Who's That Singer?
Allow me to shed some light on singers you may have heard but don't know by name...
1) Mike Harrison, Spooky Tooth, The Hamburg Blues Band. Who else would I put first but rock's fallen angel? Simply put, Harrison has an astounding, captivating, frightening and expressive voice that can be angelically smooth and buttery one moment and as devilishly grainy as high grade sandpaper the next. He can take any song and make it sound as if he's lived the lyrics, a neat trick for someone who isn't a composer. Check out Mike with Spooky Tooth singing "I am the Walrus" ("The Last Puff"),"Moriah" and "Holy Water" (both from "You Broke My Heart...So I Busted Your Jaw").
2) Jim Capaldi, Traffic. It's tough to be a great singer in a band that has Steve Winwood, one rock's most noted front-men. As a result, Capaldi only checked in with three leads during his Traffic years, but two were on "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys;" the tongue-in-cheek "Light Up Or leave Me Alone" and the reggae rum-shaker "Rock N' Roll Stew." Through a dozen solo L.P.s, Gentleman Jim displayed a knack for R&B and a talent for touching torch songs. Check out these tunes from Jim's solo efforts: "Eve" ("Oh How We Danced"), "The Game of Love" ("The Contender") and "Back at My Place" ("Fierce Heart").
3) Richard Manuel, The Band. Manuel's life-of-the-party lifestyle belied his deeply troubled psyche, but the hurt came through in his wounded vocals. As the saying goes, he sang with a tear in his voice. Check out: "Whispering Pines" (from "The Band" album), "Sleeping" ("Stagefright") and the live version of "King Harvest (Has Surely Come") from "Rock of Ages."
4) Miller Anderson, Keef Hartley Band, Hemlock, Dog Soldier, Savoy Brown, The Dukes, T. Rex, Spencer Davis Group, others. Talk about an itinerant musician! Miller is an ace guitarist with a husky, confident range, Miller was made to wail the blues. Check out Miller's solo efforts "Bright City" (from the album of the same name) and "Across the Borderline" (from "Celtic Moon"), plus "Believe in You" from the Keef Hartley Band's "Battle of Northwest Six."
5) James Dewar, Robin Trower Band. Calling Dewar a white soul singer only covers part of his abilities. Mix Dewar's wooly vocals with Trower's Hendrixy psych guitar and you've got magic. Three of Jim's best bits with Trower are the title track from "Victims of the Fury," "It's For You" ("Caravan to Midnight") and "The Fool and Me" ("Bridge of Sighs").
6) Chris Youlden, Savoy Brown. Youlden had a froggy, smoky delivery that sounded like Edward G. Robinson's dialogue set to music. Another bloke steeped in the blues with a soul man's sense of timing and the lyrical ammunition of a poet. Check out : "Made Up My Mind" and "I'm Tired" from Savoy Brown's "A Step Further" album and Chris' solo song "A Chink of Sanity" from "Nowhere Road."
7) Rod Evans, Deep Purple, Captain Beyond. Purple has had three main vocalists: screecher Ian Gillan, funky David Coverdale (well, he was funky with them) and Evans. He was a true singer with a steady, warm pitch and a deeply romantic tone. Too bad his career was cut short by a lawsuit brought against him by the other members for $600,000 plus that specified he couldn't perform the group's material. Come back to the mike, Rod, all is forgiven. Check out: "Anthem" ("The Book of Taliseyn") and "Hush" ("Shades of Deep Purple") from Rod's days with Deep Purple, and "Sufficiently Breathless" from his tenure with Captain Beyond.
8) Terry Kath, Chicago. Jimi Hendrix was seldom in awe of anyone, but he was very impressed with the way Chicago's lead stringman attacked his guitar. He also assaulted the mike with his rich bellow of a voice and could scream like a man on fire. If Kath hadn't been a fan of Russian Roulette, Chicago might still be a viable band today. Check out: "Jenny" (Chicago VI), "Loneliness is Just a Word" (Chicago III) and "Make Me Smile" (Chicago II).
9) Danny Kirwan, Fleetwood Mac. He was England's Richard Manuel, and one of Fleetwood Mac's most overlooked and skilled guitarists. Kirwan's gentle, quiet vocals reflected his inner turmoil or his boyish charm. It's been said he cried when he played and sang, and you can hear it in his almost hesitant but thoughtful approach. Check out "Sometimes" and "Woman of a Thousand Years" from the Mac's "Future Games." and "Dust," from the group's "Bare Trees" album.
10) David Ruffin, The Temptations. "Ruff" (as he was known) was perpetually late to gigs, an egomaniac and a coke Hoover. There was also an unconfirmed rumor he used Tammi Terrell for a punching bag, causing the brain tumor that eventually killed her. Despite his unforgivable faults, Ruff was the definition of raw emotion and a true soul singer. When he went solo, Ruffin couldn't figure out why he couldn't produce the same raspy cry he manufactured for the Temps hits. Turns out the Tempts producers had Ruffin sing a few octaves above his normal tenor range to make him strain, creating his distinctive desperate vocal cry. Check out: "All I Need" (with the Temptations) and Ruff's solo songs "Take Me Clear From Here" ("Rock and Roll is Here to Stay") and "My Whole World Ended" (from the album of the same name).
Five Who Need to Back Away From the Microphone...
1) Bob Dylan. Even Bob says he can't sing, so what does that tell you? Dylan was an accomplished songwriter early in his career, and I'll also give him props for employing a childhood friend of mine in his band, but when he opens his mouth, it's a hard rain that's gonna fall.
2) Tom Waits. Waits inhabits the skid row characters he writes about, growling, yelling, grunting and snotting his way through his tales of whine and roses. It's called singing Tom, not acting and I can't "waits" for you to stop.
3) Geddy Lee, Rush. This Canadian goose sounds like Olive Oyl being strangled by Bluto. Take off to the great white north, giddy.
4) Lou Reed. Surly Lou always sounds sleepy and bored. His monotoned mumbling has the same effect on audiences.
5) Bruce Springsteen. Like Dylan, Bruce the Moose is a capable songwriter, but sings as if he needs a healthy dose of Ex-Lax, making all of his Jersey clap trap sound, ahem, forced.