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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians: Honorable Mentions

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 10:11 AM

See also:

* The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians, Nos. 20-16

* The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians, Nos. 15-11

* The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians, Nos. 10-6

We're almost to the end of this week's list of the 20 greatest musicians of all time. Before we get to the final five, though, we want to pause and look at some of the S.F.-affiliated artists that didn't quite make the top 20, but are worth celebrating nonetheless. After this, you'll have plenty of clues about who will make our top five best S.F. musicians of all time when the list goes up tomorrow. But right now, stop and appreciate some great locals:

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Stephan Jenkins

Sure, you're probably remembering Stephan Jenkins at this moment as a little bit of an asshole. It's not that you're wrong about this, just that you're underestimating the extent to which he's an asshole you want in your life. Not in the "Deep Inside of You" sense, but in the sense that he is the rare kind of guy who can blithely, even earnestly write a song called "Deep Inside of You." Third Eye Blind, the band Jenkins started here in 1993 and still mobilizes today for the odd concert or political fundraiser, is one of the spurned essentials of the 1990s: an impeccably tuneful, unexpectedly muscular rock band that, thanks to Jenkins' borderline-TMI brand of rock-star candor, was never quite freaky enough to be marginalized and never quite refined enough to taken truly seriously. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's what this entire city is like on its best days. And you're a fool if you think "Semi-Charmed Life" won't be in ten years where "Don't Stop Believing" is today. -- Daniel Levin Becker

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Chris Isaak

Anyone who caught Chris Isaak's flawless performance at last year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival would never deny him a place among S.F.'s greats. For all the Elvis comparisons, the fact is, when you hear Isaak's unique voice, you know immediately that it is him -- and for all the right reasons. Think back to the first time you ever saw the ridiculously sexy and stylish video for "Wicked Game" (in which Isaak frolicked on the beach with a mostly-naked Helena Christensen) and try to deny this man's majesty. It can't be done! Today, Isaak remains as charming, funny, distinctive and -- gosh darn it -- handsome, as he ever was. -- Rae Alexandra

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John Dwyer

If people don't remember John Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees in 30 years, it will be a fucking tragedy. This is not a mere rock band -- it is a local treasure, an S.F. icon sort of like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Giants of underground rock. The band's live show is notorious, whether you caught it in the dungeonesque confines of the Eagle Tavern (R.I.P.) or at the top of the bill at Great American Music Hall. And the leader of Thee Oh Sees is John Dwyer, a man whose ravenous, unhinged stage persona makes him seem half-human and half animal. Wild as he is onstage, Dwyer is a reliable fount of musical ideas -- Thee Oh Sees put out two albums last year, remember -- and an expert on all things garage-rock. He also runs his own Castle Face label and works with other local artists (you can thank him for helping out Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin). But as leader of Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer has earned an unofficial status as the figurehead of the San Francisco garage-rock scene. -- Ian S. Port

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Johnny Mathis

There is no adult contemporary male vocalist with more pop music penetration than Johnny Mathis. Mathis emerged a star of jazz standards and romantic ballads during San Francisco's psychedelic rock era. Though born in Texas, he grew up in the Richmond District and was raised on a steady diet of song and dance. Mathis performed in amateur and community shows throughout his adolescence; and toured local venues like The Black Hawk Club through high school and college. He was discovered by a representative of Columbia Records at 19. At the time, Mathis was attending San Francisco State University and preparing for a career as an Olympic high jumper. Abandoning hopes to become a professional athlete in order to pursue music, Mathis went on to record a host of albums, including five Christmas specials, and to work on MGM films Lizzie and A Certain Smile. His Greatest Hits album was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest stay of any album on a music chart. Mathis has three Grammy awards and was recognized for his work on Same Time, Next Year with an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. He was given a lifetime achievement award in 2003 by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. -- Jessica Hilo

