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Credit: Rosario Lopez

The album that inspired Frank Black’s vocal style

Sam Fogarino of the band Interpol once told Q Magazine in 2011 that he thought Pixies were the most influential band of the last 25 years. He said when he first listened to them, “I felt vile, then I felt violated, then I thought it was the most brilliant fucking thing since sliced bread and that hasn’t changed because it’s ageless music and that’s a very rare thing to stumble upon.”

There is no doubting that the Pixies injected something ineffably new into rock ‘n’ roll, but even innovators have their own influences and when frontman Frank Black was speaking to the Guardian, he outlined the song that helped to spawn his distinctive vocal style. 

“As a teenager in the late ’70s I wasn’t really interested in contemporary pop music or punk-rock,” he said. “I was listening to stuff from 10 years earlier.” This dive into the archives away from the stagnating rock scene brought him to Leon Russell’s self-titled 1970 record. 

Over the years, the album has been celebrated by everyone from Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys to Elton John for its effortless ability to craft toe-tapping grooves which came from working with likes of The Ronettes, The Crystals, Glen Campbell, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Frank Sinatra before going solo. 

Although the album features three members of The Rolling Stones, half of The Beatles, Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton, it was Russell’s hollering, almost country vocal style that caught Franck Black’s ear. 

“This was a big record for me,” Black continued. “Sometimes when I’m singing – it occurred to me last night in Istanbul – I realise there’s a certain kind of vocalising I do that takes its cue from Leon Russell.”

Adding: “He sang in a southern accent but it was very blown-out and exaggerated, very free and loose. I got this record as a gift for playing in the baseball team at junior high – I loathed sports but there weren’t enough people to complete the team. So the coach said, have as many records as you want, just please be on the baseball team. I was like, all right I’ll do it.”

In both Russell’s and Black’s voice, there is an undeniable shrillness that proves arresting and just as Fogarino, suggested with his praise, it is a style that invokes a reaction; you simply can’t listen to either artist and be unmoved.

Beyond the vocal stylings, it is clear that both artists share an artistic soul to boot. Black may well have been influenced by Russell, but as he said himself, “I have always been a singer, a writer, and a musician, not as a prodigy or as in a trade handed to me by my parents, but because of an inner voice or maybe a command from beyond reality as it is usually defined.”

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