I hear voices. Not that “little voice inside my head” thing but big voices. Used to think it was just me until I got to know lots of songwriters and heard the same story. When I start to write a song it’s not the voice that’s coming out of me that I’m hearing. It’s the sweet soul of Aretha, the attitude of Tina Turner, the phrasing of Rod Stewart or the edge of John Lennon, the smoothness of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Curtis Mayfield, James Taylor, Sam Cooke…the list goes on.
Truth is my voice sounds nothing like them, not even close believe me, but in my head …
One of those voices that’s been with me for years is silent this week with the passing of Joe Cocker. He was a songwriter’s dream. Number one he didn’t write (we love that one) he was an interpreter. Saying he covered songs doesn’t get it. He could take a song that was already a part of your life and turn it inside out and make it his own anthem. A Little Help From My Friends, You Can Leave Your Hat On, even Bye Bye Blackbird became pure Cocker. That kind of soul got inside my head as soon as I heard it. When I’ve met some of my favorite singers they have their own stories.
They may be the voice you hear in your head but they have their own inspirations. Some make perfect sense like Bono with Lennon, Jagger with Howling Wolf, Cocker and Ray Charles, Rod and Sam Cooke, you can hear it in their voice but you can pick up on it in their songwriting. The voices in their head are almost like co-writers.
The most amazing part of this for me has been when that voice inside my head ends up actually coming out of the person who put it there. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of the ones I named record songs of mine including Joe doing Wayward Soul. It’s surreal. All of the sudden there’s no degree of separation between you and them. It’s a little like sighting a movie star or a famous athlete, you’re breathing the same air and it’s just too bizarre.
Your voices may be totally different from mine but I’m betting you’ve channelled someone that came before when you’ve written one of your best songs.
It hurts to lose these voices but we know where to find ‘em. Rest in peace Joe and thanks.
P.S. I have to share a story to illustrate my point a bit. A few months back I picked up a Epiphone Casino guitar, same model John Lennon used. Pretty soon something came through, few chords that felt a bit like John and a melody that came from a familiar voice in my head. I gave the track to one of my favorite co-writers, Kye Fleming, who tapped right into it and wrote an amazing lyric. The song is being sung by another of my best friends and co-writers Brenda Russell and produced by yet another amazing friend Kevin Savigar. These are people I knew would share a vision and bring their own voices. The song is in development now for a project with the UN. It’s called “What Would Lennon Do?” Keep you posted!
December 24th, 2014
Image: Wikimedia Commons
iDoCoach Photo: Taylor Sullivan
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. In addition he is a judge for this years UK Songwriting Contest, a contributing writer to the US Songwriting Competition , a popular songwriting blogger and from time to time, conducts his own workshops.