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Myles Kennedy: these are the 10 singers who blew my mind

(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

“That was a fun interview… it really did the rounds!” says Myles Kennedy, referring to MusicRadar’s last conversation with the Alter Bridge singer, where he shared his top five vocal tips while on the road with Slash

The concepts mentioned were expanded upon in a follow-up interview with vocal expert Ron Anderson, who had taught Kennedy as well as rock legends like Chris Cornell and Axl Rose before founding Voixtek, a ground-breaking instructional app for singers. “Ron got in touch after to thank me for mentioning his company Voixtek,” continues Kennedy, who still relies the exercises and warm-ups he learned to this day. “I was like, ‘Yeah man – if we’re talking about vocals, that’s totally your thing. Hopefully more people can discover it!’”

This time MusicRadar catches the frontman as he’s on the road with Alter Bridge, whose impending sixth album Walk The Sky showcases yet more of those inimitable trademark wails. Asked about what’s different about it, however, the singer/guitarist believes this record ended up being “more optimistic and liberating from a lyrical standpoint”, offering “more sonic curveballs” than anything his band have recorded to date. After their current run through North America and Canada the quartet will be returning to Europe in November, arriving onto UK shores with Shinedown and Sevendust from mid-December and playing their final show of the year at London’s O2 Arena, four days before Christmas.

Talking today about singers who blew his mind, Kennedy admits it’s a list he considers to be “an on-going process” because of the sheer breadth of talent in the world. But as for the ones who left the biggest impressions, here’s what he had to say…

1. Stevie Wonder

“I have to start with one of the most influential singers of all-time, maybe not as much in the rock realm, but definitely in many other genres. I started singing by learning from him. I would drive my car around trying to match his inflections. 

“There was just something away he approached his vocal lines that really appealed to me early on. My very first musical memory was seeing him on Sesame Street. I was four years old and because of how it made me feel, that memory has burned itself into my brain. 

“I actually had the opportunity to meet him a few years, it’s a crazy story. I was at a hotel with a friend of mine talking about my first solo record, which never came out, and somehow Stevie Wonder’s name came up. He was a bit surprised because I’m a rock guy. A bit later, we were still talking, then he points and says, ‘There’s your guy right there!’ And nobody was around except for us, Stevie Wonder and his family, hanging out by the pool. 

“How weird is that?! My friend said we should go meet him but I didn’t want to bug him, but he asked for my phone, then darted towards Stevie to try and get a photo. Luckily, Stevie was very cool and gracious. Sir Duke was the song for me as a kid. When I first got a trumpet, that was one of the first things I tried to learn… it was pretty difficult!”

2. Jeff Buckley

When Jeff Buckley came out, there was such a level of musicianship and emotive quality to his voice . . . He had this angelic sound which I hadn’t heard many male singers utilise

Myles Kennedy on Jeff Buckley

“Jeff was such an important musical figure in my evolution, especially in the early to mid-90s. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what was happening in Seattle. I’m from the Pacific Northwest and am very proud of all those bands and how much they affected music. But at that stage in my development, I was really trying to figure out how to integrate blues and RnB into what I was doing, to help inspire my own sound… I was just looking for guide posts.

“When Jeff Buckley came out, there was such a level of musicianship and emotive quality to his voice that really appealed to me. He had this angelic sound which I hadn’t heard many male singers utilise. He used a lot of falsetto and soft-spoken ideas, almost more of a feminine side, which I thought was really interesting. 

“He had this power in his upper register, it was ferocious when he went into those almost Robert Plant-style wails, then he would bring it down into something very soft that would draw you in. It was his sense of dynamics and that overall control over his voice that really appealed to me. Grace is a truly brilliant album… I think we were robbed of a great talent there.”

3. Ella Fitzgerald

“She’s been a massive influence on me. Her voice was such a beautiful instrument, so easy to listen to and perfectly controlled. Back then, there was no Pro-Tools, people weren’t doctoring their takes. It was all done together in one room, knocking it all out. It’s hard to find a performance by her that was pitchy or anything less than perfect.

“I listen to a lot of her George Gershwin arrangements, there’s one record she did that was all Gershwin and I listen to it once every two weeks. The other day I think I was driving Slash crazy because I had it cranked in my dressing room and usually our ones are right near each other. He must have been like, ‘What the hell is Myles listening to in there?!’”

4. k.d. lang

“I guess she’s known for being more of a country singer. She had a record about 20 years ago called Ingénue and though it wasn’t really my scene at the time, there was this song called Constant Craving I really liked. It was a mainstream hit that crossed over all over the place. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is singing this?!’ because it sounded like the perfect instrument.

“From a frequency standpoint, it was all there. Everything was just so pleasing to the ear, like Ella in that sense, someone that had been given this perfect voice. So then I bought the record, which definitely has a country vibe, though I hate to use that word, it’s something else. And John 5 used to play guitar for her… he’s one of my favourite contemporary players, he’s amazing.”

