorded the Mr. Moonlight album, and you probably aren’t familiar with most of the songs from that release either. It may just be that the band’s fan base was naturally diminishing, and whoever was behind the microphone wasn’t going to be able to hit those heights of popularity again. But to provide an illustration of the individual albums’ longevity, I’ll break out Mr. Moonlight once in a while. Every time I cross Unusual Heat I am shocked that I even own it.
6. John Payne – Asia: I like the band Asia; both of them. There — I said it. They are a decent, durable AOR band, but John Payne never got much respect as the vocalist/bassist replacing John Wetton. Payne fronted the group from 1992 to 2006. That’s fourteen years, but factoring in the band’s existence on small independent labels and the low profile given to Aqua (1992) up to Silent Nation (2004), there wasn’t a lot of hope his would be as beloved as the chart-topping original lineup. When the original membership reunited, the writing was on the wall. Payne now fronts Asia With John Payne.
Payne’s voice is slightly more theatrical than Wetton’s, so older songs never sounded quite right coming from him. That is the kiss of death in matters like these because, while the band may say they want to forge new territory, the fans want continuity. The material on Payne’s outings ran the gamut from excellent to silly and hard to listen to. Then again, that can be said of some of Original Asia’s contributions. In Payne’s defense, when he was firing on all cylinders he could be called upon for tracks like “Someday,” “Into The Arena,” “I Will Be There For You,” and the 10cc cover “Ready To Go Home” and could stand toe-to-toe with some of classic Asia’s best arena rockers. It’s just that, primarily in the U.S. market, he was never easily accepted in that role.
5. Ray Wilson – Genesis: Pity Ray Wilson. Here is a guy that has a solid, interesting voice, writes solid and interesting songs, and on his one and only record as Phil Collins’ replacement in Genesis, Calling All Stations, has to sing “Alien Afternoon” with a straight face. He started with the band Stiltskin and would later reform it after a couple of really good solo discs that failed to get traction. As it seems to be so often, he was the victim of a triangle. Collins replaced Peter Gabriel as vocalist (although Collins had been a part of the band throughout), but because of the angle of Genesis’ ascension under Collins there is a whole portion of the audience that has no idea Gabriel was ever a band member.
So you then put Wilson in behind that very long shadow and what do you get? Not much. Here’s the thing. Several b-sides from the album are much more interesting than the stuff on the album (aside from the lovely power ballad “Not About Us”). Wilson, while not sounding much like Collins, sounds a little more like gravely Gabriel and could very easily have handled Selling England By The Pound or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in a live setting. It just was not meant to be.
4. Trevor Horn – Yes: Wait a tick. Trevor Horn was the producer of 90125 (and also Big Generator). How is that a failure? Also, he sang on the Yes album Drama which, in following years, has only grown in respect and admiration. This is not your typical singer implosion. But this once and future Buggle (and Yes member again, from the sidelines, on the Fly From Here album) was condemned by a healthy segment of the Yes fandom in his time before the microphone. The fans saw Jon Anderson, and only Jon Anderson, with long blonde locks of hair, the shaking tambourine, and the mountains coming out of the sky as the lead of the band. Now here was this guy with horn-rimmed glasses, skinny tie, red Converse Chucks, and a voice in the right register but an attitude in the opposite direction, and it just rubbed Yes-ites the wrong way.
One album was all he got as vocalist, but he also got the last laugh. As producer not just of 90125, but of Seal’s first two mega-sellers, of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax,” and as a primary figure in The Art Of Noise, Horn got respect. And as I said earlier, Drama‘s combination of prog, pop, metal and punk (you heard me) now has garnered support from unlikely factions who would never throw support behind any Yes album, so things have not worked out too badly for him.
3. Robert Fleischman – Journey: But what about Robert Fleischman? Hired on after the release of Journey’s Next album but gone before the recording of Infinity began, it feels like a cheat to throw him in here since he has no major album credits to his name as a member (aside from a vocal track on the Journey Time3 box set). Only that’s not completely accurate. Fleischman came on with Journey which at the time was a harder rocking variant of the dynamic of Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon’s former band Santana (with Carlos Santana, ‘natch). Rolie provided the bulk of the vocals on the first two records and would sing on various tracks afterward as well, up until his departure from Journey after…well…Departure.
But Fleischman did have some influence on the band as a co-writer of the tracks “Winds of March,” “Anytime,” and a song that would put his replacement Steve Perry on the map, “Wheel In The Sky.” So even though his time is poorly documented and extremely brief, so long as there is an iteration of the group and no matter who is singing, he will always be a part of nearly every live performance, and yet his name does not conjure images of Journey. They conjure images of yeast.
2. Mary Ramsey – 10,000 Maniacs: The lead singer for 10,000 Maniacs is Natalie Merchant – Natalie Merchant, lead singer for 10,000 Maniacs…right? Well, no. In late 1993 Merchant left the band for a solo career and Mary Ramsey, of the folk duo John & Mary, was in as the lead female vocalist. She would bounce in and out of the seat over the years, sometimes focusing on John & Mary and other times on an offshoot, The Valkyries, but has generally been the lead female vocalist ever since Merchant’s departure.
Unlike a lot of the names on the list, Ramsey has a few things going for her: gainful employment — she remains a part of the band to today. She also scored a decent sized hit with the group, the cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This.” It remains, nonetheless, that even though Ramsey has been with the group in some form or another for twenty years, people still equate 10,000 Maniacs with Merchant (excepting the band’s fan base that actually know otherwise). So it is with the fate of the replacement singer that, unless you score a huge hit in your new position, you will probably always be measured against your predecessor no matter that you have paid your dues.
1. Fran Cosmo – Boston: Whose Whatsmo? Perhaps Fran Cosmo had the most thankless task of them all, replacing Brad Delp in Boston; but a more complicating factor is that although Boston is world-renowned and beloved in the classic rock set, I’d venture that few beyond rock geeks knew the name of the lead singer. This was likely a major factor in Delp’s depression which ultimately precipitated his suicide. He was the voice of this massive venture and yet couldn’t trade on his own name-recognition beyond it.
So what is a guy like Cosmo to do? He arrived in Boston in a roundabout way, through guitarist Barry Goudreau’s offshoot group Orion The Hunter. Even this is controversial, as guitarist Tom Scholz has stated in multiple places he was the sole guitarist on the Boston recordings and Goudreau played mostly on tour. It’s all very complicated and messy, and leaves one to wonder how Cosmo would wind up in Boston. But there he is, on the records Walk On and Corporate America. Boston still exists presumably and Fran Cosmo is still the lead singer presumably, but not much has occurred with that banner since 2004. He has since recorded with his group Cosmo.