Complete History Of 10 Legendary Bands And Artists From Arkansas will likely have many fans think of country music as there are at least two icons of the genre that come from the Bear State. Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell both made names for themselves as legendary recording artists who became hit-making machines that sometimes became crossover hits. There were also Ronnie Hawkins and Charlie Rich, two other country music legends who made a big impression nationally and internationally. However, there’s more to Arkansas than its collection of country music stars. Let’s not forget Evanescence, one of the best-selling heavy metal artists of all time. What that group delivered was a brand of music that showed how diverse the music culture of Arkansas really is.
Top 10 Bands and Artists from Arkansas
# 10 – Evanescence
Evanescence was founded by Amy Lee and Ben Moody in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1995. The two released their debut album, Fallen, in 2003 which would produce two big hits. “Bring Me to Life” became an international fan favorite, topping several music charts around the world, including the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart and the US Billboard Alternative Airplay Chart. Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the European Hot 100, Italy, Scotland, and the UK all witnessed this song shoot straight to the top.
It also became certified platinum in Germany, Italy, New Zealand, and Norway. It was double platinum in Australia and the UK, and triple platinum in the US. The song became gold in Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Sweden, and Switzerland. It also earned Evanescence a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. The duo also won an award for Best New Artist.
“My Immortal,” followed as another big hit that topped the charts in Canada, Greece, Portugal, the UK Rock & Metal Chart, and the US Billboard Adult Top 40 Chart. This one became certified platinum in Australia, Italy, the UK, and the US. It was gold in Denmark, Germany, and Norway. As successful as this recording was, the supporting tour resulted in Moody’s decision to leave as he and Lee were no longer on the same page. This resulted in a shakeup that forever changed the course of Evanescence as a recording artist.
Lee moved forward by replacing Moody with Terry Balsamo as guitarist. The chemistry between the two clicked well enough to bring forth the success of 2006’s The Open Door. This came about after Evanescence released its first live album and concert DVD, Anywhere but Home. The album became certified gold in Germany, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland, and the US. The DVD was certified five times platinum in the US, as well as double platinum in Australia, France, and Spain. Platinum was also achieved in Argentina and the UK. In Canada, it was certified diamond.
The Open Door sold more than six million copies worldwide. It also received a multitude of gold and platinum certifications around the world, including double platinum with the RIAA. Five years after Evanescence released its second studio album, the group released its third recording as Evanescence. It was the number one album on the US Billboard 200 when it made its debut but it didn’t achieve platinum like its predecessors did. It did, however, become certified gold in the US, as well as Australia, Canada, and the UK. As soon as the group finished touring, Amy Lee and Terry Balsamo chose to take a break.
In 2016, Evanescence released its first compilation album, Lost Whispers. After this, Amy Lee was paired with a new guitarist, Troy McLawthorn and they released Synthesis in 2017. Both of these albums were independent artist releases that would later be followed in 2021 with The Bitter Truth. This album received critical acclaim as many felt this was Evanescence’s best work yet. According to how many album charts it has dominated around the world, it appears the fans seem to agree. Overall, nearly thirty-two million albums have been sold, categorizing Evanescence as one of the best-selling artists specializing in hard rock and heavy metal.
# 9 – Louis Jordan
From Brinkley, Arkansas, Louis Jordan was among the first true greats as a musical performer. He was born on July 8, 1908, as the son of a music teacher and bandleader. However, he was mostly raised by his paternal grandmother and Aunt Lizzie Reid as his mother died while he was still young. Music was already a big part of Jordan’s life as he learned how to play the clarinet and the saxophone with his father.
As a teenager, he was already adept enough to play at a professional level as he joined his father’s band, Rabbit Foot Minstrels. This led him to New York City and Philadelphia as a performer in the early 1930s with Charlie Gaines. By 1938, he had his own band, the Tympany Five. The lineup featured nine musicians that would later be reduced to six and renamed to Louie. This was to ensure the media didn’t misprint Jordan’s first name as “Lewis.”
Jordan’s career as a musician began with bands who specialized in swing jazz. Over time, his innovative spirit turned him into a popular influencer of jump blues. This was an up-tempo version of jazz that encouraged people to get up and dance. This style of music fused blues, boogie-woogie, and jazz together as one. Between comedic and energized lyrics, this style of music became a popular favorite and it was a niche Jordan and his bandmates capitalized on. The use of electric guitar and electric organ poured emphasis on Jordan’s recordings made him a standout favorite. This was the kind of music that pioneered the frontier of various musical genres such as blues, R&B, and early rock n’ roll.
Louis Jordan also made a name for himself as among the first African-American recording artists to produce a series of crossover hits in the United States. Such hits included “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” “Knock Me a Kiss,” “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” and “Five Guys Named Moe” each became cultural fan favorites that graced the music charts through the 1940s. Among them, the biggest was “Saturday Night Fish Fry” as this 1950 hit was split into two parts on a small record.
It was also one of the first pop songs to use “rocking” in the chorus. This single featured a distorted electric guitar performance that further highlighted the appeal of this song. This was the first standout example of Jordan’s jump blues as his trademark sound. There was enough energy in the song to cause listeners to jump up and jive the groove as it played. Upcoming recording artists, including Chuck Berry, were heavily influenced by this song which would spark their own recording careers.
There was a reason why Louis Jordan earned the titles of “Father of Rhythm & Blues,” “Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “King of the Jukebox.” He was the swing era’s biggest star who dominated the music industry like no other. In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As far as this organization was concerned, Louis Jordan and Joe Turner were recognized as the most important originators of R&B music, along with the Tympany Five. His specialty was performing the alto sax but was also just as talented playing the clarinet, piano, and other saxophones. As for his singing, Jordan added a bit of humor to his songs as he fronted his own band for over two decades. While at the peak of his career, Louis Jordan collaborated with other legends such as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald.
