When thinking about the top 10 bands and artists from Arizona, doing so without the icons of Alice Cooper, Charles Mingus, Stevie Nicks, and Linda Ronstadt would simply be wrong. While this covers four of the ten names that belong on this list, what about the other six? Who are they and where do they fit? The rich history of music from Arizona includes the influence of indigenous and foreign flavors that include folk, country, jazz, Latino, Native American, Navajo, and rock. What you’ll find in this list are famous Arizonians who were either this at birth or became one after realizing what a great state it is to call home.
As music in America continued to venture into new territory from classical to rock, Phoenix became a hot spot for a number of some of the world’s most popular recording stars. According to Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins, this is an”it” city as a rocker’s paradise. Among some of the most popular country and rock bands, the membership roster benefited from the influence of musicians who came from Phoenix. After the Beatles and the rest of the groups made their musical version of the British Invasion in the 1960s, the city’s own rose to the occasion to become big music stars themselves.
These include Alice Cooper, Steve George, Richard Page, and Bill Spooner. Fans will recognize Pages as the founder behind the Phoenix-based group, Pages. George was also part of that band before moving on to form another Phoenix-based rock group, Mr. Mister. There was also Dolan Ellis, who spent the majority of his adult life in Phoenix. He was an original member of The New Christy Minstrels before opting to return to his home city as soon as the band reached the peak of its popularity. In 1966, he was appointed as Arizona’s Official State Balladeer. It was a role he held after a total of ten state governors had come and gone.
Going into the 1980s, Phoenix developed a reputation as a hardcore punk city with a collection of bands that would also tap into the influence of country and grunge music. Before signing up as lead singer for Linkin Park, Chester Bennington spent a number of years in Phoenix as the lead singer for Grey Daze. It was a post-grunge band that was a local favorite before Bennington moved on.
It was also during this time frame that Jimmy Eat World burst onto the music scene with its fusion of emo and pop punk. Starting in the late 1990s, independent rock bands began to make their mark and used the influence of punk to keep the city’s momentum as a hot spot for rock. Other notable recording artists from Phoenix include CeCe Peniston and Marty Robbins. Fans will remember Robbins for his classic hit, “El Paso,” which was a number-one hit on many music charts, including the US Billboard Hot 100, in 1959.
Adding to Phoenix’s claim to fame for hot recording artists was Jordin Sparks. It was she who won the sixth season of the American Idol series in 2007. In 2008, David Hernandez was able to perform his way to join the final twelve before he was eliminated. Also from Phoenix who competed that year was Brooke White and she was able to finish in fifth place. For the season in 2009, Scott MacIntyre from Phoenix was able to make it to eighth place. It was actually the eighth season of American Idol that Phoenix was labeled as one of the year’s standout cities for rising star talent.
Tucson’s claim to fame as a city rich with music history includes the Ronstadt Family. To be more specific, Linda Ronstadt. If there was that one shining star that put this Arizona city on the map for musical talent, it was her. At one point, Tucson was home to a young John Denver. It was here the legendary singer-songwriter received his first guitar as it was given to him as a gift by his grandmother. He was eleven years old at the time. While Phoenix was the city that received most of the attention as a rockin’ city with hints of punk here and there, Tucson became the hotbed for the underground music scene that also made its mark in the genres of independent rock and punk. This began in the 1980s when bands and fans gathered from all over to soak up the most original punk music performed by a combination of regional and out-of-state favorites.
Southwest Arizona’s current music scene, as well as much of the industrial and underground punk rock that has kept fans begging for more, first graced the downtown landscape of Tuscon during the first half of the 1980s. Between unconventional hairstyles and outlandish clothing often met in the downtown core to rock up a storm with original punk music. It actually started in 1979 when punk bands began to emerge in and around Tucson.
There were several regional favorites that would draw in musical influences from Devo, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads. As the 1980s continued to rock on, punk rock continued to flourish as a genre. Many of the local favorites went on to tour with bigger acts such as the Beck, the Dead Kennedys, and Sonic Youth. While the punk scene is very different from the brand of music Linda Ronstadt made the small city famous for, Tucson has established itself as a city bursting with musical talent that’s striving to accomplish at least a piece of what Ronstadt accomplished.
Top 10 Bands and Artists from Arizona
#10 – Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World began in Mesa, Arizona, in 1993 when Jim Adkins teamed up with his childhood friend, Zach Lind. They were joined by Tom Linton and Mitch Porter to see how far these four young men could go as a punk rock band. They released their first demo tape that same year before debuting with an EP, One, Two, Three, Four in 1994. This was followed by a debut album, Jimmy Eat World, also in 1994. At the time, Linton was the lead vocalist for the most part.
It didn’t take long before Jimmy Eat World rose up as one of Arizona’s most popular bands. The musical influence it drew upon came from Mr. T Experience and Horace Pinker. As for the band’s name, this came from an incident between Tom Linton’s two younger brothers, Jim and Ed. The two fought frequently where Jim usually emerged as the victor. However, a bitter Ed sought revenge by drawing a picture of his brother shoving the earth into his mouth. He captioned it as “Jimmy Eat World.”
