I try to stay as balanced as I can on a lot of Barbershop issues. There’s the constant effort to try and get a quartet sound to be a “lock” between 4 voices. The neat thing about this particular hobby to me in regards to quartetting is this; you take 4 individuals of different background, and their voices, their life experiences, etc. are all different. After work, and work, and more work through duetting, trio-ing, and all kinds of unison singing stuff, you try to get your 4 different voices to match and make a 4-part chord sound like a siren… it’s solid, and exciting.
So as I’ve continued to listen to different Bass singers – there are several who come to mind. (remember… I’m a product of my generation, so forgive my overlooking of stellar bass singers of the older days!) Depending on the genre of music, there are some phenomenal low-note singers out there who have made quite a name for themselves. There’s the bass for Take 6 – Alvin Chea, whose rich deep vocals are truly bass notes. Then there are men from many other outstanding vocal groups around the country, not the least of which is the solid voice of Bill Gaither of Gaither Vocal Band. While Bill is getting older, he still cranks out a solid bass sound that’s pretty. But in terms of accuracy, attention to pitch, intervals, voice timbre and brains, I can’t think of anyone that outranks the bass of the 1978 International Champion Barbershop Quartet bass, the Bluegrass Student Union’s Rick Staab (pictured with glasses in the quartet). Sure, there are others that would clearly make the top of some other folks’ list; Jeff Oxley would probably be very close if not tied for 1st on my own list (Bass of 2 Gold medal combo’s, The Rapscallions of 1984, and Acoustix of 1991, also a Silver in Max Q, the current 2nd place quartet). Jeff has arguably the most gorgeous voice in the Barbershop genre of music, and a range that is unparalleled. Smoothness, pitch, and rhythm-meister Greg Hollander of Michigan Jake (2001 International Champion BBShop quartet), and Jayson Van Hook from Four Voices for depth, youth, and the wow-factor, (the 2002 International Quartet Champion), and Jay Hawkins for pure lock and ring, brains, and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet (1987 Champs, Interstate Rivals, and 1995 Champs, Marquis).
Rick has a unique ability to sing bass like a lead singer. For those of you who don’t know what I mean, he is so smooth and lyrical that he merely sings the low notes, and not like a guy trying to crank out the bottom stuff with power. It’s so smooth and air-driven that no one could possibly doubt the new intelligence this guy brought to the bass part (even though “intelligent bass” is an oxymoron 🙂 While BSU (Bluegrass Student Union) is retired, Rick is still young and can make any bass-melody sound like a great lead singer – simply lower notes! He has a grasp of artistry and tuning, and voice texture that is appropriate for the context of songs. He can crank the low stuff with smooth power, yet not be brash or the least bit strained singing higher notes. As hard as it is to isolate his “great songs”, here are some of the songs he demonstrates his amazing ability on…
- Slap That Bass
- Minnie the Moocher
- Mills Brothers Medley
- Swanee… and many more!
The Bluegrass Student Union was a trend-setting quartet of teh 70’s and their style and song selection has led right up until the modern day with its influence. If you don’t have their CD’s, you should buy at least one… and if you have a $60 bill and you don’t know how to spend it, buy Legacy, the BSU’s 3-disc compilation of (almost) “all” of their stuff. What a fun hobby… Barbershop Harmony is something that can be stereotyped to be sure, but no one can argue the precision of tuning, rhythm, and passion that some of the best champions have established as they have left their legacies.
p.s. NO, I DON’T get a commission off of Bluegrass Student Union’s CD sales!