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When/why did Axl's voice change?


Clark Gable
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GN'R embarked on a two year long worldwide tour--with very brief breaks in the tour--from 1991 to 1993. Before that, they had played sporadically from 1989-1990, after consistently touring on and off from '85 through '88. At the last show in July 1993, Axl still sounded good, his voice full of rasp and power, and in tune; with great control over his voice as well--Perhaps even more control than he had in 1991 or 1992. We met him again live in January 1994, unexpectedly performing "Come Together" with Bruce Springsteen (indeed, apparently even Axl wasn't expecting to perform that day--it was unplanned).

After 1993, while we have five confirmed studio recordings of Axl between 1994 and 2000: "Sympathy for the Devil" (1994), a guest vocal spot on "Dead Flowers" from Gilby's album Pawnshop Guitars (1994), a guest vocal on on the song "Anxious Disease" by (West Arkeen's band) The Outpatience from 1996, the "Sweet Child O'Mine" partial re-record from 1999, and the album Live Era '87-93, with vocals mostly re-recorded in 1998 and 1999.

Now, studio recordings can be tampered with until they sound good, but on those songs--With the exception of Sympathy, where he sounds like the old Axl--I have noticed a general pattern. Axl's voice has a great deal of control, power, and it's full of rasp--but the rasp is falsetto, high pitched, compared with his normal deeper, throaty rasp. It is a raspy voice higher but with much more control than the jagged uncontrolled rasp of 1991; His voice on the recordings from '96-'99 remind me of a higher pitched version of 1993, actually.

Now, I myself think that despite being different, the higher rasp sounds good--Still sounds like Axl because of the trademark rasp. Your opinions may vary.

However, Axl returned to live playing suddenly in June 2000, in a surprise guest spot with Gilby. No recording of that show is known to survive. Seven months later, in January 2001, Axl made his first full live appearance since 1993. And he sounded like shit.

At Rio 2001, we hear Axl singing full on falsetto without any hint of rasp except in some little areas, sometimes struggling to maintain his voice, sometimes having a lot of power over it. The powerful rasp from 1999--just two years earlier--is almost entirely gone. 2002 is an even worse story, IMO, because Axl is out of tune, his voice sometimes weak, full on "Helium" or "Mickey Mouse."

We come to 2006 and we see a turnaround. His voice has a powerful, controlled rasp, reminisinct at times of the early '90s. It is much like the 1999 voice: Higher pitched, but powerful and raspy. Of course there are on and off nights throughout the 2006-07 tour, and towards the end of 2007, Mickey came back, but it was overall a surprising turn around from 2001 and 2002. Axl is said to have hired Sebastian Bach's vocal trainer before the 2006 tour--probably a factor here.

So he comes back in 2009 and his voice is on and off--Starting with Mickey Mouse and getting stronger as the tour progressed. A lot of people have said that much of 2010 was probably the closest thing to the '90s that Axl has ever sounded--a full, powerful, sometimes throaty rasp: The voice that helped make GN'R distinctive in the first place. Now we come to 2011 and with the exception of a few songs per concert, his voice has been about as poor in quality as 2002: Mickey Mouse, easily winded, lacking control over his voice and sometimes seeming breathless.

Usually, this is a minor bump in the road for Axl, which is overcome with more and more touring. But we're at the end of this leg of the tour and look at last night: Perhaps--with the exception of Jungle, Civil War and some parts of other songs--the worst show vocally since the 2002 VMAs. Axl sounded like he was going to die in points--his voice was terribly and sadly weak without any of it's normal vigor or punch.

So, what happened to him? Sometime around the mid 90s, something major happened to his voice and he's been battling the effects of it ever since.

People say "Well, he's pushing 50." Sure, that's a reasonable point. But in 2001, he was 39--A young man still, whose voice was being used in recording and not being overly strained by constant recording, and he still sounded poor--so age was not a factor then. "He's out of shape"--Sure, but he was in pretty damn good shape for Vegas, December 2001 and still sounded just as poor as at Rio. In 1993, after two and a half years of near consistent touring, he still sounded great. In 2002, during an (on and off) seven month tour, he sounded pretty much the same all over, and it's been hit and miss since 2006--With 2011 being heavily on the "miss" side.

What happened to Axl between 1993 and 2001 which brought "Mickey Mouse" out in his voice? Anyone who knows anything about vocals--Bring out your opinions.

I ask because I miss Axl's voice--It's as important a factor in GN'R as the guitar playing is. And last night's performance, along with his performance overall throughout the 2011 leg of the tour, was utterly disheartening as a fan. I couldn't care less if Axl came on late as long as he puts on a good show vocally. His job is to put on a good performance, give us his best--and he didn't deliver that last night.