In addition to performing as a musician, Louis Jordan also became an actor. This began after he and his bandmates moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1942. Between short films and theatrical features, one of Jordan’s most successful performances came with 1945’s Caldonia. Because of the success of this three-minute film, Hollywood was eager to produce more of them. Until 1953, Jordan’s popularity kept him on top as one of America’s elite performers. After this, rock music was taking great strides that would forever alter the course of the music industry as the world knew it. By 1961, Louis Jordan met with financial woes that would never fully recover. Although Louis Jordan co-wrote many of the songs he recorded, they were credited to his wife, Fleecie Moore. After the two divorced, she maintained the ownership of the songs.
Louis Jordan’s legacy can be heard in the musical styles of Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, and Little Richard. The impact Louis Jordan made continues to make its mark today as he was credited as a precursor to the R&B genre by the Blues Foundation. As a single, “Caldonia” was credited as the start of the Rhythm and blues as an official term in 1949. In 2018, Louis Jordan received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as the music industry felt it was he who led the way for rock and roll to become so popular in the 1950s. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame are “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,” “Caldonia Boogie,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”
# 8 – Ronnie Hawkins
From Huntsville, Arkansas, Ronnie Hawkins started off as an American rockabilly musician before moving to Canada. It would be in the province of Ontario that the man would become a successful recording artist. He also introduced and revolutionized rock music as a genre in a nation that primarily favored country and folk songs. The 1960s rock scene in Toronto, Ontario had Hawkins as one of the key influencers who would change the Canadian music scene forever.
Throughout a span of more than five decades as a rocker, Hawkins earned the monickers of “Mr. Dynamo,” “Rompin’ Ronnie,” and “The Hawk.” In addition to his success as a musician, Hawkins was also an accomplished talent scout who would bring in and mentor several musicians. These included members of his own band, the Hawks. With Roy Buchanan in the lineup, he was the guitarist behind “Who Do You Love” as this Bo Diddly original was covered by Hawkins and his bandmates. There were also original songs such as “Susie Q,” which was written by Ronnie’s cousin, Dale Hawkins.
The legacy of Ronnie Hawkins can be seen in The Band as Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson were all members of the Hawks before spreading their wings to explore new musical territory. Additional musicians Hawkins took under his wing went on to form Bearfoot, Crowbar, Full Tilt Boogie Band, and Skylark. Full Tilt performed with Janis Joplin as her band. Prior to all these accomplishments, Hawkins grew up in a family environment where music played a prominent role in his childhood.
His father, uncles, and cousins were performers in the honky tonk circuit in the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma throughout the 1930s and 1940s. By the time Ronnie Hawkins was eleven years old, he was singing before an audience at local fair shows. On one occasion, Hawkins shared the stage with Hank Williams as the story had it the legendary singer-songwriter was a bit too intoxicated to perform. The Drifting Cowboys encouraged members of the audience to jump up on the stage. It was an invitation Hawkins accepted.
In addition to singing as a teenager, Hawkins also bootlegged liquor from Missouri to Oklahoma until he made enough money to start investing in nightclubs, namely the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville. It was here the earliest pioneers of rock music such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Conway Twitty played. By twenty years old, he had his own band, the Hawks. After he graduated from high school in 1952, he attended the University of Arkansas until he dropped out in 1956. He enlisted in the United States Army where he served for six months and it was there he met with an African-American quartet that was performing at a veteran’s club.
He jumped onto the stage and sang with them, realizing at that moment it was his musical preference, he teamed up with those same musicians and they became the Blackhawks. At the time, Hawks sought to add the influence of contemporary music to the band’s portfolio as performers. Upon the addition of a blues saxophonist named A.C. Reed, the Blackhawks earned a reputation for coming up with a unique blend of country music, rockabilly, and soul. However, the American South had certain white members of the population who felt the Blackhawks and its brand of music had no place in the area.
After Hawkins was no longer enlisted with the army, the Blackhawks disbanded and he returned to Fayetteville. He’d soon receive a phone call from Sun Records who wanted to head to Memphis, Tennessee to lead its house session band. By the time he got there, there was no band left to work with. While there, he produced two demos but failed to earn any recording contracts of his own. He’d move back to Arkansas and later form another version of The Hawks that would include a certain drummer named Levon Helm. In an agreement with Helm’s parents, Hawkins waited until their boy graduated from high school before heading north to Canada. It would be there that Hawkins’s influence in the music industry became even more prominent. As a performer, Hawkins realized his biggest hit after performing “Forty Days,” a single that peaked as high as number twenty-six on the US Billboard Hot 100.
1958 witnessed Hawkins and the Ron Hawkins Quartet tour across Canada after it was suggested members of the Canadian audience wanted to hear more rockabilly music. For the most part, Hawkins worked out of Toronto, Ontario which would include the 1959 release of Ronnie Hawkins as an album he cut with the Hawks. This was followed by Mr. Dynamo. Although becoming increasingly popular in Canada, Hawkins didn’t officially move into the country until 1964.
Only he and Levon Helm moved to the Great White North while the rest of the members from the Hawks dropped out. They were replaced by a group of Ontario-based musicians, Rick Danko, David Clayton-Thomas, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson. Aside from Clayton-Thomas, these were the men who later formed a band of their own, aptly titled The Band. Clayton-Thomas later moved on to become the lead vocalist for Blood, Sweat & Tears. All of these men, including Helm, left Hawkins by the time 1964 was over. The Band would soon hook up with Bob Dylan in New York which would lead to the infamous recording of The Basement Tapes.
