26 Popular, Famous, and Influential Bay Area Rock Bands

Updated on June 17, 2018
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Robert is a Graduate of Columbia University's MFA program. He writes short stories, poetry, and critical essays. He is also a drummer.

26 Famous Bands From the Bay Area
26 Famous Bands From the Bay Area | Source

The Bay Area is well known for being the birthplace of many cultural and political movements. Coinciding with these cultural changes, musical revolutions began in the Bay Area as well. From psychedelic rock to alternative funk metal, here are 26 of the most famous and influential bands from the Bay Area.

Famous and Influential Bay Area Bands

  1. Primus
  2. Grateful Dead
  3. Steve Miller Band
  4. Jefferson Airplane
  5. Michael Franti
  6. Sly and the Family Stone
  7. Dead Kennedys
  8. Doobie Brothers
  9. Big Brother and the Holding Company
  10. Creedence Clearwater Revival
  11. Hot Tuna
  12. Journey
  13. Faith No More
  14. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  15. Buckethead
  16. Chris Isaak
  17. Deerhoof
  18. Santana
  19. Mr. Bungle
  20. Third Eye Blind
  21. Train
  22. Tower of Power
  23. Thee Oh Sees
  24. Blaqk Audio
  25. Death Angel
  26. Huey Lewis and the News

1. Primus (El Sobrante)

Origin: El Sobrante, California, U.S.

Years Active: 1984–2000, 2003–2006, 2008, 2010–present

Genre: Funk Metal, Progressive Rock

Main Members: Les Claypool, Larry "Ler" LaLonde, Tim "Herb" Alexander

Genre: Alternative metal, funk metal, experimental rock, progressive rock

Bio:

  • Primus formed in 1984 with Claypool and guitarist Todd Huth. Later, drummer Jay Lane joined the group, but the latter two departed the band at the end of 1988.
  • LaLonde and Alexander joined Primus and recorded their debut Suck on This in 1989.
  • Primus made four studio albums. Their strange and quirky rhythms and dark, but comical, lyrics expanded the definition of alternative rock.
  • Primus went on to record the original theme song for the TV show South Park and Robot Chicken.

Albums: Frizzle Fry (1990), Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991), Pork Soda (1993), Tales from the Punchbowl (1995), Brown Album (1997), Antipop (1999), Green Naugahyde (2011), Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble (2014), The Desaturating Seven (2017)

Labels: Caroline, Interscope, Prawn Song, ATO, MapleMusic

Famous Songs: "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver", "My Name Is Mud"

Essential Lyrics on "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" by Primus

Captain Pierce was a fireman
Richmond engine number three
I'll be a wealthy man when I get
A dime for all the things that
Man taught to me
Captain pierce was a strong man
Strong as any man alive
It stuck in his craw that they
Made him retire at the age of 65

More than anything, I think the best thing you can do as an artist is just stay as true to yourself as possible and hope that your fan base will appreciate that.

— Les Claypool

2. Grateful Dead (Palo Alto)

Origin: Palo Alto, California

Years Active: 1965–1995

Genre: Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Members: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Robert Hunter, John Perry Barlow, Tom Constanten, Keith Godchaux, Donna Jean Godchaux, Brent Mydland, Vince Welnick

Bio:

  • Various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead "the pioneering Godfathers of the jam bandworld".
  • The Dead were a communal movement, giving proceeds of their concerts to environmental and community-based organizations.
  • The band was ranked 57th by Rolling Stone magazine in its The Greatest Artists of All Time issue.
  • They have sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.

Albums: The Grateful Dead (1967), Anthem of the Sun (1968), Aoxomoxoa (1969), Live/Dead (1969), Workingman's Dead (1970), American Beauty (1970), Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses) (1971), Europe '72 (1972), History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear's Choice) (1973), Wake of the Flood (1973), From the Mars Hotel (1974), Blues for Allah (1975), Steal Your Face (1976), Terrapin Station (1977), Shakedown Street (1978), Go to Heaven (1980), Reckoning (1981), Dead Set (1981), In the Dark (1987), Dylan & the Dead (1989), Built to Last (1989), Without a Net (1990)

Labels: Warner Bros., Grateful Dead, Arista, Rhino, Sunflower, UA

Famous Songs: "China Cat Sunflower", "Truckin'"

Essential Lyrics on "China Cat Sunflower" by Grateful Dead

Crazy cat peekin' through a lace bandanna
Like a one-eyed cheshire, like a diamond-eye jack
A leaf of all colors plays a golden-string fiddle
To a double-e waterfall over my back

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.

