Todd Rundgren Hermit of Mink Hollow

Ten Favourite Multi-Talented Musicians

Some musical careers revolve around doing one thing expertly – Billie Holiday sang, Burt Bacharach wrote songs. Other musical careers showcase a smorgasbord of talents – here are ten musicians with impressively wide skill-sets:

Beck

Mr Postmodern music is a skilled multi-instrumentalist. These are his credits for 1996’s excellent Odelay. Beck Hansen: vocals (all tracks), electric guitar (tracks 1–4, 6–12), slide guitar (track 2), acoustic guitar (tracks 3, 7, 13), bass guitar (tracks 1–4, 6–12), organ (tracks 1, 4–6, 8, 10), clavinet (tracks 2, 4), electric piano (tracks 6–8), moog synthesizer (tracks 2, 5, 6, 9, 12), harmonica (tracks 1, 2, 6, 7), drums (track 5), percussion (tracks 5, 10, 12), thumb piano (track 5), rhumba box (track 5), xylophone (track 7), turntables (track 9), echoplex (track 12)

Adrian Belew

Adrian Belew appeared in the late 1970s, contributing his creative guitar work to acts like David Bowie and Talking Heads, before signing up as lead vocalist for King Crimson. But his solo career showcases a skilled multi-instrumentalist, playing albums like 1994’s Here completely solo.

Paddy McAloon

Prefab Sprout‘s most recent album, 2013’s Crimson/Red, was a solo recording from front-man Paddy McAloon, who played all the instruments in his home studio. McAloon records alone due to his eyesight and hearing problems, but he’s a proficient multi-instrumentalist – I love his bass playing on this tune:

Paul McCartney

As well as his sophisticated chord progressions and inventive bass lines, McCartney could handle a wide range of instruments. His drumming his featured on some tracks of The Beatles‘ White Album, and his 1970 solo debut is performed almost exclusively by McCartney, with the exception of his wife’s backing vocals.

Janelle Monáe

It may seem like an unusual choice to feature Monáe, when she’s not noted as an instrumentalist, but she does everything else. As well as singing, rapping, writing, and producing, she runs an independent record label (Wondaland Arts Society) and she may be better known as an actor than as a recording artist.

Prince

Prince emerged as an 18 year old with his debut album For You; all tracks were produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince. He was a strong vocalist, a virtuoso guitarist, and could play a ton of instruments proficiently – here he is on piano:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SErtl9N5kdY

Todd Rundgren

Most of the other artists on this list have recorded albums completely solo, but Rundgren took matters a step further by recording an entire album only using his voice (1985’s A Cappella). 1978’s excellent Hermit of Mink Hollow is impressively slick and professional for a one man album. Rundgren has also produced a wide range of successful albums, including XTC‘s Skylarking and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell.

Maurice White

White anchored the commercially and critically successful Earth, Wind, and Fire for years. He shaped the band’s unique visual image and musical style, wrote and produced their material, sang lead vocals, and played keyboards and marimba.

Steve Winwood

Winwood’s best known for his soulful voice and his keyboard work in bands like Traffic and Blind Faith. But he also performed the entirety of 1980’s solo breakthrough Arc Of A Diver: Steve Winwood – acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, pianos, synthesizers, organ, lead and backing vocals, production, engineering, mixing.

Stevie Wonder

It’s always amazed me how the blind Wonder became such a proficient drummer. He’s mostly known for his skills on keyboards and harmonica, and for his rich, soulful voice, but Wonder recorded most of the tracks for his classic 1970s albums himself, playing most of the bass lines on keyboard.

Did I leave out any of your favourite one person bands? Disagree with any choices? Write in and let me know.

42 Comments

  1. Great subject for a post. I don’t disagree with your choices.
    The two that come to mind is John Fogerty and Dave Grohl… John did Blue Ridge Rangers and Centerfield albums by himself… Fogerty is not known for his drumming ability but it fits with what he did…
    Also…I think it was for only one album Dave Grohl…first Foo Fighter album…the guy can play anything it seems.
    Stevie Wonder is probably my favorite all-around player in the list.
    Great list.

