In a musical world full of stars and up-and-comers, when all it takes is a viral video to rocket you from bedroom wanna-be to stadium demigod, it’s easy to forget about the people who made it big before the age of YouTube and instant communication. Many of the artists have become household names, legends like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Paul McCartney, Rev Run, Madonna, but what about the legends that never garnered such name recognition?
Every year we lose some legends, and when that “People We’ve Lost” slideshow runs every year at the Grammys, nearly 75% of those artists are completely unknown to a lot of viewers. The people that laid the foundation for the contents of our music libraries don’t always get the credit they deserve. The least we can do is try to appreciate the work of these veterans while they’re still alive.
Here are 10 Living Music Legends You Should Know.
Hit “next” or click the images to read/listen…
What you should: Songwriter during soul’s heyday, released a series of raucous, raunchy pre-rap records starting in the ’70s
Blowfly is the stage name of Clarence Reid. Reid was an R&B songwriter in the ’60s and ’70s for artists like Betty Wright and KC & The Sunshine Band. But Reid clearly longed for the spotlight. His own music was so raunchy for his time that he took on an alter ego to protect his prolific songwrititng career. As Blowfly, Reid’s records were raunchy, raucous, pre-rap rap music, and most definitely laid the groundwork for the stuff we all enjoy today. The Weird World of Blowfly, a documentary about the eccentric musician, was released in 2010.
R. Stevie Moore
What you should know: Cult legend, father of DIY music. Self-released over 400 cassettes and CD-Rs since 1968
R. Stevie Moore is one of the most prolific underground artists of all time. In addition to his record label releases, he’s put out over 400 cassettes, CD-Rs, and home videos through the self-established R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club. You can see his influence in artists like Ariel Pink, who shun the mainstream music distribution monster for ground up, guerilla style distribution and lo-fi production.
Moore shows no signs of slowing down, releasing a cover of “Post Break Up Sex” by The Vaccines, and continuing to tour and record, but don’t expect to see his cassettes at your local Target. Or maybe he’s homeless and living in Nashville—this guy doesn’t exactly seek out the spotlight.
[skip to 1:08 for the song]
What you should know: Of The Walker Brothers fame, been active since the late ’50s, influenced many current artists
Cited as an influence of such greats as David Bowie and Radiohead, Scott Walker has been active since the late ’50s. A former lead singer of The Walker Brothers, Scott’s fame has come mostly across the pond, contributing to his lesser-known status in the U.S. A talented bass-guitarist with baritone vocals, Scott pioneered a sound that pairs Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” with orchestral orchestrations featuring Britain’s top musicians.
Recently Walker has collaborated with Bat for Lashes and Damon Albarn and his album Bish Bosch is due for release December 3rd on 4AD.
What you should know: Blues guitarist, known for his showmanship/on-stage antics
Buddy Guy is a blues guitarist and singer noted for his showmanship and absurd guitar talents. He’s noted as an influence of Jimi Hendrix and in recent times has jammed with musicians such as John Mayer and Eric Clapton. Guy even played with Muddy Waters for a while. He is known for pioneering the Chicago blues sound and his onstage antics, sometimes playing the guitar with with drumsticks and venturing into the crowd while soloing. Rolling Stone ranked him 30th in the list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
He still performs at his Chicago nightclub, Buddy Guy Legends at 700 S. Wabash Ave.
Lee “Scratch” Perry
What you should know: Reggae/dub pioneer, mentor to Bob Marley, production on Whatever
Lee Perry has gone by many names in his career, Scratch, Pipecock Jackxon, and The Upsetter to name a few. Regardless of his moniker, he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest reggae and dub producers of all time. He’s worked with such legends as Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, The Congos, Max Romeo, and of course the one and only Bob Marley. Perry is credited as one of the first developers of dub music from his now defunct Black Ark studio that he built in his back yard. Perry claims that in a fit of rage he burned the legendary studio to the ground himself.
More current fans may be familiar with Perry through Jay-Z’s Kanye-produced “Lucifer,” which samples the Scratch-composed “Chase The Devil,” sang by Max Romeo and backed by Perry’s band, The Upsetters. He now lives in Switzerland with his family and continues recording and performing.
