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Artist Band Biography: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Music Biographies

Browse through our music biography catalog and read about your favorite artist or band. Our catalog is fully comprehensive, covering tens of thousands of artists' and bands' biographies covering all genres and styles of music including pop, rock, classical, blues, country, christian, hip hop, rap, R&B, folk, heavy metal, reggae, punk, alternative, classical rock, ska, grunge, dance, house, instrumental, jazz, fusion, acoustic, world as well as many others. Artists and bands include U2, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Jjennifer Lopez, 50 Cent, Aerosmith, Radiohead, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, Pantera, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks and tens of thousands more.

Modern Music Bio

The first type of rock music, rock and roll, originated in the United States in the 1950s, and was largely derived from music of the American South. In the United States, the affluence that followed the end of World War II in 1945 and the emergence of a youth culture—based in part upon the rejection of older styles of popular culture—helped rock and roll to displace the New York City-based Tin Pan Alley songwriting tradition that had dominated the mainstream of American popular taste since the late 19th century. Rock and roll was a combination of the R&B style known as jump blues, the gospel-influenced vocal-group style known as doo wop, the piano-blues style known as boogie-woogie (or barrelhouse), and the country-music style known as honky tonk.

During the 1950s the term rock and roll was actually a synonym for black R&B music. Rock and roll was first released by small, independent record companies and promoted by radio disc jockeys (DJs) like Alan Freed, who used the term rock 'n' roll to help attract white audiences unfamiliar with black R&B. Indeed, the appeal of rock and roll to white middle-class teenagers was immediate and caught the major record companies by surprise. As these companies moved to capitalize on the popularity of the style, the market was fueled by cover versions (performances of previously recorded songs) of R&B songs that were edited for suggestive lyrics and expressions and performed in the singing style known as crooning, by white vocalists such as Pat Boone. The most successful rock-and-roll artists wrote and performed songs about love, sexuality, identity crises, personal freedom, and other issues that were of particular interest to teenagers.

Popular rock-and-roll artists and groups emerged from diverse backgrounds. The group Bill Haley and the Comets, which had the first big rock-and-roll hit with the song “Rock Around the Clock” (1955), was a country-music band from Pennsylvania that adopted aspects of the R&B jump-blues style of saxophonist and singer Louis Jordan. The unique style of Chuck Berry came from his experience playing a mixture of R&B and country music in the Midwest. The rock-and-roll piano style of Fats Domino grew out of the distinctive sound of New Orleans R&B, which also influenced singer and songwriter Little Richard. Rockabilly, a blend of rock-and-roll and country-and-western music, was pioneered by Memphis producer Sam Phillips, who first recorded artists Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins on his Sun Records label. The earthy style of guitarist Bo Diddley derived from the blues of the Mississippi Delta region. The standard four-piece instrumentation of rock bands (drum set and lead, rhythm, and bass guitars) was developed by Texas musician Buddy Holly, who produced his own studio recordings. From the urban North came the vocal style of doo wop, which influenced such vocal groups as the Chords, the Penguins, and the Platters.

The golden age of rock and roll, which lasted only five years, from 1955 to 1959, is exemplified by the recordings of Berry, Presley, Little Richard, and Holly. By the early 1960s, the popular music industry was assembling professional songwriters, hired studio musicians, and teenage crooners to mass-produce songs that imitated late-1950s rock and roll. In the early 1960s professional songwriters in Manhattan, New York, such as Carole King and Neil Sedaka, produced numerous hit songs, many of which were recorded by female ensembles known as girl groups, such as the Ronettes and the Shirelles. Also during this period, the role of the record producer was expanded by Phil Spector, a producer who created hits by using elaborate studio techniques in a dense orchestral approach known as the wall of sound.

Beginning about 1962, producer Berry Gordy expanded the crossover market (music by black performers purchased by white youth) with a number of hits for his Motown record company, based in Detroit, Michigan. Popular Motown groups included the Supremes, the Temptations, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles . Other distinctive regional styles also developed during this period, such as the surf sound of the southern California band the Beach Boys and the urban folk music of the Greenwich Village movement—based in that neighborhood in New York City—which included singer and lyricist Bob Dylan.

