Why celebrate under-appreciated rock stars anyway? There is certainly no shortage of music in the world today (rock or otherwise). On television alone, musical shows abound, from American Idol to Glee to America's Got Talent to The X Factor to The Voice. Though not the force it once was, broadcast radio and satellite radio alike are still vital forums for music of all types. Walk through any mall in America, and you might hear as many as 5 or 6 songs at once coming from various stores and carts. I am just starting to appreciate the depth of the reportedly millions of videos that have been posted on YouTube.
I do love being able to tie these obscure bands to something most people would have heard of or to something else going on in the larger society. For instance, two bandmembers from the UARB for last month, the Magicians went on to be successful songwriters; and even those who might not remember the 1960's hit song 'Happy Together' by the Turtles could still recognize it as the background music for one of those adorable Travelers Insurance ads with the dog who is so worried about his bone (the one with all of the puppies).
It is easy to argue that 'they don't make 'em like they used to', and that would also be my main argument I suppose. For every Beatles and Cream and Beach Boys and U2 and White Stripes that made the big time, there are hundreds of bands that were every bit as good and were also well regarded enough to get a record deal ' they just missed out on all of the stardom. (There are thousands more that didn't even get signed, but without some recordings, I have nothing to talk about).
I don't have to go any further than my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina to find a band that should have had a lot more success than they did: The dB's (Stands for Decibels as their 1981 debut album proclaimed). Their fourth and last album, The Sound of Music was released in 1987 during the heyday of I.R.S. Records (R.E.M.'s label), but this one too had lackluster sales. They were critical faves ' Chris Stamey in particular is often cited as being among the best songwriters in his generation, and Peter Holsapple is no slouch himself in that regard ' and the band was quite popular in England, but they are virtually unknown in their own country. However, the dB's do not fit my definition of an under-appreciated rock band at all: Their Wikipedia article was started way back in May 2004, when the online encyclopedia was barely three years old.
For those wanting to hear 'em like they used to be, I live in a casino town, so a lot of the oldies acts come through here. I set aside a more or less random Marquee newspaper insert covering entertainment options down here (from October 2011). Here are the better known acts that were listed, and this is by no means everybody who was in town over those several weeks: Herman's Hermits (featuring Peter Noone), Loretta Lynn, Frankie Avalon, Tommy James and the Shondells, David Cassidy, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Kool & the Gang, Merle Haggard, and the Four Tops.
Of course, the other side of the complaint I mentioned above is that, sure enough, 'they do still make 'em like they used to' from time to time. I heard an ad on VH1 the other day that used a killer track by the Black Keys as the background music. The success of this band ' they've been going strong for more than a full decade now ' proves that the Garage Rock Revival of the early 2000's from bands like the White Stripes, the Hives, the Killers, Eagles of Death Metal, and Queens of the Stone Age still has some life in it. So far, I only have the Black Keys' first album, The Big Come-Up, but that won't be true much longer: For sure, I need their 2010 album Brothers, which won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album last year and also spawned a No. 1 Alternative hit song for them, 'Tighten Up'. Their most recent album El Camino seems to be every bit as good.
And that brings me to this month's Under-Appreciated Rock Artist of the Month, RON FRANKLIN. He reminds me a lot of Bob Dylan ' but of course, I suppose you would have to be someone like me who likes the way Dylan sings (there, I said it). I have told several people that I have always thought that Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler sounds just like Dylan, but no one seems to hear what I hear.
Anyway, to some extent, I think it is intentional. Two of the songs (Ron Franklin writes all of his own material) basically quote Bob Dylan. One is the death-obsessed 'Do Not Wait Till I'm Laid 'Neath the Clay'; this song is reminiscent of early Dylan songs like 'Fixin' to Die' and 'In My Time of Dyin'' on his first album, Bob Dylan, and the fantastic 'Let Me Die in My Footsteps' that was intended for inclusion on his second, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (the song was finally released officially on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991). The other is 'We Ain't Got No Home', which has a title and some lyrics that are virtually the same as Woody Guthrie's 'I Ain't Got No Home'. In the very beginning, Dylan was described as being just one among a host of Guthrie wannabes; but 'I Ain't Got No Home' is one of the very few Guthrie songs that Dylan recorded, even before he did much songwriting ' I speak as someone owning dozens of Dylan bootleg albums as well as virtually all of his Columbia and Asylum releases.