Although Ronnie Hawkins and his old Hawks bandmates went their separate ways, it didn’t sever their connection. He also was close enough to Bob Dylan where he’d be cast a role to play the legendary songwriter in the 1975 movie Renaldo and Clara. A year later, Hawkins performed with The Band’s Thanksgiving Day farewell concert in San Francisco. It was documented in the 1978 movie, The Last Waltz. In 1984, Hawkins recorded Making It Again, an album that would earn him a Canadian Juno Award for Best Country Male Vocalist. Eleven years later, at sixty years old, Ronnie Hawkins proved he still had it in him to perform as a rockabilly star. Granted, no more backflips and special walks but his live album, Let It Rock, featured performances by him, The Band, Larry Gowan, Jeff Healey, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. As a group, they were dubbed “the Rock ‘n’ Roll Orchestra.”
When Hawkins passed away at eighty-seven years old on May 29, 2022, it was suspected the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with in 2002 came back to claim the man’s life. This was not the case. After he was healed by a sixteen-year-old Vancouver-based healer named Adam McLeod, it was revealed his cancer was sent to remission for good. This was noted in the 2012 documentary, Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kicking. Before his passing, Ronnie Hawkins left a legacy that included twenty-one albums and eighteen singles. He also left a trail of several musicians and recording artists who carried this legacy onward by passing down what he taught them to others.
#7 – Luther Allison
Luther Allison originally came from Widener, Arkansas before moving to Chicago, Illinois with his family when he was twelve years old. He, along with his fourteen siblings, sang as part of a gospel group known as the Southern Travellers. After witnessing one of his older brothers working as a guitarist while Chicago’s blues music scene was booming, Luther chose to do the same thing himself. In 1954, he joined the Ollie Lee Allison Band as a teenager which led him, Ollie, and another brother, Grant, to form another band in 1957. They called themselves The Rolling Stones.
It was later changed to The Four Jivers as the brothers continued to perform in various Chicago clubs. It was in 1957 that Luther Allison would earn his big break as this was the year Howlin’ Wolf invited him to perform on the stage. He also worked with Jimmy Dawkins that year. Before Freddie King secured a record deal, he mentored Allison who would have him lead a house band for a club on Chicago’s West Side. This led to Allison moving to California for a year before recording his first single in 1965.
In 1967, he had a recording contract with Delmark Records and produced his debut album, Love Me Mama. The 1968 release was successful enough to witness Luther Allison continue to win over fans and by 1972, he was signed with Motown Records. The blues artist recorded for them before moving to France in 1977. As a performer, Allison made a name for himself as a powerful act in concert. The lengthy guitar solos featured soul music at its finest which made him a bluesy fan favorite around the world. In 1994, after signing with Ruf Records, Allison embarked on a big comeback as a recording artist after moving back to the United States. Soul Fixin’ Man was an album that was released that year. 1994 also witnessed Allison winning four W.C. Handy Awards. This is the same awards ceremony that’s now labeled as the Blues Music Award.
The career run of Luther Allison included the recording and release of Blue Streak and its prized song, “Cherry Red Wine.” This earned Allision additional W.C. Handy Awards, as well as broader recognition as a blues artist worldwide. However, five months after releasing Reckless in 1997, Luther Allison met with medical issues that prompted him to check into a hospital on July 10. It was learned he had a tumor on his lung that metastasized to his brain. He underwent two weeks’ worth of radiation therapy six days later. he was in and out of a coma until the day of his death on August 12th. This took place five days before he was to celebrate his fifty-eighth birthday.
Reckless would serve to be his final studio recording before cancer claimed his life. He would be posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. The influence he had included inspired several aspiring musicians to follow in his footsteps such as Chris Beard and Reggie Sears. In total, Luther Allison has a mix of twenty-nine live and studio albums under his belt, along with two compilation albums. There are also two video albums that show the man at work, playing his blues guitar. These were released in 1998 as Live in Paradise and in 2009 as Songs from the Road. Both of these recordings took place in 1997, around the time Reckless was released as his final studio album.
#6 – Charlie Rich
On December 14, 1932, Charlie Rich was born and raised on a cotton farm in Colt, Arkansas. While in high school in Forrest City, he was in the band as a saxophone player. His musical background came from his parents and the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. His mother was its piano player and his father sang gospel. In addition to learning the saxophone, Rich also learned how to play blues piano, thanks to an African-American sharecropper named C.J. Allen. After high school, he enrolled at Arkansas State College thanks to a football scholarship. However, after he became injured, he shifted his focus to study music at the University of Arkansas.
After attending one semester, he left in 1953 to sign up with the United States Air Force and be stationed in Enid, Oklahoma. While there, he formed a group known as the Velvetones. He, along with his wife, Ann Greene, performed blues and jazz music before the two moved back west in 1956. Now out of the army, the couple took up farming but the love of music kept Rich performing in clubs around the Memphis area. In addition to blues and jazz, he also played R&B music. It was during this time he learned how to write his own songs.
When Rich attempted to score a recording contract, he submitted his demo tape to Sun Records, hoping Sam Phillips would like the material. As it turned out, he didn’t as he gave a collection of Jerry Lee Lewis records. According to Rich, Bill Justis instructed his wife to tell him to “come back when you get that bad.” In 1958, Rich came back as a session musician who played on a variety of records by Lewis, and several other artists, including fellow Arkansas native, Johnny Cash.
