The Best Male Singers [of the 90’s]
As a highschool student in the 90’s, my backpack was littered with the names of all the best grunge bands of the time – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Hole, Warrior Soul, The Screaming Trees and so many more killer bands (sigh, whatever happened to Rock ‘n Roll?). One thing I realise now about the 90’s is the sheer prowess of so many of these great singers, from Layne Staley’s howl to Chris Cornell’s shriek, the 90’s really was the last great era of wild singers with a crazy vocal range.
I still remember handing my Nevermind cassette to the bus driver on the way to school each day for ol’ Gus to play my favourite Nirvana songs – if we all sat down in our best behaviour. Classic 90’s reverse psychology! Here’s the Best Males Singers of the 90’s and a few tips for how you can learn to sing like them.
For sheer range and vocal prowess, Chris Cornell is the first 90’s singer we’re going to talk about – and BOY did he have some range on him! One of the saddest things about one of your favourite singers or Rock Stars passing away is when you start realising you have to mention them in the “past” tense instead of in person like comes so naturally. Chris Cornell WAS the best male singer of the 90’s, hands down for range, tone, ability, originality and just God-given talent.
Now, if you want to learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, you’ve got your work cut out for you, but it CAN be done with training, practice and perseverance, LOTS and LOTS of perseverance. Chris Cornell was known for his extensive range, so the first thing you need to do is connect chest and head voice, and from there you can start working on the efficiency and power of your resonance so that you can wail like Chris was able to do at the height of his vocal abilities.
As you can see, tuning your vocal tract to your frequencies is one of the most important keys to increasing your range and building intensity in your voice, just like Chris Cornell was known for. If you want to learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, you need to first ask yourself, have you set up a strong foundation #1, and secondly, are you shaping your vowels properly while allowing appropriate resonant space when you sing?
Another singer who really should be with us today to show all these pop stars how it’s REALLY done is Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and Mad Season fame. Known for his uncanny ability to swing between a viscious belt and intense high Tenor range and a delicate and fragile delivery at the same time that just made you want to wrap the guy in cotton wool – Layne Staley really was every bit the gifted and unique singer that Chris Cornell was, albeit with a different voice type and individual tone. My favourite Lanye Staley performance is any song of the overlooked Mad Season record, every bit as viscious and twisted as an Alice in Chains record (Lifeless Dead anyone?), but with a weird 70’s feel to the whole affair, songs like River of Deceit really set the stage for my teenage years and showed me that 90’s rock wasn’t all about ear splitting distortion or sheer screaming ability.
Scott Weiland always seemed like a weird one to me, until I learned of his massive David Bowie obsession – THEN it all started to make sense and I started to enjoy records like Tiny Music that once perplexed and kindof annoyed me. I feel like Scott’s singing ability real shone through the best on the Velvet Revolver records, but there are plenty of great vocal performances and plenty to learn from STP records. Some of my favourite songs of the 90’s come from the Purple record, Interstate Love Song and Vaseline in particular are just a whole world of their own in terms of vocal performance and sheer charisma where singers are concerned. If you want to learn how to sing like Scott Weiland, the first thing you need to do is get that BUZZ of resonance and build your tone and power out of that resonant buzz, just like you can hear on all the best STP and VR songs. I kinda feel like Scott Weiland was the ‘unsung hero’ of the 90’s for me, or maybe I just came ot the party a little late…
From the 70’s hippie Black-Crowes dirge of “No Rain” to the melancholic “Mouth Full of Cavities”, Shannon’s squeezed range is incredibly tough to imitate, and even tougher to achieve when you’re being super careful with your vocal technique. Another one of my favourite 90’s singers, Shannon Hoon had a similar delicate but raw sensibility to Layne Staley in that there was so much more depth and sadness to his songs and singing than just the fact it seemed to always be raining every time a 90’s rock band went into the recording studio…
If you want to learn how to sing like Shannon Hoon, the first thing you need to do is develop your middle voice so that you can balance between your chest and head voice in a mix tone just like Shannon was so well known form.
Finally, someone that is still with us in 2018. As a giant 70’s rock fan myself, The Black Crowes were always one of my favourite bands. Chris was (is!) known for his high Tenor range that naturally sits up there with the best 70’s singers like Steve Marriot, Mark Farner and Robert Plant, with a touch of the raw delivery of a guy like Joe Cocker. Singing like Chris Robinson is more about tone and blues than it is about sheer range or vocal power – so a great place to start is your ability to pitch your notes and sing vocal runs. Learning how to sing with a legato vocal delivery is really key to singing with a bluesy inflection like Chris Robinson displayed so well in the Black Crowes, and later with Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
Kory might be a little bit of a hidden gem to you guys who didn’t grow up in the 90’s like I did, but Warrior Soul were a force to be reckoned with, and Kory’s voice was no slouch either. Songs like Love Destruction, The Losers and We Cry Out were another part of my youth that is really lost in time. While Kory’s voice hasn’t really held up over time, there is tons of cool stuff to learn from from Warrior Soul’s early records – just like Scott Weiland was the unsung vocal hero of the 90’s, I feel like Warrior Soul were really the unsung punk rockers of the 90’s, maybe of all time. Killer band, killer singer, killer voice.
I know I know, Sebastian is way more 80’s in the way he sang than pure 90’s grunge, but some of my favourite Skid Row records were released at the height of 90’s rock, Subhuman Race and Slave To The Grind in particular. Possessing one of the highest male voice types out there, Sebastian was known for his wild antics almost as much as his prowess as a singer, and BOY could Sebastian sing. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Sebastian Bach live many times of the years, and there is just something beyond his otherwordly voice and insane vocal range that makes Sebastian a born star. If you want to learn how to sing like Sebastian Bach, your first port of call is placement and lightening your tone, especially if you are gifted with a Baritone Voice Range like me – remember, Bach wasn’t blowing his voice out on stage each night, he successfully toured the world 10 times over while retaining his spectacular range. Singing is an act of balance, which Sebastian was a master of, not an act of muscular force or brute strength.
Maynard James Keenan
Tool was an up and coming band when I spent my first few years of high school listening to the Undertow record on repeat. Over time, the myth and mystery around Tool has really grown and Maynard is really seen as a ‘classic’ of the 90’s era, and I tend to agree. Much less about vicious power and an extreme delivery, Maynard sang with a high placed Tenor that was often way more relaxed than Tool songs seemed to call for, lending to the already unsettling tone of almost every Tool album. If you want to sing like Maynard, a great place to start is the connection between chest and head, and finally to develop a lighter middle voice tone that allows you to sing high in your range without tension or too much support.
The 1990’s was such a great time for music, and I’m a little confused about how we got so far away from bands like Soundgarden and AIC ruling the world, but they are forever etched my mind, at least, as some of the greatest rock bands of all time, featuring some of the BEST singers of all time. Honourable mentions obviously go to Phil Anselmo and Peter Steele of course, along with guys like AXL and Bon Jovi that carried their formidable voices into the 90’s without the slightest loss of range or intensity.
If you want to learn how to sing 90’s rock, or learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, Learn how to sing like Scott Weiland or learn how to sing like Maynard, a great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, which will show you how to set up a strong foundation like your favourite singers and let you sing with a controlled and consistent tone EVERY time you sing.
When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional voice training and private singing lessons, you can book a Skype Lesson with me and I’ll show you how to build the range of Chris Cornell, the dynamics of Layne Staley, the sheer weirdness of Maynard and Scott Weiland and the killer vocal chops of guys like Shannon Hoon and Sebastian Bach.
If you have any questions about learning how to sing, or you’d like to add your own favourite 90’s rock singer, feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.