Good songwriter / bad musician

I was thinking about whether Elton John is anything approaching a good pianist by the standards of the Frazier Crane set, and that got me to thinking of whether there are musicians who have good reputations for writing, but are considered just bad at actually performing.

For many, Bob Dylan might qualify. I know that for many, the voice and slidy harmonica playing is all part of the “authenticness”, and part of Bob’s charm, but people like my mom would rather pull out a tooth with pliers than listen to him.

Anothers possibilitiy would be Neil Young. Any others?

Actually, the concept of a songwriter/performer combination being just one person is relatively new to show biz. Pre-rock era, songwriters wrote and performers performed, at least in “commercial” music (you can see I’m excluding down-home blues singers and other folksy types here).

Tin Pan Alley was a conglomeration of songwriters, who supplied material for performers.

In a Hollywood framework, it is no crime for a good songwriter to be a poor performer.

Of course, some songwriters went on to be artists in their own right, and the post-rock era began to expect it.

To make it worse, some folks record their vocals and instruments separately in the studio and then have to attempt both when performing live. Some folks can do both; some let either or both gifts suffer a bit:

Randy Newman seems to concentrate on his singing in a live environment, but I thought he was supposed to be a fair pianist.

Mark Knopfler strums chords through large parts of his songs because (presumably) he can’t play complicated parts and sing at the same time.

I have only recently attempted to sing in a technically correct way (breathing, supporting my voice) while playing rhythm guitar. It’s harder than you would think.


Carole King, Bob Dylan, and Kris Kristofferson(sp?), while certainly not bad musicians, have generally received greater recognition as song writers.

Other great songwriters, such as the team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, never even attempt to perform their own songs.

Waldo, tell your mom that it should be illegal for anybody *but * Dylan to perform “Mr. Tamborine Man”. :slight_smile:

Neil Young isn’t a bad musician, he’s just a bad singer.

Well, okay, his guitar solos could use some work.

Actually, the worst of the worst has to be Kristofferson. He’s a great songwriter, and a very bad musician. He can’t even carry a tune. He’s gotta be close to tone deaf.

Kristofferson was the name that sprang immediately to mind when I read the thread title.