As the influence of the indie music scene became more prominent, Jimmy Eat World began to vary its musical style which would include going on tour and writing songs. They’d encounter bands at this time who were pretty much doing the same thing. It didn’t take long before Jimmy Eat World attracted the attention of Capitol Records. In 1995, a record deal was signed that also saw a lineup change. Mitch Porter was out as its bass player and was replaced by Rich Burch. By the time 1995 was over, Static Prevails was released as an album that included a couple of released singles before Capitol allowed the release of singles on independent labels. The lineup of Adkins, Burch, Lind, and Linton would continue to release eight more studio albums between 1999 and 2019.
From those albums, the first to serve as Jimmy Eat World’s big breakthrough was 2001’s Bleed American. This one produced four top twenty hit singles, starting with its title track. It became a number eighteen hit on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. This was followed by what became one of the group’s best-selling singles, “The Middle.” This one topped the same music chart and was also a number-five hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was actually an international favorite that would also become certified platinum with the UK’s British Phonographic Industry (BPI).
Bleed American became certified platinum as an album by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and with Music Canada. With the BPI, gold. As Jimmy Eat World’s popularity grew, so did the album that was released before Bleed American. Clarity was a 1999 release that featured “Lucky Denver Mint” as a single. A radio remix was featured in the film, Never Been Kissed and it developed a cult following. Since then, the album also become a cult and critical favorite.
The next big album for the group was 2004’s Futures. This one produced another number-one hit on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. “Pain” became one of the two signature hits the fans of Jimmy Eat World most identified the band with. This single sold enough copies to become certified gold by the RIAA. Futures was also certified gold by the RIAA and by Music Canada. With the BPI, silver. In 2007, Jimmy Eat World released another big album, Chase This Light. On the US Billboard 200, it became the group’s highest-charting record as it peaked as high as number five.
This one produced two hit singles, “Big Casino” and “Always Be.” The first peaked as high as number three on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart while the second peaked as high as number fourteen. After this, it was Clarity, an album that was recorded in two different studios in California. This album featured the single “Lucky Denver Mint” which had its radio remix featured in 1999’s Never Been Kissed. Since then, this song and the album have developed a cult following.
#9 – Gin Blossoms
Starting in 1987, the Gin Blossoms were going steady as an alternative rock band that first gained international fame after the release of 1992’s New Miserable Experience. It was their second studio album but the first to be produced by a major record label. The first was 1989’s Dusted, an independently released album that came about after the Gin Blossoms became increasingly popular in and around Phoenix, Arizona.
Founded by Doug Hopkins, Bill Leen, and Jesse Valenzuela, the trio from Tempe, Arizona underwent a few lineup changes with rhythm guitarists and drummers before Robin Wilson and Phillip Rhodes balanced out the membership roster until 1997. However, Wilson’s role as rhythm guitarist and Valenzuela’s role as lead vocalist were swapped between each other for this recording, as well as the release of the group’s next four studio albums. There was also an EP that was released right after the Gin Blossoms signed up with A&M Records. 1991’s Up and Crumbling came about after struggling with the completion of New Miserable Experience.
The reason for the struggle of New Miserable Experience was its founding member, Doug Hopkins. As his drinking problem and mood swings worsened, so did his reliability as the group’s lead guitarist and songwriter. It got to the point where A&M forced Hopkins out and held back money owed to him until he agreed to sign half of his publishing royalties and give up his mechanical royalties. He would be replaced to join the band in time for its tour by Scotty Johnson while Robin Wilson stepped up and took on a leadership role that included taking artistic control of the album and its tracklist.
The first single that was released from New Miserable Experience was “Hey Jealousy,” which was written by Hopkins. This also marked the beginning of Wilson’s role as lead vocalist while Valenzuela took over as rhythm guitarist. On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Hey Jealousy” became a number twenty-five hit and it peaked as high as number four on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. The single also became certified gold by the RIAA. As the Gin Blossoms continued to rise in popularity, a distraught Hopkins committed suicide on December 5, 1993, as he couldn’t overcome the inner demons he was coping with.
The biggest hit from the four-time platinum RIAA-certified album was “Found Out About You.” This was another song that was released after Hopkins died. This was also a song by his penmanship as well. It also peaked as high as number twenty-five on the US Billboard Hot 100 but this time it became a number one hit on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. After this, it was “Til I Heart It from You,” a single that was released in 1995 for the movie soundtrack belonging to Empire Records. This became the group’s biggest hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 yet at number nine. In 1993, there was also “Idiot Summer,” a song that was featured in the closing credits of Wayne’s World 2 as part of the fictional concert, Waynestock.
After this, 1996’s Congratulations I’m Sorry was released as the Gin Blossoms‘ third studio album. This produced another number nine hit on the same pop chart with “Follow You Down.” Much like its predecessor, Congratulations I’m Sorry became certified platinum by the RIAA. Another big hit from the recording was “As Long as It Matters” which earned Gin Blossoms its first Grammy Award nomination. Although the group didn’t get the win for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, it still established this was a world-class band that rightfully deserved its place among the music industry’s elite recording artists.
