An original voice is the most important element of a country singer. Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson…they all sound like themselves. You can hear their records and identify them immediately.

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By contrast, many new country singers have a cliche “nasal twang.” It’s like they fell out of a nasal twang factory, each model identical to the previous. That’s one reason that many people have contempt for country music. They sense the lack of originality, the attempt to copy for commercial purposes.

The voice is the one “instrument” that lends itself to originality. Each person has a unique tone, a singular “thumbprint.” In that way, the voice is more dynamic than the guitar. It’s far more difficult to create an original sound on the guitar, and many players are applauded at simply having a good “tone” (as opposed to a unique one). So when a singer tries to sound like someone else, he (or she) is negating a gift from God.

A singer should try to be himself. His days of childlike imitation are over—he should have battle scars by now. He should have a wealth of knowledge, gained from a thousand fights inside a Coliseum. He should take that wisdom and weave it into his music. That’s the goal.  A simple question: Has he learned anything or not? The answer must be yes, or else he’s not fit to sing into a microphone.

Great men strive for originality; they understand that they have been “called upon” to bring their talents to the earth, and they don’t settle for cheap imitation.

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2 thoughts on “What Makes a Country Singer Great?

  1. THIS.

    Originality of voice and personality is essential. I don’t know if you remember, Styles, but on the late lamented QED I had an article comparing Bryan Adams and Sting to Luciano Pavarotti — the latter a professional singer, the formers really just pop-singing amateurs.

    YET I GAVE THE NOD TO “the amateurs” because Luciano had no character, despite his Technical Virtuosity. So we are in sync on this one.

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