    • I’d heard that about Fogerty but forgotten – even in terms of CCR, he claims that he taught the other guys how to play, right? Grohl probably belongs on an objective list, but I’m not a huge Foo Fighters fan. One guy I wanted to include but didn’t have room for was Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham – producer, arranger, guitarist, guy who’s made entire albums almost single-handedly.

      • Fogerty did tell them what to play and that lead to the breakup. Those two albums he did by himself but his others outside of CCR I’m not sure.
        Yes Lindsey is super talented…very tasteful in his guitar playing and singing…he was the one I’ve read most responsible for Rumors…the production anyway.

  2. Bill Nelson, occasionally joined by his late brother on sax, but many of his albums are completely solo efforts.
    There’s a video of Ian McNabb playing guitar left handed whilst the right hand was playing the keyboards – and he was singing. Not too sure how he is on drums though.

    • I had to look up who that was! Be-Bop Deluxe are on my mental list of bands I want to hear, but I still don’t know them at all. I’ve heard good things about Icicle Works too.

      • Both had bands and then solo careers.
        I think I’ve given a potted history of Be Bop D and a little of Bill on my site (search for Music 29 and 30). I might do one for Robert Ian too.
        Off the top of my head, top songs –
        1. Be Bop – Blazing Apostles
        2. Bill Nelson – The October Man
        3. Icicle Works – Shit Creek
        4. Robert Ian McNabb – Great Dreams of Heaven
        These choices might well change tomorrow.
        All the best – Chris

  3. Great topic for a post! Any multi-instrumentalist, no matter whether I like their music or not, earns my respect.
    I wish I would be a multi-instrumentalist! In addition to the guitar and bass, I dig the drums, keyboards and the saxophone.
    If I had the means, I’d buy a Hammond B-3, even if it would mostly serve as a piece of furniture. Last year, I was seriously contemplating to take drum lessons. I guess I’m just a little nuts!😆
    As for a suggested addition to your list, I would consider Lenny Kravitz. Apart from being a decent guitarist, he plays drums, bass and keyboards. In fact, he frequently plays most instruments on his albums.

  4. Some hugely talented folk on here. The biggest for me being Beck. Not in terms of him doing stuff none of the others could, but he, like Prince before him, I guess, really changed things up. He’s like a benchmark for creativity and ‘artistry’. I love the guy.
    Anyhoo, others… Greg Dulli is another of my favourites. I’d likely throw another vote out for Lenny, too… and while I’m at it, Sananda Maitreya.

    • I didn’t realise that about Dulli – I’ve been enjoying Gentlemen lately. Haven’t heard much of Darby/Maitreya apart from some singles, but I’ve heard good stuff about his early work. Do you like his later stuff?

      • Gentlemen is a great album… and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’d highly recommend Black Love if you haven’t discovered that one yet.
        I actually haven’t delved into the Maitreya stuff too much. It’s quite, eh, eclectic, I guess. A lot to take in. Maybe too much to make an consistent and focused album?

    • Music’s never ending, right – the more you learn, the more you find out there is to know. You’ve name dropped two guys I barely know – worth checking out?

      • Dude, do yourself a favour and check out Lewis’s first two albums on Island Records. Self-titled debut in 1996 and ‘Lewis II’ in 2000. Incredible records. Marvin Gaye meets Syd Barrett. And Johnny Guitar was originally best known as a blues guitarist/singer, but he also played superb piano/keys. ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’ is probably his best-known album, worth a listen…

  5. One of the first people that came to mind was Winwood, I scroll down and you had him pegged. He does a wicked acoustic guitar version ‘John Barlycorn Must Die’. Recorded recently. Plus the guy doesn’t age.

  6. In the ‘dream supergroup’ exercise, McCartney is my bassist – in part, because of his bass talents, but also because as you said, he can do so much more!

    • Who’s the rest of the lineup? A few bassists are multi-instrumentalists – Flea, John Entwistle – partly I think because you don’t usually learn bass as a kid, so often bassists switch from guitar or another instrument.

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