While the Gin Blossoms were riding an all-time popularity high between 1992 and 1996, there were several televised appearances, especially on Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. David Letterman’s show featured its musical director, Paul Shaffer. He was such a fan of the Gin Blossoms that he often used its music whenever it came to taking commercial breaks.
In 1997, the Gin Blossoms opted to take a break from each other as a band. While broken up, Rhodes and Wilson formed the Gas Giants while Leen eventually retired to open up a rare books store. He and Valenzuela did perform in separate bands in the meantime, as did Johnson. After the Gas Giants opted to take a break in 2001, the road to a Gin Blossoms reunion was set. However, Rhodes was dealing with alcoholism at the time and suffered a breakdown just before the band’s reunion concert. He was first replaced by Phil Leavitt, then Gary Smith, as the band’s drummer.
It was a role he kept until Scott Kusmirek took over in 2002 before Rhodes briefly returned in 2005. After this, Kusmirek returned to the lineup until 2008. He was later replaced by John Richardson. As the lineup issues with its drummer ensued, the Gin Blossoms recorded and released its fourth album, Major Lodge Victory. This 2006 release was followed by Live in Concert in 2009 as the group’s first live album. In 2010, it was No Chocolate Cake, and then in 2018, Mixed Reality. The Gin Blossoms became known for a musical style known as the “Mill Avenue Sound” which first made the group so popular in Arizona before becoming a fan favorite worldwide.
#8 – Duane Eddy
Technically speaking, Duane Eddy was born in Corning, New York on April 26, 1938. However, he and his family moved to Tucson, Arizona before relocating to Coolidge in 1951. He was sixteen years old when he and his friend, Jimmy Delbridge formed Jimmy and Duane as a duo act. Fans may remember Delridge as Jimmy Dell. What makes Duane Eddy stand out as one of the top artists from Arizona is his legendary string of hits that were produced by Lee Hazlewood such as “Because They’re Young,” “Peter Gunn,” and “Rebel-‘Rouser.” As soon as the man picked up the guitar and chose music as his profession in 1954, Duane Eddy became an unstoppable force in the music industry as he instrumentally put Arizona on the map as a state bursting with musical talent.
The start of Duane Eddy’s career began with a disc jockey named Lee Hazlewood. 1955 marked the first single release for Jimmy and Duane with “Soda Fountain Girl.” It became a regional favorite in Phoenix. The trademark twang sound featured on guitars was a technique Duane Eddy introduced that not only caught Hazlewood’s attention but also Jamie Records from Philadelphia.
In 1957, a recording contract was signed and 1958 witnessed Eddy’s first hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Movin’ n’ Groovin'” was a minor hit at number seventy-two but it was the opening riff that marked the beginning of a trend. Eddy’s starting performance with the guitar was borrowed from “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” a Chuck Berry 1956 classic. This famous opener would also be featured in “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” a Beach Boys hit that dominated the music charts in 1963. 1958 also marked the year Duane Eddy released his first studio album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel.
The follow-up single after “Movin’ n’ Groovin'” was “Rebel-‘Rouser.” What became one of Duane Eddy’s signature songs was further highlighted by the overdubbed saxophone by Gil Bernal. The handclapping and yelling came from a doo-wop group known as the Rivingtons. “Rebel-‘Rouser” was Eddy’s big breakthrough as it peaked as high as number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also earned him his first RIAA-certified gold disc. After this, the hits kept coming as Duane Eddy produced “Peter Gunn,” “Cannonball,” “Shazam,” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road” as some of his biggest hits. During this time, Duane Eddy’s influence as a performer kept the energetic vibe of rock music alive as it seemed as if the music industry at the time opted to tone it down.
The biggest hit Duane Eddy produced came in 1960. Because They’re Young, featured a cover version of his song as its title track but it was his original that became a number four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the UK Singles Chart, the instrumental peaked as high as number two. This would later appear on Eddy’s compilation album, $1,000,000 Worth of Twang.
On average, Eddy experienced greater popularity in the United Kingdom than he did in the United States as his albums met with better success there than in his home nation. However, Eddy was immensely popular in North America as he, along with the Rebels, became popular favorites on The Dick Clark Show. This television exposure prompted the musician to embark on an acting career that included roles in 1961’s A Thunder of Dreams, 1962’s The Wild Westerners, 1968’s Kona Coast, and 1968’s The Savage Seven. Also in 1961, Duane Eddy married Jessi Colter and signed up with Paul Anka to record and produce music through RCA Victor. 1962’s “(Dance With The) Guitar Man” became his third single to become certified gold by the RIAA.
Throughout the 1970s, Eddy worked as a musician and producer, which included teaming up with Waylon Jennings. In 1986, he also worked with Art of Noise to remake his 1960 version of “Peter Gunn,” a 1959 classic from the Henry Mancini series, The Music from Peter Gunn. This became one of Eddy’s biggest hits as well as a Grammy Award winner for Best Instrumental Rock. It placed Eddy in the record books as the only instrumentalist to score top ten hit singles across the span of four decades in the United Kingdom.
