It was easy to dismiss Scott Weiland as a second-rate Eddie Vedder fronting a second-rate grunge band in the mid-to-late 90’s. It was easier to dismiss him as a second-rate Axl Rose fronting a second-rate Guns N’ Roses during the mid-to-late 00’s. It was, perhaps, easiest of all to dismiss him as a troubled soul whose inner demons guaranteed that he’d die a premature death and go down in history as a second-rate Jim Morrison or a second-rate Kurt Cobain.
But Scott Weiland’s talent was never second-rate. Not only was he a first-rate vocalist, he was one of the best front-men of his generation.
Scott Weiland was found dead on his tour bus late Thursday evening in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to TMZ, the former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver lead singer, who was on tour with his backing band, The Wildabouts, was discovered shortly before he was scheduled to perform at the Medina Ballroom.
Given his long and public struggle with substance abuse and his multiple run-ins with the law, as well as the fact that he left his two bands on less-than-friendly terms, it’s inevitable that what he did offstage will overshadow his legacy as a lead singer. That’s a shame, because when he was healthy, he was one of the best in the business. Some singers just have it, and whatever it is, Weiland had it in spades. His performances could be hit or miss (especially during his later years), yet when he was on stage he exuded so much charisma that you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He knew how to use his tall, sinewy frame to his advantage and, like a cross between Mick Jagger, Chris Robinson and yes, Axl Rose, Weiland sauntered and sashayed like the vocal chameleon that he was.
Because they broke through after Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots were casually dismissed as unoriginal or even derivative, and the merits of Weiland and Co. were largely ignored by the music press. What they missed was that Weiland was a fantastically talented and versatile vocalist who, despite his lack of range, could sing just about anything. He could easily pull off the role of heavy metal singer, which he did for most of “Core” and “Purple.” Yet, he could also sing the blues (as he showed during the band’s classic rendition of “Plush” on MTV’s “Unplugged”), as well as deliver melodic, understated vocals, which he did on songs like “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty.” Even on the obligatory “self-loathing” song that every grunge group was contractually obligated to record during the 90s, Weiland distinguished himself with “Creep” as his emotional, anguished vocals made it clear that he was suppressing some pretty serious demons. As it turns out, we didn’t know the half of it.
When “Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop” came out in 2003, STP actually impressed some critics by moving away from grunge and hard rock to experiment with lots of different genres, including psychedelic rock, jangle pop, and even jazz fusion. Weiland, meanwhile, softened his vocal stylings considerably and sounded almost like a brand new singer. On lead single “Big Bang Baby” he sounded almost like a bored lounge singer while on “Lady Picture Show” he croons like a blue-eyed soul singer. There aren’t many front-men from that era (if any) that could have pulled off what Weiland accomplished on those three albums. Weiland released three more albums with STP, but I’ve never listened to them (ironically, one of those albums, 2001’s “Shagri-La Dee Da” was supposed to be a tribute to Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood – who died of a heroin overdose).
While he was quick to dismiss his Velvet Revolver experience as a “commercial calculation,” his output with the ex-GNR members was an additional credit to him as a singer. Perhaps because he knew he’d be compared to Axl Rose, Weiland worked hard on his stage presence and, in the end, he more than measured up to the GNR icon. In fact, you could argue that he sounded better performing Guns N’ Roses songs than Axl did during the “Chinese Democracy” era. Meanwhile, on Velvet Revolver’s first two singles (the ones that most people paid attention to), Weiland showed off two different sides of his persona to deliver two very different vocal performances about the same topic. On “Slither,” he tapped into his dark side to sing a really sinister song about drug addiction (a common lyrical theme for him – for obvious reasons). Then, on “Fall to Pieces,” he looked at drug addiction from the other side of the coin and documented (with the same type of emotion and anguish that he used to sing “Creep”) how it affected his relationship with his loved ones. Perhaps no two introductory singles better captured a band’s essence than those two songs. On the flip side, perhaps no two introductory singles better foreshadowed a band’s ultimate implosion than those two songs. It’s telling that, in a band full of recovering addicts, Weiland was, somehow so out of control that he caused Slash to swear off working with him ever again. This from the guy who may be reuniting with Axl as we speak.
Sadly, his greatest inspiration may have also been his ultimate downfall. While it’s too early to speculate as to what caused his death, it’s clear that years of substance abuse had taken a toll on him. “His struggles with substance abuse are well documented, let alone the normal wear and tear of three decades dedicated to living the rock lifestyle,” James Joiner wrote in 2013 when he interviewed Weiland for the Daily Beast. “That said, little could have prepared me for the award-winning singer’s pale, shaky visage—if I had encountered him on the street in such a condition, I would’ve contemplated calling 911. A far cry from the wailing, energized figure stalking the stage just a night before. Maybe he’s not a morning person, but this felt like more than a hangover.” Supposedly, one of the reasons why his Stone Temple Pilots bandmates fired him in 2013 was because he could no longer sing his old songs. During his solo tour this year, there were numerous performances where he just sounded awful. Blabbermouth has posted videos from his final show, and while he actually didn’t sound half bad, he also didn’t sound half good, either. Throw in a final interview where an uncharacteristically terse Weiland can’t even muster up the energy to answer a few softball questions, and it’s clear that all was not well with him.
“Breathing is the hardest thing to do,” Weiland sang on “Interstate Love Song,” his biggest hit with STP. Next to that, singing was a piece of cake.