Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and more on Bob Dylan – American Songwriter

American Songwriter – Taken from Paul Zollo’s interviews for SongTalk.

Neil Young: Dylan was a great influence on me. I admire his work very much. Especially his newest work.

Randy Newman: Dylan at his best is great.

Leonard Cohen: At a certain point, when the Jews were first commanded to raise an altar, the commandment was on unhewn stone. Apparently, the god that wanted that particular altar didn’t want slick, didn’t want smooth. He wanted an unhewn stone placed on another unhewn stone. Maybe you then go looking for stones that fit. …Now I think that Dylan has lines, hundreds of great lines, that have the feel of unhewn stone. But they really fit in there. But they’re not smoothed out. It’s inspired but not polished. That is not to say he doesn’t have lyrics of great polish. That kind of genius can manifest all the forms and all the styles.

Bob Dylan

Paul Simon: Bob Dylan is like the most mysterious of all the people of our generation. He’s sort of impenetrable, really. I’m trying to remember if there is anyone else besides Bob Dylan who could have influenced me [to start writing songs like “The Sound of Silence”], but I really can’t imagine that there was. It might not have been Dylan directly but it was the folk scene of Bleeker and MacDougal. But Dylan was so dominant a force in it that in a way you can attribute it to him.

Art Garfunkel: To the extreme, Dylan was the coolest thing in the country. Who he was and how different and bold his lyrics were, and his look; that was the closest thing the record business had to James Dean. If you look at the early Dylan on his album covers, you see a real charismatic star of a kid.

I remember when The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan came out. I was in Berkeley. I was a carpenter. And I was singing in clubs as well as doing carpentry during the day. And I saw in the record store around early September the new album. And there’s Dylan in the village walking in the snow. The camera’s got an upward angle on him and he’s with his girlfriend. And I knew I had to try to make a record. That was such a great place to be.

P.F. Sloan: Dylan was almost too exciting to listen to at first. I felt the electricity go up my spine. Listening to the first Dylan albums to me was almost like being in church. A very enlightening church service that opened my consciousness. It was an endless consciousness; infinity’s consciousness of love towards mankind. I think he opened up the consciousness of 90% of he people who listened to him.

When John Lennon heard [my song] “Eve of Destruction,” he said, “That’s a piece of rubbish. That’s just some kid imitating Bob Dylan.” Later when I met Dylan, he was real encouraging, like a brother to me. He said, “I know where you’re coming from.”

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

Joan Baez: His songs were just the best. I was already comfortable with protest songs. But with Dylan’s songs it was “Aha!” Because they’re so good. After he wrote those images, thousands of young kids scribbling on their pads tried to duplicate that and nobody’s been able to.

People say to me that if I hadn’t discovered Bob, people wouldn’t have heard of him. People would have heard of him.In those days, since he was such a grubby little thing, people needed to have him sanctioned before they would listen. So yeah, I’m happy that I did that.

He’s influenced every songwriter in rock and roll and folk. And whether or not he was involved in social action, he wrote this artillery for us.”

Roger McGuinn: The first time I heard Dylan was in Greenwich Village at Folk City. He had just come to New York from the west coast. He had only a couple of songs that he had written himself. Mostly he was doing Woody Guthrie songs.

I remember the little girls used to like him a lot. They’d kind of squeal when he got onstage and get all excited. I didn’t have any idea that he’d get as big as he did. But he was really good.

Dylan’s road manager sent our manager a demo of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with Dylan and Jack Elliot singing it. Jack was a little bit out of tune. Our manager was sure it was a hit. So we listened to this, this 2/4 four or five verse song, about eight minutes long. I didn’t think it was commercial. I thought it was soft and ballad-like. It didn’t have any punch to it. But we punched it up.

We auditioned for who would get the lead vocal and I got it.

Gerry Goffin: My favorite writer is Bob Dylan. It will always be Bob Dylan. I always put him at a level way above the average listener. He sort of blew my mind. When I first started listening to his records, I went nuts. I said, “Nobody ever told me you had to write poetry.”

Rodney Crowell: I’m an intense Dylan fan. I love Infidels. I think it’s one of the most remarkably written albums I’ve ever heard. The language in that record is brilliant, it’s beautiful. That’s really inspired writing.

Read more: 30 days of Dylan

Bob Dylan
Photo © Elliott Landy/www.LandyVision.com

The Art of Singing – Discovering and Developing Your True Voice (Vocal Instruction) [Paperback]

Only 8 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.

Author: Jennifer Hamady

The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice is a new, groundbreaking book about the psychology of singing. Using the voice as a medium, author Jennifer Hamady explores how fear, poor learning habits, preconceived notions, and an unhealthy mindset can and do often get in the way of optimal musical and personal performance. With practical advice for releasing mental and physical tensions, establishing confidence and vocal strength, and embracing personal and musical optimism and wonder, Jennifer offers musicians and non-musicians alike a path toward truly joyful self-expression. The book includes a chapter dedicated to vocal technique, as well as a CD, narrated by Jennifer herself, with exercises, tips, and suggestions for optimal vocal development.

