13 Influential Musical Artists You've Likely Never Heard Of

FUN FACTS September 13, 2017 By Vincent

Music, like any art, comes in various forms, shapes, styles and sounds with all feeding into one another, borrowing, evolving, revolutionizing and being influenced from one source to the next. However, it is not necessarily the most important or inspirational music that makes the most money as popular music tends to be an amalgamation of what came long before it and has been tried, tested and proven to be liked.

However, the people who come up with the new ideas aren't often recognized widely for them despite many major artists pointing to their influence on their own music. Here we detail a few of these that you are likely to have never heard of.

1. Gil Scott-Heron

An American soul and jazz poet, musician, and author, known primarily for his work as a spoken-word performer in the 1970s and 1980s, Gil Scott-Heron has had an incredible influence on various musical styles from indie rock to rap via jazz and neo-soul. 

Crafting jazz-influenced soul and funk that brought new depth and political consciousness, the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder built on his legacy of social commentary. He also presaged hip-hop with his lyrical style and thus is often referred to as 'the godfather of rap' with artists such as Public Enemy,  Aesop Rock, Talib Kweli and Common all speaking of or directly referencing his influence in their work.

2. Dinosaur Jr

Founded in 1984,  the band has a reputation as one of the formative influences on American alternative rock and is widely credited (alongside Pixies) with the evolution of grunge music despite not being a grunge band themselves. The distinct guitar sound, hearkening back to 1960s and '70s classic rock and characterized by extensive use of feedback and distortion, were highly influential in the alternative rock movement of the 1990s and, coupled with the yearning, disaffected vocals created a palpable sense of dissonance.

Despite influencing the likes of Nirvana and Pixies with their pioneering of the loud to quiet sound they never found mainstream success themselves, signing to a major label only briefly in 1990. So highly lauded is lead singer and songwriter, J Mascis, that Kurt Cobain once wanted him to join Nirvana and Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker often attends his solo gigs when in the UK.

3. Cornershop

Formed by lead singer and songwriter  Tjinder Singh, his brother Avtar Singh (bass guitar, vocals), the British indie-rock outfit is best-known for the remixed version of their single 'Brimful of Asha' by dance legend Fatboy Slim. Creating a fusion of traditional Indian music, Britpop, alternative and electronic dance music their sound is pretty distinctive, and many within the music industry still consider them one of the best songwriting bands in Britain today.

Releasing their critically acclaimed album When I Was Born for the 7th Time in September 1997, the album featured collaborations with Allen Ginsberg, Paula Frazer, Justin Warfield and a Yoko Ono- and Paul McCartney-approved cover of "Norwegian Wood" recorded in the Punjabi language. It was from this album that Fatboy Slim found 'Brimful of Asha' and remixed into the massively popular hit it is today but whilst he got most of the credit for it, the band was never quite able to replicate the success of it again. Their 2002 album, Handcream for a Generation, featured longtime fan Noel Gallagher on guitar.

4. The Housemartins

Talking of Fatboy Slim, did you know, before he became one of the world's biggest dance producers and DJ's, he went by the name of Norman Cook and was the bassist for an English alternative rock band formed in Hull who was active in the 1980s? With many of their lyrics being a mixture of Marxist politics and Christian ideals, singer and songwriter Paul Heaton realized that he hated writing about love and that writing politically came easier to him.

A number 1 and number 3 hit on the UK charts saw brief success for them, but they soon split with Norman Cook going on to find success as Beats International and then Fatboy Slim, whilst other members of the band went on to form The Beautiful South.

5. Melvins

Sludgy, heavy and jarring, the music of the Melvins was key to the development of both sludge metal and grunge and it was actually through the band that the final three members of Nirvana would meet with Melvins drummer Dale Crover playing drums on their debut album  Bleach with grunge bands claiming an influence from them including Nirvana, Soundgarden, Green River, and many other bands from Seattle.

That being said, Melvins music was much heavier and slower than anything anyone else was playing and found more of place within doom metal and stoner rock with bands like  Too, Boris, Noothgrush, Full of Hell, Earth, Sunn O))), Mastodon, Neurosis, Eyehategod, and Isis drawing from their ability to combine punk influences and classic heavy metal styles like those of Black Sabbath.

