Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Voice of the American Western

It was with great, great sorrow that I read of the passing of the legendary singer Frankie Laine. I grew up listening to his album "Hell Bent For Leather". I have it on my I-pod and it may be that I've listened to it more times than I've listened to any other album in my collection. It was a part of my childhood. One of the albums I just about wore out.

Why was I so in love with theses songs and this voice? I've thought about it often. I think it was because it was one of the very rare times that a persons voice was perfectly suited to a particular style of music. You have to understand, Laine was able to sing many styles, and sing them well. His popularity rivaled that of his contemporaries. He charted and unbelievable amount of hit songs. His wikipedia article sums it up very well;
His 1946 recording of "That's My Desire" remains a landmark record signalling the end of both the dominance of the big bands and the crooning styles favored by contemporaries Dick Haymes and Frank Sinatra. Often called the first of the blue-eyed soul singers, Laine's style cleared the way for many artists who arose in the late 40s and early 50s, including Kay Starr, Tony Bennett, Johnnie Ray and Elvis Presley (who was initially described by critics as "a cross between Johnnie Ray and Frankie Laine").
What was it about his voice that made it the perfect voice to croon a western saga. There was nothing country-western about his voice, as is evidenced by comparing his recording of, "Do Not Forsake Me" the High Noon theme with the original Tex Ritter recording. I think it was a combination of a slight rough sound combined with his unique phrasing and power that made his voice and "western ballad" a match made in heaven. Do yourself a favor and find a copy of "Hell Bent For Leather", put on the headphones and sit back and enjoy. Then go and explore so many of the other recordings that earned him the nicknames America's Number One Song Stylist, and Old Leather Lungs. Frankie may be gone, but his unique voice will live forever.

1 comment:

Ken Nelson said...

Great tribute, Kevin. He's up there with Gil Favor, at the end of a long hard trail drive.