Despite this impressive achievement, Duane Eddy didn’t stop there. Going into 1992, he performed a duet with Hank Marvin with a cover version of The Chantays’ 1963 hit, “Pipeline.” In 1995, he was the lead guitarist with Foreigner when this legendary rock group released “Until the End of Time.” It became a number ten hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. Eddy’s most recent studio album was 2011’s Road Trip which has been regarded as one of the best albums the legend produced as a recording artist.
Adding to his legacy in 1994, Duane Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame. This was followed by a Rockwalk induction in 1997. In 2008, he would be inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. The impact Eddy made as a guitarist influenced a wave of upcoming legends such as Dave Davies, George Harrison, and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.
#7 – The Tubes
Although The Tubes made its debut as a band in 1972 from San Francisco, California, some of its founding members came from Phoenix, Arizona. Bill Spooner and Vince Welnick were members of the Phoenix-based band, The Beans, before making the move to California in 1969 with the hope of securing a record deal. This lineup also included Rick Anderson and Bob McIntosh. While in San Francisco, The Beans met the Red White and Blues Band. That roster featured David Killingsworth, Prairie Prince, and Roger Steen.
These men also came from Phoenix, Arizona as a band. The infamous costumes, props, and other theatrics that became a trademark for The Tubes were already well in motion with The Beans. However, what worked for them in Phoenix at the time didn’t go so well in San Fransisco. As a result, they returned home which would later see a few changes that would include bringing in John “Fee” Waybill. What made The Tubes stand out was the no-holds-barred approach to being as unique as possible as stage performers.
This unconventional approach to singing loud and proud met with a bit of a battle to get noticed by the right people at first. In 1974, The Tubes were filmed while performing a concert at the California Hall in Los Angeles. It was hoped this would work but it took eighteen months before a record label would take a chance on taking on one of the most outlandish rock groups of its time.
A&M Records did what Columbia Records seemed afraid to do when the label agreed to sign The Tubes to a recording contract. This led to the 1975 debut of The Tubes, which was produced by Al Kooper. “White Punks on Dope” was a single that ridiculed some of the kids whose parents made it big in Hollywood. It was later covered by other recording artists such as Motley Crue and Nina Hagen. This, as well as “What Do You Want from Life?” became popular fan favorites that further heightened the popularity of The Tubes.
In addition to performing as a wild rock band full of theatrics, The Tubes were also part of the underground musical comedy scene throughout the mid-half of the 1970s. There was an occasion for The Tubes to appear on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell and NBC’s Saturday Night but met with creativity-related issues that became no deals. This kept The Tubes out of the limelight as far as TV was concerned but it didn’t silence them as cult favorites going into the 1980s.
By the time 1981 hit, an ironic twist of fate took place when A&M Records dropped The Tubes and Capitol Records picked up the band they once rejected. During this time frame, Suffer for Sound was released independently as the group’s fifth studio album. It was supposed to be an A&M production so The Tubes could fulfill the contract signed with the label but the recording was rejected and the band was dropped. As soon as The Tubes signed up with Capitol, the release of 1981’s The Completion Backward Principle became the group’s first taste as mainstream rock fan favorites.
Between this and 1983’s Outside Inside, The Tubes became more popular at an international level. However, it wasn’t without incident. In Italy, The Tubes were forced off stage by police and had to flee the country. In 1983, The Tubes scored its biggest hit, “She’s a Beauty.” This became Song of the Year at the BAM Music Awards. In Canada, Outside Inside became certified gold, as did The Completion Backward Principle before it. The legacy The Tubes left contributed to the rise of recording artists and stage performers to engage further in the use of theatrics when it came to their music.
In 2005, The Tubes Project was started by Michael Cotten in an effort to preserve the group’s musical and visual archives. Cotten played the synthesizer for The Tubes before becoming part of the group’s production crew. In total, The Tubes recorded and released eight studio albums, seven compilation albums, seven live albums, and three video albums. Among the ten singles released, “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore” and “She’s a Beauty” remain on top as the two all-time fan favorites as international hits that continue to play on classic rock stations around the world.
#6 – George Benson
Born on March 22, 1943, George Benson’s life started out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While growing up as a kid, he first learned how to play the ukulele at seven years old, then the guitar when he was eight. He played the ukulele at a corner drug store to make some coin, as well as spent his weekend evenings playing guitar at an unlicensed nightclub before that establishment was forced to shut down. When he was nine years old, Benson began to record music with RCA Victor in New York. After graduating from Pittsburgh’s Schenley High School, George Benson wasted no time making good use of his child-prodigy status by engaging in a career as a jazz guitarist.
He often played soul jazz during the 1960s with legendary greats such as Jack McDuff before deciding to go solo. He wasn’t the least bit shy jumping into a variety of different musical genres between jazz, pop, R&B, and scat. Breezin’ became his big album that peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200 in 1976. It also went on to become certified platinum by the RIAA three times. Throughout the span of Benson’s career, he won ten Grammy Awards and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996.
