Since the dawn of song, Hollywood-based voice coach Seth Riggs has worked the pipes of more than 100 Grammy Award-winning singers. Now, just in time for cold-weather karaoke season, Riggs has made public a set of handy vocal tips for aspiring corner-bar stars.
The brutally candid Riggs recently took time out to discuss the current state of song over the speakerphone, which made his voice sound wonderful.
B-Sides: In your list of things to avoid consuming before a show, you note caffeine, soda and dairy products. Does that mean cocaine and booze -- the staples of any proper rock star's diet -- are fair game?
Seth Riggs: Besides being addictive, [cocaine] can absolutely burn out the inside of your nose. The nose is always dripping for snorters. They have to blow their nose, blow their nose, blow their nose. It's a real killer, but they all think they have to do it. They do everything they can do to take the audience's attention away from the fact that they may not sing worth a damn. And that's very sad.
There are lots of references to acid reflux in your tips. Does this mean you buy Ashlee Simpson's excuse for her Saturday Night Live miscue?
I don't buy anything. From a person so young, it's very suspicious.
What would you advise the aspiring karaoke superstar to check on before launching into a sparkling rendition of Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off (To Have a Good Time)?"
First of all, she's got to make sure it's in the right key. Very often people go to karaoke places, and it's not the right key. It's by far the best insurance against vocal disaster.
Do you feel that in order to maintain artistic credibility, from here on out Alicia Keys should avoid being the hook girl on crappy rap songs?
I think that's absolutely true. And also let all performers realize that the camera adds fifteen pounds. You don't want to look like a heifer. That's what Michael Jackson always said: "Ohmigod, there's a heifer." Everybody's got to stay as slim as they can.
Generally speaking, is it easier for African-American vocalists to dunk a basketball than frail white guys like David Bowie or the lead singer of the Hives?
Black folks in general, most everything they do is by feel. They "out-star" white folks musically, and generally speaking they do things that come for free. Church is free; a basketball on a public court is free. Most black folks, economically, cannot afford to do what white folks can. White folks sing by note -- I discussed this with Ray Charles before he died, I said, "Brother Ray, we sing by note, you sing by feel." He said, "You got that right." White folks can afford to be more sophisticated, so that sophistication can knock them out of a natural feel, whether it's basketball or anything.
You've tutored Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Janet Jackson. Is it tougher to coach singers who can't actually sing?
I've got a great number of multimillionaires in my studio who can't sing a lick. But you have to stay on good terms with the record company. I've got three or four more Josh Grobans, but I haven't found anybody yet who could back such a person. I think people want to hear good voices, you know, and I'm the one who started him. Groban, he's a neighbor of mine. He couldn't sing out of his chest until I started working with him. -- Mike Seely
In the pre-Halloween shopping frenzy, you may have missed the deluxe re-releasing and -packaging of Cream's head-busting second album, Disraeli Gears. We certainly did. But we tracked one down during a recent Samhain shopping excursion and discovered that the now-two-disc album just ain't worth the sticker price. Featuring nothing more than mono and stereo mixes of the album, plus some BBC cuts that appeared on the Cream BBC Sessions and five demos that appeared on the Those Were the Days box set (released in 1997 and still available), this newish Disraeli offers nothing new. And it doesn't even include the legendary (at least here at the RFT) Falstaff beer jingle recorded during the Disraeli days, which is available on the box. Curious. So, with the heavily echoed lyrics "Faaaaalstafffff! The thirst-slaker! Faaaaalstafffff! The thirst-slaker! The beer that can slake any thirst (any thirst). The beer you reach for first, when you want to quench your thirst!" reverberating through a sudsy office, it was decided that calls would be placed to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, a.k.a. "The Motherfucking Cream," to discover how this egregious oversight was oversaw. But first a Schlafly Porter was consumed, because Schlafly is a St. Louis beer (like Falstaff), and because Schlafly has the "Strange Brew" film series. And then another, because it's cold outside. And then another, because a cheeseburger got stuck in our throats. And then one more. And then we had that last one because the RFT don't leave nobody behind, and that includes the last soldier in a sixer.
And then it became clear.
Schlafly should have its own jingle done up Cream style, because they go together so perfectly. Check this out:
"Schlaaaaaflyyyyy! That's beer, baby! Schlaaaaaflyyyyy! Pour me another, lady! The beer that gets us out of work! The beer you reach for first, when you want to put off work!"
To be honest, we won't know if we called Clapton, et al., until the long-distance bill comes next month. And we don't know if we really called Schlafly and howled our proposed jingle at them or if we imagined it. What we do know is that we sold the new Disraeli Gears and bought another sextet of Schlafly Porter with the proceeds, and that the "Falstaff" jingle is stuck on infinite repeat in the office stereo. Oh, and that the Motherfucking Cream still rules. Cheers, mates. -- Paul Friswold
Fa La La La La
This time of year, magazines are rife with tips on throwing "the can't-miss holiday party of the season!" They tell you how to get guests to attend (uh, alcohol), but they never tell you how to get people to leave. Reclaim the home turf with these buzz-kill party enders:
Gordon Lightfoot, "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald": What do you get when you mix a freak storm with a maritime disaster and 29 bodies frozen to death in Lake Superior? Why, the last song your guests will hear before grabbing their coats. Clocking in at six and a half minutes, Gordon Lightfoot's 1975 epic drags on longer than the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald itself. It's part funeral march, part history textbook, all anti-party. But thanks for coming!
Suzanne Vega, "Luka": "Speaking of domestic violence, do you have any more punch?" is something your guests will not ask after this song ends. Relationship abuse really has a way of bumming people out -- helpful when calling it a night. Belting out lyrics and forming a conga line? Bad. Awkward silence while contemplating their own neighbors? Good. Bye.
Patsy Cline, "Crazy": Especially effective on drunk, overly sentimental singles, Patsy Cline is a ringer. Being single during the holidays can be brutal, but being dumped during the holidays is worse. Commercials never show people giving themselves a stunning diamond tennis bracelet. Misery might love company, but when your company gets miserable, the company goes home. Dabbing their eyes with your festive holiday napkins.
If all else fails, have the life works of perennial sad girl Tori Amos, decidedly unfunny Insane Clown Posse or spooky Brit Gary Glitter nearby. And cheer up! It's Christmas. -- Kristie McClanahan