What you should know: DJ that brought hip-hop to the Bronx
Clive Campbell, known as Kool DJ Herc or DJ Kool Herc, is a Jamaican-born DJ credited as a driving force in bringing hip-hop to the Bronx. Back in the early ’70s disco reigned supreme. It was so popular that it was nearly impossible to escape -unless of course you knew the right people. DJ Kool Herc was the right people. Herc made a habit of DJing his own parties at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. He used the same double turntable technique as the disco DJs of the time, utilizing two copies of the same record to elongate the drum breaks. Except Kool Herc used hard funk records. He called his dancers break-boys and break-girls (later shortened to b-boys and b-girls). His style inspired greats like Afrika Bambataa and Grandmaster Flash, but Kool Herc never made the jump to commercial hip-hop when it took off.
DJ Kool Herc never really reaped the rewards of a genre he helped to create, and these days struggles with his health. A DJ Kool Herc fund has been established to help one of hip-hops pioneers battle illness.
What you should know: Pioneer of minimal music, veteran of electronic music
Steve Reich doesn’t really do “pop music.” Reich’s music is about the complete opposite of pop or anything else you’d ever hear on the radio -unless you tune your radio between stations, record it and then loop it endlessly until it devolves into a cacophony of tones and textures. The only time you may have heard Reich in semi-mainstream music is on Madvillain’s “America’s Most Blunted”, where Madlib samples Reich’s “Come Out”.
Reich is one of the pioneers of minimalist music along with artists like Philip Glass and John Cage, and he has been bending the borders of what we call music for 40+ years. He is known largely for phasing, a process in which a repetitive phase is played on two instruments in steady but not identical tempos. The two instruments gradually phase in and out of unison creating variations on the original melody without actually changing any of the notes used.
That might sound like a far-fetched and useless technique, but tape delay, and many other techniques used by more experimental artists like Radiohead would not exist if not for Reich’s experimentalism.
What you should know: Ultramagnetic MCs, Dr. Octagon, one of indie rap’s great enigmas
The self-proclaimed inventor of horrorcore, Keith Thornton, has been an underground force in hip-hop since his days with the Ultramagnetic MCs to work under the moniker Dr. Octagon. Kool Keith is an idie rap legend and helped usher in the practice of performing as varying personalities. Apart from Ultramagnetic MCs and Dr. Octagon, Keith has released material under countless guises. MF DOOM, Serengetti, and even Tyler, the Creator owe much of their act to the trailblazing efforts of Kool Keith. In recent years, Kool Keith has revealed that he’s been considering retirement.
What you should know: Legendary songwriter and jazz/rock pianist
In the jazz community, Fats Domino doesn’t fit into the category of musicians you’ve never heard of. In the jazz community, Fats Domino has a legendary status closer to that of Dylan, Seeger, and McCartney. Outside of that community, the name Fats Domino doesn’t really hold the same weight—but it should. Fats is one of the best and most prolific R&B, jazz, and rock pianists of all time. Influencing generations of artists, Domino has over 35 Top 40 American hits. Domino’s home and office in New Orleans were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and many thought he had died. But Domino survived, and still resides in Louisiana.
What you should know: James Brown’s drummer, recorded one of the most sampled drum breaks of all time.
Clyde Stubblefield’s name might not be familiar to you, but I can guarantee that you’ve heard his work. You see, back when James Brown was the hottest thing around, Clyde was his drummer. In fact, Clyde may be the most prolific drummer of all time—not because of the amount of material he’s recorded, but because of one single recording: “The Funky Drummer.” It’s a fairly simple recording, with Stubblefield on drums and Mr. Brown with the vocal yelps, but that simple recording has become perhaps most sampled drum break of all time. “The Funky Drummer” has been sampled by nearly every hip-hop act from Run-DMC to Dr. Dre to the guy selling mixtapes out of a backpack. The immense impact of that sample reaches outside of hip-hop as well, being sampled on Queen’s “We Are The Champions” and even making an appearance in Sinead O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched On Your Grave.”
These days Clyde lives in Madison, Wisconsin and recently retired from his Monday Night Band.
[drum break at 5:35]