Rich wrote songs for these men as well as many others. When he began to record for Sun’s subsidiary label, Phillips International Records, 1960’s “Lonely Weekends” became a top thirty hit that bore a striking resemblance to Presley’s vocal talent. This wound up becoming Rich’s big breakthrough as it sold over one million copies and became an RIAA-certified gold disc. Although the rest of the singles he recorded and released for the label failed to achieve the same level of success, many became staple favorites that would often find themselves covered by other recording artists.
As Sun struggled as a label, Rich switched over in 1963 to Groove, another subsidiary label, this time for RCA Victor. After failing to really move forward with them, he moved on again in 1965, this time to Smash Records. It would be with this label he’d be advised by producer Jerry Kennedy to lean more into country and rock music. For Rich, this was a challenge at the time because his specialty was playing jazz music on the piano. While establishing a fusion of musical sounds of R&B and rock together, aside from the moderately successful “Mohair Sam,” the big breakthrough Rich needed was still eluding him. As a result, he’d switch labels again, this time to Hi Records. His music style also changed as he focused on bluesy soul music and country. However, his fortunes hadn’t changed for him there, either.
Refusing to give up, Rich signed up with Epic Records in 1967. With the help of Billy Sherrill, Rich took on the role of a Nashville Sound balladeer as rockers such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty dipped into the country music genre. For Rich, the “countrypolitan” sound he adopted finally gave the man the taste of success he deserved. In 1972, “I Take It on Home” became his first top ten hit as it peaked as high as number six on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. After this, 1973’s Behind Closed Doors released its title track that would become Rich’s first number-one hit on the same chart.
It also became a crossover hit when it peaked as high as number fifteen on the US Billboard Hot 100. This would become one of his two signature songs that fans identified him with the most. The other was the follow-up single, “The Most Beautiful Girl.” This one also topped the country music charts and it also topped the pop charts. It was enough to score Rich two Country Music Association Awards, one for Best Male Vocalist and Single of the Year. As for the album, the CMA awarded it Album of the Year. This became Rich’s first RIAA-certified gold record. In addition to his three CMA awards, Rich also earned a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
On the heels of “The Most Beautiful Girl” were five more songs produced by Charlie Rich in 1974 that became crossover hits. They were “There Won’t Be Anymore,” “A Very Special Love Song,” “I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore,” “I Love My Friend,” and “She Called Me Baby.” In response to Rich’s success, RCA Records and Mercury Records re-released the material he recorded for them while he belonged to those labels and their subsidiaries. This led to Charlie Rich earning CMA’s Entertainer of the Year in 1974. Also in 1974, Benji was released as a movie that featured Rich’s performance of “I Feel Love (Benji’s Theme).” For the time being, Charlie Rich was at the top of the world as a successful recording artist.
However, 1975 proved to be a tough year, even though Rich scored five more big hits on the country music charts. When he presented CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award, it was clear he was intoxicated. Before tearing up the envelope to announce the winner, he stumbled through the names of the nominees. Before announcing John Denver’s name as the winner, he set the paper that had his name on it on fire. According to those who viewed Rich’s antics, it was believed it was an act of protest against Music Row and its control of the Nashville Sound. It was already known he felt Denver’s music wasn’t country enough.
Whether the incident was intentional or not, Charlie Rich found himself on the receiving end of a popularity nosedive. It wouldn’t be until 1977 that Rich would experience another big hit. “Rollin’ With the Flow.” After this, it was a number-one hit in 1978 with Janie Fricke for “On My Knees.” It was also in 1978 that Rich appeared in the Clint Eastwood flick, Every Which Way but Loose, as he performed “I’ll Wake You Up When I Get Home.” It became a number three hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1979. After this, it was yet another label switch, this time to Elektra Records before deciding in 1981 he wanted to step away from the spotlight. He lived out the remainder of his life off personal investments and only played in concerts on an occasional basis.
In 1992, Rich came out of retirement to record and release Pictures and Paintings. This was a jazz-influenced album that earned critical praise and it served as Rich’s restoration as a recording artist. However, it wound up becoming his final recording as his life was cut short on July 25, 1995. He and his wife were driving home after watching their son, Allan, perform with Freddy Fender at a casino in Natchez, Mississippi. The intent was to reach Florida but they only made it as far as Hammond, Louisiana. Before reaching this destination, Rich experienced heavy coughing that had him seek medical help in St. Francisville, Louisiana. After receiving antibiotics from a doctor there, he and his wife continued until they reached a motel to call it a night. He never did wake up and it was learned it was a pulmonary embolism that caused his death.
#5 – Black Oak Arkansas
Black Oak Arkansas originally started out as The Knowbody Else in 1963 by a group of high school buddies living in Black Oak, Arkansas. The founders were Pat “Dirty” Daugherty, Wayne “Squeezebox” Evans, Harvey “Burley” Jett, Stanley “Goober Grin” Knight, Rickie “Risky/Ricochet” Reynolds, and Ronnie “Chicky Hawk” Smith. There was also James “Jim Dandy” Mangum who would swap roles with Smith to become the lead vocalist while Smith chose to serve as stage production manager instead. In 1969, the group managed to secure a contract with Stax Records before signing up with Atco Records in 1970.
