The Most Underrated, Unappreciated Tenor of All Time
November 13, 2007 134 Comments
Every so often (about every 1-2 months) the debates rage on SG message board sites about “Who is the greatest (fill in the voice part here) of all time.” Tenors seem to be the most common asked about, since it is the flashiest part (sorry lead and bass singers). A screaming high tenor is one of the hallmarks of SG music. When this makes the rounds, the usual suspects are named. Current guys like Phelps, Free, Parrack, Haase, and then legends like Crumpler, Rozell, Shaw, Wynn, and the ilk. There is one name that is consistently left out, even though he had the rare ability to sing in the stratosphere without the thin, nasally sound, yet could also sing a smooth lower tenor lead just as well. He was a stand in for a legendary female performer when he broke on the SG scene, then in later years really defined the sound of the Statesmen Quartet. If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m speaking of the late Johnny Cook. Cook had a unique timbre to his voice, and he could sing through the roof with power and quality (“Looking for a City”, anyone?), yet in his later years with the Statesmen he really defined the sound of the group, and his performances of “Sinners Plea” and “Every Eye Shall See” on the first CD of the reformed Statesmen are impeccable.
However, I’m not really posting this to prove that Cook is the greatest of all time, that is strictly a matter of opinion. However, I do wonder why he is not regarded as one of the best tenors ever. He had the voice, the range, and the ability to truly sell a song with strong, emotive vocals. So why is Johnny Cook so forgotten? Is he a legend? I don’t think so, as he didn’t have the longevity in the forefront of SG like the true legends (Shaw, Rozell, etc.) , but he definitely was one of the top tenors in terms of vocal quality. Why isn’t he more highly regarded?