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Finding a Voice
Had Neal Schon and Tom Scholz ever sat down with Eddie Van Halen to discuss the tribulations of leading a rock band, I bet they could have all agreed on one thing: they hate lead singers.
Hey, Greg Fowler here. This week, I thought I’d try something new with my blog. It occurred to me that most of you who read my blog, either have never heard me speak or haven’t heard my voice in quite some time. Maybe some of you will be shocked at my southern accent and maybe others won’t even notice. Maybe some will say “Stick to writing, Fowler!”
So for those who haven’t checked out my About Page on my author website, here’s a bit more information on me. By night I may be Greg Fowler, Author, but by day I’m an old IT guy now, so that means I’m in management, and they don’t let me touch much of the technology these days. So occasionally, I like to try something new on my own.
Since this week’s post mentions music and singing, and a few long lost singers, I thought an audio version of the blog would be interesting to try. That’s where the old IT nerd in me comes out – trying to figure out which tools to use to record this and post it. Also, I listen to a few podcasts and I am curious about the effort that goes into producing a podcast. This is not exactly a podcast but as probably as close as I’ll ever come.
Anyway, I could have gone the video route, but I’ll save that for later. Besides, the last videos I did for my stab at a fitness blog were really kinda boring, at least according to the one person who watched them.
In case you don’t know it, Neal Schon, Tom Scholz, and Eddie Van Halen are rock n roll superstars – guitar players. They are also the founders of bands you may have heard of: Neal Schon is an original founder of the group Journey, Tom Scholz started the Band Boston, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately and completely missed all news, you know that Eddie Van Halen was a founding member of the group that bears his name, Van Halen. If you have been hiding out, then I’ll tell you the sad news: Eddie Van Halen died of cancer a few weeks ago at age 65.
I started working on this post several weeks ago before Eddie Van Halen’s death, and with that sad development, I decided to see if I could weave together some oddball thoughts I had recently into a signature Greg Fowler blog post. The only thing I can promise is that these are oddball connections only I have thought about.
A couple of recent blog posts have been about my short and non-illustrious football career as a freshman in high school in 1982. This week, we’ll start out in 1982 again. Summer to be exact. The summer between middle school and high school was mostly a good time for me. I think there was an incident involving a tackle on the baseball field, which caused me some grief, but that is another story.
Having just finished up 8th grade as a big dog on the Northwood Middle School campus, my cockiness that came with not knowing any better was pretty high. Because we had no Tik Tok, Snapchat, or Instagram back then, my main social network was the youth group at Taylors First Baptist Church.
Sunday night was youth choir and Wednesday night was youth group. Not only did I learn the old hymns on Sunday night, thanks to the minister of music Lindsay O’Rear, I learned about rock n roll on Wednesday nights thanks to David Cheek and Cliff Keller. These Wednesday nights are among my first memories of Van Halen.
Anyway, during the summer of 1982, it was time for the 8th graders to start transitioning to the high school choir. I have another 1982 story related to this transition called “The Solution” that I’ll link to in the PS section in the printed version of this blog. Anyway, the youth choir was fine with me, because there were girls there.
On Sunday nights, we’d show up an hour before the evening service and practice. We’d then be the church choir during the service. One thing I picked up on early was the best place to sit in the choir was between the two Chrises – Chris O’Rear and Chris Stokes. They were a year older and strong singers. By sitting between them, I could either blend in or fake blending in.
With just a week before school and a couple of months of Sunday night choir under my belt, Mr. O’Rear came to me with a request. Turns out the youth choir had a sub-group of six to eight members who did extra practice and occasionally sang for the congregation. For some reason, he wanted me to try out for this group.
Now, if there’s a hall of fame for music ministers, Lindsay O’Rear should be in it. He had amazing dedication, an incredible deep singing voice, and some serious tolerance for youth shenanigans. However, I’m not sure what he was thinking in the is case. Apparently, my fakery that summer was too good.
For some reason, I agreed to the tryout – perhaps there was a member of the opposite sex in the group that had caught my attention…I don’t remember at this point.
I do remember this tryout consisted of taking me to the church sanctuary, where Mr. O’Rear sat down at the grand piano. He hit a C note, like this (plays note), and told me to sing it or match it or something like that. So I did this…(sings note). We did a few more notes.
After a few minutes, he may have said “Hmm. I could have sworn you were faking” or “the Chrises were wrong, you weren’t faking.” But he didn’t and he seemed pleased and actually said. “Sounds good. We meet next week. Why don’t you come join us?”
I left the sanctuary dumbfounded. What had just happened? Had a just become a singer in a non-rock’n’roll band?
Most of you have probably heard of Steve Perry, and know him as the lead singer of the band Journey during their hey day, with hits like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully.”