Before Breezin’, George Benson released his first album as a leader in 1964. The New Boss Guitar featured McDuff. This was followed with the 1966 release of It’s Uptown as the George Benson Quartet. It was an album that featured Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone and Lonnie Smith playing the organ. After this recording, it was The George Benson Cookbook that kept the two musicians but also included Marion Booker as the drummer. Impressed, Miles Davis brought Benson onboard to play guitar for “Paraphernalia.” This was featured on the 1968 album, Miles in the Sky. After this, Benson moved on from Columbia Records and signed up with Verve Records first, then the jazz label, CTI Records. It would be with this label he would record many albums that would feature some of jazz music’s biggest stars.
The first release with this label was 1974’s Bad Benson. It became a popular favorite that topped the US Billboard Jazz Chart. So did 1976’s Good King Bad and Benson & Farrell. For Benson, the height of his success as a recording artist kept him at the top of his game which would lead to another 1976 release, Breezin’. With this one, Benson sang as lead vocalist for “This Masquerade,” a song that was written by Leon Russell. This became a number ten hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number three hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It also proceeded to win a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Aside from “This Masquerade,” Breezin’ was an album that featured instrumental music.
So how do George Benson and Arizona tie together if the man is from Pittsburgh? For about seven years, it was his home. It used to be a state he usually visited once a year. After he was invited by a friend to his house party along with the Phoenix Suns, Benson later returned only to realize it was up for sale as his friend and wife went through a divorce. Without hesitation, George Benson bought the house in what was a purchase he made without consulting with his wife first. The house was in Paradise Valley, situated on over two acres of land. From 2003 until 2017, this was his home before he relocated to New Jersey.
It was during this time he recorded and released five studio albums, starting with 2003’s Irreplaceable. This would be followed with 2006’s Givin’ It Up, a collaborated album with Al Jarreau. It was this recording that gave George Benson two more Grammy Awards that would bring the total from eight to ten. “God Bless the Child” won Best Traditional R&B Performance with Al Jarreau and Jill Scott performing as vocalists. The second win that year was for “Mornin'” for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. This was a cover version to Jarreau’s original 1983 hit before it was reworked with some jazz fusion provided by Benson.
#5 – Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings began playing the guitar when he was eight years old which would lead to him performing for a radio station by the time he was fourteen. Instead of finishing high school, Waylon Jennings pursued his music career at a full-time level when he was sixteen. He performed for the radio stations in Coolidge and Phoenix, Arizona. In 1959, the twenty-one-year-old was supposed to accompany Buddy Holly for a recording session but gave up his seat as there was not enough room to accommodate him, Holly, J.P. Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. This decision saved his life as the plane the three men rode crashed on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, Iowa.
As a performer, Waylon Jennings formed The Waylors, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Together, the group made recordings before Waylon Jennings hired Neil Reshen to become his manager. This led to a contract with RCA Records and four of Waylon Jennings’ best albums, namely two in 1973 with Lonesome, On’ry and Mean and Honkey Tonk Heroes, as well as 1974’s Dreaming My Dreams, and 1976’s Are You Ready for the Country. Throughout the 1970s, Waylon Jennings earned a reputation with fellow recording artists Jessi Colter and Willie Nelson as outlaws of the country music genre. What they all had in common was having run-ins with the law that got them arrested. These three, along with fellow outlaw Tompall Glaser, recorded and released 1976’s Wanted! The Outlaws, the first country album to become certified platinum by the RIAA.
In addition to performing music, Waylon Jennings performed in film and television as well. It was he who composed and sang the theme song for The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as provided narration for the series that ran from 1979 until 1985. After this, Waylon Jennings was part of the supergroup, The Highwaymen, which featured Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson in the lineup. Together, they released three albums between 1985 and 1995. During this timeframe, Waylon Jennings released yet another successful solo album, Will the Wolf Survive.
This came after Waylon Jennings overcame his addiction to substance abuse. However, this wasn’t quite enough as 1999 marked how much this made an impact on him at a physical level. His medical issues caught up with him and by December 2001, his left foot was amputated in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. On February 13, 2002, he passed away in his home in Chandler, Arizona. He was sixty-four years old. At his memorial service, Jessi Colter sang one of Waylon Jennings‘ popular favorites, “Storms Never Last.” In 2007, the deceased Waylon Jennings was awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.
Waylon Jennings enjoyed a recording career between 1965 and 1991 that spawned ninety-six singles that appeared on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Sixteen of them became number-one hits. Adding to his legacy, he recorded and released forty-five studio albums, twenty-eight compilation albums, five live albums, and sixteen collaboration albums. Nine of them became certified gold by the RIAA and four of them became certified platinum at least once.
The best-selling recording of the group was the Greatest Hits album which was released in 1979. It was certified platinum five times in the US, as well as three times with Music Canada. His first number-one hit single was 1974’s “This Time.” One of the best-known Waylon Jennings singles was “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” a duet he performed with Willie Nelson in 1978. This came from the collaborative album the two released that same year, appropriately named Waylon & Willie.
