Rock & Roll Icons
By Gunner Glam
Elvis Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name, Elvis. He is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “The King.” Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family at the age of 13. He began his career there in 1954, working with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African American music to a wider audience. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was the most important popularizer of rockabilly, an up-tempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country and rhythm and blues. RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage the singer for over two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” released in January 1956, was a number one hit. He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial. In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender.
The Rolling Stones is an English rock band formed in London in 1962 and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. The group’s earliest line-up consisted of Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica), Ian Stewart (piano), Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar, vocals), Bill Wyman (bassist) and Charlie Watts (drummer). Since 1993, the band has consisted of Jagger, Richards, Watts and guitarist Ronnie Wood. In studio and live performances, Darryl Jones (bassist) and Chuck Leavell (keyboardist) also serve as regular contributors. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, the Rock Hall states; “Critical acclaim and popular consensus has accorded them the title of the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” They were ranked fourth in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and their worldwide sales are estimated at more than 200 million albums.
Eric Clapton is an English guitarist and singer-songwriter. Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist, and separately as a member of The Yardbirds and Cream. Clapton has been referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time. Clapton ranked second in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and fourth in Gibson’s Top 50 Guitarists of All Time. In the mid 1960s, Clapton departed from the Yardbirds to play blues with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. In his one-year stay with Mayall, Clapton gained the nickname “Slowhand.” Immediately after leaving Mayall, Clapton formed Cream, a power trio with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce in which Clapton played sustained blues improvisations and “arty, blues-based psychedelic pop.”
Jimi Hendrix was an American musician and singer-songwriter. He is widely considered to be the greatest electric guitarist in music history and one of the most influential musicians of his era despite mainstream exposure limited to four years. After initial success in Europe with his group, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he achieved fame in the United States following his 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Later, he headlined the iconic 1969 Woodstock Festival and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. He often favored raw overdriven amplifiers with high gain and treble and helped develop the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback. Hendrix helped to popularize use of the wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, which he often used to deliver tonal exaggerations in his solos, particularly with high bends, complex guitar playing, and use of legato. As a record producer, he also broke new ground in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas. Hendrix was a pioneer in experimentation with stereophonic phasing effects in recordings made of rock music. He was influenced by blues artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King and Elmore James, rhythm and blues and soul guitarists Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper, and the jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Hendrix began dressing and wearing a moustache like Little Richard when he performed and recorded in his band from March 1, 1964 through to the spring of 1965. In 1966, he stated, “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.”
The Who is an English rock band formed in 1964 by Roger Daltrey (lead vocals, harmonica and guitar), Pete Townshend (guitar, keyboards and vocals), John Entwistle (bass guitar, brass and vocals) and Keith Moon (drums and percussion). They became known for energetic live performances which often included instrument destruction. The Who have sold about 100 million records, and have charted 27 top forty singles in the United Kingdom and United States, as well as 17 top ten albums, with 18 Gold, 12 Platinum and 5 Multi-Platinum album awards in the United States alone. The Who rose to fame in the UK with a series of top ten hit singles, boosted in part by pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline, beginning in January 1965 with I Can’t Explain. The albums My Generation (1965), A Quick One (1966) and The Who Sell Out (1967) followed, with the first two reaching the UK top five. They first hit the US Top 40 in 1967 with “Happy Jack” and hit the top ten later that year with “I Can See for Miles.” Their fame grew with memorable performances at the Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Isle of Wight music festivals. The 1969 release of Tommy was the first in a series of top ten albums in the US, followed by Live at Leeds (1970), Who’s Next (1971), Quadrophenia (1973), The Who by Numbers (1975), Who Are You (1978) and The Kids Are Alright (1979).
