Singers That Started Out By Playing A Different Instrument (part 1)

Dave Grohl

This is a list of notable singers that did not start making music in the role of lead singer. The musicians listed here began their career by playing a different musical instrument before eventually switching over to vocals.
Great singers are not born, but rather made through hard work and experience. Some of the greatest frontmen have needed to sharpen their skills for a long time before reaching greatness. Some famous singers did not even start out in the role of lead singer of their band. Whether it was filling in for an absent singer, starting their own band and learning to sing or simply switching from a different instrument, these singers got up to the mic and (most of the time) rose to the occasion.

(note this is an article a did wee bit back. I decided it belonged on alt77)

1. Dave Grohl

To say that Grohl’s career turned out OK is an understatement. Now most famous for fronting the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl first become well-known as the drummer for alternative rock pioneers Nirvana. In fact he had replaced former drummer Chad Channing only shortly before the release of their breakthrough album “Nevermind”. Following the death of Nirvana singer, Kurt Cobain, Grohl took a leave from making music. He started writing songs again and demoing them as a form of therapy. Grohl had always written music and was also quite capable on the guitar, but he had rarely showed off these skills. The demo recordings resulted in the formation of the Foo Fighters, a band for which Grohl sings, plays guitar and writes the majority of songs. The band’s popularity has grown constantly and they are currently one of the most famous rock bands on the planet. Not too bad for a one time punk drummer.

2. Kurt Cobain

Speaking of Nirvana, not many people know that Kurt Cobain started out by playing the drums. From an early age, Kurt was attracted towards art and creativity. His parents bought him a kiddie drum set and he later played the drums in his school band. He later became more interested in playing the guitar, an instrument which may have been more suitable to the songs he was starting to write. Before long he formed Nirvana with his friend Krist Novoselic. “Nevermind”, their second album, made the group internationally famous and despite his reluctance, turned Cobain into one of the most publicly recognizable figures of his generation. But some might say that Cobain’s guitar playing in many instances seemed to mimic the thinking of a drummer playing the guitar, with his love of rhythm and musical dynamics. In one rare video recording taken from the sessions of Nirvana’s last album , Kurt is seen playing drums and singing the song “Seasons in the sun” by Terry Jacks.

3. Billy Idol

It is hard to imagine Billy Idol as a member of a band, anywhere but performing up front and singing. But Idol started out as a guitarist when he joined the punk band Chelsea. Idol’s passion for punk rock had been sparked by seeing numerous early gigs by the Sex Pistols. He was part of a group of early punk rock fans. Sticking to the motto that all you need is “three chords and the truth”, most of them would go on to form their own bands. Idol later quit Chelsea and co-founded Generation X, in which he was lead singer. The group continued in the punk rock style that Idol was familiar with, but also introduced elements of pop music. At some point Generation X, and later Billy Idol as a solo artist, were managed by the same management team that handled groups like KISS. He was the focal point for the band that enjoyed moderate commercial success before starting his own, much more successful solo career. He still breaks out the guitar in concerts for the odd acoustic number.

4. Myles Kennedy

Myles Kennedy is best known for singing in Alter Bridge and for Slash’s solo band. He is also well-known for having an insane singing range, from guttural, low tones, to clear, high register notes that can rival practically any singer. But before this, Myles Kennedy was a guitar player. And a talented one at that. During the early ’90’s Kennedy played in jazz and rock bands and seriously studied music theory and guitar techniques. His studies soon moved towards singing and soon enough he was providing vocals for his band Citizen Swing. Known for possessing some of the best singing technique in the music business, Myles Kennedy became the singer of Alter Bridge (featuring members of the band Creed), later was asked to sing with Slash and at some point even auditioned and was seriously considered to take on the job of singer for a reunited Led Zeppelin. He must be pretty glad he gave singing a try.

5. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix is best known for his innovative guitar playing. This is the reason in fact why guitar magazines often still rank him top of “Best guitar player” polls whenever those are held. But his singing perfectly complimented his guitar playing and his knack for performing in front of an audience is part of his legacy. Jimi Hendrix started his music career as a touring guitar player for famous acts of the time such as the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. While developing his signature sound, Hendrix must have felt somewhat restricted by the role of sideman. He then relocated to England and persuaded by his first manager, Chas Chandler, began to add vocals to his psychedelic-blues playing. He scored a hit with the song “Hey Joe” and gained notice by the biggest rock stars of the day. This gave him the confidence to pursue his more experimental ideas. The rest is part of music history.

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