It was during this time the members renamed themselves Black Oak Arkansas as it embraced the musical sounds of Eastern spiritualism, psychedelia, and the Southern Baptist upbringing they had. In 1971, the released debut album would be named after the band’s new identity. This one featured four songs that became cult classics among the group’s fan base. “Hot and Nasty,” “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul,” “Uncle Lijiah,” and “When Electricity Came to Arkansas” were favored by the fans but criticized by extreme religious groups who felt Black Oak Arkansas was practicing a technique known as backward masking. The groups felt Satanic messages were hidden inside the song as Magnum had expressed lyrics such as “Natas.”
In 1972, Black Oak Arkansas released two more albums, Keep the Faith, and If an Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home? The first of these two albums produced what became another Black Oak Arkansas Classic, “Fever in My Mind.” The second featured another classic, “Mutants of the Monster.” Between the releases of these two recordings, drummer Wayne Evans opted out of the band and was replaced by Tommy Aldridge. At this point, Black Oak Arkansas was venturing further into an eclectic music style In 1973, Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live was released that had a mix of unreleased songs and the band’s first live concert. “Gigolo,” “Gettin’ Kinda Cocky” “Hot Rod,” and “Up” joined the ranks as a cult favorite among the group’s fan base.
Before the year was over, High on the Hog was released as the group’s fifth studio album. This served as a commercial breakthrough for Black Oak Arkansas, especially after going on tour that had Ruby Starr perform with them during this time period. It’s her easy-to-recognize raspy voice that’s heard on the cover of “Jim Dandy (To the Rescue).” This was a 1957 hit for LaVern Baker that topped the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Song Chart and was a number seventeen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The version Black Oak Arkansas performed peaked as high as number twenty-five on the same pop chart.
Where Black Oak Arkansas really made a name for itself was the concert performances. It also kept busy in the recording studio with 1974’s High on the Hog, Street Party, and Early Times. Early Times was an album that was shelved by Stax when the band roster referred to itself as The Knowbody Else. Before 1974 was over, Harvey Jett left as the group’s guitarist and was replaced by Jimmy “Soybean” Henderson in 1975. After this, Ain’t Life Grand was recorded and released before Black Oak Arkansas moved on from Atco Records to MCA Records. This recording featured a remake of “Taxman,” a 1966 Beatles single that came from George Harrison’s penmanship. With MCA, X-Rated was also released in 1975. From this point forward, the momentum Black Oak Arkansas had as one of the “it” acts began to experience a slowdown.
1976’s Balls of Fire and 10 Yr Overnight Success were deemed as commercial failures. After this, the band’s roster dropped from five members to four as Rickie Reynolds decided he had enough. By 1977, between lineup changes and the struggle to get back on top as popular fan favorites, the group underwent another name change as it became Black Oak. However, this was not enough to gain the momentum back. 1977’s Race with the Devil and I’d Rather Be Sailing didn’t do well, either. After 1984, Black Oak was no more as it underwent additional name changes before it would be Black Oak Arkansas again in 1995. While the glory days of Black Oak Arkansas are technically behind them, the legacy this iconic rock group left continues to make its mark today. The influence of Jim Dandy’s on-stage showmanship each time he performed served as a source of inspiration for Van Halen’s David Lee Roth to come up with his own on-stage persona.
#4 – Levon Helm
Mark Lavon Helm was born in Elaine, Arkansas on May 266, 1940. He grew up in a hamlet called Turkey Scratch just outside of Marvell. His parents were cotton farmers who had a love for music. This played a factor as he and his siblings were encouraged to play and sing songs. When Helm was six years old, he watched Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys and already knew he was destined to become a musician. By the time he was eight years old, he was playing the drums and the guitar.
While growing up, the musical styles of various blues styles and country became a source of inspiration as Helm was a fan of the Grand Ole Opry and F.S. Wolcott’s Original Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels. He was also influenced by the electric blues performances by Sonny Boy Williamson II and blues guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. While in high school, Helm put together his first band, the Jungle Bush Beaters.
In addition to his fondness for blues and country music, Helm was also drawn to rock and roll and rockabilly. Aside from enjoying the material from Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, and Conway Twitty, Helm was also a fan of Ronnie Hawkins. When the opportunity had it for Helm to join Hawkins and his Hawks, there was a mutual agreement between the two musicians and Helm’s mother that he finish high school first. The Hawks were a popular club act that toured extensively in the American South and Canada. As soon as he joined in 1958, he was a full-time member of The Hawks. When Hawkins decided to move to Toronto, Canada, Helm was the only member of the band to go with him.
Two years after Hawkins and Helm released a cluster of singles in 1959 with Roulette Records, Helm recorded music with jazz guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Rick Danko that would later be released in 2003 as The Hallmark Sessions. Right after this, Hawkins had a new lineup for The Hawks that included Danko, as well as Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson.
They were all Canadian musicians who would play with Hawkins and Helm until 1963. By this time, Helm’s first name had already changed from Lavon to Levon as his bandmates had a difficult time pronouncing “Lavon” properly. At first, Danko, Helm, Hudson, Manuel, and Robertson called themselves Levon and the Hawks before switching to the Canadian Squires. The men then changed it back to The Hawks. Although a couple of singles were cut and released at the time, the men were actually more popular as live performers than recording artists.
Before becoming The Band, the men mostly toured in Canada, Arkansas, and Texas before becoming regulars along the American East Coast and on the New Jersey Shore. It would be at this time Helm and his bandmates met and teamed up with Bob Dylan as he asked them to become his backing band. At the time, the folksy singer-songwriter was looking to adopt electric rock music to his repertoire. At first, Dylan’s fans didn’t seem to care for this new style he took on. This led to a discouraged Helm to take time off during the fall season of 1965 which would lead to a two-year hiatus. Without him, Danko and the rest of the group went through a rotation of drummers before he’d come back to The Hawks and tour with Dylan across Europe.