In 1964 the Beatles traveled to New York City to appear on a television broadcast (The Ed Sullivan Show, 1948 to 1971) and launched the so-called British Invasion. Influenced by American recordings, British pop bands of the period invigorated the popular music mainstream and confirmed the international stature of rock music. Soon, several British groups had developed individual distinctive styles: The Beatles combined the guitar-based rock and roll of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly with the artistry of the Tin Pan Alley style; the Animals blended blues and R&B influences; and the Rolling Stones joined aspects of Chicago blues to their intense, forceful music.

As with early rock and roll, the major American record companies did not take the British bands seriously at first—the Beatles' first hit singles in the United States were released through small, independent record companies. Soon, however, the success of the British bands became too difficult to ignore, and some American musicians reacted by developing their own styles. In 1965 Bob Dylan performed live and in-studio with a band that played electric instruments, alienating many folk-music purists in the process. The folk-rock style was further pioneered the same year by the American band the Byrds, who had a number-one hit on the Billboard magazine music charts with a version of Dylan's song “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The short-lived group Buffalo Springfield, formed in 1966, blended aspects of rock and country-and-western music to create country rock.

During the late 1960s, rock music diversified further into new styles while consolidating its position in the mainstream of American popular music. The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first rock concept album, established new standards for studio recording and helped to establish the notion of the rock musician as a creative artist. Once again, American musicians responded to the British musical stimulus by experimenting with new forms, technologies, and stylistic influences.

San Francisco rock, or psychedelic rock, emerged about 1966 and was associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, such as Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, or LSD; psychedelic art and light shows; and an emphasis on spontaneity and communitarian values, epitomized in free-form events called be-ins. Musicians such as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead experimented with long, improvised stretches of music called jams. Despite the antiestablishment orientation of the youth culture in San Francisco, such musicians and groups as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Santana (led by Carlos Santana) signed lucrative contracts with major recording companies.

Another important center of rock music in the 1960s was Los Angeles, where film student Jim Morrison formed the group the Doors and guitarist and composer Frank Zappa developed a unique blend of risqué humor and complex jazz-influenced compositional forms with his group the Mothers of Invention. In the late 1960s hard rock emerged, focusing on thick layers of sound, loud volume levels, and virtuoso guitar solos. In London, American Jimi Hendrix developed a highly influential electric-guitar style. His fiery technique gained exposure at the first large-scale rock festivals in the United States, Monterey Pop (1967) and Woodstock (1969). In 1966 the first so-called power trio was formed in London—the band Cream, which showcased the virtuosity of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. In the late 1960s additional styles emerged in the United States, including southern rock, pioneered by the Allman Brothers Band; jazz rock, proponents of which included the band Blood, Sweat & Tears; and Latin rock (a blend of Latin American music, jazz and rock influences, and R&B styles), exemplified by the music of Santana.

In the early 1970s the popular mainstream was dominated by superstar rock groups, such as the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Chicago, and by individual superstars, such as Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Each of these groups and individual artists produced multiple albums, each of which sold millions of copies, pushing the industry to operate at a new scale.

Also highly popular was the singer-songwriter genre, an outgrowth of urban folk music led by artists Carole King, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne. At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, the heavy-metal style was pioneered by bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, all of which featured aggressive guitar-laden songs. Art rock, represented by bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, combined influences from classical music and displays of technical skill with spectacular stage shows. Glitter rock, or glam rock, cultivated a decadent image complete with such musicians as David Bowie and Marc Bolan wearing heavy makeup and sequined costumes and presenting themselves as sexually androgynous.

The most popular dance music of the 1970s was disco. Initially associated with the gay subculture of New York City, disco drew upon black popular music and simplified rhythms by adding steady bass-drum beats. Although much despised by aficionados of heavy metal, disco had a substantial impact on rock music, especially after the release of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever (1977) and its hugely successful disco soundtrack featuring the group the Bee Gees.

The 1970s also saw the development of funk, a variant of soul music that was influenced by rock. Influential funk musicians included singer Sly Stone with his San Francisco band Sly and the Family Stone, and vocalist George Clinton, whose groups Parliament and Funkadelic blended social satire and science-fiction imagery with African-derived rhythms, jazz-influenced horn music, long improvised jams, and vocal group harmonies.

About 1976 punk rock originated in New York City and London as a reaction against the commercialism of mainstream rock and the pretentiousness of art rock. Punk-rock music was raw, abrasive, and fast. London punk groups included the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Police, while New York punk and new wave (a style similar to punk) music included the bands the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads, and vocalist Patti Smith.

