A question that I always get asked is, “Which artists inspire you?”
That is such a tricky question because there are so many. It’s kinda like asking somebody what their favourite song is. So I’ve narrowed it down to 5 – and a bit.
5. BERRY GORDY
For those who may not know, Berry Gordy was the founder of the Motown record label. Coming from a middle-class family, Gordy had the determination and passion to make something of himself, and went on to create one of the highest earning African-American businesses. Aswell as being an artist, he is a businessman. When you are an artist/performer, you are self-employed, and ‘Gordy’ had such an incredible drive. He wrote so many hits that I adore within Motown, but some of his earlier material includes “Reet Petite” sung by Jackie Wilson, and “All I Could Do Was Cry” (one of my faves) written for Etta James. He is a conglomerate of so many other artist’s that I love, such as; Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5 (told you it would be a little more than 5 artists). Through the 60’s until now Motown isn’t just a record label, it’s an entire genre of its own. It’s amazing that this normal, regular guy started all of that.
4. LADY ELLA
Now this is a tricky one. I say Ella Fitzgerald because ultimately she was the ‘Queen Of Jazz.’ You cannot fault her tone, her improvisation and the scats. I like Ella because she has such a pure tone, however she would sing a slightly naughty song here and there, which to me reflects a down-to-earth, fun personality. But there are sooooooooo many female jazz singers that I admire. These are the women who taught me to sing. I listen to their tone, their inflections, their placement and the heart and soul that is bleeding through their voices. I basically, listen, mimic, and then use what sounds nice and comfortable with my voice. That’s what helped me grow and mature vocally. Now here comes the several name drops (5 artists was far-fetched anyway); I love the purity, but the sudden belts and growls of Dinah Washington, there’s a lot of light and shade to her voice. I love the weight and warmth of Sarah Vaughan. I love the rawness and raspiness of Billie Holiday. But all these powerful vocalists have something in common, and that is soul. Pretty, pitch-perfect voices mean nothing to me if there’s no soul or meaning there. I love jazz singers because they are NOT always perfect (I’m definitely NOT), but it’s how they use their voices and what they are trying to say through their songs. I’m sounding very deep here, but this follows on and ties in with my number 3…
3. AMY WINEHOUSE
I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t admire Amy. Forget the voice. She had the balls to create and bring back something that people had forgotten about. She was unchangeable and unique. She was a TRUE artist, her lyrics were so honest. She was only ever gonna tell the truth through her music, and nobody could change that. There were no airs or graces to her, she was herself and you couldn’t take your eyes off her. She’d go on stage wearing jeans and a vest, dirty shoes, smudged eye liner, matted hair extensions, a fag in her mouth and a drink in her hand but to me, despite all of that, she was still an absolute class act. And on top of that, she knew how to use her voice. She was just a really cool girl.
2. ELVIS PRESLEY
Elvis was the first singer I remember listening to. My dad always loved Elvis, my mum always loved Elvis, both my nan’s really LOVED Elvis. So I was brought up listening to Elvis. He was the first man I ever had the hots for, at the age of 5. His songs are so nostalgic to me, but I still love them today as much as I did then. So as you can see, I’m a fan of Elvis. However, the reason that he is an inspiration to me is because, once again, he knew how to use his voice. His voice was so warm and powerful. But it’s also his stage presence. Stage presence to me is so important. He absolutely owned the stage he was on, from the moves, to the way he drove the band. He had an unbelievable amount of charisma. Whenever I see him on a screen performing, I cannot take my eyes off of him. So yeah, that’s why I love Elvis.
(Drum roll for number 1 please)
Louis Prima. My love. ‘The King of Swing’. Thing is, I was brought up around Elvis, Motown and bits of jazz here and there because of my family, so I’ve always known and loved that kind of music through their influence. But until a few years ago, I never knew who Louis Prima was. One day I decided to watch ‘The Jungle Book’ because I hadn’t watched it since I was a kid and couldn’t remember much from it. I got to the ‘King of the Swingers’ scene with King Louie and the monkeys, and they start singing ‘I Wanna Be Like You.’ I was instantly in love with the husky voice of King Louie and had to ‘google’ who’s voice it was. That’s when I came across Louis Prima. Since then I have been in love with Louis Prima. An artist has never moved me so quickly before, he was just wonderful. His music was just fun, and that has MASSIVELY inspired the way I write. I love that New Orleans/Dixie/shuffle thing, and although I don’t strictly keep to that genre with my writing, it’s the element of fun that I like to keep a hold of. The way Louis Prima includes and interacts with the band, his ad-lib, the way he incorporates his Italian ethnicity, his incredible humour, and not mention his beautiful, raspy, effortless voice. He would sing the standards in his own, up-tempo way, but people also said that he could just come up with lyrics in seconds. He’d also do a lot of ‘call and response’ with either Keely or the band (usually in Italian). He was just so funny and I wish he was still around today. If I had to name 1 inspirational artist, it would most definitely be Louis Prima, which completely defeats the point of this post.
So when people ask (usually to make conversation) who I’m inspired by, I can never go into this much detail otherwise they’d wish they’d never asked. But if you were genuinely wondering who my biggest inspirations are, then I hope I’ve answered your question.
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