“He was the real Voice Of Rock. Warm, rich, sonorous, resonant, deeply soulful”: James Dewar was the greatest rock vocalist you’ve probably never heard of

James Dewar with the Robin Trower band in 1974
James Dewar (right) with Robin Trower (centre) and Bill Lordan (left) (Image credit: Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

It’s often said (and probably true) that most people can become proficient on a musical instrument if they are prepared to put in the time, effort and sweat. But to become even a decent singer you first have to be born with at least a decent voice.

James ‘Jimmy’ Dewar must have been come into this world with a truly extraordinary one, because he possessed one of the greatest rock voices of them all – arguably the greatest. Yet when was the last time you saw the slightly built Scot’s name in a list of The Greatest Singers Ever? Somehow, he has simply got lost – or, maybe it’s better to think, simply mislaid. But Jimmy Dewar to many of his peers, and they’ll tell you what a tremendous voice he had.

Dewar was the real Voice of Rock. Warm, rich, sonorous, resonant, deeply soulful… his was what many people would categorise as the classic rock voice. The closest that springs to mind is Paul Rodgers, but Dewar’s range, timbre and an achingly glorious deep vibrato put him in a class of his own.

Like many musicians of his time, he travelled a long and meandering musical career path. It began in the early 60s in Glasgow band The Gleneagles. He was in Lulu And The Luvvers. Along the way he played bass and was one of the singers (alongside Maggie Bell) in highly rated British blues band Stone The Crows (discovered as Power by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, who then renamed them) in the late 60s and early 70s, and released an album of his own, Stumbledown Romancer.

But nowhere was Dewar’s voice better, or better showcased, than on the albums he recorded as vocalist and bassist (he was no slouch at that, either) with guitarist Robin Trower in the 70s. Listen in particular to his singing on choice tracks from Twice Removed From Yesterday (Daydream, Rock Me Baby), Bridge Of Sighs (Day Of The Eagle, About To Begin, Lady Love) and For Earth Below (Alethea, For Earth Below). Close your eyes as you do it, and feel the neck hairs stand on end and your spine tingle. And if they don’t, you’d better check your pulse,

Jimmy Dewar died of pneumonia in May 2002, aged 59. Like the loss of Hendrix, Paul Kossoff, Janis Joplin and so many more, it’s a great tragedy that such a wonderful innate talent is no longer with us,. Thankfully, however, his voice will always be.

Originally published in Classic Rock issue 90

Paul Henderson

Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.