In honor of Innocent Words Magazine’s 15th Anniversary, I will be blogging a new favorites list once a month for the rest of the year. This month I present to you, our faithful blog readers, my 15 Years of Innocent Words Favorite Artists Of All Time List (in alphabetical order).
You know how some music fans from the south are so dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd that they don’t think any good music has come out since the 1970s? That is kind of how I feel about the 1990s. For one reason or another, even though I was a child of the ‘80s, it is the great music scene from the ‘90s that still resonates with me. So many cities produced amazing bands during those 10 years—Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Portland; and of course, Seattle. It is “my decade” for music. Throw in a little diversity and you have my favorite bands of all time.
Johnny Cash and I share the same birthday, only he was born 39 years before me. As a fellow Pisces I can see a lot of the same traits in each of us, not to say I am remotely as talented as him. Not only is Cash’s music timeless, but he stood up for the fallen, the beaten-down-by-life types. He was a big supporter of people who were dealt a bad hand and tried to help them even though he was dealing with demons of his own. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.
In 1981, my very own personal wave of British heavy metal came crashing through my television when I saw the video for Def Leppard’s “Let It Go” on MTV. Already a fan of hard rock at the age of 10, I was blown away by the band’s long hair, colorful outfits, and loud guitars. However, I didn’t think too much beyond the 4:43 minutes the video lasted.
A year later, the Brits from Sheffield were back with their breakout album ‘Pyromania’ and everyone this side of the Atlantic knew who the band was. Kids were wearing Def Leppard concert shirts and some went as far as wearing the Union Jack shirts and shorts the band made famous in their videos. Yes, I am guilty as charged.
The twin guitar attack of Steve Clark and Phil Collen was everything I wanted to be when I became a big rock star, but as you may have guessed, that never happened. Def Leppard fueled my small fire for music and made it a bonfire. Through the years I followed the band, saw them “in the round,” suffered through the loss of Rick Allen’s accident, the death of Steve clark,and still maintain my love for them to this day.
Tanya Donelly was the founding member of three of the most influential bands of the post-punk era: Throwing Muses, Belly, and Breeders. She embarked on a solo career in the late 1990s and continues to make beautiful music, especially her last album ‘The Swan Song Series.’ Moreover, what makes Donelly special is her generosity, compassion, and personality. She is one of the nicest musicians I have ever come across and I have a great deal of respect for that.
From the moment I saw Garbage’s debut video and then heard their debut album, I knew they were going to be one of my all-time favorite bands. Sure, front woman Shirley Manson is gorgeous and a strong woman, but the musical talent by all four members (Manson plus Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig) is immeasurable. It’s too bad the band was only known early on because of drummer Butch Vig’s association with Nirvana and a handful of great bands from the 1990s. But it did get their foot in the door. Musically mixing alternative rock with electro pop was a new thing for me, and frankly I was surprised I loved it, but when you do it as well as this quartet, you can’t help but to love it.
Known as arguably the greatest guitar player of all time, people don’t look beyond that with Hendrix. This guy had a pretty tough upbringing, being raised by a single father because his mother didn’t want him. He also served in the military as a paratrooper. He learned his hard work ethic from his father and used those skills to work his way up the musical ladder, including a stint as a backup musician for the likes of Little Richard. Still, all that aside, in a three-year span of his short-lived career, Hendrix changed music forever.
If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, then Kristin Hersh is the hardest working woman in indie rock. In addition to her mind blowing catalog of music, which covers Throwing Muses, her solo work, and the punk trio 50FOOOTWAVE, the Rhode Island native is an author, touring musician, co-Founder of Cash Music, mother of four, nomad, and day dreamer. Yeah, Kristin is something special and an inspiration to many, including Innocent Words. Oh, did I mention she is a whiz in the kitchen, too?
Sitting at home one Saturday night in 1988 watching MTV’s “Headbangers Ball,” I discovered King’s X when they played the video for “In the New Age.” It was the height of hair metal and here’s this three-piece band with a black guy with a Mohawk playing left-handed bass in a rock band. Their sound was like Black Sabbath took over the Beatles, like nothing I had ever heard before, and frankly, it changed my life.
I always knew Led Zeppelin was a great band, but the fact that EVERYONE loved them kind of annoyed me. People would cite Zeppelin as the greatest band in the world based on only hearing “Stairway to Heaven,” a song I’d be happy to never hear again. So I liked them, but didn’t LOVE them until a few years back. Once I got older and realized just how amazing they were it blew me away. As individuals, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones are some of the most talented to ever be in a band and the fact they were all in the same band made them the greatest hard rock band of all time.
Funny story about Pearl Jam. The first couple of times I heard them on MTV I didn’t like them at all. Then I went to my friend’s wedding and he played me “Why Go” from their debut album ‘Ten’ and I fell in love with them on the spot. It’s hard to believe they’ve been around for 20-plus years and even though my love for the band has softened, their music will remain timeless.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Seriously, is there a better songwriter in American music? (Sorry, Bruce, you’re a close second.) Even in my big hair metal days I loved Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and 30 years later they are still impressing and kicking ass with new music and tours. Also the fact that Petty stood up to a major record label when it was unheard of took balls and he’s maintained that integrity over the years. What an inspiration.
Though he was small in stature and his ego large, there were very few musicians as talented as Prince. He played a plethora of instruments, wrote timeless hit songs, not only for himself but others, produced albums, danced his ass off, and was a promoting machine despite being reclusive. It’s too bad Prince’s eccentricity sometimes outweighed his music, because people missed an abundance of some of his best work. With his passing last year, the music world lost a genius, and I never use that term too lightly. Prince will forever be alive in our hearts and ears.
The Rolling Stones
Since the 1960s there has been a lingering question in music: the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Really, there is no wrong answer, but for me, the choice is clear. I am a Rolling Stones man. They are a little grittier, a little more versatile, and lord knows they have the longevity. But the funny thing is, I don’t think the Rolling Stones would have made it if it wasn’t for the friendly rivalry with the Beatles. Nonetheless, the Stones have survived a rotation of band members, drug addictions, marriages, deaths, murder, death threats, jail, and even tax evasion to become the greatest rock band that ever lived.
I still remember it like it was yesterday when I walked into my local hang out (i.e., indie record store) and saw a guy I went to grade/high school with that I hadn’t seen for a couple years. I had an arm full of CDs, and he suggested Soul Asylum’s ‘Grave Dancer’s Union.’ Since hearing that album, the Minneapolis rockers have catapulted to become one of my all-time favorite bands. Front man Dave Pirner’s ability to turn a phrase in a song ranks amongst the best that ever was. Though not on the radar of most, Soul Asylum continues to make solid rock & roll records and tour incessantly, playing whenever people will have them.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
You want to know what great rock & roll in America is all about? Look no further than the Boss—Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band. When no one thought he could make it, not even his parents, Bruce kept on. When the world needs someone to lean on, look no further than Bruce Springsteen. When we need comfort, to rock out, to sing along, to dance, to turn a middle finger up to injustice, to rally around the blue collar working class, look no further than Bruce Springsteen. Beyond his timeless songwriting, beyond his philanthropy, Bruce Springsteen never ever forgot where he came from. When you boil it all down, he is still Bruce from Jersey, a guy you could sit at the end of the bar with and swap stories about the history of music.
I have to show my home-state rockers some love. I’ve always loved chicks that can rock with the best of them, and Veruca Salt has a pair of the ballsiest ladies in a rock band. There is just something about girls who can play killer guitar riffs and show the male dominated industry what’s up. The band came on like gangbusters in the early 1990s, then splintered off into different projects, but later reunited and sounded strong as ever.