Beth Hart picks her 10 favourite singers of all time
8th Apr 2013 | 14:20
Beth Hart names her 10 favorite singers of all time
Very few singers can hold their own, and shine even, when pitted alongside Jeff Beck. But that's just what singer Beth Hart did when she performed with the guitar god last December at the2012 Kennedy Center Honor to blues great Buddy Guy.
Hart and Beck served up a scorching version of I'd Rather Go Blind, written by Ellington Jordan and first recorded by Etta James, and the recording appears on Hart's dynamic new album, Bang Bang Boom Boom. Also included is Hart collaboration with guitar star Joe Bonamassa on the soulful show-stopper There In Your Heart (the two previously paired on the 2011 duet LP, Don't Explain).
Hart's reputation as a volcanic blues, rock, soul and gospel singer has been on the rise since the early '90s, but on the Kevin Shirley-produced Bang Bang Boom Boom (he also helmed Don't Explain), she leapfrogs to the head of the class. “I’m pretty hard on myself," Hart admits. "I can never get my voice to sound like my heroes. On this new record, though, I get pretty close, and that’s because of Kevin’s production, along with his belief in my abilities as a singer and writer."
On the subject of heroes, we sat down with Hart to ask her about the singers she admires. On the following pages, she lists and discusses the 10 vocalists that she says have influenced her the most (arranged alphabetically).
Check out the video below of Hart performing Bang Bang Boom Boom from At: Guitar Center With Nic Harcourt. To hear more, click here.
“Of all the opera singers I've heard, she's the most phenomenal. Her style of soprano is very rich and dark, and she brought such drama to all of her performances.
“Quite a few of the things that she would do were in Italian, which is not my favorite in terms of opera – I prefer German – but she brought such passion and energy to everything she sang. She made you believe. I just love listening to her. To me, she’s one of the greatest ever.”
“There’s a wide range in the pitch to notes. Take the note C – there’s a huge amount of variances. You have the low part of C, the middle part, the high part and all the gray areas in-between. They did a test on Ella Fitzgerald records, and every time she hit the note C, she was spot on, right down in the middle. She was tuned like a Yamaha piano.
“Beyond technical ability, there was such class in her voice, kind of like Frank Sinatra’s. She could sing anything, anytime, anywhere. Her scatting was brilliant, but so was everything she did. Tremendous, unique style."
“She was this amazingly gifted human being who had all of her innocence stolen from her. She died at such a young age – it’s truly heartbreaking. Yet, through it all, she was able to somehow hold on to the dream of her innocence, and that’s what she put into the songs she sang.
“To me, she could have been a pop rocker or a metal singer – if the times were different, of course. All of the anger that she must have had inside of her would have served her well. But she still put her heart into everything she did, and I don’t even know how you can have a heart left after going through so much.
“When I hear Billie Holiday, I think of class and strength. It’s the kind of strength where you have no reason to ever be vulnerable to anybody ever again, but you’re vulnerable anyway.”
“My God, Etta James! The thing that I love so much about her is, not only could she do everything – rock, blues, jazz, country, you name it – but she did it all with authority and authenticity. You believed her because she believed what she was singing. She made you think that she was the author of the songs.
“She had so much power – it was like a growl almost – but she could bring it down to a whisper. And no matter how she sang, wherever she was in a song, she was absolutely captivating. She’s probably my favorite singer of all time.”
“A Jamaican accent with English words – how can you not love that? Bob Marley was like a preacher to me. You would go Bob to learn things – to learn about God, how to love other people, how to love yourself.
“There’s so many people who will tell you that if you try to change the world, you can’t; you’ll be shot down. But Bob told you that if you held on to God or to love, there was no kind of change you couldn’t affect. Bob was the call for anybody who was lost in the dark. His singing could leave you feeling enriched and empowered. It still does.”
“I love Ozzy Osbourne. I love him, I love him, I love him! I’m a fan of his solo work, but it’s his singing with Black Sabbath that floors me to no end. He’s very unique in hard rock in that I don’t hear blues in his voice. That’s not a criticism at all, because I hear this very strange, dissonant sound in his singing that’s unlike anything that anybody has ever done. People have tried to copy Ozzy, but he’s an original.
“He’s a great phraser, as well. The way he places words, the way he draws things out – again, that’s his own thing. I also love the way that he can go from sounding so wicked and evil to this almost gentle kind of crooning. He really knows how to tell a story with his voice.”
“What a badass. Otis always makes me cry. I remember when I first heard him sing I’ve Been Loving You, I felt as thought I’d just been shot in the stomach. I was in pain. How can somebody make their voice sound like the way my heart hurts?
“Even though I don’t think I knew what it was like to be in love the first time I heard him, I knew that I loved music. His singing felt like my love of music. It broke my heart.
“Another thing I love about Otis Redding is the rhythm in his voice. It’s like he’s a drummer built inside a singer. Before there were rappers, he was there, and he had that same kind of sensibility in his soul, and it came out in his phrasing. He knew where to put each word. And his songwriting was extraordinary, too.”
“The best. Unbelievable. You don’t even have to say why he’s so great, all you have to say is ‘Frank.’ He’s the king.
“I never bought his records, but I would hear my mother playing them, or I'd see him on TV specials. Somehow, you always wound up listening to Frank. You can’t escape him, which is fine because he’s so incredible.
“His phrasing is something that’s all his own. He inhabits a song. In his phrasing, he shows you what’s inside of him, what’s important to him. The lyrics were meant a lot to him, so he made sure you heard every word. He respected the songwriters, and he gave his best to their work.”
“I adore her. Although her singing on the Back To Black record is great, it’s what she did on Frank, which she made when she was still in her teens, that really blows me. She was one of the great, great geniuses of our time.
“It’s horrible that she died. I still can’t listen to her music without crying. But she just had it, the gift. Her talent was so beyond what most people know. The jazz stuff that she did? It’s ridiculous that a 17-year-old girl could reach that far. A 45-year-old singer couldn’t do it, let alone a teenager.”
“When I hear Neil Young sing, it reminds me of a little boy crying. I know that sounds like something sad, but it’s not to me, because you can’t cry unless you have some hope that things can be better.
“Neil can put you in a dream state with his voice. He’s a brilliant writer, guitar player and everything else he does, but his singing is as unique as it gets.”