Front men/women who can't play an instrument

Most people think Mick Jagger is just a singer, but he sometimes plays guitar in concert. Aretha Franklin was a well-respected pianist.

I’m wondering if there are well-known front men and women who literally just sing – not just that they don’t play an instrument onstage or in the studio, but actually never learned to play one.

Axl Rose? Debbie Harry? Jim Morrison? Madonna?

I think Robert (Led Zeppelin) Plant only plays incidental percussion.

Axl Rose is a legit piano player.

I don’t think Sebastian Bach (Skid Row) ever played an instrument.

Lou (Foreigner) Gramm only sings (occasional percussion).

No man, he played harmonica on the first album and on Presence, too. I’m guessing you knew that and it just slipped your mind.

What about Rod Stewart?

Dammit! Fourth album, too (“When the Levee Breaks”). The mind is a-slippin’ away.

Robert Plant and Madonna both play (at least) guitar.

I’m not making any comments on the quality of their playing, just that they know how to play and can hold their own in front of an audience.

If you’re going to mention Aretha, what about singers like Frankie Valli?

I will: Looks like Plant’s been playing for a while and knows what he’s doing. He even hits the whammy bar there, doesn’t he?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any soloist or member of a successful band who can play only one instrument, or a singer who can only sing. A professional musician isn’t too bothered by mechanics, and can become proficient in other musical skills or instruments without much difficulty, in a short period of time.

Let’s rule out vocal groups, e.g., the Four Seasons, Supremes, etc., in favor of instrumental bands with non-instrument-playing singers.

Meh, I gave it some thought before posting and forgot all about “Levee.” With more data in the file and the older entries getting increasingly less attention, it’s inevitable.

Wait, what was the question? :grin:

Well, yes – that’s why I brought the question to the Dope! :grinning:

I remember a thread we had years ago about whether or not certain lead singers could play other instruments or why they didn’t or something like that. I recall someone saying something along the lines of Stevie Nicks and Robert Plant can both play guitar but with Lindsey Buckingham and Jimmy Page they don’t need to. Plus, when you have someone that good standing next to you, you’re going to look awful in comparison.

Does that mean I can still ask about Art Garfunkel?

Hmmm … is he technically a front man? Let’s say yes – duos count.

While I’m making rulings, let’s exclude rappers, since hip-hop is almost never about actual live instrumental performance.

Not so well known in the US, but… The late, great Barrie Masters of Eddie And The Hot Rods? The wiki discography credits him solely for vocals throughout the history of the band.


Just about any professional singer who has been performing for a while will pick up the ability to hit a few piano chords or strum a guitar. But, there are some singers who practically never did so, right? How about Steven Tyler from Aerosmith?

He’s another one that falls into the ‘can, but doesn’t’ category.

I really doubt there will be any well-known lead singers who can’t strum chords on a guitar.