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Paul Kantner

Paul Kantner was born in the Sunset District of San Francisco. He played guitar as a teenager, set on becoming a protest singer like Pete Seeger. In 1965, Marty Balin saw Kantner playing in a folk club and asked him to join the band he was starting. Kantner brought along bass player Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen; they became the core of Jefferson Airplane. That same year they signed with RCA and earned a gold record for their debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Their second LP, the psychedelic masterpiece Surrealistic Pillow, went gold behind two songs that remain radio standards, "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit." The band¹s overnight success created tension among its members; Kantner left the group, dissatisfied with their commercial direction. His first solo album, the sci-fi influenced Blows Against the Empire, was credited to Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, a loose collective of San Francisco musicians. The group evolved into Jefferson Starship and had more hits, but again Kantner was put off by its success and quit. Since then he's toured with Balin and Casady as the KBC Band and as a member of the reformed Starship. Their most recent effort is Jeffersons Tree of Liberty, an 18-track album of protest songs. Jefferson Airplane was induced into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. -- J Poet

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Rappin 4-Tay

From being bred in the Fillmore to learning how to play several instruments at what was then McAteer High School, Anthony Forté's strong suit has always been music. Too $hort and the late Tupac Shakur were among the internationally known locals who recognized the talent and individuality in Rappin 4-Tay's nimble, laidback flow early on, borrowing his skills for their legendary platinum-selling albums (Life Is. . . Too $hort and All Eyez on Me, respectively). What most endures beyond these collaborations is the 1994 single "Playaz Club," a song that still serves an evocative window into the S.F. skin hustle. Staying on the right side of the law hasn't been one of 4-Tay's strengths, though, and a number of jail stints are often blamed for a career that might have helped place San Francisco proper more firmly on the global rap map. -- Tamara Palmer

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Roddy Bottum

"I care a lot about confusing people, about making sure people don't feel safe or complacent," Roddy Bottum told The Advocate in 1993. The Faith No More keyboardist's matter-of-fact attitude made him one of the premier gay members of a straight-identified band. And when Faith No More toured with Guns 'n Roses at the height of its success, Bottum still had no reservations about trashing Axl Rose's homophobia in the press. As Faith No More collapsed, he started the power-poppy Imperial Teen, which has been great in its own right for 16 years. Unlike its prog-metal predecessors, no one confused Imperial Teen for a "straight" band even from the get-go, with songs like "Butch" ("The prince wants to be a queen") and "You're One" ("You kiss me like a man, boy"), the latter of which is rumored to be about Kurt Cobain, whose widow Bottum slept with prior to coming out. This may or may not have prepped him to famously score Rose McGowan's entrance in Jawbreaker with "Yoo Hoo," the ultimate bitch anthem. But writing "Be Aggressive" for Faith No More's (straight) Mike Patton to sing ("I swallow! I swallow! I swallow!") is arguably more audacious than anything Courtney Love has ever done. -- Dan Weiss

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Blake Schwarzenbach

We guarantee that half of the people reading this just looked at that name and went "Who?", but the fact is, Blake Schwarzenbach, during his time fronting Jawbreaker, proved himself to be one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) lyricists of all time. Jawbreaker broke up in 1996, but to say the band's influence on alternative music has been far-reaching would be a gross understatement: it changed the face of punk rock and played an enormous role in the development of post-hardcore and emo. The Mission District-loving trio (these days, drummer Adam Pfahler owns and runs Lost Weekend Video on Valencia) made four albums (all exceptional), was consistently ahead of its time, and still remains adored by an often-obsessive fan base. Today, Schwarzenbach is based in Brooklyn and performs in forgetters. -- Rae Alexandra

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Kirk Hammett

If the stars had aligned a little differently, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett might have gone down in history as the guy who replaced Dave Mustaine. Instead, he's barely remembered as the founding guitarist in one of the most influential thrash bands of all time -- Exodus -- but only because his next thrash band was that much more influential. With Metallica, 20-year-old Hammett hit the ground running. His landmark riffs drive Kill 'Em All, released just two months after he joined in 1983. Although Hammett operated largely under the thumb of Metallica founders James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich for years before everyone got therapy, he penned some of the band's most iconic guitar moments, such as the one in "Enter Sandman" you can't shake from your brain. Despite the breakneck pace of epics such as "Dyer's Eve," Hammett consistently makes his guitar sound effortless, bringing metronome-sharp shredding or baroque shimmer (and lots of wah-wah) as needed. Thrash birthed increasingly extreme forms of heavy metal, including black and death metal. Not since Jimmy Page has a guitarist launched so many dreams of axe mastery -- or so many heavy-metal subgenres. -- Beth Winegarner

