Bruce Dickinson knows a thing or two about heavy metal. Having been the frontman for legendary English metal pioneers Iron Maiden for over four decades, Dickinson brought in an operatic belting style that opened the doors for the creation of subgenera like power metal. He could hit notes that only dogs could hear, but he never alienated any fans looking for good old fashioned metal music. He’s a renaissance man, as proven by his forays into everything from book writing to plane flying, but he knows what makes good metal music tick.
While being interviewed by Metal Rules back in 2000, Dickinson explained that the blueprint for every singer in heavy metal has its roots in three vocalists, each of whom brought something different to the development of the genre. “There are basically three bases for the metal style of singing” Dickinson says, “and if you join aspects of these three singers, you have everything.”
“These three singers are Robert Plant, Ian Gillan, and Paul Rodgers. And if you join them in various combinations you have what everyone was always talking about… They are the DNA of the singing heavy metal. And a lot of people you can see… I mean, there are people that are unique. You know, like Bon Scott and people. But effectively, if you hear most rock singers, all can be derived from these three voices. The style of each singing the notes they take, the tones they use in their voices, and things like that. So I would choose one of these three″.
Dickinson doesn’t say specifically what each singer does to differentiate themselves, but it’s not hard to hear the roots of Dickinson’s own singing style in his examples. The incredibly high soaring notes obviously come from Plant and Gilliam, while the bluesy origins of some of Dickinson’s more soulful singing can be found in Plant and Rodgers. Like any good acolyte, Dickinson expanded on the lessons learned from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Bad Company, but the origins of his own unique wail are undeniable.
While discussing Plant with Loudwire in 2015, Dickinson expanded on his love of the Led Zeppelin singer. “The early Robert Plant stuff, really early Zeppelin was unbelievable. My favourite stuff from that era, they did like Danish TV shows and they did live, wow, it is like completly unedited. Raw as it was and it’s just astonishing, it’s primal.” Iron Maiden was known to bust out an occasional Zeppelin cover, including placing their cover of ‘Communication Breakdown’ on the B-side to the single ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’.
Dickinson actually managed to meet Gilliam, although the Iron Maiden singer’s nerves got the better of him when they met. “We’ve done an album in Ian Gillan’s studio. We’ve all been up the pub and had a few pints. In walks my god, Ian Gillan, and goes, ‘Hey, what a great vocalist. Who’s the singer?’ At that moment, I felt the sudden urge to vomit. I ran out of the room [and] puked up for about 45 minutes in the toilet. In comes my idol, kicks the door and goes, ‘Come on, mate. Out you come. Let’s get you wiped down with a towel.’ He put me in a taxi and sent me home. I’ve never forgotten that – and he’s never let me forget it either.” Dickinson performed Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’ at a tribute concert to Jon Lord earlier this year.
In an interview with Metal Hammer in 2016, Dickinson cited Rodgers as his favourite singer. “I just thought that Rodgers was just stunning, and I didn’t even really try and copy his phrasing because I thought you just can’t. It’s just he’s so good.” Dickinson has busted out a Rodgers melody on his solo tours throughout his career away from Iron Maiden.