When they returned to American soil, Dylan’s backing band stayed in the infamous pink house near Woodstock, New York. It would be here history would be made as The Band and Bob Dylan performed a series of recordings that would later be released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. This was an experience that played a key role in the shift from The Hawks to The Band as a name, as well as a further refinement of the group’s musical style.
1968’s Music from Big Pink was The Band’s debut album that launched the group into stardom. At the time, Manuel mostly performed as a lead vocalist while Helm sang backup and harmony. The only exception to this recording was “The Weight.” As The Band sought to develop new songs, there were two key factors that altered the musical direction of the mostly Canadian rock group. Manuel’s health was taking a turn for the worse and Robertson’s source of inspiration as a songwriter came from the American South and its culture.
The songs written by this time witnessed a shift that had Helm sing the lead and would sometimes have Danko sing in harmony with him. Helm was more than just a drummer and a vocalist. He knew how to play a variety of instruments, just like the rest of the band’s roster. Until The Band performed its farewell performance on November 25, 1976, Helm stayed with The Band before moving on as a solo artist. The footage of the concert performance was featured in The Last Waltz, a project Robertson produced that Helm revealed in his autobiography he didn’t care for so much.
Now on his own, Helm recorded Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars, an ensemble album that was released in 1977. The lineup featured a collection of well-known musicians such as Paul Butterfield, Fred Carter, Jr., Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Howard Johnson, and Booker T. Jones. Together, the crew also recorded and released Live at The Palladium NYC, New Year’s Eve 1977. This was a 2006 release that featured an hour’s worth of bluesy rock music that had Levon Helm perform as the drummer and vocalist. After this, it was the 1978 release of Levon Helm, as well as the 1980 release of American Son. In 1982, another album named Levon Helm was released. In addition to blues and rock music, Helm also did country, which can be heard on the 1980 album, The Legend of Jesse James as he took on the role of the title character as a vocalist.
In addition to performing as a musician, Helm also took up acting. He was featured in a variety of movies such as 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter as he played the role of Loretta Lynn’s father. Other movies he appeared in were 1983’s The Right Stuff, 1987’s End of the Line, 1997’s Fire Down Below, 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 2007’s Shooter, and 2009’s In the Electric Mist. In between these acting roles, Helm continued to perform music. In 1983, he and The Band reunited but without Robbie Robertson. This lasted until Danko committed suicide in 1986. This left Danko, Helm, and Hudson to move on which would lead to the 1993 release of Jericho, and then the 1996 release of High on the Hog. This was followed by an anniversary album in 1998, Jubilation. In addition to performing with The Band again, Helm also toured with other legends such as Clarence Clemons, Ringo Starr, and Joe Walsh.
In 1989, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards, the Junos, inducted The Band into the Juno Awards Hall of Fame. In 1994, The Band would be inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame. Going into the late 1990s, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer that led to a surgical procedure known as laryngectomy. Although the cancerous tumor was removed, Helm’s vocal cords were damaged. He no longer had the powerful tenor singing voice but a raspy one. However, it wasn’t enough to slow Helm down as a musician. His love of drumming kept him going as he relied on guest vocalists until his own singing voice became stronger.
This enabled him to perform as a vocalist again for a group he founded going into the twenty-first century, Midnight Ramble. In 2007, Helm released Dirt Farmer, a comeback album that earned him a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. This was followed by a 2010 win with Electric Dirt as the first Grammy Award winner for Best Americana Album. A year later, his live album, Ramble at the Ryman, also won this award. In April 2012, it was revealed Levon Helm once again was contending with throat cancer and that it had reached the final stages. On April 19, 2012, the day Helm died, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers paid tribute to the man, dedicating “The Best of Everything” to him.
The legacy of Levon Helm includes “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” two songs he performed as lead vocalist with The Band. These, along with “The Weight,” demonstrated the man was just as talented as a vocalist as he was as a multi-instrumentalist. The mix of country and soul is what made him stand out. He made quite the impression on George Harrison as he wrote 1970’s “All Things Must Pass” as a song he pictured Helm singing. Lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote “Levon” after Helm before Elton John performed it in 1971 on his album Madman Across the Water.
The song wasn’t about the man from Arkansas, though. In 2007, Marc Cohn wrote “Listening to Levon,” which was a song about Helm. So was 2009’s “The Man Behind the Drums” by Keen. Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith had a 2011 poem titled “Alternate Take” that was a dedication to Levon Helm. Even after the death of Helm, several fans and musicians continued to honor Helm and his accomplishments as one of the most influential musicians with an impressive career that ran for over five decades.
#3 – Al Green
Originally, he was born on April 13, 1946, as Albert Leornes Greene in Forrest City, Arkansas. His parents were sharecroppers before the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 1950s. When he was a teenager, he was kicked out by his father who disapproved of the kind of music he was listening to. Now on his own, the man fans know as Al Green took up hustling as a means to make ends meet. He also lived with a prostitute at the time and began to take recreational drugs.
As a teenager, the young man had a vocal group called Al Green & the Creations. Its roster included Palmer James and Curtis Rodgers who’d form an independent label called Hot Line Music Journal. The group changed its name to Al Greene & the Soul Mates in 1968 before recording “Back Up Train” as a single. While this became successful as a hit, the album with the same name did not. Neither did any of the follow-up songs the group recorded.