Black Sabbath is an English rock band, formed in Aston, Birmingham in 1969 by Ozzy Osbourne (lead vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass guitar) and Bill Ward (drums). The band has since experienced multiple line-up changes, with Tony Iommi the only constant presence in the band through the years. Originally formed in 1968 as a heavy blues rock band named Earth and renamed Black Sabbath in 1969, the band began incorporating occult and horror-inspired lyrics with tuned-down guitars and achieving multiple platinum records in the 1970s. Despite an association with occult and horror themes, Black Sabbath also composed songs dealing with social instability, political corruption and the dangers of drug abuse and apocalyptic prophesies of the horrors of war. Black Sabbath’s members are cited as pioneers of heavy metal. The band helped define the genre with releases such as quadruple-platinum Paranoid, released in 1970. They were ranked by MTV as the “Greatest Metal Band” of all time and placed second in VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” list, behind Led Zeppelin. Rolling Stone called the band “the heavy-metal kings of the ’70s.” They have sold over 15 million records in the United States and over 70 million records worldwide. Black Sabbath were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and were included among Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Led Zeppelin was an English rock band, active in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Formed as the New Yardbirds in 1968, the band consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. They are widely considered to be one of the most successful, innovative and influential rock groups in history. After changing their name, the band signed a favorable deal with Atlantic Records that allowed them considerable artistic freedom. Led Zeppelin disliked releasing their songs as singles; they viewed their albums as indivisible and complete listening experiences, thus promoting the concept of album-orientated rock. Due to the heavy, guitar-driven blues-rock sound of their first two albums, Led Zeppelin are frequently recognised as the progenitors of heavy metal and hard rock. However, the band’s individualistic style drew from a wide variety of influences, including folk music, which they incorporated into their next two albums. Their untitled fourth album, which features the track “Stairway to Heaven,” is among the most popular and influential works in rock music, and it cemented the status of the group as “superstars.” Subsequent albums saw greater experimentation and were accompanied by record-breaking tours, which earned them a reputation for excess. Although they remained commercially and critically successful, in the later 1970s the band’s output and touring schedule were limited by the personal difficulties and circumstances of the members.
Rush is a Canadian rock band formed in August 1968, in the Willowdale neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. The band is composed of bassist, keyboardist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist and backing vocalist Alex Lifeson and drummer, percussionist and lyricist Neil Peart. The band and its membership went through a number of re-configurations between 1968 and 1974, achieving their current form when Peart replaced original drummer John Rutsey in July 1974, two weeks before the group’s first United States tour. Rutsey’s departure stemmed primarily from health concerns regarding his diabetes. Since the release of the band’s self-titled debut album in March 1974, Rush has become known for its musicianship, complex compositions and eclectic lyrical motifs drawing heavily on science fiction, fantasy and philosophy. Rush’s music style has changed over the years, beginning with blues-inspired heavy metal on their first album, then encompassing hard rock, progressive rock and a period with heavy use of synthesizers. They have been cited as an influence by various musical artists, including Metallica, Primus and The Smashing Pumpkins, as well as progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X.
Pink Floyd was an English rock band that achieved international success with their progressive and psychedelic rock music marked by the use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation and elaborate live shows. One of the most commercially successful and influential rock groups in the history of popular music, they have sold over 250 million records worldwide, including 74.5 million certified units in the United States. They were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. The band originally consisted of university students Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd Barrett. Founded in 1965, they gained popularity performing in London’s underground music scene during the late 1960s. Under Barrett’s creative leadership they released two charting singles, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” and a successful début album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour joined as a fifth member in December 1967, several months prior to Barrett’s April 1968 departure due to deteriorating mental health. With the loss of Syd, the band moved from psychedelic pop to a more progressive sound, with many tracks written collaboratively while on tour. With this line-up they achieved critical and commercial success with the concept albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977) and The Wall (1979). With Animals and The Wall, Waters became the primary songwriter.
Metallica is an American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California, whose releases include fast tempos, instrumentals and aggressive musicianship that placed them as one of the founding “big four” of thrash metal alongside Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. The band formed in 1981 when James Hetfield responded to an advertisement that drummer Lars Ulrich had posted in a local newspaper. As of 2003, the line-up features long-time lead guitarist Kirk Hammett (who joined the band in 1983) and bassist Robert Trujillo (a member since 2003) alongside Hetfield and Ulrich. Previous members of the band are lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (who went on to found the band Megadeth) and bassists Ron McGovney, Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted. The band also had a long collaboration with producer Bob Rock, who produced all of its albums from 1990 to 2003 and served as a temporary bassist between the departure of Newsted and the hiring of Trujillo. The band earned a growing fan-base in the underground music community and critical acclaim with its third album Master of Puppets (1986), described as one of the most influential and “heavy” thrashes metal albums. Metallica achieved substantial commercial success with their eponymous fifth album (also known as The Black Album), which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. With this release the band expanded its musical direction resulting in an album that appealed to a more mainstream audience.
Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting being Dave Grohl, who joined the band in 1990. In the late 1980s Nirvana established itself as part of the Seattle grunge scene, releasing its first album Bleach for the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. The band eventually came to develop a sound that relied on dynamic contrasts, often between quiet verses and loud, heavy choruses. After signing to major label DGC Records, Nirvana found unexpected success with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the first single from the band’s second album Nevermind (1991). Nirvana’s sudden success widely popularized alternative rock as a whole, and the band’s frontman Cobain found himself referred to in the media as the “spokesman of a generation,” with Nirvana being considered the “flagship band” of Generation X. Nirvana’s third studio album In Utero (1993), challenged the group’s audience, featuring an abrasive, less-mainstream sound. The album didn’t match the sales figures of Nevermind but was still a commercial success.
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