Many of you may not recognize the name Brad Delp, but you have likely heard his voice. He was the original lead singer for the band Boston and hits the greatest high note in rock n roll history on the song “More Than a Feeling”. Steve and Brad had two of the best voices in rock n roll. Steve Perry even had the nickname “The Voice.”
Then there’s David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, the two very successful lead singers of Eddie Van Halen’s namesake band. No one ever considered them superb singers but there were great frontmen and Van Halen was one of the rare bands to have huge success with two different lead singers.
Why do I mention these bands and their lead singers?
Back to Neal, Tom, and Eddie having that conversation about lead singers…
If you’re a guitar player and want to start a band but you don’t want to sing, you have to find a lead singer. Turns out finding one is pretty easy, but if you become successful, then dealing with the lead singer is a handful. All three of these bands had lead singer issues, and all three have albums with lead singers other than the most popular ones I listed here.
And recently, through the streaming music service Spotify, I discovered two mostly forgotten albums by Journey and Boston. The Journey album is called Arrival, and the song I first heard from it was called “We Will Meet Again.”
At first, I thought it was an early Steve Perry song that I had somehow missed, as the voice was very similar. I looked up the song info, though, and found that it wasn’t Steve, but rather a guy named Steve Augeri.
Then there was a very similar story with the Boston album Walk On. Unlike the Journey album, I had heard of the Boston album but I’d never listened to it. So, as I listened to it for the first time on Spotify, I discovered I liked it and at first, I didn’t realize it wasn’t Brad Delp. Upon further investigation, I learned that it was a guy named Fran Cosmo who filled in while Tom Scholz and Brad Delp had a rough patch.
So even though Neal and Tom had issues with their lead singers, they weren’t bold enough to bring in singers who strayed from their bands’ sound.
In Van Halen’s case, when Van Halen version 2.0 (which was the Hagar era) broke up, most fans hoped there would be a reconciliation with original singer David Lee Roth. Well, there wasn’t, just yet, and for some reason, Eddie brought in a guy named Gary Cherone to be the lead singer and they cut a new album. You may recall Gary’s one big hit with his other band Extreme called “More than Words Can Say”, which definitely doesn’t have a Van Halen vibe.
So Eddie gave this new album the clever name Van Halen III, to signify the third iteration of the band.
When I first started planning this post, my thinking was that this was a bold move as Gary Cherone sounded nothing like the first two Van Halen singers.
However, as I used my research tool Spotify once again to listen to this album for the first time in twenty-plus years, it struck me how similar some of the songs were to Sammy Hagar’s Van Halen version. Sure, as a Sammy fan, I could tell the difference, but some of the screaming Gary did sure had a Sammy feel to me. Turns out, Eddie didn’t too stray either.
Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up and give you perhaps a little known fact about Eddie Van Halen. Legend has it that Eddie was a classically trained pianist before taking up guitar. He supposedly couldn’t read music but could he watch the teachers hand movements and memorize his teacher playing a piece and then play it back well enough to copy and fool the teacher.
Eventually, Eddie’s keyboard playing found its way onto their biggest hit, “Jump”. This wasn’t anything fancy, just a few chords played on a synthesizer. In later Hagar era tunes, more keyboards found their way into Van Halen songs as supporting instruments but never as the featured instrument.
Until, I suppose, by the end of this forgettable album called Van Halen III, Eddie must have grown tired of lead singer drama, and maybe even grown tired of guitar for a moment. For it is on the final song of Van Halen III called “How Many Say I” that Eddie does two things he never did on any other song I could find.
First, he is the lead singer on this song, and second, the song is almost 100% piano, played by Eddie. There are some strings in there, but this is definitely a piano song and a very different Van Halen tune. And if you remember back in part one, it was the lead-in music. Here’s a little bit more:
History has pretty much forgotten Fran Cosmo, Steve Augeri, and Gary Cheron’s one shot at harder rock (which may be best). And turns out history never had a chance to forget Greg Fowler as a singer in a non-rock n’ roll group. See, the week after my singing audition, I started high school, where I heard that fateful school announcement for another tryout- the freshman football team.
And that’s the day I made the decision to hit football pads instead of low notes and told Mr. O’Rear “thanks, but no thanks.’
I still managed to attend Sunday night youth choir off and on for the next few years, but once the Chrises graduated, I retired my voice. Hope you didn’t mind me bringing my voice out of retirement for this blog detour. At least I didn’t subject you to singing and more than those two C notes.
Thanks for reading, and this week, thanks for listening!
PS: Link to “The Solution”: http://keyofgf.com/2014/07/21/the-solution/
PPS: Full song for “How Many Say I”: