Joe Frazier was all heart, in the ring and out, and that quality comes through in his singing. His famous nickname, Smokin' Joe, suited him at the mike as well as in the ring.
Frazier grew up singing in the Baptist church he attended in Beaufort, South Carolina, and he never really stopped. By the time he was heavyweight champion, he was pouring some of his income into his singing group, The Knockouts, with whom he recorded and toured. The music was heavily inflected with rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel, the same music that Frazier trained to.
Smokin' Joe kept up the music even after retiring from boxing. In February 1977, he got a rave review in the New York Times for his performance at the Rainbow Grill, where he was doing a two-week stint. He performed with an "assurance that one might expect of a seasoned pro in this field," the Times reviewer wrote. "He has a warm and pleasant voice and an easy, gracious manner. His timing is exemplary."
There are a good number of Frazier performances on YouTube, so I selected just a few to talk about with Janice Meyerson Scheindlin, the international opera singer who earlier listened to the singing of Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.
1. Joe Frazier, "I'd Be Ahead If I Could Quit While I'm Behind"
PB: This one comes from the Merv Griffin show, dated 11-27-1974, according to YouTube, and if I’m not mistaken, those are Sly Stone and Richard Pryor on the set with Joe. He doesn't sound as good as I've heard him on some other songs, but his personality comes through.
JS: He is okay here, nothing special. More than anything, he shows a sense of style.
2. Joe Frazier, "If You Go, Stay Gone"
PB: From the best info I could glean, Joe wrote this song himself, which is pretty amazing. He just sings his head off here, or tries to. Call me crazy, but I really like this.
JS: You're not crazy. This is actually amazing--no, spectacular. He could have recorded for any number of top-notch recording companies. What a set of pipes! And what a gift for open-throated, improvisatory style. Bending the pitches, embellishing the melody. He's a natural. Utterly impressive in every way.
3. Joe Frazier, Miller Lite
This is Frazier's Miller Lite ad from about 1978, in which he is billed as "famous heavyweight singer." I didn't bother Janice with an evaluation for this one but included it mostly because it never fails to make me smile, even now.
Photo credit: Nationaal Archief, Fotocollectie Anefo, Netherlands