“It’s funny because I studied a lot of classical piano, organ and flute, but I never studied yodelling. And it made me famous throughout the world. It’s really funny.”
There are times when music calls for a sound beyond words. What drew those sounds from Thijs van Leer‘s mouth at that particular moment? Pure inspiration.
In this interview with Rok Podgrajšek of The Rocktologist, Thijs says:
“We were rehearsing and the guitarist was playing the famous riff, which I still consider to be one of the best riffs ever written. The drummer started doing his own thing and then I started to yodel. It was the first time in my life. So, we recorded it and then the producer asked how we should call the piece. I said that we should call it sometimes that rhymes with Focus. And so Hocus Pocus came to be. It became number 1 in the whole world.”
Top class musicians let the music speak more clearly. The man “doing his own thing” is jazz drummer Pierre van der Linden, the “guitarist” is world renowned Jan Akkerman. Thijs van Leer had a background in be-bop and jazz running parallel to his knowledge of classical technique. The stars aligned.
Thijs’ instrumental vocals in Hocus Pocus remind me of Cab Calloway scat singing his way through Kicking the Gong Around. Cab’s musicians are top-notch too. There comes a point when their music calls up voice and dance without words:
Your voice is always an instrument, whether you shape sound into words or not.
If you sing or write songs in English: it’s worth listening to Thijs’ improvised sound on Hocus Pocus again. What makes his voice such a perfect accompaniment at that point in the song? Would words have worked instead? What kind of words? Or would words have distracted you from the music itself? If he’d yodelled all the way through Hocus Pocus, would that have worked as well?
By the way: you might find ‘take one’ of the Old Grey Whistle Test Hocus Pocus session here fun. Jan Akkerman forgets that Thijs needs space for his vocals.
© Sing Better English, 2016