#4 – Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper was born in Detroit, Michigan as Vincent Furnier on February 4, 1948. Before he was regarded as “The Godfather of Shock Rock,” he grew up as the son of an evangelist priest in The Church of Jesus Christ. As a child, Cooper experienced a series of medical issues that prompted the family to move to Phoenix, Arizona. It was there he was a student at Cortez High School. In the yearbook, he stated his ambition was to be a record seller. As fate had it, that’s exactly what he came to be. However, he achieved this with enough theatrics that earned him the nickname he received as his popularity as a performer grew. His fascination with horror movies prompted the recording artist to exercise his raspy voice with a brand of rock that was considered unusual at the time.
The start of Cooper’s musical career began in 1964 when he started out with a band known as the Earwigs. At the time, he was still known as Furnier as he, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith called themselves Alice Cooper as a band name. Furnier wound up adopting this name as his own personal pseudonym. As a group, Alice Cooper debuted in 1969 as an album. However, it wouldn’t be until 1970 “I’m Eighteen” and Love It to Death would serve as the big breakthrough. After this, 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies became the band’s sixth and most successful album before breaking up. It would be at this time that Furnier legally changed his name to Alice Cooper as he started his solo career in 1975. He’d go on to release his first album, Welcome to My Nightmare.
As a recording artist, Alice Cooper dabbled in many different music styles but mostly stuck with hard rock and heavy metal. He was among the major movers and shakers of heavy metal music as a genre and was regarded as the man behind ushering in a new era of hard rockin’ music. His level of creativity wasn’t just limited to his music and on-stage performances. This was also extended to working as an actor and as a disc jockey. Since 2004, he has hosted a rock show called Nights with Alice Cooper. Whenever not working as a performer, he’s also become an accomplished golfer and restaurateur. What Cooper established was he was a man of many different interests and talents. His recording career witnessed over fifty million albums sold worldwide. Although Alice Cooper is now his legal name, the man prefers to refer to “Alice” as a third person as his way of keeping the man always in the public eye away from the private one that was born as Vincent Furnier.
Overall, Alice Cooper has twenty-nine studio albums to his credit. Seven of them were as a band while the remaining twenty-two as a solo artist. There are also eleven live albums, twelve video albums, and twenty-one compilation albums. Of the fifty singles released, “Poison” was his best-seller as it sold enough copies to become certified platinum by the RIAA. However, the man has a long list of classic favorites that include 1972’s “School’s Out” and 1973’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” As a group, Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death, Killer, School’s Out, and Billion Dollar Babies became certified platinum while 1973’s Muscle of Love became gold. As a solo artist, 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare became certified platinum with the RIAA, twice with Music Canada, and twice in Australia. With 1989’s Trash, he’d have another platinum seller with all three nations.
#3 – Charles Mingus
From Nogales, Arizona is Charles Mingus Jr. In his day, he was a jazz musician who’d make history as one of the best in history. His compositions inspired scores of other jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Max Roach. In addition to his influence as a jazz musician, he also specialized in bebop music and post-pop. This awesome music can be heard in 1956’s Pithecanthropus Erectus and 1959’s Mingus Ah Um. He also experimented with progressive big band sounds, which can be heard in 1963’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The man’s legacy as a performer also includes Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty, and Mingus Orchestra. These works were collected by the Library of Congress in 1993 and have been described as the most important acquisition related to jazz in history.
Although born in Arizona, his father served in the United States Army. For the most part, Mingus Jr. was raised in Los Angeles, California. While growing up, the only music allowed to be played in the house was church-related. However, this didn’t stop the young Mingus from becoming influenced by other styles of music, especially Duke Ellington. He learned how to play the trombone, as well as the cello, but Mingus quickly learned there didn’t seem to be much room for black musicians to perform classical music as a career choice. When Mingus ventured further into jazz, he also learned how to play bass. In the meantime, Mingus grew up in an era where he had to deal with a neverending battle against racism. This would be reflected in his music as his career continued to blossom.
As a teenager, Mingus was writing music that made good use of classical and jazz elements. It didn’t take long before he was seen as a bass prodigy. In the 1940s, he toured with legends such as Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Russell Jacquet. Going into the 1950s, Mingus teamed with Tal Farlow and Red Norvo to become a trio act. As good as they were, certain club owners still couldn’t overcome Mingus’s dark skin color and were prejudiced against him. Up until he was finally recognized as a bandleader, Mingus struggled to keep his temper in check. This was the case when he got into a physical confrontation with Juan Tizol.
Mingus became one of the few musicians to be fired by Duke Ellington. After this, Mingus teamed with Charlie Parker. This marked the beginning of a new era for Mingus as he learned how to compose and improvise jazz music. As much as Mingus credited Parker as a mentor, he didn’t care for Parker’s self-destructive behavior. There were also many saxophone players who strove to play like Parker. This led to Mingus penning “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.” In 1960, Mingus Dynasty was released as an album with “Gunslinging Bird” as the same song but with a shorter title.
