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 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.
In tribute to these legendary performers, Gibson.com is counting down the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time – as voted on by the Gibson editorial and writing staff, some all-star musicians and most importantly, you, the readers. We’ve already unveiled #50-#41 and #40-#31. Check back each day this week, as we place 10 more frontmen on their pedestals every morning (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!
30. Chuck Berry
Chuck is an original rock and roll icon. From those trademark, rapid-fire licks that every wannabe guitarist has to learn to those marvelous, timeless lyrics, Berry is a musical master. He’s also a natural showman who will show up to a gig, armed with just a guitar and an unrehearsed pickup band, and still deliver a set of audacious rock and roll magic. He’s an instant showman when performing and every audience waits in anticipation for the first duckwalk of the night. Oh, and he’s 83 and still plays every month in St. Louis! – Andrew Vaughan
29. Debbie Harry (Blondie)
Rock and roll before Blondie was very much a boy’s game. Sure there were the odd Jonis and Janises who surfaced every few years, but none drove teenage boys into “Pictures of Lily” frenzy like Ms. Harry. Blondie was Debbie Harry. Blonde and tough, Harry possessed a seductive and distinctive voice that teetered perilously close to off-pitch, but that only added to the danger. Never much of a dancer either, she still oozed sexual stage charisma, whether cavorting in a catholic schoolgirl uniform or wearing a trash bag. – Andrew Vaughan
28. Janis Joplin (Big Brother and the Holding Company)
A powerhouse as a singer and performer, Janis put female blues and rock singing firmly on the map in the mid-to-late ’60s with her records and incredible performances. She was one performer who truly seemed to bring her tumultuous life right onstage with her and into her songs. Her raspy, whisky-soaked vocals were to become a “forever” trademark, and her influence will go on forever, for sure! Janis’s drug use and heavy drinking ended her life all too soon at the age of 27. – Arlen Roth
27. Brian Johnson (AC/DC)
Still reeling from the sudden death of original singer Bon Scott, Malcolm and Angus Young immediately turned to music for their therapy. They auditioned new singers and settled on Newcastle, England, native Brian Johnson. Scott’s were immense shoes to fill, yet the hulking Johnson, with his dockyard-worker appearance, gruff soaring screech and take-no-prisoners energy, proved the perfect elixir. His debut on the ground-breaking Back in Black album was colossal, which ensured the band a seamless transition into AC/DC, part deux. Never has a flat-cap and muscle shirt looked so cool. – Sean Patrick Dooley
26. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
If the Top Frontman of All Time was determined purely on energy spent, Bruce Dickinson would win in a landslide. The vocalist, who propelled Iron Maiden to international stardom when he joined them for The Number of the Beast, runs a marathon every night on stage, while never missing a throat-shredding scream. And very few in the history of rock can whip a crowd into a frenzy like Dickinson. “Scream for me, Long Beach!” Abso-@#%$!-lutely! –Michael Wright
25. Bon Scott (AC/DC)
That AC/DC were able to continue after the loss of such a towering voice and personality as Bon Scott is staggering. Scott fronted the Aussie heroes with a combination of devilish humor, lusty lyrics and a wildcat growl. Teaming with Angus Young at the front of the stage, Scott knew instinctively when to incite the sweaty masses and when to step back and let the spotlight shine on his diminutive duck-walking sidekick. Even sporting a missing tooth or a foofy dress, Scott was always the coolest guy in the room. – Michael Wright
24. Joe Strummer (The Clash)
“Anger can be power,” The Clash frontman once shouted. Strummer harnessed that power better than most, not only spilling his convictions onto the stage, but thrusting them upon the audience. Lesser performers came off as preachy or foolish, but Strummer so obviously believed every furious word he howled, fans couldn’t help but agree that The Clash were the only band that mattered. With a guitar dangling from his neck and a finger directed straight at you, Strummer forced you to take a second look at the world around you, then made you want to do something to change it. – Bryan Wawzenek
23. David Lee Roth (Van Halen)
With his flowing blond mane, dazzling good looks and flamboyant over-the-top personality, David Lee Roth was (and many would argue, remains) the quintessential rock and roll frontman. The ringleader of one of the biggest musical circuses of the late ’70s to mid ’80s, Roth’s very aura demanded our collective attention, and we simply couldn’t take our eyes off of him. A mesmerizing presence both on and off-stage, Diamond Dave is the embodiment – the textbook definition – of a pure rock and roll frontman. – Sean Patrick Dooley
22. Rod Stewart (Faces, Jeff Beck Group)
The grave-digging, soccer-playing singer may have dumbed it all down for the masses circa “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” but in the ’60s and early ’70s nobody could match the onstage presence, warmth, charm and energy of the hippest mod in town. Roderick Stewart, who first received national attention with Jeff Beck in the mid ’60s, flowered as the ultimate frontman when he and Ronnie Wood turned the Small Faces into the Faces, invented “lad rock” and created the blueprint for rock and roll cool. Liam Gallagher and Oasis will be forever in his debt. – Andrew Vaughan
21. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) (Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd.)
A rock and roll anarchist, Johnny Rotten was the most dangerous mouthpiece of the whole punk movement. Frighteningly honest and defiantly anti-almost everything, he drove the Sex Pistols to notoriety and significance, and played a major role in revolutionizing a stodgy, stale ’70s music business. His stage presence was British music hall lashed with ’70s youth frustration and nihilism. It was the perfect mixture of British eccentricity and musical fury. For a while, Rotten was public enemy number one. – Andrew Vaughan
Votes for the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew VaughanSean Dooley, Arlen Roth, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Ellen Barnes, Paolo Bassotti, Josh Todd (Buckcherry), Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Ric Olsen (Berlin) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.