Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Top Ten Cosmo-American Musical Artists

I just recently picked up a cheap used copy of the spectacular Bob Dylan mono recordings box, and it got me to thinking. I suppose this is just an invitation for an argument clinic, but I was wondering to myself, Who would constitute the top ten Cosmo-American musical artists?

By the way, one of the reasons these mono recordings are so superior, is that the stereo versions of some of the early acoustic albums have the vocal coming out of the center, and the guitar and harmonica coming out of either speaker. It's amazing how much more powerful they are coming right at you; or how powerful one man with an acoustic guitar can be. Even Mrs. G. could tell the difference, and women don't have the audiophile gene/illness.

Back then, in the 1960s, stereo was still mostly a gimmick, so you had this very unnatural presentation, as if it is possible to play the guitar ten feet away from where you're playing harmonica. You could only do that if you were eighteen feet tall and laying down. But then, where's the voice coming from? The diaphragm, I guess.

Back to our list. Should I even bother to define Cosmo-American? Maybe after the list. But in order to make the list, your music must be quintessentially American, which implies provinciality, and yet, cosmic in scope.

For example, Bach is obviously cosmic in scope, but not American. Conversely, rap is quintessentially American, but not cosmic.

It seems to me that there are certain artists that must appear on anyone's list, even if one isn't a big fan of that particular artist. Indeed, although I have some personal favorites, I just don't see how they could elbow their way in. Here are some of the artists that come to mind immediately and would have to appear on any list:

1. Louis Armstrong

2. Frank Sinatra

3. Ray Charles

4. Bob Dylan

5. Elvis Presley

Just for sheer influence, those names have to be there, for each, in a way, is the originator, or at least popularizer, of a whole genre. After them there may be a little wiggle room, some allowance for taste, but not much. Personally I would add

6. Miles Davis

7. Aretha Franklin

8. Muddy Waters

9. James Brown

Who's number ten? Think of the luminaries we might have to leave out: Jerry Lee Lewis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Brian Wilson/Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Brubeck/Desmond Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Sun Ra.... I imagine a lot of country folk would say Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, or the Carter Family...

I have an idiosyncratic and changing list of personal favorite Cosmo-Amercan musicians. I recognize that these don't deserve to be in the top ten, but they are nevertheless quintessentially American and cosmic in scope:

1. Bo Diddley

2. Pharoah Sanders

3. Harry Nilsson

4. Buck Owens

5. Sonny Boy Williamson

6. Art Pepper

7. Dexter Gordon

8. Jackie McLean

9. Howlin' Wolf

10. Byrds

So, who's on your list?


Blogger ge said...

well-sir, you are on a tangent to the orig. term GP coined..."Parsons is best known for his work within the country genre; he also mixed blues, folk, and rock to create what he called 'Cosmic American Music'"

but it's your blog so you have every right, I guess! Gram & Gene Clark'd be somewhere near the top of any such list i'd attempt! [some psychedelic influence'd seem to need be present also?]
my 'say it loud I'm no-stick & I'm proud' 2 cents worth!

5/26/2012 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger son of a preacher man said...

Don Reno
Bill Monroe
Jimmy Martin
Rev Gary Davis
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Hank Williams
Doc Watson
Freddy King
Buck Owens
JD Wilkes

5/26/2012 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

did you hear of or peruse POSITIVELY 4TH STREET? [Hajdu's recounting of that fun foursome Dylan-Baez, Richard-Mimi Fariña's adventures]
I kinda am more a Fariña nut than a Dylan devotee. but then again I BEEN DOWN SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME

5/26/2012 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Two names come to mind who were known more for their song writing than performing songs themselves are Carole King and Neil Sedaka.

I'm not sure they belong in this category, but they were certainly infuential in the Cosmo-American music industry.

5/26/2012 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, especially King. There's a new CD out of some of her legendary demos... Certainly among the greatest popular songwriters....

5/26/2012 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...


Parsons and Clark are covered under the Byrds....

5/26/2012 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Re Son of a P-man's personal list, I suppose it would be a lot easier if we broke it down into separate genres, i.e., jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, western wing, soul, R & B, folk, pop, and rock, because if you're partial to bluegrass, people like Watson, Martin, & Monroe would have to be on the list....

5/26/2012 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I am admittedly weak in my knowledge of Bluegrass, but I've always loved Circle 2 by the Dirt Band, even more than the legendary Circle 1.

5/26/2012 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

I'd agree, Bob. "Music" is a big tent.
Eg. I instantly thought "Gershwin" and "Copland", which are obviously not what everyone else had in mind.

5/26/2012 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, of course, but I was thinking more of performers. Songwriters and composers is a whole 'nuther subject.

