Drinking and smoking are no-nos. Drugs? He’ll explain.
“I’m singing as well as ever and it doesn’t make any goddamn sense, because I did everything wrong, like drugs, drugs, and also drugs. I’ve never been a drinker or smoker. Before a show, I avoid dairy because it causes phlegm. My old routine was to smoke a joint. Now I warm up for about ten minutes before I go on, singing the lowest note I can and holding it to vibrate my vocal cords, then I drink fresh ginger-lemon tea with Splenda. In Crosby, Stills & Nash, we did move songs down a whole key because the guy on the top end of the harmony could no longer hit the notes, like for Nash on ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.’ Stills is more normal in the sense that his voice has been deteriorating, but that’s whiskey and cigarettes. They’ll kill your voice faster than anything else.”
It helps to mute yourself sometimes — and talk in a falsetto.
“Before a show, I eat chicken noodle soup, some steak for protein, and drink a mixture of Gatorade and Emergen-C. Then I warm up for 45 minutes: ‘oohs,’ ‘aahs,’ and vowel sounds. After that, my piano player and I rehearse pieces of songs in a higher key than I’m going to sing onstage. I talk in a falsetto after the show to help my throat warm down. The songs that we do are two and a half to three and a half octaves. They’re into Wagner-land, and I hit the performance so hard that, when the show is done, I have to give the vocal cords a rest. On days off, I don’t say a word. If somebody asks me what I want, I write it on a notepad. All that is why I can still do ‘Bat Out of Hell’ in the same key that I did it in 40 years ago.”
The soul singer relies on a hand from above.
“I’ve dropped my songs about two keys lower as I’ve aged. If you’re a very good and experienced singer, you know when you’re not able to make a high note. You make a low note, but it goes over the same way because you can hold it. I smoked back in the ’70s and had nodules on my vocal cords that kept me hoarse all the time. A doctor gave me a note saying, ‘You have to decide today what you want to do. If you want a career, you won’t smoke.’ So I stopped. I started taking a blood thinner, to keep my blood circulating properly, and I take turmeric for inflammation in my vocal cords. Saltwater and vinegar are healers, so I gargle with them in the morning. I warm up 30 minutes before going onstage, humming. After that, I drink water and chew gum to keep my throat moist. And then I pray to God.”
*This article appears in the October 3, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.