5. Freddie Mercury

Freddie was the first rock singer that blew my mind as a kid. The one thing he had more than anyone else was this intense power. He was a true force of nature

Myles Kennedy on Freddie Mercury

“I probably should have mentioned him earlier than this. Freddie was the first rock singer that blew my mind as a kid. The first time I heard Queen was after my baseball team got our asses kicked. I was only six years old, absolutely crestfallen that we’d lost and then I heard the dun-dun-tish drum beat that starts We Will Rock You. And then came this powerful, authoritative voice which left me wondering why it was affecting me so much.  

“I think his anatomy had a lot to do with it. I’m sure his soft palate was shaped in such a way that gave him this extra power. And more than anything, that’s the word that encapsulates him: power. Some artists have great range or great control, and he had both, but the one thing he had more than anyone else was this intense power. He was a true force of nature.”

6. Marvin Gaye 

“Going back into the R’n’B world, Marvin Gaye was right behind Stevie Wonder in that period where I was becoming a songwriter and singer in the early '90s, trying to figure out where I fit in the world and what my voice was going to be like. 

“I was in this cover band with this incredible bassist who was older, so I really looked up to and respected him as a player. When I asked him for suggestions, he told me I had to get What’s Going On because that was the record. 

“When I first heard it, I was completely captivated. It’s one of my favourite records of all-time, absolutely perfect the whole way through. But his vocals really spoke to me, his ability to emote and utilise his falsetto. I got all that from him and Buckley more than anyone else.”

7. Rob Halford

“Let’s go into the rock realm, even metal. I’m sure some people might argue it isn’t metal, but to me Judas Priest is definitely metal. When I heard Screaming For Vengeance as a kid, particularly the song Electric Eye, I was like, ‘What the hell is this… he sounds badass!’ Rob Halford had this ability to hit notes in the stratosphere and cut through the wall of metallic guitars – that definitely impressed me!

“I went to try and get the cassette from K-Mart but my parents were not having because of the name of the band. I came from a Christian household, so I got told I couldn’t have a record by a band with that name. I begged and begged my stepdad and he eventually agreed to getting it, provided he listened first just to check. 

“So we took it home, popped the cassette in my boom box and I still have a vision of him laying on his back with his head right up to the speakers. He got through maybe two songs before saying, ‘I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying; you can keep the record!’” 

Rob Halford had this ability to hit notes in the stratosphere and cut through the wall of metallic guitars – that definitely impressed me!

Myles Kennedy

“I went to try and get the cassette from K-Mart but my parents were not having because of the name of the band. I came from a Christian household, so I got told I couldn’t have a record by a band with that name. I begged and begged my stepdad and he eventually agreed to getting it, provided he listened first just to check. 

“So we took it home, popped the cassette in my boom box and I still have a vision of him laying on his back with his head right up to the speakers. He got through maybe two songs before saying, ‘I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying; you can keep the record!’” 

8. Robert Plant

“Growing up as a guitar player, Led Zeppelin were pretty close to being my favourite band. It was tough because I loved Van Halen as well! Eddie and Jimmy were my go-to guys, I wanted to learn how to play that way. Looking back, I also got a lot indirectly from Robert Plant… even though I was trying to learn the guitar parts, I was still hearing that voice. 

“He influenced what I’d do later on when I started singing. He just had such an identifiable voice. Those early records were mind-blowing, there was so much intensity in those songs. But then again, listen to him on The Rain Song or any of the mellower tracks, and you hear this beautifully controlled voice that really helped define that band.

“Playing in a room with them [Led Zeppelin] was a total trip. It was a fun experience, for sure. I didn’t get any recordings or tapes though. To be honest, if there was a recording I’d prefer not to hear it! I remember I’d gotten pretty sick on tour, especially the second time I went back, so I’m not sure how much I want to hear my cough going through that train ride! I don’t think there was anything official to be honest, a lot of it was jammed.”

9. Randy Blythe

Randy’s voice is so awesome and intense. It really fits the realm of their music so beautifully. It’s aggressive, just like all those amazing riffs.

Myles Kennedy

“I’d like to mention Randy from Lamb Of God. The first time I heard that band I was trying to figure out what the hell that guy was doing vocally. I thought it was an effect at first! When I learned it wasn’t, I wanted to know how he was doing that… because that’s something my voice will not do. 

“I appreciate it even more because it’s so far removed from my vocabulary. 
Randy’s voice is so awesome and intense. it really fits the realm of their music so beautifully. It’s aggressive, just like all those amazing riffs. It really completes the whole Lamb Of God experience.”

10. Chris Cornell

“Chris Cornell has to be in here. He was so great in his approach. You could hear his understanding of blues-based singers and how he incorporated that into the mix, but then when he got into that upper register and added that rasp to it, he sounded so powerful. I’m sure he learned a lot of that technique from Ron…

“I don’t know if this is true or not, but I talked to an assistant engineer who knew the inner workings of the Superunknown record, and apparently he’d destroy his way through all the ribbon mics. They just couldn’t handle it… if that’s true, that’s pretty rock’n’roll. Chris really was the whole package!”