In 1969, Green was hired by Willie Mitchell to perform as a vocalist for a show in Texas with his band. This led to a contract with his Hi Records label. At the time, Green was trying to sound like his fan favorites, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, and Jackie Wilson. However, Mitchell encouraged Green to discover his own singing voice and style. It would also be at this time, Al Greene’s name was officially changed to Al Green. After this, Green Is Blues was released in 1969 as his first studio album.
It was moderately successful and was followed by 1971’s Al Green Gets Next to You. This one featured a Temptations cover “I Can’t Get Next to You. This was a version Green performed as a slow bluesy number. This was also the same recording that featured his first major hit, “Tired of Being Alone.” It sold a million copies and became certified gold. This would be the first of eight singles Green released between 1971 and 1974 that would earn this RIAA-certified achievement.
1972’s Let’s Stay Together established Al Green as a significant soul singer. The title track became his biggest hit to date and would become the second single to become certified gold. It also topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. The album also became certified gold. Also released in 1972 was I’m Still in Love with You. This one became platinum and it produced two more gold-certified singles, “Look What You Done for Me” and “I’m Still in Love with You.” 1973’s Call Me kept Al Green’s dominance on the music charts with “You Ought to Be with Me,” “Call Me (Come Back Home),” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”
He also had “Love and Happiness” and a cover version of a Bee Gees classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” There was also “Simply Beautiful,” “What a Wonderful Thing Love Is,” and “Take Me to the River.” Also released in 1973 was Livin’ for You, another album that would earn Green RIAA-certified gold. Additional big hits that kept Green on top of the R&B charts were “Livin’ for You,” “Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy),” “Let’s Get Married,” “L-O-V-E (Love),” and “Full of Fire.”
After the 1977 release of The Belle Album, Al Green’s popularity began to wane. His final recording with Hi Records was Truth n’ Time, an album that was released in 1978 and met with commercial failure. However, this marked a new era for Al Green as he began to produce gospel albums after experiencing an injury during a concert performance in 1979. While ministering at the same time, Green recorded and released a collection of gospel albums between 1980 and 1989. Six of these albums were recorded with Myrrh Records, including 1980’s The Lord Will Make a Way.
The title track earned Al Green a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance. In addition to producing gospel albums, Al Green returned to secular music in 1988 with a duet he performed with Annie Lennox. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” was featured on the Scrooged soundtrack and it became Green’s first major hit since 1974. In 1995, he performed another duet, this time with Lyle Lovett as they covered a Willie Nelson classic, “Funny How Time Slips Away.” The album, Your Heart’s In Good Hands, was released approximately the same time Al Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His standout single from that recording was “Keep On Pushing Love,” a single that shared similar traits to Green’s earlier classics.
In 2002, Green was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Overall, Green was nominated for twenty-one Grammy Awards where eleven of them were won. Two of his signature songs, “Let’s Stay Together” and “Take Me To the River,” were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, Green was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame, as well as The Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2009, the BET Awards honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Green’s legacy puts him in league with other R&B legends such as James Brown, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard.
#2 – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was born on February 23, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas. His parents were cotton farmers who struggled to make ends meet and life didn’t seem to be easy for the young man while he was growing up. He was the middle child of seven children who endured the Great Depression and all the hardships that went with it. When he was three years old, the family moved to Dyess, Arkansas, a colony that offered poor families to work on land they were promised they could own.
The family farm Johnny Cash lived on in Dyess experienced a flood that would later trigger “Five Feet High and Rising” as one of his songs. Because of Johnny Cash’s childhood experience, spawned the musician to perform music that favored the poor and the working class. As fans across the nation, then worldwide, became more familiar with him as a singer-songwriter, Johnny Cash became their idea of a musical hero.
Before signing up with Sun Records in 1955, Johnny Cash was already influenced by a mix of gospel and secular music. He learned how to play the guitar when he was a child and was already writing songs by the time he was twelve years old. At first, Johnny Cash’s singing voice had a high-tenor tone before it changed as he got older. It became bass-baritone, the signature sound fans came to know and love. In addition to establishing a musical career, Johnny Cash was also enlisted in the Air Force from 1950 until 1954.
While serving in the military, Johnny Cash was stationed at Landsberg, West Germany when he was among the first to learn and give the news about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Johnny Cash’s daughter, Roseanne Cash, confirmed this as stories of this incident were often shared by her father while she was growing up.
After Johnny Cash was honorably discharged from the Air Force, he poured focus on his music which would lead to a string of hits while he recorded music out of Memphis, Tennessee. The infamous “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” was how the man introduced himself each time he performed in concert. Among Johnny Cash’s signature songs that made him so famous were “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” “Get Rhythm,” and “Man in Black.” There were also a pair of comical tunes such as “A Boy Named Sue” and “One Piece at a Time.”
In addition to these classics, Johnny Cash performed a series of memorable duets with his second wife, June Carter. Like him, she was also an accomplished singer, and the two realized at first sight they were destined to become soul mates. Together, they performed “Jackson,” “Hey, Porter,” “Orange Blossom Special,” and “Rock Island Line.” 1967’s “Jackson” earned the duo a Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance Duet, Trio or Group.
When Johnny Cash became more popular as a musician, he developed a drinking habit that included an addiction to amphetamines and barbiturates. At one point, he was a roommate in Nashville with Waylon Jennings. Like Johnny Cash, he shared similar addictions. Both of these men would find themselves on the wrong side of the law and would play a key role in their careers as branded outlaws in the music industry. While Cash’s personal life was contending with serious issues, some of his best music came from this time period, most notably “Ring of Fire.”
