History and influence of Bay Area music
May 23, 2017
Introduction to Bay Area Music
All around the world, music is one of the defining aspects of culture. Varying genres and styles combine to create different forms of expression. Through music, people are connected to each other in countless ways. From parties to dancing, huge concerts to solitary listening, music surrounds people and helps define what a particular culture looks and feels like.
“Bay Area Music” is such a broad topic that it would be impossible to cover it all satisfactorily in an encyclopedia, let alone a series of vignettes. Countless fantastic, influential musicians and bands have started their careers in the Bay Area, including The Grateful Dead, Sly and The Family Stone, and Carlos Santana. It is very popular spot for touring musicians and bands of the world to come to, with names as big as Radiohead gracing various stages in Bay Area cities. Without a doubt, it has become one of the world’s most diverse and high caliber music community.
In this series of 10 vignettes, we explore how music impacts ordinary people living in the Bay Area, and how living in the Bay Area influences how people treat music.
Influential Bay Area bands:
Grateful Dead (1965-1995)
The Grateful Dead are arguably one of the most influential and strictly authentic bands to ever play. The long, strange trip of the Grateful Dead’s 30-year stint began here in the Bay Area, in the mid-late 1960’s. The only words one can put to accurately capture the Grateful Dead’s music would “improvisation.” Through the band’s many phases, styles, and approaches to music, improvisation was the only constant in their music since their foundation as a jug band. Originally playing country and folk in the earlier 60’s, the band took on and electric and bluesy sound, thanks to the influence of the Beatles. This blues-rooted style of music led them to coin the “San Francisco Sound,” a musical style often associated with the counterculture of the 1960’s, to say the least. Though the band brought new life to the music scene with the San Francisco Sound’s happy and playful sound, the Grateful Dead continued to tailor their sound through the 1970’s. Developing a complex and seemingly telepathic sense of band communication, the Dead took on a more complex jazz-influenced style that would stick till the band broke up in 1995 after the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia.
Carlos Santana (1966 – )
Carlos Santana revolutionized American music by bringing multicultural lens and sound to the industry. Born in Mexico, Santana’s style can be characterized by a mix of latin, blues, rock, and jazz fusion. One of Santana’s first major concerts was at Woodstock, as Bill Graham, who was and avid fan of latin music, promoted them to play at Woodstock in 1969. Santana would go on to have a highly successful career and is recognized as one of the world’s most distinctive guitarists, ranked 20 out of 100 for the world’s greatest guitarist by Rolling Stone.
Sly and the Family Stone (66-83)
Sly and the Family Stone, at their peak during the late 1960s and early 1970s, were a band formed in the Bay Area in 1966. They were cultural pioneers; their band was compromised not only of both men and women but both white people and black people. Many funk and soul bands followed this trend in years to come. The music from this band, and particularly from frontman Sly Stone would continue to influence soul music well into the 1990s.
Hip Hop Emergence
The Bay Area, and in particular Oakland, is a masterful hub of Hip Hop music. Many famous and influential artists have started up in this area. Since the 1960s, Oakland has been a place where the culture of Hip Hop has become influenced and expanded. This includes rapping, street art, and dancing. Most every element of Hip Hop and its culture can be in some way traced back to the Bay Area.
Read more at: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2011/11/14/interview-oakland-locals-eric-arnold-on-the-oakland-rap-scene/
Notable Bay Area Concerts:
The Grateful Dead’s first concert (called the Warlocks at the time) May 5, 1965
Rolling Stones at the Civic Auditorium (May 14, 1965)
Beatles at Candlestick Park (1966)
Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore (June 20, 1966)
The Grateful Dead at the Avalon Ballroom for the Mantra-Rock Dance January 29, 1967
Led Zeppelin at Kezar (June 2, 1973)
The Who at the Cow Palace (Nov. 20, 1973):
The Grateful Dead at Winterland October 16-20, 1974
SNACK concert at Kezar (March 23, 1975): Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan benefit concert
The Grateful Dead at the Closing of Winterland December 31, 1978
Metallica at the Stone (March 5, 1982)
Prince at the Cow Palace (Feb. 27, 1985)
Nirvana at the Warfield (Oct. 26, 1991)
Bill Graham: Laughter, Love and Music (Nov. 3, 1991)
Radiohead at the Greek Theatre 2006 (last time playing Black Star)
Outside Lands (annual music festival in San Francisco) begins in 2008
SFJazz Center is founded in 2013
Phish play legendary shows at the Greek Theatre in 2010 and in 2016 at the Bill Graham Center
Radiohead at the Greek Theatre 2017
Jeff: Metal Thrasher and Jazz Enthusiast
Judas Priest, Black Sabbath vs. Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis
Loud, headbanging, rebellious, and energetic.
