I bet there are a multitude of unglorified groups/bands/artists that you all thought were exceptional and defined music for our generation yet didn't gain the popularity they deserved.
I would love to hear your suggestions.
Today, I think I have a perfect example of this conundrum. I am going to talk about "one of the toughest rockers ever to come out of Southern California" Warren Zevon.
Warren Zevon is a Southern California rock singer/songwriter and musician noted for his strange, biting and often sarcastic opinions of life. Unlike most singers of his day, Warren composed songs that were incredibly humorous and yet often had bold political and historical overtones.
Although he never reached the significant exposure of his counterparts Jackson Browne, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, fans of Zevon's work are incredibly passionate about his music. It's even more ironic that he was always highly praised by his peers and critics as well.
The general music loving population is probably better acquainted with his songs that were recorded by other artists. Linda Ronstadt had several hits releasing covers like "Mohammed's Radio," "Hasten Down the Wind" and especially "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" which was a top 40 hit.
"Accidentally Like A Martyr" covered by Bob Dylan and "Carmelita" sung by Dwight Yoakam were also relative hits. He wrote several songs for the band "The Turtles" and even penned the song "He Quit Me" sung by Lesley Miller on the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack.
Speaking to his versatility, not only did Warren write hit songs for other stars, he also recorded or performed occasional covers himself, including Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan."
He had deep ties to the California music scene. He hung out with the members of Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. He toured with The Everly Brothers and was even a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman.
Do you remember his comedy song "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)" recorded with Paul Shaffer and the members of the CBS Orchestra?
One of the main reasons I like Warren Zevon is he was born in my hometown Chicago, Illinois. That's probably where he developed his sarcastic wit and rough edge.
Strangely enough, when he was 13, Zevon's family moved to Fresno, California and he found himself building his musical craft by being a student of his neighbor, the classical composer Igor Stravinsky.
What a great neighbor to have, huh?
Warren's parents divorced a few years later, so when he was 16 years old, he quit high school and moved from Los Angeles to New York to become a folk singer.
After a few years in New York, Warren returned to LA and recorded his first attempt at a solo album, "Wanted Dead or Alive" in 1969.
Interesting, it was produced by the 1960s cult figure Kim Fowley. The album did little to forward his career but, in retrospect, it does give us the first glimpse of Zevon's popular writing style drenched in failed romance, personal battles and violence.
His second album, recorded in 1976, the self titled "Warren Zevon" was another dark and introspective look at life.
Though only a modest commercial success, this Jackson Browne-produced album would later be termed a "masterpiece" in the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide.
Some of the diverse tracks include the junkie's lament "Carmelita," the outlaw ballad "Frank and Jesse James," a scathing insider's look at life in the L.A. music business called "The French Inhaler," and "Desperados Under the Eaves", a chronicle of Zevon's increasing alcoholism.
A couple of years later, Zevon released "Excitable Boy" his pivotal and what I consider his best album to critical acclaim and his greatest popular success.
The title song, a story of a juvenile delinquent, humorously highlighted "Little Susie", the heroine of former band mates, the Everly Brothers' tune "Wake Up Little Susie".
A couple of his darker, political edged songs included "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Lawyers, Guns And Money".
Every song on this album is worthy of listening.
There is a real "sleeper" on the album - an upbeat song to start side one called "Johnny Strikes up the Band".
A tragic love song closes the same side called "Accidentally Like a Martyr" and there is a catchy reggae tinged tune called "Nighttime in the Switching Yard".
Several tracks from this album captured FM airplay but the single "Werewolves of London", which featured Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, grew to become a cult classic across college campuses. It was Warren Zevon's closest brush with "stardom" reaching a top 30 standing.
The top single "A Certain Girl" helped push the album's sales but overall Zevon saw a decline in popularity. Even the critics were less enthused with this album.
It contained a stylish collaboration with Bruce Springsteen called "Jeannie Needs A Shooter", and the heavy ballad "Empty-Handed Heart" sung by Linda Ronstadt, which basically retold the story of Zevon's divorce from his then wife.
One of my favorite songs off the album is an extended 5 minute rendition of the T-Bone Burnett song "Bed of Coals." After hearing this song, I always thought Warren should cut a complete album of old "Delta Blues." His voice was perfect for the challenge.
Later in 1980, he released the live album "Stand In The Fire" which was dedicated to Martin Scorsese and recorded a the famous The Roxy Theater in Los Angeles.
Again, touching a sore spot in the political world, the title track tells the story of American diplomat Philip Habib's "shuttle diplomacy" during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
The album continued in Zevon's characteristic deeply cynical style with songs that included another acerbic look at life in "Ain't That Pretty At All," a drug dealer's story in "Charlie's Medicine" and a nod to the death of Elvis Presley in "Jesus Mentioned."
The lyrics from another track, "The Hula Hula Boys", were taken from the "Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson's 1983 book, "The Curse of Lono."
During the early 80's, a combination of his continued drug use, bad relationships and less than hoped for critical success caused Zevon to retreat from the music business for several years, during which he finally overcame severe alcohol and drug addictions.
During this interim period, Zevon worked with the members of R.E.M. (Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills) along with singer Bryan Cook to form a minor project called "Hindu Love Gods."
The group released a single, an interesting cover of the Bill Berry 50's hit "Narrator" on the IRS label. The album included many covers including "Gonna Have a Good Time Tonight," "Battleship Chains" by the Georgia Satellites and even "Raspberry Beret" from Prince. After this project, Zevon went into seclusion for several years.
Once again, Warren Zevon had channelled that intense cerebral aura found on "Excitable Boy." This album featured a heavier rock sound and Zevon recaptured his earlier dark humor in songs like "Detox Mansion," "Bad Karma" and "Reconsider Me."
The album boasted a superstar lineup in it's supporting cast. Included were contributions from Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Flea, Brian Setzer, George Clinton, as well as Berry, Buck, and Mills.
Being basically clean and sober, Zevon began to produce albums at a regular rate.
This album, like "Sentimental Hygiene," carried an all star team including Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady, keyboard player Chick Corea and guitarists Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen and even Neil Young.
Three of my favorite songs are "Splendid Isolation," "Run Straight Down" and a spacy, introspective ballad "They Moved The Moon." The song "Run Straight Down" could easily have appeared seamlessly on any Pink Floyd album.
What I again consider a great album, "Transverse City" was considered another commercial disappointment.
Although he never found the commercial success of his album "Excitable Boy" his music remained relevant and he continued pumping out biting and cynical songs the whole while.
Maybe my critique of Warren Zevon fits the description of "Unsung Bands of the 70's" but only for the reason that the volume of work he produced and the creativity, ingenuity and imagination he brought to the music world were never matched by the level of stardom he should have achieved. In a way, I feel he was cheated.
In reading some of his memoires, I don't think he felt that way. In fact, it appears that he was incredibly grateful for everything he achieved and felt blessed by the friends he made and the life he lived.
He summed it up best on his last appearance on the Letterman Show. Having made public his fight with cancer, when asked by Letterman what he understood about life and death, he replied: "Enjoy Every Sandwich."
It's easy to tell them about it.
Forward it on to them or just email them my blog link at www.survive55.com.
The more Baby Boomers we can help; the better place we make this world !!!