Also in the mid-1970s, reggae music—developed by musicians in the shantytowns of Kingston, Jamaica—began to attract attention among youth in Great Britain and the United States. The style, associated with political protest and the Rastafarian religion, combined elements of Jamaican folk music with American R&B influences. Reggae's popularity among American college students was stimulated by the 1973 film The Harder They Come, which starred reggae singer Jimmy Cliff in the role of an underclass gangster. The superstar of the style was Bob Marley, who by the time of his death in 1981 had become one of the most popular musicians in the world.

Despite these diverse stylistic developments, the music business in the United States had actually become more centralized in the 1970s. Spontaneous mass gatherings, epitomized by Woodstock, had been replaced by carefully managed stadium concerts. The individualistic local radio programming of the late 1960s was substituted with national radio formatting, in which music tailored to sell products to certain audiences was distributed nationally on tape to be broadcast from local stations. Economic factors encouraged major record companies to pursue almost exclusively artists with the potential to sell millions of copies of albums. While potential profits from hit albums had risen greatly, the financial risks involved in producing such music had also increased considerably. From 1978 to 1982 the American rock-music industry experienced financial difficulties as sales of recorded music dropped by almost $1 billion and receipts from live concerts experienced a similar decline.

Technological advances led to a revival of the music industry during the 1980s. The market for popular music expanded with new media formats, including music video, introduced by the Music Television (MTV) network in 1981, and the digitally recorded compact disc (CD), introduced in 1983. In 1982 entertainer Michael Jackson released Thriller, which became the biggest-selling album in history, and established a trend in which record companies relied upon a few massive hits to generate profits. Jackson's success contributed greatly to proving the promotional value of music videos. It thereafter became very difficult for record companies to achieve hit records without having the music receive intensive airplay on music-video networks.

Other mainstream rock hits of the 1980s came from a group of charismatic artists, each of whom attracted mass-audience followings extending across traditional social boundaries. Singer Bruce Springsteen appealed to many as a working-class hero. Other superstars followed Jackson's lead by integrating dance and video presentations into their work, including Prince, whose 1984 single “When Doves Cry” was the first song in more than 20 years to top both the pop and R&B charts in Billboard magazine; and Madonna, who came to symbolize female sexual liberation through her controversial videos and lyrics. Also during the 1980s the audience for heavy metal expanded from its original white-male, working-class core to include more middle-class fans, both male and female. By the end of the decade, heavy-metal bands, such as Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica, accounted for as much as 40 percent of all sound recordings sold in the United States.

Another genre of rock music, labeled alternative rock, rejected the heavy marketing and video-driven culture of the 1980s. In general, alternative rock bands recorded for independent labels, played in small clubs, and maintained a defiant stance toward the conformity and commercialism of the music industry. They were committed to songwriting that explored taboo issues (drug use, depression, incest, suicide) and were interested in social issues such as environmentalism, abortion rights, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) activism. During the 1980s groups such as R.E.M., the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the Pixies attracted a cult following, primarily through airplay on college radio stations and word of mouth.

Anticipated by reggae in the 1970s, worldbeat music (also called ethnopop) began to emerge during the early 1980s, with the success of the album Juju Music (1982) by Nigerian musician King Sunny Ade. Ade's music, which blended traditional African drums with electric guitars and synthesizers, helped to stimulate an interest in non-Western music in the United States and the United Kingdom, and opened the way for artists such as Youssou N'Dour, from Senegal; Papa Wemba, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire); Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from South Africa; Ofra Haza, from Israel; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, from Pakistan; and the Gipsy Kings, from France. Rock superstars, such as Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, and Paul Simon—whose 1985 hit album Graceland featured musicians from Africa and Latin America—played an important role in exposing worldbeat musicians to audiences in the United States and Europe, and reaffirmed the worldwide appeal of rock music.

Perhaps the most significant rock-music development of the 1980s was the rise of rap, a genre in which vocalists perform rhythmic speech, usually accompanied by music snippets, or samples, from prerecorded material or from music created by synthesizers. Rap originated in the mid-1970s in the South Bronx community of New York City and was initially associated with a cultural movement called hip-hop, which included acrobatic dancing (known as break dancing) and graffiti art. DJs such as Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa experimented with innovative turntable techniques, including switching between multiple discs; back-spinning, or rotating the disc by hand in order to repeat particular phrases; and scratching, moving the phonograph needle across vinyl record grooves to create rhythmic sound effects.