— Jerry Garcia

3. Steve Miller Band (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, California, United States

Years Active: 1966–present

Genre: Country rock, blues rock, psychedelic rock, pop rock

Main Members: Steve Miller, Kenny Lee Lewis, Gordy Knudtson, Joseph Wooten, Jacob Petersen

Bio:

  • Originally called the Steve Miller Blues Band, the group first made its mark as a psychedelic blues-rock band in San Francisco.
  • The popularity, and radio friendliness, of 1982's Abracadabra, which included the worldwide hit single of the same name, launched them into stardom.

Albums: Children of the Future (1968), Sailor (1968), Brave New World (1969), Your Saving Grace (1969), Number 5 (1970), Rock Love (1971), Recall the Beginning...A Journey from Eden (1972), The Joker (1973), Fly Like an Eagle (1976), Book of Dreams (1977), Circle of Love (1981), Abracadabra (1982), Italian X Rays (1984), Living in the 20th Century (1986), Born 2 B Blue (1988), Wide River (1993), Bingo! (2010), Let Your Hair Down (2011)

Labels: Capitol, Mercury, Polydor, Roadrunner, Loud & Proud

Famous Songs: "Abracadabra", "Space Cowboy"

Essential Lyrics on "Space Cowboy" by Steve Miller Band

You can have your space, cowboy
I ain't gonna fence you in
Go on ride away, in your Silverado
Guess I'll see you 'round again
I know my place, and it ain't with you
Sunsets fade, and love does too
Yeah, we had our day in the sun
When a horse wants to run, there ain't no sense in closing the gate
You can have your space, cowboy

It is never too late to be who you might have been. It is always possible.

— Steve Miller

4. Jefferson Airplane (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, California, U.S.

Years Active: 1965–1972; 1989; 1996

Genre: Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Members: Signe Toly Anderson, Marty Balin, Bob Harvey, Paul Kantner
Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Peloquin, Skip Spence, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden
Grace Slick, Joey Covington, Papa John Creach, John Barbata, David Freiberg

Genre: Psychedelic rock, acid rock, folk rock, garage rock

Bio:

  • Jefferson Airplane was one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock. The group defined the "San Francisco Sound" and was the first band from the Bay to achieve international commercial success.
  • They headlined three famous American rock festivals of the 1960s, including Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969), and Altamont (1969).
  • Their album Surrealistic Pillow ranks as one of the most significant recordings of the "Summer of Love".

Albums: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966), Surrealistic Pillow (1967), After Bathing at Baxter's (1967), Crown of Creation (1968), Volunteers (1969), Bark (1971), Long John Silver (1972), Jefferson Airplane (1989)

Labels: RCA Victor, Grunt, Epic

Famous Songs: "White Rabbit", "Somebody to Love"

Essential Lyrics on "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen's off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head

No matter how big or soft or warm your bed is, you still have to get out of it.

— Grace Slick

5. Michael Franti & Spearhead (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco

Years Active: 1994-present

Genre: Reggae Rock

Members: Michael Franti (vocals), Carl Young (bass), Jay Bowman (guitar)
Mike Blankenship (keyboard), Manas Itiene (drums)

Bio:

  • Franti is known for having participated in many musical projects (most of them with a political and social emphasis).
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead is a band that blends hip hop with a variety of other styles including funk, reggae, jazz, folk, and rock.
  • Franti is an outspoken supporter for a wide spectrum of peace and social justice issues.
  • Franti runs a concert series called "Power to the Peaceful" each year in San Francisco.

Albums: Home, Chocolate Supa Highway, Stay Human, Everyone Deserves Music, Yell Fire!, All Rebel Rockers, The Sound of Sunshine, All People, SoulRocker

Labels: Alternative Tentacles, Island, Capitol, Boo Boo Wax, Six Degrees, ANTI-

Famous Songs: "Say Hey", "Ganja Babe"

Essential Lyrics on "Say Hey" by Michael Franti & Spearhead

I've been a lot of places all around the way
I've seen a lot of joy and I've seen a lot of pain
But I don't want to write a love song for the world
I just want to write a song about a boy and a girl

We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace.

