Steve Earle’s opinion on what makes a singer good

I read an interview in which folk rocker Steve Earle called Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello “great singers.” Neither one of them had voices that could be considered good conventionally. So I asked him to expand on his comment. Why did he think Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan–whose nasal, shrill voice I likened to the worst aspects of my own voice–were great singers?

“They sell songs. They are good singers for the same reason that Ray Charles is a good singer and Hank Williams was a great singer. People that said Bob Dylan couldn’t sing in the early 60s were comparing him to Perry Como or something. It is an archaic idea to say that Bob Dylan is not a good singer,” said Earle. “I think it’s laughable at this point.”

“I don’t think people realize how much work goes into singing,” I replied.

“You have to work with the equipment that you are given,” said Earle. “But a voice isn’t what being a great singer is.”

So then, as long as I work diligently with the voice I have I have a shot at being a great singer no matter what the voice I was born with sounds like?


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in Bob Dylan, interview, Steve Earle and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Steve Earle’s opinion on what makes a singer good

  1. Rob Chojnacki says:

    Being a singer, I always find myself in a conversation about which singer is better than which singer and which singer is worse than which singer and who gave that guy a record deal. Why do I absolutely adore Kurt Cobain and fully despise Eddie Vedder, and why does Leonard Cohen do wonders to my ears while Bob Dylan turns them off completely?

    I can’t remember when it was that I found this analogy, but it’s quite apropos: Think of singers as spices.

    For the most part I can’t stand cumin. But maybe cumin rocks your world. And while I can’t stand cumin in most circumstances, it’s critical in some recipes that I thoroughly enjoy. In the same way, rarely do I put “Bon Scott” and “fan” in the same sentence. Almost never, in fact. But once in a while I am in the damn mood for an AC/DC song.

    No two people enjoy the same regalia of singers. For every Paul McCartney fan who hates Mick Jagger, there is a Mick Jagger fan who hates Paul McCartney, very much the same way that there are people who love chinese food and veer away from italian food and vise versa. You love Bono and Geddy Lee. I dig U2 but wouldn’t listen to Rush if my life depended on it.

    You’ve been telling your friend for ages that Thom Yorke is the best singer ever, but can’t for the life of you understand why your friend puts dill in all his dishes.

    Singers are the spice to your ears, each has their own distinct way of tickling your drums and emotions. And while not everyone enjoys escargot and Bjork, there are many who could consume pepperoni pizza and Mariah Carey every day of the week.

    Buyer beware though: Not every herb with a flavor is a spice, and not every person with a voice is a singer. Some really are just bad.

  2. Anthony says:

    I think that photo has been doctored. Anyway, I’ve grown accustomed to Dylan’s voice. Not to mention Leondard Cohen – who also soothes me.

    I have heard of Steve Earle, but I can’t say that I’ve ever heard his voice.

  3. genemyers says:

    Actually, there is a music video, a Dylan music video, from the 60s where he holds signs and that is truly one of them… As far as that actual photo, I can’t say…

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