Mellow, groovy, virtuosic, and revolutionary.
These are all words that best describe Bay Area music, Jeff’s taste in music, and Jeff’s passion for expressing of music. Though our conversation was brief, he carried the same high-energy attitude of the music he listens to and it was no surprise that our interview had started from a conversation over music in San Rafael music store, Bananas at Large.
Like Jeff, one can find music of any sound, style, or genre here in the Bay Area. The only accurate way to describe the Bay Area’s music scene would diversity and energetic, regardless of the genre.
From metal to jazz, Jeff’s taste ranged from hard rockers like Judas Priest, all the way to jazz virtuoso Joe Pass, “Personally, I am a fan of a variety of different music styles ranging from jazz all the way to metal, so I have had a variety of favorite bands. I grew up listening to hard rock and I’d say that’s like my favorite, guys like Judas Priest and black sabbath. When it comes to more funky stuff, Soulive would be my go to. For jazz, I listen to lots of Joe Pass, Jody fisher, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis.” Whether household name bands or lesser known bands on the come up, they’ve all made the Bay Area a stop on tour.
Jeff’s recollection of concerts he’s been to recently in the Bay Area also reflected how even small, less well-known bands can still make a name for themselves in the Bay Area music scene, “Off the top of my head the ones I remember in the last few years were like ACDC, Guns N’ Roses, the New Master sounds, and Off! I saw ACDC when they came here last year in the city at AT&T park, that was a good show. These were at music venues like Sweetwater and Slims in the city.”
Jeff notes the Sweetwater as one of the unique parts of the Bay Area music experience,
“I think the Bay Area definitely has a unique music scene, especially in Marin. The Sweetwater is definitely for me what makes Marin’s music scene pop out. You know it’s funny cause often some pretty well-known people come and play at this tiny little venue.”
Adam: A Revolutionary Spirit
Muse, Green Day, Queen, Animals as Leaders, and Panic at the Disco
Adam supports a wave of revolutionary and rebellious music. Bands that have defied the status-quo of music. He said some of his favorite bands are Muse, Greenday, Animals as Leaders, Queen, and Panic at the Disco. Greenday, which happens to be a Bay Area band, broke the boundaries of music by helping to grow the Punk Rock genre, a genre known best for its revolutionary attitude. Adam expressed great praise for Black Sabbath, who he credits as the early “investors” of heavy metal, again a genre known to upset moms, teachers, and anyone sticking to the conventions of music.
He’s been to see a good amount of concerts in the Bay Area, too, bands typically not associated with the Bay Area sound of today. He’s seen Panic! At the Disco live twice, Animals as Leaders, Weezer, and the Wallflowers. These were at venues like the Oracle Arena in Oakland (Panic at the Disco) and the Marin County Fair (the Wallflowers).
I sensed a bit of disappointed from Adam in today’s Bay Area music scene’s lack of innovation and rebellion, “I feel like the current Bay Area scene is still trying to ride on the success of the psychedelic rock scene of the 1960s. A lot of the scene is performances from older musicians from 60s bands or newer local bands in the same vein.”
Despite being redefining the world of music at the time, perhaps Adam is right that holding on to this once great definition of Bay Area music is limiting its musical capabilities, “I feel like the Bay Area music scene would improve if we expanded and stopped riding on the scene of the 60s. Attempting to replicated 60s bands has almost restricted the sound and creativity and is holding back Bay Area music today from meeting its full potential.”
Jack “Jam Band” Carek
Phish, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd
Jack Carek is a junior at Bay High School and his musical taste isn’t one you’d typically expect from a high schooler, given the wave of hip hop and rap present in high schools today. Carek’s interest spans to bands that typically have kept on the down-low of the mainstream media, but have grown support through dedicated fan bases. Phish and the Grateful Dead are his two favorite bands and though you’ve heard of them, they don’t receive the same radio play and media hype of more mainstream, popular rock groups. That’s because these bands are known for their extended jamming. Carek enjoys “jam band” music and jazz fusion, two music genres known for their sense of improvisation and diversity.
