Voice actor Billy West on how to create Popeye’s two-octave grumble

16 Jul
Voice actor Billy West was on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. I always love hearing actors do roles on radio, especially someone like West who is known for such original roles as Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama. But what really wow-ed me was his description of how he learned to emulate the unforgettably unique voice of Popeye, as originally done by Jack Mercer:
popeye.jpgI loved Jack Mercer, and I got him. I understood him. And what helped me understand that Popeye voice -- it's a high voice and a low voice at the same time -- cause when I was a kid, we all used to try to do that and we all stunk. It didn't sound right. So one day, I see this film -- it was an independent film called Genghis Blues. And it was about this blind singer in San Francisco who wrote a hit for Steve Miller. ... And he was listening to a world-band radio one night, and he heard this strange noise. And it was a program about Tuvan singers. And Tuvans had a way of singing where they could do one and two voices. And I realized, 'Oh man, that's how this guy did it. Jack Mercer.' [He imitates both voices.] There'd be two voices, an octave apart. And he'd put them together."
It's worth listening to the whole segment (it's 28 minutes long), but the Popeye bit starts at about 17:05.

Billy West: The Many (Cartoon) Voices In His Head [Fresh Air]