The Mountain Times

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The three most influential musical artists in the past 100 years




Greetings my friends, as I look out at the beautiful landscape that surrounds us here in this beautiful place, I cannot help but draw the analogy to the landscape of American popular music. There's rock, soul, country, jazz, blues, and several amalgams of each of these genres. So the challenge for me is to find the three most influential that impacted all these styles. This ain't gonna be easy folks, but here I go.

1. Robert Johnson: Blues singer/songwriter/guitarist
Although Robert Johnson was not the earliest of the Delta Blues artists, or the best guitarist, he certainly had the most impressive collection of skills of any pre-war blues artist. Although many of his songs were derivative of earlier songs done by other blues singers, Johnson's versions are without doubt the most well known and well constructed.

His influence can not only be traced to cats like Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and BB King, but his lyrics became the vernacular for rock and roll, and rhythm and blues songs for many decades. His singing was a more higher pitched and emotional then blues singers of his era. It should be noted that Robert Johnson was influenced by predecessors like Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, and Willie Brown. His guitar playing was not as technically advanced as guitar masters like Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, and Reverend Gary Davis, but he did possess a wide knowledge of chord forms and chord changes that gave him the arsenal of ideas you would need as a prolific songwriter. Robert Johnson "the king of the delta blues singers."

2. Louis Armstrong: Trumpet player, singer, jazz musician and musical icon
Widely acknowledged as the man who invented the language of jazz music, Louis Armstrongs early recordings were, are and will always be the framework on learning how to play jazz music.

I don't think that in all of music there is a more misunderstood or misused word as jazz. Jazz to me is a very broad palette incorporating mellow easy listening jazz, avante garde/free form jazz, New Orleans style, and electronic fusion, all of these can be directly traced to Satchmo and his true genius.

To say he influenced jazz musicians only, would be a mistatement of gargantuan size. Every singer in every style that ever scooped a note owes a debt of gratitude to Satchmo. Every guitar player who ever bent a string can thank the great man himself. And finally Louis Armstrong was the first African-American entertainer to mange to endear himself to black and white audiences, not a small feat in pre- and post-war America.

3. Jimmie Rodgers: The father of country music
Jimmie Rodgers is probably the least known of any of the candidates for this column, not because of his talent but more because of the timing of his life and his recordings. Jimmie Rodgers, known as the "Singing Brakeman," was born in 1897, and died in 1933 from a lung hemorrhage due to his long battle with tuberculosis. Rodgers influenced every country singer from Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Gene Autry and Bob Wills but his influence also shaped the careers and music of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Some of Jimmy Rodgers's best known songs are, "Frankie and Johnnie,""Blue Yodel #1," "the Brakemans Blues," "In the Jailhouse Now," "My Old Pal" and "Long Tall Mama Blues."

The length and depth of his influence is so wide that when researching him for this column I could not list the amount of well known artists who claim Jimmie Rodgers as a primary influence. To me Jimmie Rodgers singlehandedly legitimizes country music as an original American music genre.

Please go online and check out the works of these great legends of  american music and see why the are at the top of "Leone's Legends."

Enjoy the spring! Peace and love, Joey