The first rap records were made in 1979 by small, independent record companies. Although artists such as the Sugarhill Gang had national hits during the early 1980s, rap music did not enter the popular music mainstream until 1986, when rappers Run-DMC and the hard-rock band Aerosmith collaborated on a version of the song “Walk This Way,” creating a new audience for rap among white, suburban, middle-class rock fans. By the end of the 1980s, MTV had established a program dedicated solely to rap, and artists such as MC Hammer (Stanley Kirk Burrell) and the Beastie Boys had achieved multi-platinum record sales to broad interracial audiences.

During the 1990s, trends that had been established during the 1980s continued, including growth in the popularity of genres such as rap, heavy metal, and worldbeat and the introduction of new technologies for the digital generation, transmission, and reproduction of sound. The 1990s also saw the further splintering of rock music into a variety of specialized subgenres.

The 1990s were a significant decade for bringing rap music into the commercial mainstream. MC Hammer (later known simply as Hammer) went to the top of the charts in 1990 with Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, which sold 13 million copies in its first year and became the bestselling rap album of all time. A broader phenomenon was the harder-edged style known as gangsta rap, which emerged on the West Coast beginning in the late 1980s. The multimillion-selling recordings of gangsta rap artists such as the group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), Dr. Dre (Andre Young), Snoop Doggy Dogg (Calvin Broadus), Tupac (2Pac) Shakur, and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace) combined grim stories of urban street life with gleeful celebration of the “gangsta” lifestyle. Gangsta rap became incredibly successful in the 1990s by attracting a predominantly white middle-class audience eager to experience gritty street culture from a safe distance.

Electronic dance music, or techno, also became more widely popular during the 1990s. The genre first emerged in the 1970s. Some forms of techno were influenced by punk rock; others by experimental art music, jazz, and world music; and still others by black popular music, including funk and rap. Although techno produced few commercial hits during the decade, the recordings of musical groups such as the Prodigy, Orbital, and Moby did make inroads into the charts during the late 1990s, and techno recordings were increasingly licensed as the soundtracks for technology-oriented television commercials and films.

The popularity of alternative rock exploded during the 1990s, featuring bands as diverse as R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and the Dave Matthews Band. The genre spawned a number of substyles, such as the grunge rock of Seattle-based groups Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam.

More than any other group, Nirvana was responsible for the commercial breakthrough of alternative rock in the early 1990s. Between 1991 and 1994 Nirvana—a group made up of singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl—released two multiplatinum albums (Nevermind and In Utero) and moved alternative rock’s blend of hardcore punk and heavy metal out of specialty record stores and into the commercial mainstream. Cobain’s stunning 1994 suicide was widely viewed as at least partly attributable to the pressures faced by alternative rock musicians who achieve commercial success and then face accusations of “selling out.”

One of the most striking features of rock music in the first years of the 21st century was its sheer stylistic diversity. The most influential recordings of the year 2000 include retro-rocker Carlos Santana’s Supernatural, which won the Grammy Award for best album; a re-release of the Beatles’s number-one hits of the 1960s; the hard-edged rap-metal fusion of Limp Bizkit; gangsta rap stars Dr. Dre and Eminem (Marshall Mathers); techno musician Moby’s album Play (tracks from which were used on dozens of television commercials); and the teen-oriented pop-rock of Britney Spears and *NSYNC.

Technological innovation continues to drive changes in the way rock music is produced, heard, and sold. The development of low-cost digital technology has allowed musicians to make professional-quality recordings in their homes. The emergence of Internet services such as MP3.com and Napster, which allow fans to download their favorite music in the form of compressed files, has raised thorny legal questions about copyright laws while at the same time making the music of unsigned and alternative musicians much more widely available. The development of home compact disc recorders has enabled rock fans to create their own digital compilations, mixing genres, artists, and musical epochs to suit their own taste.

Rock music in the 21st century is increasingly influenced by the global marketplace. Of the five major transnational corporations now responsible for as much as 90 percent of music sales worldwide, only one is officially headquartered in the United States. Along with the expansion of the global audience for North American and European rock music, there is increasing influence by musicians from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world.

 
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