Or is perhaps Mickey Mouse the best he can do? Is the rasp gone for good? :(

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He's getting old and fat and sings way less than he did back then.

Yeah but he wasn't old in 2001 and nor fat at Vegas (Dec. 2001) and he still had the Mickey thing going...As for him singing way less..He's been pretty consistently touring for about 2 years now. And he's been touring consistently for the last 5 years (2006-2007; 2007-present). I mean in 2001 you could've said "he hasn't sung in a long time"--and that'd be very much true. But he's had years to work out whatever's happened to his voice, lots of shows to get it back on track...And unless he has some medical condition we don't know of--which is possible, I will grant him that--he should work out and be thin at his age. Look at Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler or Ozzy...All much older than Axl and in arguably better shape and sing relatively well for their age. Even Plant, who is heavy at times, still sings pretty damn good, and he had an intense vocal style like Axl did.

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Happens to any vocalist with age I think but since Axl has such a dynamic range to his voice it is just more noticeable when he tries to song the old songs...

I am on a Deep Purple jag right now and you can see the same thing happening to Ian Gillan....Go listen to the DP Mk II live recordings from 72-73 time frame and then to some from the 85 reunion and again the 93 reunion. He struggles in 85 to hit the high notes but can still hit some but by 93 he can't come close anymore...

Same with Robert Plant in that he could not hit the high notes at the O2 show in 2007 so the band had to tune down a step for him to stay in tune with the rest of the band..

Getting old sucks but it is a realityof life..........

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It realy is the getting older and not practicing. As the tour goes, his voice keeps getting better.

I'd say that the European tour from last year was his best. I saw him in October and he blew me away with the voice.

Just read CC's post, and about Robert Plant, there was some weird shit going on in 1973. Listen to the live album TSRTS.

He cracks constantly. Now listen to How The West Was Won, just recorded one year before: He's at the top. Something weird happened.

I read somewhere that between late 72 and early 73 he got a cold and sang through sickness, and his voice was never the same.

Edited by Mr.Stradlin
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It realy is the getting older and not practicing. As the tour goes, his voice keeps getting better.

I'd say that the European tour from last year was his best. I saw him in October and he blew me away with the voice.

Just read CC's post, and about Robert Plant, there was some weird shit going on in 1973. Listen to the live album TSRTS.

He cracks constantly. Now listen to How The West Was Won, just recorded one year before: He's at the top. Something weird happened.

I read somewhere that between late 72 and early 73 he got a cold and sang through sickness, and his voice was never the same.

Plant had some problems with his voice during the 73 tour and it was even worse during the 75 tour if you listen to all the amazing Soundboards the Empress Valley boot label has been releasing. Rumour has it he had vocal cord surgery after the 75 tour but I have never read confirmation on this. Robert like Axl had amazing vocal range and that has to be tough on your voical cords. Stephen Tyler has had surgery to remove nodules from his cord and I guess this is not out of the ordinary for singers....

Axl does seem to improve as the tour goes on so I guess he could prepare better, for example Mick Jagger trains like a mad man before tours and is in amazing shape for his age, but his voice will never have the range it once had I think.

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It realy is the getting older and not practicing. As the tour goes, his voice keeps getting better.

I'd say that the European tour from last year was his best. I saw him in October and he blew me away with the voice.

Just read CC's post, and about Robert Plant, there was some weird shit going on in 1973. Listen to the live album TSRTS.

He cracks constantly. Now listen to How The West Was Won, just recorded one year before: He's at the top. Something weird happened.

I read somewhere that between late 72 and early 73 he got a cold and sang through sickness, and his voice was never the same.

Plant had some problems with his voice during the 73 tour and it was even worse during the 75 tour if you listen to all the amazing Soundboards the Empress Valley boot label has been releasing. Rumour has it he had vocal cord surgery after the 75 tour but I have never read confirmation on this. Robert like Axl had amazing vocal range and that has to be tough on your voical cords. Stephen Tyler has had surgery to remove nodules from his cord and I guess this is not out of the ordinary for singers....

Axl does seem to improve as the tour goes on so I guess he could prepare better, for example Mick Jagger trains like a mad man before tours and is in amazing shape for his age, but his voice will never have the range it once had I think.

Plant did have the throat surgery in 1975 after the tour ended. Compare how his voice sounds on Physical Graffiti (recorded mostly in January 1974) to Presence (recorded over two weeks in 1976) or In Through the Out Door. You can tell a definite difference in his voice between P-G and Presence. His voice was starting to become raspy before the throat surgery--Listen for example to the song Ten Years Gone. He had already lost a good deal of his original range due to straining his voice after a cold as the other guy mentioned and around that time his voice went from being the pure, beautiful voice it was in 1969 to being raspy, cigarette-esque voice it was by Physical Graffiti.

