Several months ago, I received an email about renowned vocalist Jeff Scott Soto joining Gus G.'s touring band for a small handful of live dates on the west coast, promoting the guitarist's solo debut, I am the Fire. Jeff Scott Soto is a very familiar name, but I wasn't terribly educated on his (absolutely massive) discography at the time, so the aforementioned email prompted me to finally take the plunge.
I already knew, of course, the early albums with Yngwie J. Malmsteen, and also happened to have in my collection scattered JSS performances with Kuni and L.A. Rocks. But that was about it.
Has there been a more prolific hard rock/metal frontman than Jeff Scott Soto? 'Cause the Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican vocalist has carved out one hell of a career for himself, across several genres of music. When I finally took the time to dig in, my head was spinning! The impressive blend of power and emotion, the insanely catchy hooks, the huge vocal harmonies... the sheer volume of material!?
So, here's a chronological rundown of highlights, covering an abundant three-plus decades of music...
Soto got off to a great start, with quite a bit of exceptional work. However, you may be surprised to find that—even though the '80s are thought of as a "metal decade"—they were not necessarily responsible for his finest efforts.
Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force
JSS first came to prominence alongside Swedish guitar god Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force, performing on the group's first two albums: Rising Force (1984) and Marching Out (1985). (He later returned for a few tracks on the 1996 covers album, Inspiration.)
Panther released a six-song 12" EP in 1986 on Half Wet Records, upon which Jeff was credited with "special vocal performances"—perhaps suggesting that he was a hired gun, and they were trying to capitalize on his success? Either way, it's a solid slab of traditional metal. There's not a great deal of information out there, and it seems Panther's only other appearance was a track on the L.A. Steel compilation, also in 1986.
A few years later, Jeff Scott Soto hooked up with another guitar wiz—this time in Japan—Kuni Takeuchi, for his second album, 1988's Lookin' for Action. An amazing record, this is easily my favorite of Soto's '80s output. Not really a "shred" album, Lookin' for Action is pretty much just top-shelf hard rock with a "hair metal" tinge, that happens to boast some scorching guitar solos. The songwriting is just killer, cranking out track after track of pure gold: "Memories of You," "Lookin' for Action," "Don't Look Back," "Say Goodbye," etc. It's a crime that this gem was only released in Japan.
Kryst the Conqueror
Credited as "Kryst the Conqueror" (apparently due to Malmsteen-related contractual obligations), JSS fronted this weirdo Christian metal band spearheaded by ex-Misfits Jerry Only and Doyle. An entire album was recorded, and has floated around online, but the band's only official release was a five-song EP in 1989. While not spectacular, it's adequate, sparsely thrashy heavy metal that tends to be fairly midpaced. (An even weirder twist? Skid Row guitarist Dave "The Snake" Sabo is credited with some guitar work in the song "Trial of the Soul.")
Around 1985, Jeff recorded some incredible demos with a pre-Eyes outfit called L.A. Rocks. Unfortunately, the copies that have circulated online sound pretty beat-up, which is a damn shame. One tune, "Renegade," later made a soundtrack appearance in 1990's Bad Jim.
Around that same time, Soto did a three-week stint with the band that would eventually become M.A.R.S. (MacAlpine • Aldridge • Rock • Sarzo). While Project: Driver—with Rob Rock on vocals—is an excellent album, it probably would've been better with Soto. They could've been M.A.S.S., that's no worse!
In 1989, JSS lent his pipes to yet another international shredder—Italian guitarist Alex Masi—singing on "Under Fire," the lead track from Masi's third album, Attack of the Neon Shark. They should've added vocals to the entire album!
If hard rock and metal were "dead" in the '90s, Jeff Scott Soto and his (oft-European) cohorts never got the memo. It was an extremely prolific decade for the frontman, and actually spawned some of his strongest work.
Also featuring former Cacophony bassist Jimmy O'Shea, Eyes released one self-titled album of anthemic hard rock—bordering on "hair metal" and a little heavy on the ballads, perhaps—in 1990; later followed by two additional CDs of assorted demos and leftovers.
Alongside former Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force bandmate, bassist Marcel Jacob (R.I.P.), and (eventually) future Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, Talisman seems to be one of the more recognized and successful groups in the JSS discography. Their first two albums—Talisman (1990) and Genesis (1993)—hold up quite well, but—like Eyes—the material is not quite as exciting as some of Jeff's other work.
