Music Giants You’ve Never Heard Of

The Rutles

By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”

I had a rather lengthy meeting last evening with a bride and groom, and among the numerous topics discussed, were song selections for their ceremony and reception.  The couple want several selections that are a departure from the usual songs we expect.

With this in mind, I found myself thinking about the huge number of great bands and musicians who have barely been heard of outside the music industry or a regional or cult following.  It also causes me to think of all the wonderful music that vast numbers of people have never had an opportunity to hear.

Before I continue, I acknowledge there are numerous great bands and musicians around, and there are probably an equal number of lists of them.  However, if you care to do so, you can pursue this topic at greater length on your own, but these will provide a good starting point for your investigation.

So, let’s take a few moments to check out a few of these historic unknown musicians and bands which have contributed greatly to our popular musical heritage.

From the 1950s, there were the Collins Kids, a brother-sister act that laid down some smokin’ rockabilly before either of them had reached the age of 16.  Larry Collins wailed on his double-neck guitar years before Jimmy Page.  When sister Lorry got married in the late ‘50s, the act ended for a time.  However they still continue to perform sporadically.

A baby-faced Ronnie Dawson recorded rockabilly with his high-pitched voice in the late ‘50s.  Although older, he looked and sounded like a young teen and his records are highly valued by rockabilly fans – especially the frenetic “Action Packed.”

Wanda Jackson, widely known as a country artist, shouted, rocked and growled her way into the male-dominated rockabilly field.  Sometimes described as a predecessor to Janis Joplin, she settled into a very successful country music career during the 1960s.

Making it onto the U.S. music scene was Britisher, Graham Bond, who recorded two albums with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker before that pair became Cream.  Bond was a jazz/blues rock pioneer who committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a London subway train.

Eddie Phillips was the guitarist for The Creation, pioneered feedback, and at one point, played with The Who.  He also played his guitar with a violin bow (a la Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin years later).  The Creation lasted until 1968.

Also from “across the pond” was John’s Children, an image over substance band who couldn’t play their instruments when signed by the manager of the Yardbirds.  They recorded wild pop psychedelic music with the backing of session players and upstaged The Who with their out of control stage antics.  Marc Bolan was a member for a short time before hooking up with T. Rex.

From out of the garage came the Chocolate Watch Band was one of the most famous 60s bands that never had a hit.  Their career was cut short by producers who would put their songs on albums recorded by an entirely different group of musicians.  However, they are still regarded as a band that bridged between garage punk and psychedelia.

The Music Machine had only one hit (“Talk Talk”) and is regarded as a one-hit-wonder.  In truth, they produced a number of non-hit singles and albums that qualify as some of the best experimental phychedelic punk ever recorded.  Sean Bonniwell’s mysterious lyrics and a heavy mixing of guitars and organs influenced a number of groups, notably, The Doors.

The Remains are frequently acknowledged as the best band to never achieve widespread recognition of the 1960s.  They toured with the Beatles in 1966, but before breaking up shortly thereafter, recorded about twenty tracks of great pop rock in the British Invasion style.

The Deviants – Punks before punks were cool, these guys could hardly play, but managed to record a brilliant psychedelic album Punks before their time who could barely play, they managed to record a brilliant psychedelic album filled with faux-rage and experimental sounds.  Lead singer Mich Farren later worked with several other bands and became a poet and rock critic.

The Great Society – If the girl singer sounds familiar, it’s none other than Grace Slick before she joined Jefferson Airplane.  Great Society was the first San Francisco band to wed folk rock, Indian raga and jazz improvisation.  “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” was part of this earlier band’s song list.

The Misunderstood – This California band fled to England in 1966, and while there, played some seminal shows and recorded tracks that anticipated Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix with guitar distortion and lyrics.  They broke up after a few months because of U.S. authorities who were determined to draft a couple of the band’s members into the Army.

Syd Barrett – Rock’s mad genius, he was the original leader, vocalist, writer and guitarist for Pink Floyd.  However, he was booted from the band when his acid addiction prohibited him from performing or recording.  He later released a couple of odd solo albums but has become a recluse and rarely ventures outdoors.

Nick Drake – A name still widely heard today, Drake is considered to ultimate folk-rock singer and songwriter.  He was virtually unknown during his lifetime.  Suffering from severe depression, he died of an overdose at age 26.  His popularity continues to grow with time.

Lee HazelwoodThe producer of Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra, he created some the grittiest guitar rock of the era. His duets with Sinatra are some of the strangest creations to make it onto the pop charts, with happy upbeat arrangements juxtaposed with menacing demons and threatening lovers.

From the continent we had The Can, an avant-garde 1970s brand which employed electronics, tape splices and synthesizers.  They were ahead of their time in anticipating current electronic music.

And if these guys weren’t far out enough, I direct you to The Plastic People of the Universe.  They were the most notorious underground rock band in Eastern Europe during much of the 1970s.  In fact, they were banned from performing and recording by the Czech government and several of their members were jailed for performing subversive material.  A spin-off band, Pulnoc, staged a highly successful tour in the U.S. in the early 1990s, and released an album.

I have to include one of my all-time favorites among this list: The Rutles.  Though not an actual band, this Beatle-sounding group was the brainchild of Monty Python’s Eric Idle for an NBC-TV special.  The songs were written and recorded by Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Band) and are humorous mini-classics in their own right.

There are many more.  In fact, one could engage in a very interesting study of these bands and musicians who helped shape so much of our musical history.  To learn more, read the books, “Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Richie Unterberger.  Also, “Lovers, Buggers and Thieves: Garage Rock, Monster Rock Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock” Edited by Martin Jones, Johnny Strike & Sleazegrinder (Contributors)

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