San Francisco, California is a popular tourist destination. It’s famous for Chinatown, Colt Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge. What many visitors overlook is the music in San Francisco. The music in San Francisco is also impressive.
There are many memorable San Francisco bands. Many of them have contributed not only to the San Francisco music scene but to the world of music in general.
Here is a list of the top 10 most influential San Francisco bands:
1. The Grateful Dead
Among the top bands San Francisco gave the world, The Grateful Dead tops the list. Founded in 1965, the original roster featured frontman Jerry Garcia on lead guitar and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards, harmonica, and vocals, and Bob Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals. Their signature sound is a musical mashup of bluegrass, blues, country, experimental music, folk, gospel, modal jazz, psychedelia, reggae, and rock.
2. Jefferson Airplane
Another musical act important to San Francisco music history was the 1965-founded group Jefferson Airplane. The group’s classic roster included vocalist Marty Balin, guitarist and vocalist Paul Kantner, singer Grace Slick, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, and drummer Spencer Dryden. Pioneers of the psychedelic rock music genre, and are most famous for their 1967 platter “Surrealistic Pillow.” Their most successful song was 1967’s “Somebody to Love.”
Santana was formed by Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana in 1966. The first roster included Santana on lead guitar, percussionist Marcus Malone, bassist Gus Rodriguez, drummer Rod Harper, and Gregg Rolie on lead vocals and Hammond organ. They created the genre now known as American Latin rock. They first came into the spotlight in 1969 when they played “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock and have since earned eight Grammy awards and a trio of Latin Grammy awards.
4. Sly & The Family Stone
Sly & The Family Stone performed from 1966 through 1983. The band’s core roster consisted of producer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter Sly Stone, his brother Freddie on guitar and vocals, his sister keyboardist and singer Rose, bass player Larry Graham, trumpet player Cynthia Robinson, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and Greg Errico on drums. They were the first US band to feature a male/female, racially integrated roster and were important in the advancement of such music genres as funk, psychedelic, rock, and soul music.
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival
Active from 1967 through 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival or “CCR,” the band consisted of singer-songwriter and lead guitarist John Fogerty, his brother Tom on rhythm guitar, Doug Clifford on drums and Stu Cook on bass. Their most successful album, “Cosmo’s Factory,” was released in 1970 and went quadruple-platinum. Frontman John Fogerty made flannel shirts cool decades before Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Once named the “Golden Gate Rhythm Section,” this band was formed in 1973. The band featured former Santana musicians Neal Schon as lead guitarist and Gregg Rolie as keyboardist. It also included George Tickner on rhythm guitar, Ross Valory on bass and drummer Prairie Prince. In 1977 they brought in Steve Perry as lead singer. Their best years were from 1981 through 1983. Their 1981 album “Escape” was their biggest release.
The heavy metal band Metallica was founded in 1981. Based in San Francisco, the group includes singer and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, bass player Robert Trujillo, and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett. Along with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer, the band is one of the official “Big Four” of the sub-genre called aggressive metal. The group has thus far scored eight Grammy Awards.
8. Green Day
Formed in 1986, Green Day is a unique punk rock band including co-founders Billie Joe Armstrong (guitarist and lead singer) and Mike Dirnt (bass), and (since 1990) drummer Tre Cool. They began their career in music playing live sets at the famous Gilman club. Their most successful disc is the 1994 album “Dookie” which was certified Diamond by the RIAA.
9. The Doobie Brothers
Also known to their fans as “The Doobies”, the group has thus far sold over 40 million albums. Launched in 1970, they have been active in five different decades. The band was most successful in the 1970s. Their signature sound is a musical melange of genres including country, folk, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and (later) soul when lead vocalist Tom Johnston was replaced by Michael McDonald.
10. Faith No More
Formerly known as both Sharp Young Men and Faith No Man, Faith No More was founded in 1979. The current band roster includes drummer Mike Bordin, bass player Billy Gould, rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Roddy Bottum, and lead singer and guitarist Mike Patton. The band disbanded in 1998. Recently reformed, their most recent release is titled “Sol Invictus.”
These bands are of course only a part of the top bands San Francisco has to offer. San Francisco music history is surprisingly rich and varied. Those who explore the San Francisco music scene will not be disappointed.
Photo by Louis Raphael