I’ll admit, I’m very picky when it comes to singers. There are bands who I won’t listen to or that I don’t listen to often because I don’t like their singer’s voice (AC/DC and Motörhead come to mind). But on the flip side, a good singer can make a band, taking it from merely good to great. There aren’t many like that today, but one of them is finally starting to get noticed by the rock establishment. Alter Bridge lead vocalist Myles Kennedy is someone who’s truly paid his dues in the rock world, playing in three different disbanded bands before finally working his way up to the top.
Kennedy was born Myles Richard Bass in Spokane, WA. After his father’s death, Myles’s mother went on to marry a minister, and the family adopted his last name, Kennedy. This, in my mind, was a fortunate move… after all, who do you want fronting your rock band, Myles Kennedy or Myles Bass? Anyway, Myles started playing guitar in high school in Spokane, and drew inspiration from such legends as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Led Zeppelin.
Myles’s early roots, however, are in jazz. He played guitar in his high school’s jazz band and his first two bands after high school were more jazz-influenced. He cut his teeth with the band Cosmic Dust, a band which is technically still together and released an album after Myles left. Even at this early date, it was clear Kennedy possessed a lot of talent on the guitar. I’m not a huge fan of his Cosmic Dust work, because it strays too far into weird jazz-fusion territory for my tastes, but here is the lead track off the album he recorded with them, entitled Journey:
Upon leaving Cosmic Dust, Kennedy joined the slightly-more-mainstream Citizen Swing, with whom he released two albums. I managed to get my hands on these albums, and they’re an interesting combination of rock and jazz. Here’s a cut off their first album, Cure Me With the Groove:
Kennedy’s first taste of mainstream success came with The Mayfield Four from 1996-2002, who also released two albums: Fallout and Second Skin. I personally am a huge fan of Second Skin, two tracks from which are below. The second song, “Eden (Turn the Page),” was Myles’s first song to chart, checking in at #37 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks list. On this record, you can hear Myles fine-tuning the vocal style he would eventually bring to Alter Bridge. He shows off his versatility here, adjusting his voice for both high-energy and high-emotion songs. The Mayfield Four opened for several prominent rock bands, including Creed. It was while the Mayfield Four was opening for Creed that Myles met Mark Tremonti and the other members, which would prove fateful just two years later.
In 2004, with Creed and The Mayfield Four both broken up, Tremonti recruited Kennedy to form Alter Bridge, thrusting him headlong into the rock mainstream. Alter Bridge worked quickly after he joined, releasing their first album One Day Remains the same year with songs that had largely already been written before Myles came on board. The band’s last two albums have more fully integrated Kennedy into the band as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Perhaps no single song demonstrates this more than their epic hit “Blackbird,” where Kennedy shows off all his talents, both singing and dueling guitar solos with Tremonti:
“Broken Wings,” off the band’s debut album, is one of his finest vocal performances, and really shows off his titanic range:
After the release of Blackbird in 2007, nearly 20 years after he started in the business, people other than his fans started to notice Kennedy’s immense talents. He jammed with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin and was rumored to be going on tour with them, but this never materialized. Alter Bridge scored their first #1 single in 2010, and the hits just kept coming for Kennedy: Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash asked him to sing on two tracks for his eponymous solo album, then toured as his vocalist after Creed reunited in 2009. Kennedy delivers many different songs from Slash’s immense catalogue with ease, from “Sweet Child O’Mine…”
… to “Fall to Pieces.”
This is amazing considering how different the styles of Axl Rose and Scott Weiland, the original vocalists of these songs, are. Myles also recorded an entire album, Apocalyptic Love, with Slash and his band, and is currently in the studio with Alter Bridge prepping their fourth album for release later this year. He also apparently recorded a solo album somewhere down the line that he says is very different from his Alter Bridge material, and I hope that sees the light of day someday. Maybe we’ll see more of his jazz and R&B past on it.
But what stands out to me most about Myles is his personality. So many rock stars throughout history are incredibly arrogant and self-important, and it comes out in their interviews. Myles has absolutely none of that, even as he’s become more and more famous. His humility is very endearing, and makes me like him all the more. I think that is partly a product of how long it took him to hit the big time. Because he paid his dues for so long, he doesn’t have trouble remembering where he came from. I’ve met him once, and he treated every fan that came up to talk to him like they were the only person there, and didn’t seem bored or uninterested (for the record, the rest of his bandmates in Alter Bridge were like that too). Perhaps no photo sums up his “aw shucks, I’m just happy to be here” attitude like this one, probably my favorite photo of him in existence.