5/26/2012 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger son of a preacher man said...

Being partial to bluegrass is putting it mild. Jazz would be my weakest area of knowledge. Just Harry Connick Jr and "Best of"'s.

Definitely in the Circle 1 camp.

5/26/2012 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

i think clarence white [rip] belongs on this list...kind of the hal blaine of jaw-droppingly- gifted session pickers... heck hal belongs on this list too! facelessly drumming on countless crucial sessions...

bob, gram & gene [2 scorpio bro's] did their best cosmic-est stuff post-byrds

5/26/2012 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Good mentions so far. Although I am not sure how to order them all, some other considerations not mentioned that should be included are: Springsteen (no matter what others may think of his later work); Roy Orbison; Marvin Gaye; Robert Johnson; and my crazy pick too new to really know...Bon Iver.

5/27/2012 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger stephen b said...

New on the scene, but no less awesome for that: Joe Bonamassa.

5/27/2012 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Roy and Marvin certainly deserve a nod. But Springsteen has become such a bitter crank in his dotage that I can no longer be objective. He was once my favorite, though, circa 75-79. Then I moved on to the Clash. Then the Clash broke up and I moved on to REM. Then, REM be-lamed themselves and I moved on to jazz. I think it's pretty safe to say that rock died with Kurt Cobain. Certainly nothing since then has caught the world's attention in the way Nirvana did. Well, I suppose hip hop did, but that's a regression.

5/27/2012 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

From what I've heard from him -- which admittedly isn't much -- Bonamassa just doesn't grab me in the way a Duane Allman or SRV does. Maybe I'm blinded by charisma.

5/27/2012 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Bon Iver was new to me. I just listened to some samples on Amazon (Emma), and some of them evoked the languid, pastoral, acoustic phase of early Neil Young, e.g., After the Gold Rush & Harvest. The album Bon Iver has some of that dreamy 4AD quality.

5/27/2012 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger stephen b said...

Joe B channels many of the greats (Clapton, Page, Hendrix, Allman) yet is very much his own guitarist. Here's two from recent concert, first Blue and Evil shows his gifts, second for fun, Who's version of Young man Blues.

5/27/2012 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Listening to Blue & Evil.... have to say, I don't care for the heavy arena-rock drum sound. No swing; or all rock and no roll. And he doesn't have a genuine blues voice, a la Gregg Allman, which is admittedly a difficult hurdle for many white bluesman, i.e., they can repeat the form but can't quite get the tone.... But I'll keep listening....

5/27/2012 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Guy can obviously play, but it just doesn't draw me in or speak to me with the same immediacy of, say, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks....

5/27/2012 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger stephen b said...

Joe opened for BB King at age twelve, but freely admits he was more influenced by British style of American blues. He is from an upstate New York family of musicians.
Here is The Thrill is Gone
Check out his numbers with Beth Hart.

5/27/2012 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I find him on the bombastic side, which was a problem with British Blues. Very few of them didn't plod. For a contrast, listen to early Stones. Charlie is the glue that holds it together, because that man can swing. There's a lightness about it.

And I never cared for BB King. Always struck me as "Vegas-y blues," or smooth blues for white folks. Also don't like his clean guitar tone.

5/27/2012 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

@Bob: Yes, I am big fan of the 4AD sound, and once was a bit of a shoegazer. A non-4AD (but would have been a sure fit) album that is considered to be one of my favorites is My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. Seemingly a transcendent rock album.

5/27/2012 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Hendrix begot SRV
Which is just fine wit me

Cosmo-Anerican movies?
Don't mind if I do:

Gone With The Wind
Sergeant York

5/27/2012 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sunset Boulevard
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
A Place in the Sun
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Big Lebowski
Night of the Hunter

5/27/2012 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I knew you would say, Night of the Hunter.
Because it's true.

Wizard of Oz
To Kill a Mocking Bird

5/27/2012 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I thinks it's alright if they were books first, if they make you forget the books.

5/27/2012 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

1. Elvis

"I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. Last time I saw Elvis alive was at Graceland. We sang ‘Old Blind Barnabus’ together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother." – James Brown.

"Elvis was an integrator. Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn’t let Black music through. He opened the door for Black music." – Little Richard.

"On a scale of one to ten, I would rate Elvis eleven." – Sammy Davis Jnr.


5/27/2012 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, objectively I think you have to put Armstrong & Presley at 1 & 2, followed by Dylan, in terms of sheer worldwide influence. They are the fountainheads.

I think one thing people can miss is that their music is all about freedom, hence, America. People behind the iron curtain could hear it and say to themselves, "ah, that's what freedom sounds like."

