The United States is an interesting country in that most of its space is in the middle, but most of its culture is attributed to one coast or the other. Accordingly, a lot of American musical history is tied to cities on the East and West coasts – and in fact even the South coast, when you consider New Orleans. The reality though is that despite these common associations, many of the greatest American musicians hail from the Midwest.
Among the elite musicians from this general region are John Cougar Mellencamp, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Diana Ross. Arguably even higher on the food chain are Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, who came from Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. That’s not the longest string of names, but it’s certainly a powerful one that can rival just about any collection of musicians from New York or San Francisco.
In 2018 though, it feels like we’ve reached a point at which we should expand this unofficial pantheon to include a figure who’s increasingly looking like one of the great front men in rock history. Axl Rose, the Indiana-born lead vocalist of Guns N’ Roses, has put together a sensational second act in the last few years, and deserves recognition for it.
It’s actually been an interesting and quick turnaround for Guns N’ Roses, because the band seemed to be heading into tribute territory. Between 2012 and 2014 they took up residency shows in Las Vegas, which is becoming a common move for groups that still have fan bases but might not sustain worldwide tours. More unusually, the group also partnered with an online software developer to release a digital slot game. This was a tribute to the highly anticipated 30th anniversary of the band, and was released as part of a trilogy with Motorhead and Jimi Hendrix games. Needless to say those groups aren’t still performing, so Guns N’ Roses was more or less lumped in with inactive bands.
That, however, was before Axl Rose and Slash buried the hatchet and brought the band back together at Coachella in 2016. What could have been a one-off crowd-pleaser blossomed into a full-fledged reunion tour, which lasted far longer than pretty much anyone could have predicted. With Axl Rose leading a classic lineup (Slash, Duff McKagan, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, Dizzy Reed, and Melissa Reese), the group bounced all over North America and across the Atlantic, delighting hard rock fans around the world. And this wasn’t just a sentimental tour. It was a massive rock n’ roll event that is now being called the fourth biggest tour ever. For perspective on how remarkable that is, Axl Rose is currently 56 years old; most of the artists topping the modern charts are in their 30s.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, Rose has also been the frontman for AC/DC ever since Brian Johnson had to stop touring (because of a loss of hearing). The classic rock group is reportedly going to continue touring and even release new music with Axl Rose leading the way. So basically, if you’re keeping score, the talented, high-energy vocalist is currently leading revivals for two of the great rock groups of all time.
That certainly ought to qualify him as one of the most impressive Midwestern artists, and indeed one of the most accomplished American vocalists of all time.