In Carek’s opinion, jam bands are the credit of one of his favorite bands, the Grateful Dead, “the idea of jam bands is in a way very Bay Area, it came from the Grateful Dead. Bay is area music was the birthplace of jam music and sparked the evolution of the music I like.”
The Grateful Dead trace their roots to San Francisco and the Bay Area and really helped to kick off the Bay Area music scene by inventing a very particular sound called the “San Francisco Sound.” 51 years after the Dead’s inception and without core member Jerry Garcia, Carek still has been able to enjoy one of his favorite bands, thanks to living in the Bay Area. He saw Dead and Company (essentially the Grateful Dead minus Jerry) at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California in 2016 and said: “it was one of the most inspiring musical and life experiences to watch.”
Moreover, Carek also went to see Phish in 2016 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, one of the most well-known venues in San Francisco. The venue is named after Bill Graham who is another icon of the Bay Area music scene; he promoted many up and coming bands, notably the Grateful Dead and is one of many to thank for the Bay Area’s music scene.
Michael: An Embodiment of 70’s Music
Yes, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake, and Palmer, Chick Corea
Talking with Michael, who’s an avid fan of classic rock and jazz, as well as a pianist himself, reflected both the Bay Area music scene’s attraction for high caliber artists and generation of influential artists over the decades. Recently, he saw the Rolling Stones at AT&T Park on November 15, 2005, for their “A Bigger Bang Tour,” where Metallica opened for the Stones. He also went to see Guns n’ Roses at AT&T Park as well, in 2016, and it is without a doubt that AT&T doubles as both baseball stadium, and a venue for world-renowned artists to perform.
Michael also noted that the SFJazz Center and the Fillmore have been two continual sources of great live jazz concerts in his opinion. Michael said the Fillmore is in his opinion “is a place that’s been a large part of the Bay Area music heritage, as many famous rock and jazz groups have played there.” The Fillmore does indeed serve as a historical reminder of the Bay Area’s musical legacy, as artists still flock worldwide to play there since it took off in a music hall in the mid-1960’s.
The SFJazz Center is a beacon for the future of the Bay Area music scene and since it was opened in 2013, the SFJazz Center promises the expansion of San Francisco’s live music scene today.
Andrea Mayana: The Diversity of Bay Area Music
Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, and Spanish Music
When Eric and I walked into Bordenave’s Bakery at 8:20 or so on a typical work day, the Spanish music playing from inside the shop was one of the first things we noticed.
Andrea Mayana offered a very multi-cultural perspective to our inquiry on Bay Area music. She enjoys both typical, American artists such as Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pink. However, she enjoys Spanish music (not necessarily traditional Spanish music, simply music in Spanish). Mayana commented on her musical interests, “cultured music that I like is Los Beatles. (laughs)…I listen to music in Spanish because that’s my first language. So I listen to Spanish music.”
It came as no surprise to the diversity in Bay Area music that when we inquired on whether or not famous Spanish Musicians played around here, Mayana enthusiastically answered, “Yes, the people they like. People love it.”
The Bay Area does offer a great deal of diverse music and seems to be a melting pot for both local, world-renowned, and artists from other cultures.
Miguel: Relaxing with Music
Kendrick Lamar. J Cole. Frank Ocean. Marc Anthony.
Miguel Maldonado, a junior at Marin Catholic High School, highly values the role of music in his life:
“Music gets me away from all the stress, and it kind of relaxes me especially like before tests or when I’m studying, it relaxes me, it helps me concentrate.”
In balancing school and being an avid competitive soccer player for both school and club, he clearly often turns to music to escape the stresses of his life:
“Music is something that helps me get away from all my problems.”
Other than how music helps his personal life, Maldonado also appreciates the diversity that the Bay Area offers for those who love music:
“The Bay Area is a perfect place for music because we have all different types of cultures, different types of people, perfectly diverse for any type of music.”
Finn: Western European Music in the Bay
Cleo. Of Monsters And Men. Passenger. The Dubliners. The High Kings.
Finn Rudy is not someone who would call himself an avid concert goer, nor someone who follows his favorite musical artists particularly closely. However, that does not mean that music is not an important part of his life:
“The role that music plays in my life is probably to entertain me, to give me joy when I’m sad, or if I find a really peaceful song it brings me peace.”