— Michael Franti

6. Sly and the Family Stone (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco , California , U.S.

Years Active: 1966–1983

Genre: Funk, psychedelic soul

Members: Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Vet Stewart, Mary McCreary, Elva Mouton, Larry Graham, Greg Errico, Rose Stone, Gerry Gibson, Pat Rizzo, Rustee Allen, Andy Newmark, Bill Lordan, Sid Page, Vicki Blackwell, Jim Strassburg, Dennis Marcellino

Bio:

  • The band was crucial in the development of funk, soul, rock, and psychedelic music, especially in the Bay Area.
  • The group's core line-up included Stone's brother and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister and singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Greg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham.
  • Sly and the Family Stone was the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated, male and female lineup.

Albums: 1967: A Whole New Thing, 1968: Dance to the Music, 1968: Life, 1969: Stand!, 1971: There's a Riot Goin' On, 1973: Fresh, 1974: Small Talk, 1975: High on You, 1976: Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back, 1979: Back on the Right Track, 1982: Ain't but the One Way

Labels: Epic, Stone Flower

Famous Songs: "Thank You", "I Want to Take You Higher"

Essential Lyrics on "Thank You" Sly and the Family Stone

Mama's so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin'
You can make it if you try

Stand, you've been sitting much too long, there's a permanent crease in your right or wrong.

— Sly Stone

7. Dead Kennedys (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, California, U.S.

Years Active: 1978–1986, 2001–present

Genre: Punk rock, hardcore punk

Members: East Bay Ray Klaus Flouride, D. H. Peligro, Ron "Skip" Greer, Jello Biafra, Brandon Cruz, 6025 Ted, Jeff Penalty, Dave Scheff, Greg Reeves

Bio:

  • The Dead Kennedys were one of the first American hardcore bands to make a significant impact in the U.K.
  • Their lyrics were usually political in nature, satirizing establishment political figures (both liberal and conservative) and authority in general, as well as pop culture... including the punk movement itself.
  • During their initial incarnation between 1978 and 1986, several stores refused to stock their recordings, provoking debate about censorship in rock music.
  • In the mid-1980s, vocalist Jello Biafra became an active campaigner against the Parents Music Resource Center. His political sentiments are still echoed in the punk community today.

Albums: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980), Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982), Frankenchrist (1985), Bedtime for Democracy (1986)

Labels: Cherry Red, Faulty Products, Alternative Tentacles, Manifesto/Decay

Famous Songs: "Holiday in Cambodia", "Police Truck"

Essential Lyrics on "Holiday in Cambodia" by Dead Kennedys

You're a star-belly snitch
You suck like a leech
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch
So you can get rich
While your boss gets richer off you

Don't hate the media, become the media.

— Jello Biafra

8. Doobie Brothers (San Jose)

Origin: San Jose , California , U.S.

Years Active: 1970–1982, 1987–present

Genre: Rock, soft rock, pop, blue-eyed soul

Members: Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John McFee

Bio:

  • The Doobie Brothers have been active for five decades.
  • They influenced other pop-soul, blue-eyed soul, and soft rock bands for years to come.
  • The band's long career is partially a result of their jammy elements, which allow for multiple musicians to trade off and share the limelight.

Albums: The Doobie Brothers (1971), Toulouse Street (1972), The Captain and Me (1973), What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974), Stampede (1975), Takin' It to the Streets (1976), Livin' on the Fault Line (1977), Minute by Minute (1978), One Step Closer (1980), Cycles (1989), Brotherhood (1991), Sibling Rivalry (2000), World Gone Crazy (2010), Southbound (2014)

Labels: Warner Bros., Capitol, Arista, Sony

Famous Songs: "Takin' It to the Streets", "Eyes of Silver"

Essential Lyrics on "Takin' It to the Streets" by Doobie Brothers

Oh, you, telling me the things
You're gonna do for me
I ain't blind and I don't like
What I think I see

Lonesome shepherd in the field ahead

Moonlight flows across the grass

The rocky hills catch the light above

Their shadows cast

— The Doobie Brothers

9. Big Brother and the Holding Company (SF)

Origin: San Francisco, California

Years Active: 1965–1968, 1969–1972, 1987–present

Genre: Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Members: Peter Albin Dave Getz Tom Finch Darby Gould Tommy Odetto

Bio:

  • They formed in 1965 as part of the same psychedelic music scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane.
  • They are known as the band that featured Janis Joplin.
  • Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills is considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco.