It also dictated the course of his career once he started to put his life back together. From 1969 until 1971, he hosted The Johnny Cash Show. While it ran, Cash booked some of the music industry’s greatest legends such as Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Derek and the Dominos, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. It was also on this show Linda Ronstadt made her first television appearance. Prior to this show, Cash and Dylan were once-upon-a-time neighbors in Woodstock, New York.
Johnny Cash’s legacy boasts over ninety million records sold worldwide. This makes him one of the best-selling music artists of all time as the man ventured into a variety of genres such as blues, country, folk, gospel, rock, and rockabilly. He was often able to merge these genres as one with some of his best music that would often become crossover hits. His “Man in Black” image was explained in this signature song as a fashion statement he made on behalf of the poor, the hungry, and the convicts who paid their dues. Over the span of his career, Cash earned a flurry of Country Music Association Awards and Grammy Awards for a career that ran for nearly five decades.
The country music genre credits Johnny Cash as one of its most influential figures. This was also the case with other musical genres as Cash’s diversity had him inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Even today, the cultural and musical influence of Johnny Cash continues to light up the world as new and old fans continue to regard him as a true legend.
#1 – Glen Campbell
He was born Glen Travis Campbell on April 22, 1936, in Billstown, Arkansas. However, his life was almost cut short when he nearly drowned as a child. He, along with his eleven siblings, grew up as members of the Church of Christ that would witness his brother, Lindell, become a minister. The family grew up as farmers who had a difficult time making ends meet. What helped him through his childhood was a guitar his father gave him as a gift. He was taught how to play it by his uncle and by the time he was six years old was performing music on local radio stations. Without any formal training, Glen Campbell continued to hone in on his guitaring skills whenever he wasn’t hard at work in the cotton fields. One of Campbell’s musical heroes was Django Reinhardt.
Glen Campbell was a high school dropout as he quit grade ten so he would work in Houston with his brothers. It didn’t take long before the teenager realized he’d rather play music so he began to play wherever he could between church picnics and festivals. He’d later begin performing in local nightclubs. At seventeen years old, Campbell moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico so he could join his uncle’s band, Dick Balls and the Sandia Mountain Boys. He was also featured on his uncle’s radio show, K Circle B Time. In 1958, Glen Campbell put together his own band, the Western Wranglers before he moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1960.
Glen Campbell became a session musician while he was there before joining the Champs. In 1961, Campbell wrote songs and recorded demos for a publishing company known as American Music. Because of his talent, Campbell was in high demand that would have him play recordings for a multitude of established and rising stars such as the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few. It was also in 1961 that Campbell signed up with American Music’s Crest Records. “Turn Around, Look at Me” became his first single released as a solo artist. It was moderately successful as a number sixty-two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. However, in 1968 as a Vogues’ cover, it became even more popular on the same chart at number seven.
In 1962, Glen Campbell moved on to Capitol Records. Although he didn’t have much success at first, there were nearly six hundred recorded songs that came from his work by 1963. He already was a rising star at this point and was appearing as a regular in 1964 on Star Route. This was a syndicated series hosted by Rod Cameron. He also appeared on Shindig! and Hollywood Jamboree. It was also during this time Glen Campbell toured with the Beach Boys as he filled in for Brian Wilson, playing bass guitar and singing falsetto. After he was replaced in 1965 by Bruce Johnston, Glen Campbell teamed up with Wilson to produce “Guess I’m Dumb.” Although it failed to chart at the time, it later became a Campbell classic. After this, Campbell scored his biggest hit yet with “Universal Soldier,” which was also released in 1965. This Buffy Sainte-Marie cover was a number forty-five hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Although Glen Campbell was replaced by Johnson, he still played as a session musician with the Beach Boys. He played the guitar for its 1966 album, Pet Sounds. As favored as Glen Campbell was as a session musician, Capitol was disappointed he wasn’t coming up with solid follow-up singles after “Universal Soldier.” The label was about to drop the man but this changed after Glen Campbell teamed up with producer Al De Lory. “Burning Bridges” was the result and it became a top twenty hit on the country music charts in 1967. Burning Bridges, as an album, was also successful.
The two collaborated with each other again for another 1967 hit, “Gentle on My Mind.” This became an overnight sensation, as did yet another 1967 hit, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Going into 1968, “I Wanna Live” and “Wichita Lineman” kept Campbell’s popularity at an all-time high. It also earned him his first four Grammy Awards. This was followed by 1969’s “True Grit” as the title track for the movie. It won an Academy Award for Best Song, as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
Starting in 1968, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour started off as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It ran from January 1969 until June 1972. Even after the cancellation of his show, Glen Campbell continued to be a familiar face on television between movies, shows, and specialized events. He also poured more focus on his music career which would include his biggest signature hit, 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.” This, along with 1977’s “Southern Nights” became two number-one hits on several music charts.
“Rhinestone Cowboy” also went on to sell over two million copies and become that one song that fans identified most with Campbell. It has been a pop culture favorite that immortalized Campbell as one of the all-time favorites in the music industry. Overall, he released sixty-four albums that sold over forty-five million copies worldwide. Twelve of them were certified gold and five were certified either platinum or double-platinum.
Adding to Glen Cambell’s legacy are three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, as well as 2012’s Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This happened two years before Glen Campbell was admitted to a long-term care facility to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a condition he was diagnosed with as of June 2011. On August 8, 2017, he passed away at eighty-one years old. He was buried in Billstown, Arkansas in the Campbell family cemetery. Upon learning of his death, fans and peers had to contend with the loss of one of the music industry’s greatest legends. Following this has been a lengthy stream of tributes and dedications to a man and the legacy he left behind.
Complete History Of 10 Legendary Bands And Artists From Arkansas article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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