Ron Franklin lives in Memphis, and as one might expect from someone living in the home of Basin Street and Graceland, he has drawn from a wide variety of influences. As Allmusic puts it, Franklin has become a vital presence in the Memphis music scene. It is hard for me to think of Memphis anymore without seeing it as being just outside Mississippi. I knew that long ago, but I was reminded of it again last year when the city right on the Tennessee State Line, Southaven (where we had a sizable appraisal job several years ago) became the state's fourth largest city; and when 60 Minutes did an extended piece on the adjoining city of Olive Branch.
The 2008 album that I have, called simply Ron Franklin and released (where else) on one of the Bomp! labels (Alive), is actually Ron Franklin's third album, and Allmusic gives it four stars. The recording quality is very clean (this is one of those albums where I own both an LP and a CD ' not on purpose, but that is how it worked out). You won't go wrong. He also has a website: www.alive-totalenergy.com/x/?page_id=527 .
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FLASHBACK: The Under Appreciated Rock Artist of the Month for January 2010 ' WENDY WALDMAN
Though I call my series the Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month, the second entry was not a band at all, but a wonderful singer-songwriter from the L.A. area. Of all of the 26 bands and artists that I have written about, this one to me is the most surprising. Most of them are utterly unknown even to most record collectors, never mind the general public. I am no expert myself in this regard; typically I have stumbled onto the under-appreciated bands. As an example, I was introduced to Beast (my first UARB, from December 2009) by a friend of a friend, and I managed to find a copy of both of their albums. However, I have never seen another Beast album besides the two that I own, as far as I can remember; and that is pretty much the pattern for the other two dozen. Offhand I would say that I had to mail-order the music that I have on the majority of them. By contrast, if you haunted used record stores and cutout album bins in the 1970's and 1980's like I did (not that I have stopped!), you would have seen Wendy Waldman LP's all the time.
I saw Linda Ronstadt perform in Raleigh, North Carolina during her Mad Love Tour in 1980, and Wendy was on-stage with her the whole time. She was not exactly the opening act for Linda, but about halfway through, Wendy Waldman performed several songs of her own. Linda introduced her as 'one of my dearest friends'.
Speaking of Mad Love ' Linda Ronstadt's new-wave album that featured several songs by Elvis Costello ' a couple of years earlier, Wendy Waldman had recorded an album called Strange Company that represented a bit of a departure for her as well; she was even backed by several of the same musicians. For all I know, Linda heard that album and came up with the idea for her own LP. Strange Company is my favorite album of hers; the cover alone is a real hoot ' it has the appearance of what the National Enquirer looked like back then, with several faux tabloid stories and photographs showing what Wendy had been up to and whom she had been seen with.
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The Honor Roll of the Under Appreciated Rock Bands and Artists follows, in date order, including a link to the original Facebook posts and the theme of the article.
Dec 2009 ' BEAST; Lot to Learn
Jan 2010 ' WENDY WALDMAN; Los Angeles Singer-Songwriters
Feb 2010 ' CYRUS ERIE; Cleveland
Mar 2010 ' BANG; Record Collecting I
Apr 2010 ' THE BREAKAWAYS; Power Pop
May 2010 ' THE NOT QUITE; Katrina Clean-Up
Jun 2010 ' WATERLILLIES; Electronica
Jul 2010 ' THE EYES; Los Angeles Punk Rock
Aug 2010 ' QUEEN ANNE'S LACE; Psychedelic Pop
Sep 2010 ' THE STILLROVEN; Minnesota
Oct 2010 ' THE PILTDOWN MEN; Record Collecting II
Nov 2010 ' SLOVENLY; Slovenly Peter
Dec 2010 ' THE POPPEES; New York Punk/New Wave
Jan 2011 ' HACIENDA; Latinos in Rock
Feb 2011 ' THE WANDERERS; Punk Rock (1970's/1980's)
Mar 2011 ' INDEX; Psychedelic Rock (1960's)
Apr 2011 ' BOHEMIAN VENDETTA; Punk Rock (1960's)
May 2011 ' THE LONESOME DRIFTER; Rockabilly
Jun 2011 ' THE UNKNOWNS; Disabled Musicians
Jul 2011 ' THE RIP CHORDS; Surf Rock I
Aug 2011 ' ANDY COLQUHOUN; Side Men
Sep 2011 ' ULTRA; Texas
Oct 2011 ' JIM SULLIVAN; Mystery
Nov 2011 ' THE UGLY; Punk Rock (1970's)
Dec 2011 ' THE MAGICIANS; Garage Rock (1960's)
Jan 2012 ' RON FRANKLIN; Why Celebrate Under Appreciated?