Albums: Big Brother & the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, Be a Brother, How Hard It Is, Can't Go Home Again, Do What You Love

Labels: Columbia, Mainstream

Famous Songs: "Piece of My Heart", "Ball and Chain"

Essential Lyrics on "Piece of My Heart" by Big Brother and the Holding Company

Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man yeah!
Didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can?
Honey, you know I did!
And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I've had enough
But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough
I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it

Take it!

Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.

— Janis Joplin

Famous Albums by Bay Area Bands

Artist
Song
Tower of Power
"Tower of Power"
Huey Lewis
"Huey Lewis and the News"
DJ Shadow
"...Endtroducing"
Green Day
"Dookie"
Country Joe and the Fish
"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die "
Chris Isaak
"Heart Shaped World"
Journey
"Escape"

10. Creedence Clearwater Revival (El Cerrito)

Origin: El Cerrito, CA

Years Active: Roots rock, swamp rock, hard rock, rock and roll, country rock

Members: John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford

Bio:

  • CCR's musical style encompassed roots rock, swamp rock, and blues-rock.
  • They often played in a Southern rock style, despite their San Francisco Bay Area origin.
  • They mixed Southern United States iconography with political and socially conscious lyrics about the Vietnam War.
  • The band performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival in Upstate New York.

Albums: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), Bayou Country (1969), Green River (1969), Willy and the Poor Boys (1969), Cosmo's Factory (1970), Pendulum (1970), Mardi Gras (1972)

Labels: Fantasy

Famous Songs: "Fortunate Son", "Bad Moon Rising"

Essential Lyrics on "Fortunate Son" Creedence Clearwater Revival

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they're red, white and blue
And when the band plays "Hail to the chief"
Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no fortunate one, no

But I think beautiful is simple and elegant, like a ballad with simple harmony.

— John Fogerty

11. Hot Tuna (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, USA

Years Active: 1969–1977, 1983, 1986–present

Genre: Blues, blues rock, Americana

Members: Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Will Scarlett, Joey Covington, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Peter Kaukonen, Paul Ziegler, Papa John Creach, Sammy Piazza, Bob Steeler, Michael Falzarano, Shigemi Komiyama, Joey Balin, Joey Stefko, Harvey Sorgen, Galen Underwood, Pete Sears, Erik Diaz, Skoota Warner, Barry Mitterhoff

Bio:

  • Hot Tuna began as a side project to Jefferson Airplane.
  • The band's name comes from someone Jorma Kaukonen referred to as a "witty wag" who called out, "hot tuna" after hearing the line 'What's that smell like fish, oh baby,' from the song "Keep On Truckin'.
  • Tuna used to open for Jefferson Airplane.
  • Their early repertoire derived mainly from old Jefferson Airplane material and covers of American country and blues artists such as Reverend Gary Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Bo Carter, and Blind Blake.

Albums: Hot Tuna (1970), First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971), Burgers (1972), The Phosphorescent Rat (1974), America's Choice (1975), Yellow Fever (1975), Hoppkorv (1976), Double Dose (1978), Pair a Dice Found (1990), Live at Sweetwater (1992), Live at Sweetwater Two (1993), Live in Japan (1997), And Furthurmore... (1999), Steady as She Goes (2011)

Labels: RCA/Grunt, Relix, Eagle, Red House

Famous Songs: "Water Song", "Hesitation Blues"

Essential Lyrics on "Hesitation Blues" by Hot Tuna

Well, nickel is a nickel, I said, dime is a dime
I need a new gal, she won't mind
Tell me how long do I have to wait?
Can I get you now, I said, must I hesitate?
The eagle on the dollar says "in God we trust"
You say you want a man
You want to see that dollar first
Tell me how long do I have to wait?
Can I get you now, I said, must I hesitate?

I had all that under my belt as an influence. The more I looked back, the more I realized I'm a lucky guy.

