We as a culture and as humans spend a lot of time with technology, all focused on the newest, latest and most updated this, that and the other. Whether that’s a new tablet, phone, device, or entertainment like movies and music, we all are almost magnetized by “new.” What about the great things that inspired and influenced the new excellence we have? Especially in indie music?
I read a lot, and lately my eyes and conscience has been drawn to the past in a look at what influenced the present. Probably the most successful commercial artists of all time have their place in our social consciousness, even if we don’t claim them as our favorite musicians. Who can claim to love indie folk or indie folk rock and not have an interest for Simon & Garfunkel or James Taylor, even in a minor way?
There is not a single successful indie songwriter who has not been directly or indirectly influenced by Bob Dylan. He spoke for an entire generation of Americans in a time when social and political commentary was non-existent. Today everyone is a critic and everyone + their dog (or cat in many cases) has a platform to express themselves. Today anyone can be a spokesperson for an ideal or cause. The founders of indie music’s history took a greater risk in many cases to stand apart from the mainstream to let their voice and songs be heard.
If I asked you who you feel the most transformational or influential female singer-songwriter is, who would you say? My money goes with Joni Mitchell for several reasons, not including that most of the artists I’ve spoken with over the last 12 years cite her as an inspiration. Why for any number of reasons could Joni be left out of a conversation about some of today’s most followed indie artists like Amanda Palmer or Cat Power for the implied mark she left on songwriting as a whole?
And what about the obscure artists from indie music history, the ones that only esoteric fans are familiar with? Tragedy is an influential phenomena, as illustrated in the 2012 documentary Searching For Sugarman, where two music fans set out to determine if American musician Sixto Rodriguez had died in Africa as rumored. Rodriguez’ music was widely popular in South Africa but had not been as successful in the states. This documentary put his songwriting back in front of an American audience that was widely open to it, even in the modern music era.
When we hear the phrase Under The Influence, there are bad connotations that follow. But what about when influence is good, because it sets our course more clearly? We do that with artists, especially those of us who are artists, be that music, graphic arts, writers, chefs, etc. There are individuals and groups who have influenced our work, in subtle and obvious ways.
Hendrix is often cited as a musical influence, particularly in the rock and alternative realms. But what about jazz and blues? For music lovers who haven’t traveled much in the jazz or blues realms, it’s not as widely discussed that Jimi trained in jazz and blues, which he showcased in his songwriting, helping to make both genres more mainstream and grow their audience and appeal. Songs that illustrate that are found on his 1967 album Are You Experienced (Third Stone From The Sun among others).
Speaking of blues in indie music, Texas blues has a rich history, yet when I said Texas blues you probably initially thought Stevie Ray Vaughn, right? What about the incredible talent of Bugs Henderson, one of the Texas Blues legends of the underground. His album Still Flyin’ showcase his powerful influence beyond just the blues culture of Austin, but subsequent indie rockers who have toured and played in our state.
And these are but a few examples. The point is not to bring back the past or even promote the notion that only music made 30 plus years ago has real value and that modern “indie” music is a rehash of the past. It’s not. But modern indie music in every genre certainly has been influenced by what came before. For our own appreciation of all we are privy to in this modern age of media gluttony, let’s make even a small effort at noting the pathfinders of indie music’s past, and just be a little more thankful.
Oh and if you want to hear a special playlist from this Indie Influencer selection, Click Here.