Rudy, a sophomore at St. Mary’s College High School, located on the border of Albany and Berkeley, is a soccer player who captains both his high school varsity soccer team and his local club team. Through these two platforms, he has gotten to know a great deal of people in his community; he also praises the Bay Area in general for its wide range of musical offers:
“I definitely have a lot of friends that like different types of music so I have a very wide range of music. So that brings really good perspective to the culture of music and where it comes from.”
Jorge: Spanish Music Galore
Julio Iglesias. Maria Carey.
Jorge Cervantes is a bus driver for Michael’s transportation. He does not have the easiest job. He has to sit cramped for hours, back and forth between San Rafael and Oakland, with many stops along the way. Although his English is limited, as he tells me before the brief interview, he clearly ends up giving me honest answers that reflect his feelings concerning music.
When I ask him how he feels about music, he begins answering before I can even complete the question, saying,
“I really like it. I listen to it most of the time.”
Although Cervantes does not follow concerts of his favorite artists, he is also one who turns to it often:
“[It makes me] comfortable. I like to listen to music when [I] go to sleep. I get very nice dreams.”
For people like Cervantes, it becomes clear how necessary music is. It is something in humanity that all humans can enjoy and experience together. It can make the unbearable bearable. It lets people forget about their problems. And it brings people together, which is ever necessary in a world full of disconnected people.
Nate: Something Seems a Little Phishy…
Phish. The Beatles. The Who. Led Zeppelin. Traffic.
One of the highlights of Nathaniel “Nate” Davis Peterson’s life in a musical context was when he went to see his favorite band, Phish, in San Francisco right as his favorite baseball team, The San Francisco Giants, were in the process of winning the World Series:
“There were a lot of excited giants fans in attendance.”
The Giants actually won the World Series during the concert, and the band stopped in the middle of the song, The Moma Dance, to play Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmL-5uSmBE0
Peterson comments, “That was fun because it was a Phish phan thing but it was also a Bay Area thing.”
A junior at Albany High School, in Albany, California, Peterson plays basketball year round for his school, and spends a great deal of time listening to music.
“Well, I listen to a lot of Phish, even when I’m at school sometimes. I’ve been to see Phish three times.”
Peterson is also very astute, commenting on the Bay Area music scene:
“I don’t think that I’m very involved in the Bay Area music culture. There’s a lot of homegrown Oakland rap that I see. Rootsy hip hop kind of stuff.”
This is very insightful from Peterson, as demonstrated by the fact that rap and hip hop do not line up with the types of music he listens to. And he is absolutely right. Oakland and its surrounding areas have been a major hub of Hip hop and Rap music and the birthplace of many famous artists of these genres, such as Tupac Shakur and E-40.
Sasha: Classic Rock Returns
The Beatles. Pink Floyd. The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. The Zombies. The Kinks.
When I ask Sasha Milton, a junior at College Preparatory School in Oakland, California, whether he’s seen his favorite bands live, he responds,
“I didn’t think I ever would, but I have had the opportunity. I’ve seen Paul McCartney twice, and I’ve seen Roger Waters from Pink Floyd (of course) and I’ve seen the Zombies. All three were great.”
Milton saw The Zombies in Berkeley:
“They were doing their 50th anniversary of their 1967/8 album Odessey and Oracle.” This was an especially special show. It was really magnificent. It was divine. They were very very good.”
Milton drove four hours to see his hero Paul McCartney, all the way in Fresno.
“He played mostly Beatles songs, but he did some Wings and some more recent hits.”
When I ask Milton about his experience with Bay Area music, he tells be about “one of [his] other favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty (principal songwriter) was born in El Cerrito and he went to El Cerrito High and St Mary’s!”
Milton also tells me about a Spanish project of his:
“Our assignment was to go experience some sort of Latin American culture, so I went to this place on Shattuck at this place called La Peña. It was very cool; you just walk in and it was this vibrant place and all of these people!”
Finally, Milton touches on music’s impact on his personal life:
“There are several facets of music’s affect on my life. One is that there’s different types of songs that I want to listen to when I’m in certain moods. So if I’m feeling angry, and I want to just kind of feel angry, listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall is very helpful and I just kinda go crazy. There’s music for every mood I’m in. Additionally, I play music. I play piano and ukulele and my dad plays music; it’s fun to be able to play your favorite songs.”