One of rock and roll’s smartest scribes once wrote, “It’s the singer not the song that makes the music move along.” How true. The frontman or frontwoman is the figurehead for the band, connecting the noise on stage with the crowds below. Whether it’s the result of a vocal greatness, a cool look, insane dancing ability or just out-and-out charisma, the best frontmen enhance the music with their performances (while sometimes turning their bandmates into the “out of focus guys,” to quote Almost Famous). When you watch a great frontman, you simply can’t turn away.
Check back each day this week as we place 10 more frontmen on their pedestals every morning (for #40-31, click here and for #30-21, click here). And make sure you log on to Gibson.com on Friday, when the Top 10 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time are revealed!
50. Garth Brooks
The Oklahoma country singer revolutionized the genre in the ’90s, not just with some excellent songwriting, but largely through his incredible showmanship and innate stagecraft. Country singers had traditionally stood onstage, maybe tapped a foot or two and sang straight to the audience. But Brooks grew up with AC/DC and KISS, as well as the Georges (Jones and Strait), and had made a quick study of the onstage performances of rodeo cowboy singer Chris Le Doux, whose high-energy shows featured fireworks and a mechanical bull. Brooks ably blended theatricality with his natural exuberance and came up with the most dynamic stage act country music had ever seen. Nashville still hasn’t recovered. – Andrew Vaughan
49. Tom Waits
There’s not much about Waits that’s subtle. He likes to exaggerate the hoarseness of his voice by using a megaphone to bellow into the mic and enjoys tossing mounds of confetti over his audiences. When the California-born singer-songwriter – a cult favorite the world over – stomps the floor, beatboxes, dances or clenches his fist in the air, you’ll be sure he’s from another time, another place. Waits’ theatrical performances have become no less riveting now that he’s 60. – Ellen Barnes
48. Marc Bolan (T. Rex)
Charismatic and flamboyant beyond measure, Marc Bolan was the perfect frontman for ’70s glam rock. During T. Rex’s glory years, Bolan cut a riveting on-stage figure, strutting with supreme self-confidence to a seemingly endless supply of boogie riffs conjured from his beloved Les Paul. Bolan’s trebly vibrato and trademark yowl (later “borrowed” by Joan Jett) made him one of rock’s most distinctive voices. David Bowie, a close friend, once called the short-statured Bolan “the biggest little man he ever knew.” – Russell Hall
47. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
What would Pearl Jam be without Vedder? Actually, still pretty awesome, but it’s Vedder who’s possessed of the star quality. The grunge pioneer is the unequivocal voice of the ’90s – a passionate singer and social activist who looks right into the spotlight and doesn’t flinch. His sandpapery growl is enough to enthrall an audience, but Vedder knows how to put on a show. He thrashes his mane of hair around and leaps freely into crowds. We dare you to look away. – Ellen Barnes
46. Jackie Wilson
The great Jackie Wilson, known as “Mr. Excitement,” was without peer as far as being a frontman was concerned. His sheer intensity, moves, high energy and incredible voice made him a threat and influence to greats such as Elvis, Michael Jackson and James Brown. His hits covered a wide range of styles, such as “Reet Petite,” “Lonely Teardrops” and his comeback, “Higher and Higher.” Jackie’s an all-time great, who brought soul and R&B to heights never before imagined! – Arlen Roth
45. Stevie Wonder
The blind Michigan-born singer-songwriter never needed his eyes to make his way in this life. He just followed the beat, making up for his missing faculty by honing an otherworldly sense of rhythm. Wonder has endured as a favorite performer since the ’60s because – buttery voice, piano chops and timeless songs aside – he always seems to be having such a damn good time on stage. Take his sunglasses off and his eyes would be smiling too. – Ellen Barnes
44. Howlin’ Wolf
One of the most distinctive voices in the history of blues music, Chester Arthur Burnett – better known as Howlin’ Wolf – was a self-described “300 Pounds of Joy,” a dominating presence on stage with a weighty, gravelly voice to match his stature. His masterful performances on songs like “Smokestack Lightning,” “Little Red Rooster” and “Spoonful” were a Masters class in blues for studious Brits who would later put their own indelible stamp on rock and roll. – Michael Wright
43. John Lennon (The Beatles)
John Lennon, of course, took the role of frontman to levels nobody of his generation could imagine, let alone duplicate. He was always a force on stage, from the early, toilet-seat-’round-the-neck days of pill-popping rock and roll rowdiness in Hamburg, to witty stage craft (see the 1964 Royal Variety Show’s “Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry…”) to intense musical performances in the celluloid classic A Hard Day’s Night. More than that, his ability to speak humorously of serious matters made him an interviewer’s dream and The Beatles household names around the world. – Andrew Vaughan
42. Otis Redding
One word: “Shake.” When Otis Redding launched into his set at Monterey Pop, he kicked this Sam Cooke classic into overdrive, forcing those M.G.’s to play it in quadruple time. He was electric, not just because of his commanding stomp, but with that voice – that rough and tumble howl, that sweet and soulful croon. There’s a point in live versions of “Try a Little Tenderness” where he devolves into gibberish (ga-ga-ga-got-to) and it’s no longer about the song or words or thoughts. It’s just pure energy, a sexual yearning for which there are no words. Now that’s soul. – Bryan Wawzenek
41. Robin Zander (Cheap Trick)
The Lon Chaney of rock and roll, Robin Zander is the man of 1,000 voices, equally capable of gently cooing sweet nothings on “Mandocello” or growling “Auf Wiedersehen” while taking Cheap Trick on a Kamikaze mission. He’s not just the pretty one in the band (although the guy sure can rock a three-piece suit), he’s a dynamic force. While Rick Nielsen is going all ADHD on his right, Zander is holding things down, channeling his band’s most powerful pop and sending it screaming into the audience, who gleefully surrender. – Bryan Wawzenek
Votes for the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Patrick Dooley, Arlen Roth, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Paolo Bassotti, Josh Todd (Buckcherry), Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Ric Olsen (Berlin) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.