5/27/2012 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

The Grapes of Wrath
The Apartment
It Happened One Night

5/28/2012 05:40:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

Here's an online tribute to recently deceased cosmic american musician and his great album w/ Gene Clark
I first heard Doug Dillard play in his family group, The Dillards, but was completely unprepared for the art-apotheosis of The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, his brilliant 1968collaboration lp with ex-Byrd Gene Clark... It has been a musical and poetic touchstone for me ever since, one I turn to almost every day.

Like so many revolutionary-seeming art breakthroughs (I can’t think of another record that sounds like it or shares its instrument palette), Dillard & Clark’s first record reflected style-shift probabilities that were already in the air, but the album surpassed other worthy competition in quality and remains a timeless/spaceless artifact that eventually will fascinate post-Armageddon visitors to our planet, convincing them as they shift through the rubble that Earthlings once had something going for them, however improbable that seems at this Euro-broke/Beyoncé moment.

Too often Gene Clark discussion focuses on his lyrics’ unique poetic projections and too seldom on the music which frames the words. Nothing in Clark's work can match "Fantastic Expedition's" sonic gyroscopics, with Doug Dillard’s bluegrass mini-orchestra (comprising Bernie Leadon, David Jackson, Andy Belling , Chris Hillman, Jon Corneal, and Dillard’s own banjo, guitar and fiddle) perfectly jacketing Gene’s autumn-all-the-time melodies with constant filigrees and vari-speedy rhythms.

The songs wear their music like sleek and slippery coats of closely-woven chain mail or Islamic tilework calligraphy at Tabriz's Blue Mosque.

A masterpiece of tensegrity, the work recalls William Faulkner’s image of a “miniature replica of all the whole vast globy earth …. poised on the nose of a trained seal.”

Like all the great records of its era (and unlike almost anything on today's hit parade), “Fantastic Expedition” takes you on a magical mystery tour....

Aye Man!

5/28/2012 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I have a Gene Clark collection with five selections from that record, and they're all great. Why Not Your Baby is particularly memorable.

5/28/2012 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

What a week to be out of touch with OC.

I don't think there is any question about Bo Diddley. When you realize when Bo was creating and performing his stuff, you see that a good 75% of everything you like about Rock and Roll is Bo Diddley.

Bill Monroe is Bluegrass, but he would not have had the "sound" without Earl Scruggs, and it was Earl on "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" that millions heard while watching Bonnie and Clyde.

Elvis Presley should have stuck to singing Gospel in front of the Jordanaires.

5/29/2012 06:53:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...


Blind Willie Johnson
The Carter Family
The Stanley Brothers
The Staple Singers
The Forbes Family
Johnny Cash
Bob Dylan
Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Bill Withers
Sun Ra
Steve Tibbetts
David Krakauer
Pat Metheny
Morten Lauridsen

5/30/2012 06:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Bill Withers is vastly underrated. There was no other soul singer like him, with that rural, acoustic feel. Deeply human music.

5/30/2012 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger CheyTown said...

Here's a musician's ten (which is like a baker's dozen)
Ry Cooder, especially Into the Purple Valley.
Bob Dylan
Gillian Welch/David Rawlings
Hank Williams
Steve Earle
Townes Van Zandt
Linda Ronstadt
Beach Boys
Bruce Springsteen (and E Street Band)
Smokey Robinson
Otis Redding
Aretha Franklin
Etta James
Louis Armstrong
Roy Orbison
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Lucinda Williams

Are Canadians allowed? I would say Neil Young and Daniel Lanois, and The Band (Levon's Arkansan anyway) and most recently Arcade Fire

5/31/2012 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger CheyTown said...

Here's a musician's ten (which is like a baker's dozen)
Ry Cooder, especially Into the Purple Valley.
Bob Dylan
Gillian Welch/David Rawlings
Hank Williams
Steve Earle
Townes Van Zandt
Linda Ronstadt
Beach Boys
Bruce Springsteen (and E Street Band)
Smokey Robinson
Otis Redding
Aretha Franklin
Etta James
Louis Armstrong
Roy Orbison
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Lucinda Williams

Are Canadians allowed? I would say Neil Young and Daniel Lanois, and The Band (Levon's Arkansan anyway) and most recently Arcade Fire

5/31/2012 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger SippicanCottage said...

Louis Prima

Louis Jordan

Louie Louie

5/31/2012 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Actually I don't know what planet they're from, but:

Seals and Crofts

6/05/2012 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

They became Bahá'í s and left the music business. If memory serves, one of then bought an island and lived on a coffee plantation or something. Believe it or not, their career suffered after they had the audacity to write a "pro-life" song.

6/05/2012 06:32:00 AM  

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