Seger and Bix

by Laura Demilio

I think Bix was moving back.

Well, I don't know, those quasi-falsetto guys -- okay, it was more a kind of counter tenor way of singing because it was the style of the 1920's, but frankly I'd almost rather hear the sometimes pretty bad vocals of Frank Trumbauer or Hoagy Charmichael. Sorry, those are NOT good voices. Blame it on my being an opera buff, I guess, or really enjoying the mellow tones of Whiteman-era Bing and being spoiled by it.

Seger didn't have a bad voice, just a really, really bland one, like putting too much water in the vanilla pudding mix or something.

Somehow, I like that rough raunchy grown-high-school-kid sounding voice on that later Wolverines' When My Sugar Walks Down the Street. It's not a pretty voice but there's something about the energy in the way it's put across, a wild youth who's gonna chase girls and enjoy jazz, damnit, and thinks the teacher standing in front of the classroom is a bore, as well as parents, preachers, and all the other authorities who try to tell him what to do. All of that somehow comes across in that belligerent voice about birdies going tweet, tweet, tweet. Or when the NORK members would shout out singing something -- it was the strength and boisterousness of their energy and the rebellious new music. Mostly they didn't try to mimic the (wonderful) vocals of the black jazz bands, but pushed their own smartass-kid sound which is also invigorating.

Do any of you wonder what Bix's singing sounded like? Speculate if he did ever take over any vocals while they --Trumbauer, Goldkette bands -- were performing, if they did any vocal numbers and the lead singer was tired or out of commission, while the other band members had had their turn? We're always hearing about him singing as a kid but no one remarking on whether or not he had a good voice, or just a passably average one (I can't imagine Bix NOT singing in tune, with his precise musicality), so with enough gin in him and at the piano instead of the horn --?

Hoagy Charmichael tells the anecdote about he, Bix, and a couple of other guys being thrown out of the park for singing late at night and the cop whacking Bix with his nightstick for not moving fast enough ["'Fine thing, we can't sing in the park,' Bix said, and I seldom heard him swear but then he used a very bad word," wrote Hoagy). Was it annoying drunken braying from all those guys, or really just nobody wanted to hear late-night singing in the park and called to report the nuisance?

However, I could bet Bix probably is singing along with the other band members in the refrain of Barnacle Bill the sailor, but of course that'd be impossible to pick out and isolate/locate any particular voice other than Venuti's ending. But, there's absolutely nothing to go on in any other recording involving Bix. . . . we'll never know.

Posted on Apr 18, 2012, 12:02 PM

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