The greatest musical discoveries are always unplanned, and when I come across a great band or artist I have never heard before, I want to share my find. Here are 10 great bands and musicians you’ve probably never heard of, but you should! And there’s another band I’d like to include, but need more info. Maybe you can help?
- Jimmie Spheeris – The singer/songwriter who should be mentioned with the giants. Spheeris’ career – and life – were cut short when he was killed by a drunk driver in 1984. This Youtube tribute showcases a handful of Spheeris’ top tunes and gives a sense of his range. I’m still waiting for Spheeris to receive the same reappraisal and rediscovery that Nick Drake so rightfully received a few years back. Get Isle Of View and The Dragon Is Dancing ASAP.
- Todd Hobin Band – Upstate New York was home turf for the Todd Hobin Band, which built a steady following in the 1970s playing upbeat rock with a tinge of country. I first discovered Hobin through the 1978 Todd Hobin Band album. Long before power ballads were twisted into parody by “metal” bands looking for a single, Hobin wrote one of the great ones, “Everybody’s Got A Song To Sell.”
- Cherokee – Cherokee’s self-titled album from 1971 is for me the great, lost country-rock record. Fronted by the three Donaldson brothers – David, George and Robert – who first made a name in the 1960s, playing as The Robbs. Cherokee enlisted the formidable talents of Chris Hillman and Sneaky Pete Kleinow for help on their one and only LP. Great grooves and playing across the platter.
- Ben Atkins – Atkins’ 1971 album Patchouli is notable not just for its heavily scented cover, but also a curious gatefold featuring the singer planted butt-down in an outhouse, cigarette in hand and deep in concentration(?). Backed by a cast including Barry Beckett, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Bobby Manuel, Marvell Thomas and Al Jackson Jr., Patchouli is a swampy mix of Southern R&B and soul bolstered by Atkins’ golden pipes. The spare arrangement of Jerry Puckett’s “That Brings Me Down” is superb.
- Michael Dinner – Spending a Saturday afternoon digging through musty LPs in used record shops is my idea of a good time. On such digs I’ve discovered dozens of cool records and bands that never got mainstream attention. Give me $20 and two or three hours in the bins and I’ll come back with something cool to listen to. One of my favorite ways to find new artists is to look for “associations” on the cover or sleeve. When I first came across Michael Dinner’s The Great Pretender, I saw many familiar names backing him: Linda Ronstadt, Doug Haywood, Herb Pedersen, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Larry Knechtel, Mike Utley and Russ Kunkel. With friends like that, the album can’t help but have something to offer. Just listen to the catchy title track from Dinner’s The Great Pretender and wonder why he never made it big.
- Hawk – “It’s dark and still in the chief’s village, protected by the mountains of the great southern regions of Africa. Drums echo through the valley, as the first fingers of light paint the sky with the fresh colours of morning. And to the day begins… And so begins the amazing title track from Hawk’s 1971 release, African Day. Hawk was a South African act from the early 1970s with a penchant for flute- and percussion-driven rock, with a sound that could only come from Africa. Imagine Thick As A Brick-era Jethro Tull meeting Islands-era King Crimson on safari. Check out African Day - available through Fresh Music, a South African music label with a terrific selection of reissues from a music-rich country.
- Roger Rodier – Montreal’s Roger Rodier released Upon Velveatur in 1972, a nimble LP of French-Canadian folk rock that bears comparison to Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake. Long out of print until resurrected in 2006 and capped with bonus tracks. Upon Velveatur is perfect listening for a foggy day, when there’s no chance of sunlight.
- FM – Toronto’s FM are often lumped in with Rush and Saga as part of Canada’s progressive rock scene from the 1970s and ’80s. FM were a different animal, though, with more of a space-y approach that included electric violins, mandolin and synthesizers. Black Noise is my fave of the band’s recordings.
- Federal Weights And Measures – Minneapolis’ Federal Weights And Measures released Waiting In Your Backyard on the short-lived GrooveTone label in 2000. As well, the band soon ceased to exist but Waiting should have received a better shake. It’s an atmospheric collection of alt-country and roots rock that fans of the Jayhawks, early Wilco or Drive-By Truckers will surely dig.
- Dave Evans – Think of the torchbearers of British-Isles fingerstyle guitar and names such as John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch and Davey Graham spring to mind. Dave Evans is another who should be on that list. An astonishingly skilled acoustic guitarist who now seems shrouded in mystery. I don’t know where Evans is, if he still plays live – is alive – or has recorded anything recently, but this Youtube video of “Stagefright,” with Evans playing a guitar he made himself, sheds light on one of Britain’s true originals.
Lastly, I discovered an Australian band online several years ago called Stereomatic. I heard two songs: “Glider” and “Pelican,” both of which I would describe as lush, downer power-pop. Really gorgeous stuff, but that’s all I’ve been able to find. Stereomatic released an album titled Sandmans And Suntans in 1999 on Interstate 40 Music. The CD is out of print and there is little info about the band anywhere. If you know where I can get a copy of this disc, please let me know.