Dream Theater’s James LaBrie Picks His 5 Favorite 80s Rock Singers
Interview by Andrew Daly
While he’s primarily known within the progressive metal realm, make no mistake, Dream Theater’s James LaBrie can bring it.
Anyone who has seen LaBrie in the live setting lately will tell tales of his soaring vocals, hyper-melodic delivery, and the fact that he can downright belt it out. His aggression means grandeur approach is a thing of hyperbolic beauty. Moreover, his pipes have been the linchpin of 30 years of iconic progressive metal lore.
Given the genre he finds himself in, you’d probably assume that LaBrie’s influences lean more toward Rush, Yes, and Pink Floyd rather than ’80s metal. And while LaBrie has confessed that he’s not exactly one to crank up hair metal in his spare time too often, there are still more than a few ’80s mouthpieces that have caught his ear over the years.
To that end, Classic Rock History dialed in with James LaBrie to grab the veteran vocalist’s five favorite ’80s rock singers. Some are surprising, while others are period-correct. But regardless, all of LaBrie’s favorite ’80s voice boxes are as soaring as they are celebrated.
# 5 – Rob Halford of Judas Priest
I have to start with Rob Halford because he was so dynamic. His voice could do all those high screams, but he’d also have such great gravel to his voice, you know? The way Rob sang showed him using all of his dynamic range in a very powerful way. But the thing is that Rob still sounds great even now. I’ve met him a few times, and we’ve done some shows with him; he’s such a sweet guy. He’s a real gentleman and a truly great rock singer. He floors me that he’s still singing the way he is.
# 4 – David Coverdale of Whitesnake
He’s another one who could walk into a booth or on stage, and it was like he pressed a button with this huge voice that totally re-energizes you. It’s pretty phenomenal to witness. He proved himself with Deep Purple for a bit and then went out on his own, which maybe seemed crazy at the time. But he did it, and Whitesnake became huge, and that’s in large part to his huge-sounding rock voice. As far as singers go, he’s not really metal, but the guy is vastly talented to the point of being scary. He knew how to use his voice to the best of his ability, making it incredible to listen to. He seemed to never stay within his comfort zone and was larger than life.
# 3 – Sebastian Bach of Skid Row
Sebastian is one of the guys within the hair metal genre that had a truly great voice. I don’t really listen to a ton of that music, so I can’t really wrap my head around all of it, but he had a lot of aggression, and I loved his vibe and attitude. They had a lot of great songs, but I think Sebastian’s voice really paired well with what they were writing. His style and approach definitely serve that style of music perfectly.
# 2 – Tony Harnell of TNT
I remember listening to TNT a long time ago, and all I could think was, “Wow, this guy is a great singer.” He’s one of the guys from that era who has a style and range that really do stand out. He could sound so sweet and gorgeous at times, and he’d flick a switch and knock it out of the park as this ballsy, super-aggressive singer with great range, tone, and timbre. Tony Harnell had all that, but he also knew how to use it properly to make a name for himself. I don’t think anyone else really sounds like him as a result.
#1 – Steve Perry of Journey
He’s not hair or glam metal, but Steve Perry was huge in the ’80s. There are very few singers out there who you can identify immediately within a few lines, and he’s definitely one of them. I mean… as soon as you heard him sing, you’d be like, “Holy shit, this guy’s voice just sounds absolutely gorgeous.” His vocals are so powerful and evocative, and he has extraordinary range. What more can I say? Steve Perry has a gift. He’s proven himself repeatedly as one of the best. He’s the kind of singer I gravitated toward while working to find the type of singer I wanted to be.
Dream Theater’s James LaBrie Picks His 5 Favorite 80s Rock Singers article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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