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As celebs take his gigs, he gives voice to little guy
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/17/2009 12:01 AM

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Some people will recognize Hollywood legend James Caan as the voice of the dad in the new animated movie "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." A few folks immediately knew actress Jennifer Connelly provided the voice for the cartoon female warrior 7 in "9." Die-hard fans know Mark Hamill is the voice of the Joker in the latest "Batman" video game.

But during these last few years of recession where jobs are hard to find, did George Clooney have to be hired as the voice for Anheuser-Busch commercials? Does Pontiac need Matt Dillon to provide voice-over work? Do customers know Kevin Spacey is the voice of Honda? Do people realize actor Kiefer Sutherland makes millions selling his voice to hawk Fords, Apples and Bank of America?

"They could pay me, or someone like me, a hundredth of that," says veteran voice actor Derrick Procell, who says he has "declared war" on celebrities taking jobs from the little guys.

"I auditioned a few months ago for a Home Depot spot," says Procell, who lives in Deerfield. The producers told him they wanted "a guy's guy, but not too manly," someone along the lines of Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris.

Procell has a baritone voice that naturally has those qualities, but he didn't get the job.

"A month or so later I hear the spot and it's actually Ed Harris," Procell says with a laugh. "I guess they knew what they wanted."

A talented keyboard player and singer in a popular Milwaukee band named Arroyo during the 1970s and '80s (you can find them on YouTube), Procell got his start in commercials when someone wanted a "gravelly, beer-voiced guy" to sing a jingle. He was a hit.

When Ford introduced the Taurus, Procell was singing the jingle in national ads.

"They booked the session at 7 a.m. and I had to hit this high note. They had paramedics in the wings," Procell jokes.

"Have you driven a Ford," he sings, drawing out the last note for several seconds before bring it home with the word, "lately?"

"That was a good one. That was like a down-payment on the house," says Procell, who sports a high-tech recording studio in the modest ranch home he shares with his wife, Meredith Colby Procell, who is a jazz singer and voice teacher, and their 6-year-old daughter, Evelyn.

While Procell's voice has been used by McDonald's, Sears, Subway and other companies, his longest-running gig was as the voice in a popular series of pizza TV commercials.

"What do you want on your Tombstone?" Procell says with the same sparkle and enthusiasm he put into those TV spots.

He still gets commercial work, even one job where he got paid to fill in for Alec Baldwin just to show a client how it would sound if they actually paid for Baldwin.

But he's planted new seeds.

He's the voice of a tree in an environmental kids' show called "Planet Camp," and has recently branched out as the voice in several sports promotions. He's also found a way to stay true to his old musical roots.

Procell writes and performs original songs that set a tone or convey a mood for television shows. His tunes remind viewers of other, more famous, much more expensive-to-use songs.

"I'm a content provider. As a musician, I used to wince at that term, but it's fun," Procell says.

He writes and sings songs that remind people of Tom Petty, the Allman Brothers, Randy Newman or other stars and genres.

When the characters of "Boston Legal" walked into a bar, that was Procell's country rock song and crooning in the background. His songs also have been featured on "My Name is Earl," "Saving Grace," "Providence" and "Criminal Minds." He'll get the odd residual check from Norway or Japan when those shows find new life in world markets.

His wife adds the female vocals when he needs them. Their daughter is just a first-grader, but she might eventually provide more competition for Procell in the voice-over world.

"She's got a little-girl version of his voice," his wife says.

Still, Procell would rather lose a job to his daughter than to George Clooney.