To order from Amazon click HERE

Capturing the Magic In Your Rough Recordings – American Songwriter

Bob Dylan

August 17th, 2012

Songwriting, for most of us, is a tremendously intimate experience. The magical inklings of lyrics and melodies spring to life in our minds, getting polished and reworked until they’re ready to be shared with the world.

Unfortunately, the delivery is often a painful one. The way we imagine our musical creations rarely seems to translate quite right to our rough recordings. Something often gets lost, or altogether altered. This is all the more true when we ask other people– session players and certainly singers– to give voice to our work.

Are these ‘mistranslations’ inevitable? What is the best way to get our songs out there in the world as we feel them in our hearts and hear them in our heads?

The first part of the answer lies in how you initially express and share your song. This is generally in the form of a rough demo, the recording of which is often a traumatic experience for most non-singing songwriters I know. Desperate to just get it down, they shift out of the inspired mindset in which they created the song and– apologizing all the way– clinically eek out each note and phrase.

While this may seem like the right approach to capturing and conveying accuracy, it’s one of the worst things you can do. The lyrics and melody are, after all, only one aspect of the song. And contrary to popular opinion, they’re in fact the easiest to teach and learn. The magic, on the other hand– that intangible, inexplicable ‘feel’– is not.

As both background and explanation, let’s look at how a song is aurally learned. Consciously, the mind– via the prefrontal cortex– attempts to intellectually organize and memorize lyrics, melody, and rhythm. Unconsciously, the mirror neuron system– what allows us to imitate, among other things– processes the subtleties and nuance of the way the singer is breathing and singing. Finally, if the performance is perceived as a moving one, it engages and registers in the basal ganglia and amygdala– the emotion centers of our brain. Put together, the result is technical accuracy, internalized inflection, and emotional conviction.

Unfortunately, if you sing your scratch demo as perfectly as possible, neglecting the passion and emotion, your demo singer will likely miss them too. In spite of what he or she might otherwise choose to do, the mind and muscle memory will inevitably record and reproduce your sterile version of the song.

The good news is that ‘demo lock’ can be as positive as it can negative. It is therefore your job as the songwriter, no matter how well or badly you think you sing, to do your best to get your and the song’s soul onto your rough recording. Doing so will ensure that the singer’s emotional memory is activated to capture and repeat it. The intellect can then be called upon as needed to make any conscious alterations to notes, lyrics, timing, or phrasing.

Consider Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around or Joni Mitchell’s 2000 album Both Sides, Now. With the feel in their later years trumping ‘correct’ and technically enviable singing, the mind and body of the listener can focus on the heart of these songs. Have singers learn “Case Of You” or “Hurt” from these records as opposed to the originals, and you’ll be blown away by the difference in not only their interpretation, but their musical and technical accuracy as well.

It also helps, when possible, to have the scratch vocal performed by someone of the opposite sex of your demo singer, or at least, someone with a very different kind of voice. This will further prevent the conscious mind from trying to technically and tonally ‘match’ the sound of the singer’s voice, shifting the focus to the embodiment of the song’s essence and message.

I’d also like to address the structure of the demo session itself. Most of us on both the singer and songwriter sides of the aisle are used to a 2-3 hour, one-shot deal. The song is played, a key is picked; the tune is learned and performed. That’s a lot of work– on a lot of levels– for a couple of hours. The pros can definitely do it, but I think there’s a way to make the process even more relaxed and effective for everyone involved.

To begin, I recommend that songwriters provide singers with their scratch demos a few days or a week before the session. This gives them a chance to learn the song in their own safe space. Without the pressure to immediately perform, the intellect and body tend to relax, helping to ensure a better initial learning. If you’re uncomfortable with such a hands-off approach, a quick phone check-in will ensure that your singer’s on the right track.

Another trick I use– albeit perhaps unconventional– is to recommend initially learning in silence. Generally, singers start ‘faking through’ a song as soon as they hear it. The problem with this approach is that muscle memory is unable to tell the difference between ‘learning’ and ‘singing’. Two or three times of half-singing through a piece, and the voice and body are well on their way to making unsupported associations that are difficult to overcome when it’s performance time, even for the pros.

By learning the song through listening however, both the emotional and technical cues can be processed and memorized, ensuring an optimal initial physical engagement. You may have to pay your singers a bit more for this ‘advance work’, but I assure you that the investment will be well worth it. Not only will you have a more confident and relaxed vocalist in the booth, your session will likely go much faster and more smoothly.

Just as your songs come from the heart, so from there should they be initially expressed, learned, and recorded. Stay connected and committed to your emotional conviction at all times, and the soul of your songs will always come through.

* * * *

Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Based in New York City, Jennifer works in private practice with musicians and non-musicians alike to discover, develop, and confidently release their best personal, professional, and performance voices. Her clients include Grammy, CMA, Emmy, and Tony award-winners, as well as corporate clients across a wide array of industries. Jennifer’s insights and experiences have been captured in her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance. She also writes regularly for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

American Songwriter
Jennifer Hamady