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Linda Perry

Way back when, before "What's Up" became an international megahit, 4 Non Blondes were a San Francisco party band. The song eventually became one of the most successful Bay Area singles of the '90s, and before the band could record a follow-up, singer and songwriter Linda Perry left due to personal problems. She's never duplicated the mega success of that hit, but Perry has had an interesting career since then, working as a producer with the likes of Pink, Christina Aguilera, and others. -- Ian S. Port

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Neal Schon

For a guy who co-founded a band named Journey, Neal Schon has actually not strayed far for the past four decades. Before launching Journey in 1973, Schon, a 16-year-old prodigy, played on two albums of fellow San Franciscan Carlos Santana, then spent the next 40 years working his way from jazz-fusion to solo-anchored pop-rock and into millions of records sold, but all with the same group. Always feeling he could turn the influences of 1960s soul and hard-driving blues into songwriting success, Schon did not stop believin' -- he dialed down his proggy tendencies by the cusp of the 1980s, and as a result, his high-gain, creamily sustaining guitar tone became a classic rock radio and air guitar championship staple.

Not everything about Journey has been as consistent as Schon's presence; the band did see its popularity ebb and flow since the departure, return, and departure of singer Steve Perry. And since Journey's popularity resurgence in 2007, the conversation about it has primarily associated the band with New Jersey, thanks to the Sopranos finale; the Philippines, thanks to the recruitment of the band's current lead singer from that nation; and to all the high school glee clubs and karaoke bars of Everywhere, U.S.A. But ultimately, when Journey launches into the song "Lights," it's still that city by the bay being referenced, that home of Schon's development through jazzy prog-rock, scorching solos and, most importantly, high-soaring, heart-pumping anthems. -- Tony Ware

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Christopher Owens

Two albums into their career, it's looking less and less likely that San Francisco's Girls will be one of those bands that fades away after the initial burst of its Internet hype bubble. But if for some reason Girls never make another record, the songs already penned by frontman Christopher Owens will likely stand as some of the most nakedly honest of their age. Owens is not a great singer in the technical sense -- his voice is thin, a little scratchy, and not blessed with a particularly large range. But his songs (think back to "Laura," "Heartbreaker," "Hellhole Ratrace," or even "Vomit" and "Honey Bunny" from the band's latest album) provide a clear window into the complexity of Owens' personality, while borrowing sounds from all over 20th century pop. The man is dramatic and strange, but he boxes up his strangeness into neat packets of singalong pop-rock. Owens is probably the best young songwriter in San Francisco right now -- and we really hope he isn't going anywhere. -- Ian S. Port

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Charlie Musselwhite

The early 1960s saw American blues motivating what would become British rock royalty -- the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton -- and did likewise for a considerable tally of Yanks, young Memphian Charlie Musselwhite among them. The blues harmonica great-to-be apprenticed with acoustic blues legend Big Joe Williams there and with blues harp icon Little Walter Jacobs in Chicago's South Side scene. During San Francisco's rock renaissance, Musselwhite's debut album, Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band (the record label misspelled his name, oy!) was a local radio favorite. By 1967, Musselwhite got so many offers to play S.F. he couldn't refuse. The City by the Bay made such an impression that, said Musselwhite, "I knew after 10 minutes I wasn't going back to Chicago!" Charlie Musselwhite became a force in the Bay Area blues scene, employing guitar aces Luther Tucker, Freddie Roulette, and Harvey Mandel in his bands. He went on to international acclaim that continues today. That glowing, vibrant harmonica on Into the Wild's soundtrack and his neighbor Tom Waits' Mule Variations? Him. Musselwhite's wailing synthesis of rural roots and urban grit continues to sear and soar into the 21ST century. -- Mark Keresman

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