50 States in 50 Days: The Sound of California: A leading force in U.S. popular music for nearly 60 years

Posted by: James Wolfe, Press Attaché

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California has been the home to many of the United States’ most famous pop, rock, and rap groups since the 1960s. The state first began to make its mark in country music in the 1950s, when Merle Haggard and Buck Owens popularized the “Bakersfield sound”, which developed as a more roots-based alternative to the slicker “Nashville sound.” It was in the 1960s, however, that California asserted itself worldwide as one of the hubs of rock and roll and popular music. Southern California “surf rock” bands like the Beach Boys became favorites of the Beatles, who in turn (along with the Rolling Stones, the Who and other “British Invasion” bands) inspired many young Californians to pick up guitars. San Francisco was home to hippies and “psychedelic rock,” typified by famous bands and musicians including: Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead (which first became known at Ken Kesey’s “acid tests” and started life as “The Warlocks” – a name they shared with Lou Reed’s band that played Andy Warhol’s New York City events. When they became aware that they shared the name, both changed, Reed’s band becoming the Velvet Underground). These bands combined folk and blues influences with rock and roll to create their signature sounds.

At the same time, Los Angeles was home to another strain of folk and country-based rock featuring bands like The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield (members of which later joined forces to create Crosby, Stills, and Nash – later joined by Neill Young). The more blues-based theatrical The Doors arose from the friendship of UCLA Film School students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek. Not to be outdone for theatricality Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention combined a bizarre sense of humor with high caliber musicianship. From these roots arose other famous bands throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Eagles, Jackson Browne and many others. By the 1980s and over the following decades, strains of other styles also became associated with California:

• hardcore punk (Black Flag, the Minutemen, Circle Jerks, etc),
• heavy metal (Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Poison, Metallica, etc)
• rap and hip hop (Ice-T, Ice Cube, N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, etc.), and
• alternative and indie rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Beck, etc.)


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