During the 1950s, Charles Mingus worked with about ten musicians at a time that was known as the Jazz Workshop. What he did was shape up wannabe musicians to take their talent to the next level. Such students included Pepper Adams, Booker Ervin, and Charles McPherson. This was during a time when Mingus was his most active. He made thirty records for a few different labels that would lead to 1956 serving as a big breakthrough for him.
Pithecanthropus Erectus was his first stab as a major bandleader and composer. What he did was take a page out of Duke Ellington’s book and have songs written for specific musicians to perform. After this, it was 1957’s The Clown that would feature Dannie Richmond as his drummer. It was a role he kept until Mingus passed away on January 5, 1979. These two, along with pianist Jaki Byard, were considered “The Almighty Three” as they continued to revolutionize jazz music as the world knew it. It was these three who produced 1959’s Mingus Ah Um. This became one of Mingus’s finest works that stood out head and shoulders above other jazzy masterpieces that came out that year.
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” was an elegy to Lester Young while “Fables of Faubus” was a protest against the governor of Arkansas at the time, Orval Faubus. In 2003, Mingus Ah Um was inducted into the National Recording Registry. This came four years after it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1997, Charles Mingus also earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
1963’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady earned critical acclaim as one of the greatest orchestral achievements in jazz history. In 1964, he put together one of his most popular band rosters. The members were Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, and Dannie Richmond. It was this team who released a set of seven CDs titled Charles Mingus – The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65.
This was a short-lived team due to a string of tragedies that had Coles leave the lineup due to illness and the sudden death of Dolphy in Berlin in 1964. However, they recorded frequently that would sum up this incredible boxed set. It was also in 1964 that he met Sue Graham Ungaro, the woman who’d become his wife in 1966. Unfortunately, that year met with financial hardship and Mingus was evicted in 1966.
He lived in New York at the time. After this, the pace of Mingus’s recording slowed down until 1974. In 1976, Cumbia and Jazz Fusion featured the blending of Columbian music with traditional jazz. Not long after this, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was a medical condition that caused Charles Mingus to stop playing bass. He still composed music and supervised the recordings until he died. At the time, he was working with Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell on an album she titled Mingus. It was her tenth recording and it included her lyrical performance of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
#2 – Stevie Nicks
From Phoenix, Arizona is the iconic Stevie Nicks. Long before she became a member of Fleetwood Mac, she grew up in a household whose grandfather taught her how to sing duets with him by the time she was four years old. She was also raised by a loving and protective mother who often showered her with fairy tales. As for her father, he worked as the vice president of Greyhound which had the family relocate from Phoenix and to other cities before finally settling in San Francisco, California.
It would be here the road to fame and fortune as a musician would become Stevie Nicks’ destiny. As soon as she received a guitar as a birthday gift upon turning sixteen years old, Stevie Nicks wrote her first song, “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost, and I’m Sad but Not Blue.” While in high school, Stevie Nicks joined her first band, the Changing Times. It was also in high school where she met Lindsey Buckingham. He was performing “California Dreamin'” at a club where she joined him in harmony. At the time, Lindsey Buckingham performed as a psychedelic rocker with a band called Fritz. It was a lineup that was about to have two of its members leave for college so this left an opening for Nicks to join in 1967 as the band’s new lead singer. Without hesitation, she accepted.
Between 1968 and 1970, Fritz served as the opening act for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. These performances triggered Stevie Nicks to up her game as a stage performer. She, along with Buckingham, left San Jose State University to pursue a music career full-time. This led to the 1973 release of Buckingham Nicks, an album that failed to do anything for the couple’s career. By this time, the relations between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks began to erode as Buckingham signed up to tour with the Everly Brothers in 1972 and Stevie Nicks stayed behind in California.
It was at this time she wrote “Rhiannon” and “Landslide.” As fate had it, Keith Olson played “Frozen Love” in 1974 for Mick Fleetwood. This came from Buckingham Nicks and it was enough for the drummer to call up Lindsey Buckingham to join his band. However, it was pointed out that he and Stevie Nicks were a packaged deal and that he wouldn’t join the lineup without her. It was a fateful decision that marked the beginning of a whole new musical era.
Going into 1975, Fleetwood Mac’s roster had Lindsey Buckingham Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Stevie Nicks. “Rhiannon” would be regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time, a song that came to Stevie Nicks after reading a Mary Leader novel titled Triad and the character that bore “Rhiannon” as a name. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number nine hit. It was even more popular in Canada at number four. The popularity of this song also had it sell enough copies to become certified platinum by the RIAA.
“Landslide” also became a hit but not right after release. It wouldn’t be until 1998 that it would find a spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number fifty-one. It was a number ten hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. In 2020, it was on the charts again, this time at number thirteen on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs Chart. This one became certified gold in the US and certified platinum in the UK.
As the popularity of Stevie Nicks continued to grow, so did the confidence she had in herself as a performer. In order to establish her own stage look, she dressed up in costumes with a bohemian flair that would trigger a fashion trend among women seeing her sport flowing skirts, shawls, and platform boots. By this time, the romance between Buckingham and Nicks was over and the personal relationship had come to an end. During this time, Fleetwood Mac released Rumours in 1977 which would produce the group’s first and only number one single on the US Billboard Hot 100.
