In 1990, Hank Williams, Jr., won a Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration for “There’s A Tear In My Beer,” an award he shared with his father, Hank Williams, Sr. The video for the song, in which father and son perform the song together, also won Video of the Year from the Country Music Association. The only odd part is that the senior Williams had been dead for 30 years when the song was recorded. His son would take a recording of his father singing the song with just a guitar and vocals and had his band fill in the rest of the song, creating a virtual duet using existing material.
This would be topped a year later, when Natalie Cole would would perform a virtual duet with her deceased father, Nat King Cole, on his signature tune, “Unforgettable.” Whereas Williams simply added to an existing recording and edited it here and there, Cole had her father’s original vocal digitally extracted from the original master and dropped into a new musical recording. The result was a classic and highly-regarded performance.
Since then, having older vocal recording inserted into new productions has become more common. It’s even been used in southern gospel, most notably when Wayne Haun produced Greater Vision’s Quartets album that included vocal performances from JD Sumner, Brock Speer, and George Younce, who at the time were either deceased or unable to record new vocals. Haun would use this trick to greater effect with one of Younce’s later solo recordings; the vocals were extracted and Haun produced all new music tracks, while Ernie Haase & Signature Sound provided all-new backing vocals, creating a new album several years after Younce’s passing.
The most recent project to take this approach is Where No One Stands Alone, a “new” release from Elvis Presley that takes his existing vocals and drops them into all new musical arrangements. And while there is a duet between Elvis and his daugther, Lisa Marie Presley, it’s only part of a 14-song project that doesn’t just re-recording existing arrangements, but painstakingly creates new ones. For example, “I’ve Got Confidence” gets an extended bridge where Elvis’ vocals are manipulated into new notes and phrases non-existent in the original. Much of the editing is fairly seamless, but there are points where it’s more noticeable than others.
(Side note: SG fans will be excited to note that, aside from the Stamps and the Imperials, former Legacy Five tenor Gus Gaches served as a vocal arranger for the project’s choir, which also included Terry Franklin.)
With this kind of technology, imagine what could be done with some of SG’s vast catalog of countless artists. What artists would you like to hear with updated musical arrangements (mainly artists who are no longer with us, or at the very least, are incapable of recording new versions themselves)?