Feb 2012 ' JA JA JA; German New Wave
Mar 2012 ' STRATAVARIOUS; Disco Music
Apr 2012 ' LINDA PIERRE KING; Record Collecting III
May 2012 ' TINA AND THE TOTAL BABES; One Hit Wonders
Jun 2012 ' WILD BLUE; Band Names I
Jul 2012 ' DEAD HIPPIE; Band Names II
Aug 2012 ' PHIL AND THE FRANTICS; Wikipedia I
Sep 2012 ' CODE BLUE; Hidden History
Oct 2012 ' TRILLION; Wikipedia II
Nov 2012 ' THOMAS ANDERSON; Martin Winfree's Record Buying Guide
Dec 2012 ' THE INVISIBLE EYES; Record Collecting IV
Jan 2013 ' THE SKYWALKERS; Garage Rock Revival
Mar 2013 ' THE GILES BROTHERS; Novelty Songs
Apr 2013 ' LES SINNERS; Universal Language
May 2013 ' HOLLIS BROWN; Greg Shaw / Bob Dylan
Jun 2013 (I) ' FUR (Part One); What Might Have Been I
Jun 2013 (II) ' FUR (Part Two); What Might Have Been II
Jul 2013 ' THE KLUBS; Record Collecting V
Aug 2013 ' SILVERBIRD; Native Americans in Rock
Sep 2013 ' BLAIR 1523; Wikipedia III
Oct 2013 ' MUSIC EMPORIUM; Women in Rock I
Nov 2013 ' CHIMERA; Women in Rock II
Dec 2013 ' LES HELL ON HEELS; Women in Rock III
Jan 2014 ' BOYSKOUT; (Lesbian) Women in Rock IV
Feb 2014 ' LIQUID FAERIES; Women in Rock V
Mar 2014 (I) ' THE SONS OF FRED (Part 1); Tribute to Mick Farren
Mar 2014 (II) ' THE SONS OF FRED (Part 2); Tribute to Mick Farren
Apr 2014 ' HOMER; Creating New Bands out of Old Ones
May 2014 ' THE SOUL AGENTS; The Cream Family Tree
Jun 2014 ' THE RICHMOND SLUTS and BIG MIDNIGHT; Band Names (Changes) III
Jul 2014 ' MIKKI; Rock and Religion I (Early CCM Music)
Aug 2014 ' THE HOLY GHOST RECEPTION COMMITTEE #9; Rock and Religion II (Bob Dylan)
Sep 2014 ' NICK FREUND; Rock and Religion III (The Beatles)
Oct 2014 ' MOTOCHRIST; Rock and Religion IV
Nov 2014 ' WENDY BAGWELL AND THE SUNLITERS; Rock and Religion V
Dec 2014 ' THE SILENCERS; Surf Rock II
Jan 2015 (I) ' THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 1); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Jan 2015 (II) ' THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 2); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Feb 2015 ' BRIAN OLIVE; Songwriting I (Country Music)
Mar 2015 ' PHIL GAMMAGE; Songwriting II (Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan)
Apr 2015 (I) ' BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 1); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
Apr 2015 (II) ' BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 2); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
May 2015 ' MAL RYDER and THE PRIMITIVES; Songwriting IV (Rolling Stones)
Jun 2015 ' HAYMARKET SQUARE; Songwriting V (Beatles)
Jul 2015 ' THE HUMAN ZOO; Songwriting VI (Psychedelic Rock)
Aug 2015 ' CRYSTAL MANSION; Martin Winfree's Record Cleaning Guide
Dec 2015 ' AMANDA JONES; So Many Rock Bands
Mar 2016 ' THE LOVEMASTERS; Fun Rock Music
Jun 2016 ' THE GYNECOLOGISTS; Offensive Rock Music Lyrics
Sep 2016 ' LIGHTNING STRIKE; Rap and Hip Hop
Dec 2016 ' THE IGUANAS; Iggy and the Stooges; Proto-Punk Rock
Mar 2017 ' THE LAZY COWGIRLS; Iggy and the Stooges; First Wave Punk Rock
Jun 2017 ' THE LOONS; Punk Revival and Other New Bands
Sep 2017 ' THE TELL-TALE HEARTS; Bootleg Albums
Dec 2017 ' SS-20; The Iguana Chronicles
(Year 10 Review)

Last edited: April 7, 2021