“Dreams” was another song performed by Stevie Nicks as the band’s lead vocalist that would also top the music charts in Canada. This also became one of the group’s best-selling singles as it became four-time platinum in the UK, and ten-time platinum in New Zealand, as well as single platinum in Denmark. With over one million copies sold in the US, it was certified gold by the RIAA. Gold was also achieved in Italy and Norway. The album itself was a smashing success that sold over forty million copies all over the world and earned a multitude of gold and platinum certifications. It also won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Fans of Fleetwood Mac may recall how colorful the personal and professional relationships among its core members at the time were. Once Buckingham and Nicks were finished as a couple, Stevie Nicks began a secret affair with Fleetwood while he was still married to Jenny Boyd. It was brief as Stevie Nicks realized it was a mistake. However, the marriage between Fleetwood and Boyd disintegrated anyway and the drummer became involved with Sara Recor.
While riding the height of success with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks also embraced a career as a solo artist. “Edge of Seventeen” was one of her signature tunes that was chalked up in history as another all-time great by music critics and fans alike. Her debut album as a solo artist, Bella Donna, had critics look upon her as one of the reigning queens of rock n’ roll. In 1998, she and her fellow Fleetwood Mac members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2019, she’d be inducted as a solo artist. This put Stevie Nicks in the history books as the first woman in the music industry to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.
#1 – Linda Ronstadt
Out of Tucson, Arizona, is the legend herself, Linda Ronstadt. Born on July 15, 1946, this songstress became one of the most influential music stars throughout the span of her recording career that ran from 1965 until 2011. In that timeframe, she recorded and released twenty-four studio albums, and fifteen compilation albums, and earned thirty-eight singles that became hits on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Ten of them became big hits, especially the chart-topping classic, “You’re No Good.” That one was released as a single in 1974, eleven years after it was first recorded and released by Dee Dee Warwick. In addition to her signature hit single, Linda Ronstadt has produced a pair of phenomenal duets. The first is “Somewhere Out There,” the ballad from the movie, An American Tail. She performed this number-eight hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 with James Ingram. The second is the 1989 cover of “Don’t Know Much” with Aaron Neville, which became a number two hit on the same chart.
The legacy of Linda Ronstadt includes eleven Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, and an Emmy Award. In 2016, she was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, two years after she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2019, Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton each earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when the ladies performed as Trio.
All this came about after she opted to go into retirement in 2011. It was shortly after 2000 that Ronstadt observed her singing voice wasn’t what it used to be. Her final studio album, Hummin’ to Myself, was released in 2004. This was followed by her final collaborative album, Adieu False Heart. This was a 2006 release with Ann Savoy. It was revealed she was no longer able to sing due to a medical condition known as progressive supranuclear palsy. At first, it was a degenerative condition that came with Parkinson’s Disease.
As a name, Ronstadt was already popular in Tucson as her family legacy dates as far back as the pioneering era of Arizona. Her father’s ancestry was a mix of German and Mexican descent and the city’s first central transit terminal was dedicated to Federico Jose Maria Ronstadt after it was opened on March 16, 1991. The man was Linda Ronstadt’s paternal grandfather. As for her mother’s side of the family, Ronstadt’s maternal grandfather, Lloyd Groff Copeman was an inventor who held about seven hundred patents that primarily focused on appliances and other kitchen-related gadgets, including the first electric stove and the flexible rubber ice cube tray.
As for Linda Ronstadt, she was among the key influencers that fueled country rock and folk rock clean through the second half of the 1960s. Before becoming a solo artist, she teamed up with Kenny Edwards and Bobby Kimmel to form the trio act, the Stone Poneys. Like Ronstadt, Kimmel was from Tucson. The two visited each other in Los Angeles in 1964 which would give Ronstadt cause to move to the city just before she turned eighteen.
The two, along with Edwards, recorded and released three albums between 1967 and 1968. The single that became the trio’s most popular was its 1967 cover of “Different Drum,” which peaked as high as number thirteen on the US Billboard Hot 100. To this day, the song originally recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1966 became one of Ronstadt’s most popular.
As a solo artist, Ronstadt first made waves with 1969’s Hand Sown… Home Grown. This was regarded as the first example of an alternative country album by a female recording artist. However, the world had yet to acknowledge who Ronstadt was as she often performed with other artists until she released her first set of chart-topping albums. The first was 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel, then 1977’s Simple Dreams, and then 1978’s Living in the USA.
What Ronstadt accomplished was becoming the first female recording star to fill the arenas as one of the top-grossing performers who dominated the second half of the 1970s. She was dubbed many titles such as “First Lady of Rock” and “Queen of Rock.” Not only did her voice stand out with star quality but so did her image. She was a favorite to grace the covers of several magazines. As a recording artist, she has sold over one hundred million records worldwide and has been regarded as one of the most successful musical performers of all time. The influence of her music inspired several young ladies to come forth with their brand of talent as they each looked up to Ronstadt as their personal hero.
Top 10 Bands And Artists From Arizona article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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