Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.
Lesser-Known Bands of the '70s
Fueled by an unpopular war in Southeast Asia and racial strife at home, the late '60s produced an era of uncertainty and despair, likely to last a long time. Despite the gloomy outlook, life in the USA improved dramatically.
One of the offshoots of those turbulent '60s was the pronounced number of talented and successful rock, jazz, soul, and pop bands. Competition for the spotlight was fierce, and as a result, some very talented musical combos fell a little short of becoming a household name. Here are ten that might merit a listen today.
10 1970s Bands That Didn't Make It Big
- It's a Beautiful Day
- Aztec Two-Step
- The Joy of Cooking
- Sea Train
- Bill Chinnock
- Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen
- David Bromberg
- The Roches
- The Meters
- Townes van Zandt
1. It's a Beautiful Day
Yes, that's the name of the group, and they were a part of the late '60s happening in the SF Bay area. They were contemporaries of the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Santana, yet never really attained anything close to the success that those three bands did. The main reason for this may be that the band was kind of a one-hit counter-culture wonder.
From their 1969 album, the song "White Bird" became very popular, but the band was never able to repeat with a second hit.
2. Aztec Two-Step
This duo, consisting of Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman, met doing the Boston Coffee House scene back in 1971. With a style somewhat similar to Simon and Garfunkle, they released their first album in 1972. It was called Aztec Two-Step. Their music received a lot of FM airplay during the '70s, as the talented guys became a popular act on the college circuit. Aztec Two-Step is still playing and recording today, but their best material was definitely a product of the '70s.
3. The Joy of Cooking
The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the famous cookbook) was another late '60s Bay Area band (Berkeley, to be exact) that released a few albums in the early '70s and then dropped out of sight. Also, it is quite possible that this West Coast band might have been the first female-led band to have any sizable following. Featured here are the two women of the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite, performing live in San Francisco in 1974.
4. Sea Train
Sea Train was another West Coast group that came together in the late '60s but made their mark in the first few years of the '70s. Formed with former members of the Blues Project and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, this talented group of musicians was dedicated to exploring a fusion of blues, bluegrass, and blues.
During the height of their rather limited success, the band relocated to Marblehead, MA. Overall, they released four albums before disbanding in 1974. The song featured here, "13 Questions," became a minor hit in '71.
5. Bill Chinnock
Bill Chinnock was born in Newark, NJ, and eventually went on to become part of the Jersey Shore music scene, just as Bruce Springsteen was becoming a mainstay of the area. During the late '60s, Bill led several "Shore" bands that included several future members of the E Street Band. In the early seventies, he moved to Maine and started releasing albums under his own name.
Years later, Bill became infected with Lyme disease. Effects of the debilitating disease became so bad that in 2007 he took his own life. Included here is a recorded version of "Something for Everybody" from his 1978 Badlands album.
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6. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen
Commander Cody (alias George Frayne IV) and his airmen came together in Ann Arbor during the late '60s. Featuring an eclectic mix of country, rockabilly, swing, and rock 'n roll, the group released their first album in 1971, which yielded their one big hit, "Hot Rod Lincoln." After moving to the West Coast, they associated with bands like the Grateful Dead, Asleep at the Wheel, and New Riders of the Purple Sage.
7. David Bromberg
David Bromberg is a multi-talented musician proficient with the guitar, pedal-steel guitar, and dobro. He has been entertaining audiences all around the U.S. for almost 50 years, with the decade of the '70s being one that was especially productive.
David still tours, and from the big smile on his face, it is obvious that he stills enjoys doing the gigs. His rendition of Mr. Bojangles, accompanied by a humorous first-hand account of playing on stage with Jerry Jeff, gave David a lot of airplay back in the day.
8. The Roches
Over the years, these three sisters from suburban northern New Jersey have developed a strong following. Known for their harmonizing voices, humorous lyrics, and unpretentious stage presence, Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre have been entertaining audiences around the country for many years. They arrived late in the Seventies, putting out their first album, simply called The Roches, in 1979.
Perhaps, the high point of their career came when they performed "Mr. Sellack" live on the Johny Carson show in 1985.
9. The Meters
The Meters, also known as the Funky Meters, have been a mainstay of the New Orleans music scene since the late '60s. During the '70s, they cut several albums, perhaps hitting their stride in the mid-'70s with Rejuvenation and Fire On the Bayou. Featured here is "They All Asked For You," a funk classic that is still played in the Big Easy. Be aware that the Meters do not actually appear in this video, but a couple of brass bands do.
And if you like this funky style, you might check out some of the other popular funky-rhythm New Orleans bands of the '70s. This would definitely include the Neville Brothers, Professor Longhair, and Dr. John and the Night Trippers. Professor Longhair, or Fess as the locals like to call him, passed away in 1980, but the central essence of the other groups are still performing.
10. Townes van Zandt
Townes was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and began his performing career in Houston, where he befriended the likes of Lightning Hopkins, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, and Doc Watson.
The Texas singer-songwriter began cutting records in the '60s and continued putting out good music until his death in 1997 at age 53. In the early '70s, he released his greatest hit, "Pancho and Lefty," which was made immensely popular by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
Overall, Townes van Zandt was a very talented songwriter and performer, who was plagued by drug addiction and alcoholism. These problems, along with a devil-may-care attitude, may have prevented him from fully enjoying the success of his amazing musical talent.
© 2017 Harry Nielsen