Choosing the best S.F. musicians is kinda like forcing yourself to choose your favorite Bay Area bridge: Whatever you pick, there's always a good reason to go with another answer. San Francisco has a well-earned reputation as one of the world's rock 'n' roll meccas, but its contributions to music have come from all kinds of artists -- composers, DJs, and some musicians who simply elude classification. After much deliberation then, let present this list of the 20 all-time greatest S.F. musicians, which we will be rolling out this week. Note to qualify for this list, an artist needs to have a strong association with San Francisco itself -- not other Bay Area cities. Now, let's get down to business, with the 20 greatest S.F. musicians ever, nos. 20 to 16:
20. Cameron Paul
Lists of pioneering American DJs often mention the usual suspects in New York and Chicago, but go back to the '70s and '80s and you'll find a small but innovative group of S.F. spinners that laid the foundations for what would later become turntablism. In his day, Cameron Paul was a local legend, a powermixer par excellence, who held storied residencies at Studio West and City Nights, as well as influential radio shows on KMEL and the now-defunct KSOL. Cutting with godlike ease through electro, new wave, hip-hop, hi-nrg, and disco, his sets were met with reverential awe, inspiring an entire generation of DJs to hit the decks and start scratching. Yet, far from just being a local legend, Paul took the nation by storm with his Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling remix of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push-It" (aka, the version you know), and a highly sampled back-catalog of essential DJ tools on his Mixx-It label. While others might have gone on to more fame, it simply wouldn't have happened without the man who started it all. -- Derek Opperman
19. Steve Miller
There are few things that scream "nerd" harder than T-shirts, posters, and school folder doodles of mythological creatures. So give Steve Miller credit that he managed to make Pegasus cool in the late '70s, after making the winged horse a symbol for his bright brand of chart-topping prog-pop-rock. And that's the thing about Miller: He's never been cool, but he's always been awesome.
Miller has been a lot of things to the commercial music canon since launching his eponymous band in the psychedelic scene of 1967 San Francisco. Since arriving like so many others in an era-defining Volkswagen Bus, the Wisconsin-born, Texas-bred, Chicago-honed guitarist/singer has presented his personae as the Space Cowboy, the Gangster of Love, and a guy named Maurice in his breezy 1973 party vibe-summation frathouse sing-along "The Joker." But through it all he's been very serious about crafting a fluid, melodic style. Miller was already seven albums into a career of winding psychedelic jams when he reoriented his approach toward pop. And though he indulged echoing interludes and 16-minute space disco explorations, he'll always be best remembered for encapsulating San Francisco's atmosphere of trippy blues into easily palatable songs that are great for a toke and a grin. --Tony Ware
18. Michael Tilson Thomas
Symphonies across the nation have been scrambling for funds and bleeding ticket buyers for years now -- leading some pop music enthusiasts to pronounce the classical genre a goner. But Michael Tilson Thomas, esteemed music director of the San Francisco Symphony, offers a glimmer of hope. His wide-ranging repertoire and innovative programming has opened San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall to audiences across the globe and has placed the organization at the forefront of the classical music world. A fierce advocate for music education and accessibility, Tilson Thomas created a popular multimedia series called, "Keeping Score" in partnership with PBS. He has led the orchestra on 13 national tours and through a landmark 12-concert festival celebrating the work of American composers of the 20th century. His work has garnered a long list of accolades, including 10 Grammy awards -- eight of which recognize his recordings with the San Francisco Symphony. Friendly and charismatic, Tilson Thomas helms the symphony through its centennial year and, certainly, for more to come. --Jessica Hilo