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18. Art Davis
With his Coltrane connections (he recorded several times with the legend and was a confidant), a discography that touches many of the jazz world's most important names—Art Blakey, Max Roach, Lena Horne, Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie—and crossover gigs with NBC, Westinghouse and CBS studio orchestras, Davis is a certified legend. He embraces all kinds of music and his infrequent concerts find him ranging over the predictable "Art's Boogie" to 'Trane-influenced meditations and avant-garde excursions that travel far outside. His annual scholarship events have included everyone from Horace Silver to Steve Allen. You sense history when he plays.
19. Big Sandy
Big Sandy is that rarest of retro guys—a dyed-in the-wool rockabilly/western swing performer with vast reserves of talent, soul and intellect. As a vocalist, Sandy boasts perfect pitch—a sweet melisma to make Freddy Fender green with envy—and versatility unheard of in the genre; if anything, El Gordo is at the top of his game when making one of his too-infrequent forays into classic R&B. His best songs are reflective and even poetic (witness the lovely "Night Tide")—no lunkheaded odes to switchblades, leather jackets or hair grease to be found in his catalog. The best news is that Big Sandy and his band, the Fly-Rite Boys, keep getting better as they get grayer, transcending generic clichés and blasting out swingin' sounds to make the dead hop from their graves and hit the dance floor, all without sacrificing taste at the altar of the demands of an often galoot-heavy scene.
20. Room To Roam
Led by the brothers Gallagher, Pat and Paul, and backed up by Joel McDaniel and bassist Bryan Blume, Room to Roam were fiery, versatile and powerful (Paul even peed on some guy from Holland once). Pat Gallagher was way inspired by Paul Westerberg and Ray Davies, while Paul was more of a Hendrix and punk guy and McDaniel drummed like Keith Moon on crystal meth. The result was a very heavy but eminently listenable sound that covered the gamut from brooding metallic psychedelia ("Steel Woman" is one of the scariest fucking songs ever) to "Fall Again," one of the best pop songs most of us have never heard. Room to Roam could make you groove in unison with the latest in-touch cosmic mind one moment and then have you seriously contemplating homicide the next. If you can get your hands on a copy of the band's album Oblivious, hang on to it. Better yet, play it over and over.
21. Karl Denson
Denson, who's since relocated to San Diego, was the long-time sax player with sultry OC soul band Derek & the Diamonds, and spent many a week gigging at now-defunct Santa Ana jazz club Randall's before he got international recognition touring with Lenny Kravitz, co-fronting the Greyboy Allstars and then breaking out on his own with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, which is one hell of an outfit. As a jam band, they've become beloved by the Grateful Dead crowd (this summer, Denson's touring all over the place with the Allman Brothers), but they groove much deeper and blacker—more Spearhead than Deadhead. Meanwhile, the torrential sheets of notes Denson wrenches from his horn are sufficient to thrill any hard bopper.
22. Dick Dale
As he will be the first to tell you—using the third person, even—Dick Dale is a phenomenon. The style of surf guitar he created in the early '60s (or, as he tells it, mid-'50s) wasn't just a different way of playing notes, but a sound he wrested from the briny deep. Dick doesn't play notes so much as he does sensations, replicating the power and adrenaline of shooting the curl and that other surferly stuff. He was great in the '60s, and in the '80s, he recovered from a long bout of lounge-itus to again reclaim his barnacle-encrusted crown as King of the Surf Guitar. One standout performance was at a 1991 concert tribute to Leo Fender. The late guitar maker had provided the tools that facilitated Dale's then-new sounds in the '60s, and Dale did him proud, using his Fender Strat, his reverb unit and his blond Showman amp to conjure up dive-bombing pterodactyls of sound.
23. The Stitches
If the Stitches could keep it together, they'd be famous—but if the Stitches could keep it together, they wouldn't be the Stitches. They're an anarchic black hole (Now on drummer number five! Or was that six?) of pitch-perfect Sex Pistols punk, around which an entire solar system of worshipful South County rip-off acts orbits, but it's taken them 10 years to spit out a full-length while rat-like pretenders scurry between their legs to marginal fame and fortune. Just like a wise Frenchman once slurred, however, "Thees iz ze real sheet." The only thing more impressive than their rap sheet and their record collections (singer Mike Lohrman runs Laguna's Underdog Records shop) are singles like "Cars Of Today" and "Automatic," loopy, desperate, Buzzcocks-By-The-Beach sing-alongs that seem too natural to actually be consciously written: you get the feeling that the Stitches stagger into practice and songs just spontaneously break out—kinda like one of those weird morning-after rashes. And yeah, they're unpredictable live, swerving from too-drunk-to-fuck to holy-god-fuck! But like bassist Pete "Action Man" Archer says about his horse races, half the thrill is not knowing how a night's going to turn out.
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