Apr 292010

It’s nothing dramatic, but check out Blood, Sweat & Tears‘ replacement singer (did you know someone replace the fantastically bad David Clayton Thomas, who was a replacement singer himself?) during the solos in this cover of Traffic‘s “Empty Pages.” The solo starts at 1:43, and you’ll catch the replacement singer doing the Half-Hearted Blinded by da Blooz move at the 2:06 mark. This pedestrian move is commonly employed by lead singers during instrumental breaks. It involves some pseudo-blind man head bobbing and swaying that quickly degenerates into the posture of a dude following a humorous conversation around a keg. If I were ever a lead singer without a guitar to holster, I fear I’d resort to some lame move like this one.

Typically the singer has at least three responsibilities to uphold during instrumental breaks: 1) direct the audience toward the soloist; 2) offer support and encouragement to the soloist, thereby actually cueing the audience to applaud the singer’s re-entry in the song; and 3) stay the hell out of the way of the musicians and their chords and effects boxes!

It’s fascinating to watch a singer who knows how to make something distinctive of those long instrumental breaks. David Thomas of Pere Ubu has been known to employ the age-old Hat Wave technique to cool off his soloing guitarist’s axe. A little touch of the singer’s showmanship goes a long way during a long instrumental break.

When I saw Yes, tiny Jon Anderson had to fill long stretches doing nothing more than banging an inaudible tambourine and letting his dashiki flow to the music. His movements are extremely awkward but sincere, as you’ll see in the background of the instrumental break in “Roundabout” (beginning at the 5:27 mark). Devoid of drama, the Anderson, as I’ll call this move, projects confidence and keeps the singer front-and-center, commanding his band through challenging instrumental passages. It’s a subtly effective approach.

So what things that singers do during long solos impress you? For future discussions, is there a term that can be given to these moves? Beside the three I listed, what other responsibilities might a singer have during his musical breaks? What moves should a singer avoid during instrumental breaks?

I look forward to your thoughts.


  12 Responses to “Things Singers Do During Long Solos”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    A few more examples:

    Robert Plant employs the Anderson with inaudible tambourine shaking beginning at the 6-minute mark. I like how the roadies has the tambourine ready for him as Page launches into his solo.

    One of the underrated developments of The Who’s move into extended instrumental passages beginning with Tommy is Roger Daltrey’s development of the ‘Fro & the Fringe. Seen here, at Woodstock, Daltrey has transformed his Look to the point that his Look itself is capable of jamming along with his bandmates. As an added, unnecessary measure, he inaudibly shakes TWO tambourines. Rob Tyner of MC5 would also use his ‘fro to carry its own instrumental weight.

  2. While I generally like “The Anderson” because it keeps the singer occupied and not dancing like Elaine on that Seinfeld episode, the best thing for the front man/woman to do is get the hell out of the way. Go give some love to the drummer, sneer at the audience, but do not take the spotlight away from the solo. There are tons of rawk kids who live for the lead.

    Two examples. First, the great Bon Scott shows what TO DO :

    Second, that new guy in the same band showing what NOT to do (air guitar is out dude):

  3. A special mention should go to Bon Scott for carrying Angus around on his shoulders. Even though Angus doesn’t weigh much, he seems like he squirms a lot so that has to be kind of tricky.

    My favorite, though, is Ronnie Hawkins using his hat to fan Robbie Robertson’s fingers during Who Do You Love in the Last Waltz (go to 1:37 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMG8VeF-EPg).

    While some might say that the Hawk was just doing this to direct the audience toward the soloist, or, more cynically, to offer faux support, while all the while hoping to hog up more of the spotlight by means of his shameless mugging, I suggest that the Hawk was actually performing the genuinely selfless act of supporting his band mate by keeping his fingers cool so that said band mate could continue to play his smoking leads.

    In Levon Helm’s book, he mentions that the Hawk also did a thing called the Camel Walk while they were playing. I’d like to see that.

    As an aside, I really like Traffic’s version of Empty Pages. Add this version of the song to the long list of things that I hate about Blood Sweat and Tears. Do they have any redeeming qualities aside from the slightly amusing, interesting-in-a-train-wreck kind of way thing? I dislike this particular branch of the rock tree in general and BS&T in particular.

  4. misterioso

    God love Blood, Sweat & Tears, they were a marvel of consistency: they bore me to tears no matter who the lead singer is.

    Mod has already hit on it, but Daltrey was a master and pioneer of this art, what with the fringe and the ‘fro and the tambourine and of course, the mic swinging. I always thought the mic swinging was silly until I saw it live.

    Back in the day, Dylan used to play great-looking inaudible guitar solos when his lead guitarist was uncorking one. Later, in the 90s, he took to playing not-so-great but sometimes very cool and effective solos, sometimes when his lead guitarist was uncorking one, and sometimes instead of his lead guitarist uncorking one.

    I don’t have time to dig into youtube now for evidence, but my recollection is that Jim Morrison would stand there looking bored when Krieger or Manzarek would solo. Bored in a cool way, of course.

  5. Worst move of all time is looking at your wristwatch.

    The Faces toured with the bartender on stage, so sauntering over to the bar to refresh your drink is a sweet move.

    Moving to the front of the stage and pointing out which women in the crowd you want your tour crew to ask back stage works well too.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Can’t think of a clip to demonstrate, but I know there are many rockin’ lead vocalists who take the opportunity to point the mic — at the end of a mic stand is best — at the guitar as it’s being solo’ed upon. I find this a classy gesture.

    Mind you, a good old-fashioned dance routine is okay, too — gives those not “into solos” something to watch while the fingers fly.

  7. BigSteve

    When I saw Leonard Cohen in concert last year his fedora was his main prop. During solos he would take the hat off, hold it over his heart, and just stand and listen to what was being played. At the end of the solo he would kind of bow to the instrumentalist before putting the hat back on, kind of like a benediction. It sounds corny, but it was very effective stagecraft.

  8. BigSteve

    Are there any other guitarists who hold their guitars as high up against their chests as Steve Howe? The size of that hollow-body guitar he plays emphasizes the carriage, but the combination really limits his ability to wear a cape, which some of his bandmates take full advantage of.

  9. I enjoy seeing a singer strap on an un-miked acoustic guitar and strum along. I think you have an earlier thread with photos of Jagger, Daltrey, Bono demonstrating the “all join in ’round the campfire” spirit.

    Of course, if you are Elvis you can holster, swing your cape and bust out some ka-ra-te moves simultaneously.

  10. “Devoid of drama, the Anderson, as I’ll call this move…”

    Was the use of the word “drama” accidental or intentional, i.e., implying that there is an alternate version of this move (w/o dashiki, w/ goofy glasses) called The Horn?

  11. Mr. Moderator

    I hadn’t thought of that, noonetwisting, but you may be onto something! We’ll have to break down some video of the Horn-led Yes and see how he managed those musical interludes.

  12. I was impressed with AC/DC last year when Angus did his schtick, compete with hydrolic lift and confetti, that the entire band stayed on stage. Malcolm and Cliff just leaned on their amps and Brian sat over to the side. Normally, the band leaves the stage to get recharged and come back on for the end of the solo, but not these dudes. They never left the stage for the entire show, not one of them.


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