Death by Power Ballad: Jeff Scott Soto, “If This is the End”

Written by Death by Power Ballad, Music

Jeff Scott Soto is one of the great long-time underdogs of AOR. Rob Smith advocates for his immediate ascension to superstardom, in this week’s “Death by Power Ballad.”

It was exactly one month after my twenty-seventh birthday when I realized I will never have the opportunity to play guitar in front of a sellout crowd at Giants Stadium. There will be no immediate, tangible, audible adulation from a throng of my fans, for I will never have any. I will never have to choose between critical acclaim and public acceptance, nor will any music journalist ever solicit my opinion on which circumstance is preferable to the other.

I will never sign an autograph, much less an endorsement contract, will not receive triple-platinum certification, nor will I ever hear Casey Kasem attach my name with the phrase bounding ten notches to Number Five. I will never jam with Eric Clapton, attend a celebrity charity event, or make a music video. No one will care if I am moved by Robert Johnson’s music, or whether I believe one must live the blues prior to successfully playing them. My contributions will never be solicited for a movie soundtrack or tribute album. I will never sing a duet with Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, or Norah Jones. I will never divorce my wife to take up with Stevie Nicks.

I will never record live albums from Budokan, Red Rocks, or Royal Albert Hall. I will never say “Hello, Cleveland” and have thousands of people scream their approval back at me. I will never record at Abbey Road or Electric Lady. I will never have my old clothing or guitars or scribbled notes on display at any Hard Rock Cafe location. I will never have people clamor for me to throw guitar picks to them, nor will any of them ever throw undergarments at me. Crowds will never flick their lighters en masse when I play a song. I will never be enshrined at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I will never play on Saturday Night Live. My facial hair will never be copied. My stage wear will never spawn fashion trends. I will never grant a Rolling Stone interview, or wind up on the cover of Time. I will never be dubbed “The Future of Rock and Roll.”

I will never get the chance to fuck a groupie. I will never enter an expensive rehab facility, or throw a television through a hotel room window without thought given to cost. If I kill myself or die of a drug overdose, perhaps only a dozen people will care. One of them will not be my roadie, for I will never have one. I will never go on a solo acoustic club tour to get back in touch with my fans. I will never have fans. I will be lucky to play clubs, as I was on August 19, 1997, in the middle of singing my song “Let Me Lay My Hands on You (And Squeeze),” when I broke a guitar string, and the preceding message was routed through the murky soup of my brain chemistry.

Some say dreams die hard, my friends; I say dreams go ping and fuck up your tuning for the rest of the set.

I get it. I know the music business is cruel and run mostly by morons and charlatans. I know it’s big and wide and deep and its floor is crunchy with the bones of those who have tried and failed to scale its heights, and it smells like failure until you get about 98.5 percent of the way to the top, where the air is clearer and the sun shines upon you (out of a tiny auxiliary hole between Sting’s anus and taint) and money comes at you from all directions, and it’s all large bills and there are planes and limos and relatively clean groupies and you are paid fairly for the emissions from your imagination and the sweet sounds that emanate from your mouth and through your fingers

But raw talent should win in the end, shouldn’t it? Is that too idealistic of me? Am I just a ranting, bitter man who gave up on a dream 13 years ago, probably long after he should have?

Of course, I am. But this isn’t about me. It’s about Jeff Scott Soto.

Soto’s voice should be heard every hour on classic rock radio somewhere in the world, and it’s a high crime that it is not. He possesses a versatile instrument, one that can go from smooth baritone to upper-register scream and still sound clean and clear. He’s a devotee of Steve Perry, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Prince, and Freddie Mercury and has, at various points in his career, proven quite capable at channeling each man, in various soulful, funky, rockin’ contexts. He’s played Queen tribute shows with fair regularity, and, a few years back, even got to replace Perry’s replacement on a Journey tour. He’s also provided vocals on countless records (his own and those of others), and has recently toured and recorded with the immensely popular Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

He is, quite honestly, one of the great voices in modern melodic rock, and it’s a goddamn shame more rock fans don’t know his name. He’s 45, has been in the business since a stint as Yngwie Malmsteen’s vocalist in the mid-Eighties, has played large venues when singing for Journey and the TSO, but as a solo artist, he’s strictly a club-level act in his own country. Ridiculous. Anyone who has seen him perform has seen his bigger-than-life stage presence and heard the power of that voice in the live setting. He should be rocking arenas nightly; he is that kind of performer.

He is also a regular contributor to the power ballad arts. I selected a track from his fine solo record Lost in the Translation (2004) to represent him here, but there are dozens of other mid- and down-tempo songs in his oeuvre. “If This is the End” is a gorgeous illustration of his strengths as a ballad singer and as a songwriter. Though the acoustic guitar intro is a little too close to Bad English’s “Possession” for comfort, Soto’s vocal wraps around the melody, the lyric that drips with regret and hurt, and for five minutes or so, he makes both sentiments his own.

If you love AOR and you’re not already intimately familiar with Jeff Scott Soto’s work, I urge you to find and listen to as much of it as you can. Do it for that rocker in all of us that aches to be heard.