Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lots of Bands...But Where's the Creativity?

Yeah, I'm an old fart. And proud of it too.

I was lucky enough to arrive in San Francisco just as it started to bloom in the late 60's. And with my record store Aquarius Records I was in a position for over 2 decades to listen to, discover, and attend hundreds of live concerts in an era of a true renaissance in music. That amazing era was not just in SF obviously, but in England, Germany, and other European cities... plus all the growing music scenes in L.A. N.Y. and in many other cities across the country.

What I and other friends discovered was a time when experimentation, not imitation was the order of the day. Today, in my job as a music business consultant
I still listen to a lot of music, but most of the time I say to myself something like "this sounds like the band so-and-so" or "I've heard all this before, but done better 20 or 30 years ago". So, what's up with that? Where is the creativity and innovation in music today?

I have a couple of observations about this issue: Any teenager in the last 30 years grew up usually with only mainstream commercial radio and/or MTV etc. And it wasn't the job of those commercial media outlets to advocate for innovation, OR playing any much music from different genres of music or from different decades. Commercial media of the last three decades wanted only to expose new music, and a small sampling of the same old warhorse 'classic' acts of the 80's, 70's, and maybe the 60's.

So, couple that idea with the fact that any popular music history courses have long been missing from any grade school and/or high school curriculum for decades now, and so really what can we expect to hear today when it comes to music that shows it roots, and grows from those roots? (as all music of past generations have).

Music of the past and different styles of music can be found today, but not through any traditional sources. You have to be a "music hound" that goes out there and is willing to explore the more forgotten or neglected artists and bands of the past that influence the curious musician of today.

If there is any real new directions in music going on, and of course there are artists and bands out there who are making amazing music, something is missing for me in a lot of the music of today. It seems to me if you are a musician today, you've got to be making music for the sake of that music, and NOT for the financial rewards you think are out there. You have to be a curious person, and you have got to love to explore the different musics of the past and you've got to be willing to take chances with the music you discover and assimilate the different styles of music-making into YOUR music.

You, as an artist, have to be excited about discovering a whole treasure trove of hidden jewels from the last few decades.

Never bothered to listen to jazz, or authentic roots blues, or world music, or even the roots of rock and R&B? Well, why not? Hell, the internet if jam-packed with websites that expose the music of the past while incorporating new ideas into it. Check out for example where huge live concert libraries of music are available to listen to for free, and even download some select concerts. Listen to internet radio stations or Pandora, and depending where you live there is probably a cool college radio station in your area that has as it's mission to play great music that would never be heard on the commercial stations.

Nobody is going to do this research for you. You have to have a driving curiosity that propels you into a world of past music that is stunning and inspiring.

From time to time I will list some artists and bands I have discovered since my days in San Francisco as an independent store owner, alternative radio host, Indie label co-owner, and manager of an alternative radio station. (90.3FM, Seattle).

Many of you might feel that I am just saying what I have said because I am and 'old fart' guy lost in the past...well, nothing could be farther from the truth. I have actively sought out new music, while at the same time checking out the music of today for over 4 decades now. And I feel that at this time, when more new releases than ever in history are coming out each year (Well over 100,000 new releases a year now)there is LESS creativity and innovation going on, then there was back when I arrived in San Francisco in 1966.

It shouldn't have to be this way. And the missing ingredient, from my point of view, is that artists and bands starting out today have missed out on where today's music has come from. I use to teach a History of Popular Music course for over 10 year at the Art Institute of Seattle, and how I taught it was to start with the present time, and go backwards through time each week, to see and hear where the music of each decade came from. YOU can do this yourself, and I can guarantee that if you try this method out, you will discover a whole new world of amazing older music.

Here are a few fave artists and bands, in no particular order, that I have loved over the years, and that you may not of heard of: Take a chance and look up a few of these acts and maybe you too will be moved and inspired in new ways, as you venture into music's amazing past.

Musicians and Bands I have loved over the years:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Sonny Boy Williamson
Love (with Arthur Lee)
Ian Hunter (and of course Mott the Hoople)
Procol Harum
Sam Rivers
The Residents
Dave Brubeck
Willy Deville (RIP)and Mink Deville
Kevin Coyne
Rova Saxophone Quartet
The Feelies
Romeo Void
The Mutants
Tony Williams
Bill Frisell
Tom Waits
Gene Krupa (and the whole Big Band era)
Art Blakely
Magic Sam
Albert Collins
Anita O'Day
Nina Simone

That is barely a start, but it should keep you busy till another time.


Christopher Knab
copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved


  1. I totally agree with following bands back through time to find their roots and get exposed to new music. I've often looked for interviews with members of my favorite bands so I can find out who they were listening to when they wrote their music, and then following the thread back to those artists and artists before them.

  2. good habit to have....thanks for your comment