Although I've now lived in the Los Angeles area for almost half my life, I'm still a Northern California boy at heart - raised in Cupertino, home of Apple and about forty miles south of San Francisco. So this is my tribute to all the Bay Area recording artists who have given the world a wealth of great music. While this list only honors the most significant bands from the region, I have to name-drop at least a few of the other notable Bay Area performers: Dead Kennedys, Huey Lewis & the News, Eddie Money, The Donnas, Counting Crows, En Vogue, Rancid, Night Ranger, the Pointer Sisters, Smash Mouth, Steve Miller, Spearhead, John Lee Hooker, Joan Baez, Third Eye Blind, and Faith No More. That's a lot of music! Not to mention transplants such as Neil Young and Tom Waits, as well as those artists who spent brief but important periods of their careers in the region like Tupac Shakur, Van Morrison, and Janis Joplin. Anyway, here are the top nine:
- The Grateful Dead. When somebody says "name a band from San Francisco", the first name that comes to mind is inevitably the Grateful Dead, who were at the center of the Haight Ashbury scene of the '60s and kept the groove going until frontman Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995. Ironically, despite their legendary status as a live act, few of the Dead's songs outside of their unlikely '80s hit "Touch of Grey" are familiar to the non-Deadhead public.
- Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Singer Grace Slick may have been the only consistent element in this group's frequently changing lineup (and name: Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and finally just Starship). Nevertheless, from the definitive '60s anthem "White Rabbit" to the wretched '80s anthem "We Built This City" (an ode to San Francisco), they churned out a healthy number of pop hits over a twenty year span.
- Santana. Guitarist Carlos Santana was born in Mexico but moved to San Francisco when he was 13. He has thus earned his right to call himself a true Bay Arean. Still going strong after five decades of performing, his eponymous band remains a source of local pride.
- Sly & The Family Stone. Like the Velvet Underground, Sly is probably more important to musicians than to - ahem - the "everyday people" of today. But it's inarguable that the eccentric soul icon laid the groundwork for all the funk, disco, and even hip hop that was to follow.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival. Hardly "born on the bayou", the short-lived but insanely prolific CCR actually came from the East Bay suburb of El Cerrito. Their Southern blues-rock sound connected with mainstream America while their contemporaries appealed to hippies. To this day, ordinary folks probably know more Creedence tunes than the entire output of the Dead, Airplane/Starship, Santana, and Sly combined. Plus, singer John Fogerty made it cool for future grunge bands to wear flannel.
- Journey. Though now their music is merely a kitschy staple on the karaoke circuit, Journey was on top of the world in the late '70s and early '80s. Among their string of Top 40 singles was "Lights", a tribute to their hometown of San Francisco.
- Metallica. Perhaps the most successful metal band of all time. Metallica officially formed in Southern California but relocated to El Cerrito (what's with El Cerrito?) less than two years into their long career.
- Green Day. Comprising one of the most popular bands in the world today, the three Green Day lads all grew up in the East Bay, coming of age in Berkeley's beloved punk scene.
- The Doobie Brothers. Originally I had ended this list with the execrable Smash Mouth only because I was under the impression that these one-hit wonders (okay, two hits: "All Star" and "Walkin' on the Sun") were the only major group to come out of my hometown of San Jose. (Cupertino is basically San Jose.) I was then corrected by a San Jose music fan who reminded me that, in fact, the Doobie Brothers also started off in ol' SJ, and are undoubtedly the more significant band.