Allegedly hired by the project's producer, Soto was credited as "Spunk"—alongside "Snuff," "Beef," "Nasty Gerbil," and "Pounder"—for Skrapp Mettle's lone album, Sensitive (1991). Obviously an over the top joke, with absurd and intentionally offensive lyrics and song titles like "Pearl Necklace," "That Load," "Retire or Die," and "Kill the Rich," you get the point, right? Not a fantastic album, but certainly hard to ignore. Hey, at least the dude's got a sense of humor!
Axel Rudi Pell
Still in the early-'90s, believe it or not, Jeff joined up with another European virtuoso (this time from Germany) in ex-Steeler guitarist Axel Rudi Pell. JSS recorded four albums with ARP's solo band, including some of his all-time greatest performances. "Long Time" contains one of the most flawlessly unstoppable choruses of his entire career, but other mandatory Pell-era highlights include "Streets of Fire," "Talk of the Guns," and "Visions in the Night," to name but a few.
Jeff Scott Soto was producing a demo for Takara when he eventually became their frontman, performing on their first three albums from 1993 - 1998: Eternal Faith, Taste of Heaven, and Blind in Paradise. Another high point of the '90s (and his discography as a whole), Takara was like a more mature Eyes combined with a more consistent Talisman, as exemplified by tracks like "Spotlight," "Two Hearts Together," "What Do You Want From Me," "Blind in Paradise," and so on. (Soto also performed on former Takara bassist Gary Schutt's debut solo album, Sentimetal, in 1994.)
In an unexpected twist, around 1993, Jeff was featured in a number of songs from the soundtrack to the Biker Mice From Mars cartoon series.
A few years later, in 1996, JSS sang a few songs on the self-titled Hollywood Underground album. The project—spearheaded by Warrant's Erik Turner and Jerry Dixon—featured quite the "who's who" of musicians, including Tommy Thayer (Black 'n Blue, Kiss), Mark Ferrari (Keel, etc.), Jani Lane (Warrant), Bruce Naumann (Hericane Alice), and many more.
The '00s and Beyond
I must confess that I haven't yet explored Jeff Scott Soto's post-'90s activities quite as heavily. That being said, while I tend to be (somewhat stubbornly) stuck in the past, Soto's output into the new millennium seems to have remained both diverse and quite solid.
Jeff laid down vocals on a number of tracks for the fictitious band "Steel Dragon" on the soundtrack to the Tim "Ripper" Owens/Judas Priest-inspired film Rock Star in 2001. (Come on, don't front, some of these tunes are pretty killer!)
Originally intended to be a supergroup called Planet Us with Sammy Hagar on vocals, when the project dissipated, Journey guitarist Neal Schon ended up morphing the group into Soul SirkUS—fronted by JSS, and also featuring bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Black Star Riders, etc.) and Deen Castronovo (Cacophony, Bad English, Hardline, Journey, etc.) behind the kit. Their sole album, World Play, was released in 2005. (Jeff even fronted Journey for about six months from 2006 into 2007!)
Another "supergroup" of sorts, W.E.T. featured Work of Art guitarist Robert Säll, Eclipse guitarist/bassist/vocalist Erik Mårtensson, and of course Jeff Scott Soto. It may be a little too polished/pop-leaning for some, but for my money both albums—W.E.T. (1999) and Rise Up (2013)—are 10 times better than the band name or album art would suggest, and get a pretty firm thumbs up from my end.
JSS just released his latest album, Inside the Vertigo, with his new solo band (SOTO), which is more of a modern/"radio" metal act than some of his other solo efforts. Damage Control is probably my favorite of his solo outings to date, but every record I've checked out—namely 2002's Prism and 2004's Lost in the Translation—has some damn catchy/anthemic hard rock tunes in tow.
15+ bands/projects have already been covered above, and that doesn't even touch on Soto's work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra; backing vocal credits for Babylon A.D., Lita Ford, House of Lords, McQueen Street, Saigon Kick, Steelheart, Stryper, etc.; his duet with Ken Tamplin (he of Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy fame) on "The Story of Love," and so on.
Just think about that for a minute! Dude's a workhorse!
And there's more, of course! So much more! What about all the unreleased demo sessions with musicians ranging from Jeff Young (ex-Megadeth), to Vinnie Vincent, to Zakk Wylde? (Only a small portion of which have floated around online. Just imagine the box set these gems could yield!) Or the Keystone beer and Mr. Pibb commercials? (How can these not be on the internet!?) Or the fact that he once recorded some cover tunes for use in a Chippendales live show? (You can't make this stuff up!)
Whew. It's impressive. Really impressive. And a lot to take in. I'm still tracking down and fully digesting his extensive discography myself, so there are surely additional treasures to uncover!