A lot of singers get nodules, but some opt not to get surgery for them because it runs the risk of removing their range. Freddie Mercury had nodules but refused to get them removed because he was afraid he'd lose his upper range...And Freddie's voice from 1975 to 1991 was largely the same amazingly.

Elton John on the other hand had the nodules, got them removed, and his fans I've read say he can't sing anywhere near as high as he could pre-surgery (like Plant at 02).

Mick it's not age or anything else really but he puts on a deeper voice and has done so since 1983. Compare Tattoo You to Dirty Work. He does this deep, snarly voice. It's put on, not really his natural voice. I talked to Stones' fans about this, they seem to agree. At times he can sound just like he did when he was young--like on the re-records of the Exile outtakes. But he's opted to do this odd sort of deeper voice since 1983 on most of their stuff. But he seems lately to have gone back to singing his old way, like the Mick we knew and loved in the 70s.

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Didn't Axl have nodules in the early 90s/late 80s? That can affect your voice.

Bear in mind that Axl also smoked heavily and used cocaine throughout his youth, when he was using his voice the most. That puts a lot of strain on your vocal cords (even though technically they're more like flaps or folds than cords... but the vernacular has stuck). Guns N' Roses also toured more or less constantly for a few years in the early 90s. You can hear the difference between Axl on Appetite and Lies and then on UYI, where his voice was much more choked and whispery.

Factor in that he got old, and I'm pretty sure he didn't take particularly good care of his voice during his periods of no-showing (whereas Jagger, Plant et al didn't really have those lengthy periods of doing fuck-all) and we have why he can't sing like he could.

Axl failed to take care of his voice in his younger days and now he - and we - are suffering the consequences.

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He's getting old and fat and sings way less than he did back then.

Yeah but he wasn't old in 2001 and nor fat at Vegas (Dec. 2001) and he still had the Mickey thing going...As for him singing way less..He's been pretty consistently touring for about 2 years now. And he's been touring consistently for the last 5 years (2006-2007; 2007-present). I mean in 2001 you could've said "he hasn't sung in a long time"--and that'd be very much true. But he's had years to work out whatever's happened to his voice, lots of shows to get it back on track...And unless he has some medical condition we don't know of--which is possible, I will grant him that--he should work out and be thin at his age. Look at Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler or Ozzy...All much older than Axl and in arguably better shape and sing relatively well for their age. Even Plant, who is heavy at times, still sings pretty damn good, and he had an intense vocal style like Axl did.

This is a standard thing, because Axl's voice only good if he performed often. I think he is lazy and comfortable and therefore lose his voice and his condition.

That's all. Maybe he needs more vocal training at this periods.

But i'm a fan not his mother, so...

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  • 5 years later...

He was a lazy singer back in the day anyway, he was just gifted with a head voice (or whatever you call it) that sounded very close to his natural voice, and he could merge the two easily and it was gritty and loud. He got used to using in that range for years, despite it changing a lot even between 86 - 93, it still sounded cool.

 

Fast forward 7 years to Rio and it is gone. We now hear how lazy he's been singing all these years, and now that head voice sounds like your average persons head voice, all clean and weak. At this point Axl is still trying to sing the same way he'd become used to, but the game is up.

Eventually he adapted, singing more and more in his natural voice before "breaking" into the head voice when the notes became too high. See the outro to patience over the last few years for example. Back in the day this entire outro was sang in head voice, or to be more accurate, this weird middle ground that some singers can do where the natural voice and the head voice are almost mixed. Now, it's done in chest voice, all the way up to the "Yeah a yeah a need you" bit where it almost sounds like someone turns the mic off. 

His raspy range now belongs to ACDC.

Or, new songs that suit his voice.

Too fat and lazy to bother with the latter though.

 

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58 minutes ago, altered beast said:

What about 2010?  

 

So in 2010, he seemed to have attained more of his trademark raspy head / mixed voice. But I don't put this down to practice or technique or anything like that. I think it just appeared again, and he used it.Patience again is a good example. It's like when he feels his head /mixed voice is good enough, he'll just use it for the full outro.. when he doesn't, he sings the majority of it in his chest voice.

But 2010, I mean, he wasn't exactly a great singer again all of a sudden, he just had a raspy voice again. If you put him into the studio to re-do patience, for example, it would probably have sounded atrocious. However, live.. given what we'd come to expect, it sounded great.

We don't know what meds he's on, but I reckon he's on some anti depressants. These things can really fuck with your appearance. I can only imagine they can fuck with your singing voice too.

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  • 3 years later...

I don't know that he can. His rasp now is just yelling and he has very little control over it. He can usually get one good line off and then loses it completely sometimes mid word. I'm sure he'd be fine in a studio setting where he could do one line at a time and do 10 layers and protool it all anyway, but live I think he's about as good as he's going to be. 

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