— Jack Casady

12. Journey (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, CA (1973)

Years Active: 1973–present

Genre: Hard rock, arena rock, soft rock, progressive rock, jazz-rock

Members: Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Steve Smith, Jonathan Cain, Arnel Pineda, George Tickner, Robert Fleischman, Aynsley Dunbar, Gregg Rolie, Steve Perry, Randy Jackson, Steve Augeri, Jeff Scott Soto, Deen Castronovo

Bio:

  • Journey has gone through several phases. After starting as a jazz-influence prog band, their strongest commercial success occurred between 1978 and 1987 when the added more ballads and elements of pop to their music.
  • You can hear these influences on songs such as, "Don't Stop Believin'" (1981).
  • Escape, the band's eighth and most successful album, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and yielded another of their most popular singles, "Open Arms".
  • Journey is one of the highest-selling bands in the Bay Area.

Albums: Journey (1975), Look into the Future (1976), Next (1977), Infinity (1978), Evolution (1979), Departure (1980), Escape (1981), Frontiers (1983), Raised on Radio (1986), Trial by Fire (1996), Arrival (2001), Red, 13 (2002), Generations (2005), Revelation (2008), Eclipse (2011)

Labels: Columbia, Frontiers, Sanctuary, Nomota LLC

Famous Songs: "Don't Stop Believin'", "Faithfully"

Essential Lyrics on "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world
She took the midnight train going anywhere

Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train going anywhere
A singer in a smoky room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on

What I have is a bunch of really hungry, amazingly talented guys that can kick anybody's rear end.

— Neal Schon

13. Faith No More (San Francisco)

Origin: San Francisco, California, United States

Years Active: 1979–1998, 2009–present

Genre: Alternative metal, funk metal, experimental rock

Members: Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottum, Billy Gould, Mike Patton, Jon Hudson

Bio:

  • Before settling on their current name, the band performed under the names Sharp Young Men and Faith No Man.
  • They changed popular conceptions of metal and alternative music by adding elements of funk, as well as many other musical genres that were usually not blended together.
  • The band underwent several lineup changes early in their career. Currently, the lineup of Faith No More consists of Gould, Bordin, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Roddy Bottum, lead guitarist Jon Hudson, and vocalist/lyricist Mike Patton.

Labels: Slash, London, Mordam, Reclamation!, Ipecac

Famous Songs: "Epic", "Midlife Crisis"

Essential Lyrics on "Epic" by Faith No More

Can you feel it, see it, hear it today?
If you can't, then it doesn't matter anyway
You will never understand it 'cause it happens too fast
And it feels so good, it's like walking on glass
It's so cool, it's so hip, it's alright
It's so groovy, it's outta sight
You can touch it, smell it, taste it so sweet
But it makes no difference 'cause it knocks you off your feet

You want it all but you can't have it

We just wanna be the happy bums that we are. That's all.

— Mike Patton

More Popular Bay Area Bands

Band
Origin
Years Active
14. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
San Francisco, California, U.S.
1998–present
15. Buckethead
Pomona, California
1987–present
16. Chris Isaak
Stockton, California, U.S.
1984–present
17. Deerhoof
San Francisco, California, United States
1994–present
18. Santana
San Francisco, California, United States
1966–present
19. Mr. Bungle
Eureka, California, United States and San Francisco
1985–2000
20. Third Eye Blind
San Francisco, California, United States
1993–present
21. Train
San Francisco, California, U.S
1993–present
22. Tower of Power
Oakland, California, United States
1968–present
23. Thee Oh Sees
San Francisco, California, United States
1997–present
24. Blaqk Audio
Oakland, California, United States
2001–2002, 2006–present
25. Death Angel
San Francisco Bay Area, California, U.S.
1982–1991 2001–present
26. Huey Lewis and the News
Marin County, California
1967–present

Up and Coming Bay Area Bands of 2018

Band
Origin
The Echo Exchange
San Francisco, CA
Great Highway
San Francisco, CA
Trace Repeat
San Francisco, CA
Pink Skies
San Francisco, CA
Sweeney House
Livermore, CA
We Will Be Lions
San Francisco, CA
Trails and Ways
Oakland, CA
Sitka Sun
Oakland, CA
Astronauts, etc.
San Francisco, CA
The Seshen
San Francisco, CA

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