6. Mudhoney

Although never scoring the big success of others on the grunge scene, Mudhoney was probably the first to lay the groundwork for the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam as they broke through with indie success on the Sub-Pop label and more than most they were to inspire grunge with their dirty, high-distortion sound.

Without Mudhoney and other forerunners who never quite reached mainstream success (like the Melvins and TAD) grunge would have never existed!

7. Calypso Rose

An iconic institution in her native Trinidad and Tobago, the Calypso scene was heavily dominated by men singing in carnival tents at the time and her family were opposed to her move into the music industry, and she received a lot of obstruction from the male dominated genre.

However, with the point of calypso competitions during carnival season being to see who has the sharpest lyrics combined with the catchiest beat, Calypso Rose soon rose to prominence with her lyrics of a feminist nature and offering up a social or political commentary on the state of her nation and the rest of the world.Now considered the undisputed Queen of Calypso, she is widely credited with popularizing the genre outside of the Carribean through her pioneering life and work.

8. Sonic Youth

An alternative rock band associated with the no-wave music and art scene, Sonic Youth carried out their interpretation of the hardcore punk ethos throughout the evolving American underground that focused more on the DIY ethic of the genre rather than its specific sound.

Using a wide variety of unorthodox guitar tunings and preparing guitars with objects like drumsticks and screwdrivers to alter the instruments' timbre the band effectively redefined what a guitar could do in modern music and is considered to be a pivotal influence on the alternative and indie rock movements. Having relative commercial success they never truly broke into the mainstream.

9. Wizz Jones

Folk and blues guitarist Wizz Joens is not a big name on the rock'n'roll scene, but his influence can be felt almost everywhere through it and has been performing since the late 1950s and is credited for his part in the English folk revival of the 1960s alongside the likes of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch.

The Rolling Stone's guitarist Keith Richard's claims him as one of his biggest influences on his guitar playing whilst others in his artistic circle include Rod Stewart, Alex Campbell, Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band) and Ralph McTell.  Bruce Springsteen is also a noted fan and opened the sold-out Wrecking Ball concert at Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany, with Jones's song, "When I Leave Berlin".

10. Goldie

Gaining notoriety as a graffiti artist, Goldie went on to become a producer on the British rave scene after his girlfriend introduced him to breakbeat, which he became obsessed with. A massive pioneer of drum n' bass and jungle and became noted for fusing the breakbeats and basslines common in jungle with orchestral textures and soul vocals.#

1996 saw the release of his Toasted Both Sides, Please remix of the Bush song Swallowed, which topped charts in the USA and Canada and his follow up album featured stars such as David Bowie, Noel Gallagher, and KRS-One. Co-founding the label Metalheadz, his influence on the dance scenes globally is immense.

11. Black Flag

Forming in 1976 (then known as Panic) Black Flag are widely considered to be one of the first hardcore punk bands as well as one of the pioneers of post-hardcore. Pushing an anti-authoritarian and nonconformist message, in songs punctuated with descriptions of social isolation, neurosis, poverty, and paranoia, the band were innovators in the first wave of American West Coast punk rock and are considered a key influence on punk subculture in the United States and abroad. 

With a cult following and high-regard with the punk scene, those influenced by them include the Red Hot, Chili Peppers, Rise Against, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Most Precious Blood, Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, American Nightmare, Drowningman, and Coalesce.

12. X Japan

A Japanese heavy metal band, X Japan were one of the first Japanese bands to achieve mainstream success whilst on an independent label. Predominantly a power/speed metal band with heavy symphonic elements, they later gravitated towards a progressive sound with an emphasis on ballads the group is widely credited as one of the pioneers of visual kei, a movement among Japanese musicians comparable to Western glam.

Selling over 30 million records, the fact is made more impressive considering they have little international fan base with fans mostly considered rebellious liberal youth coming from, what was, a conservative Japanese culture. Gene Simmons of Kiss is a fan and has been noted as saying that if the band were born in America, they would have been the biggest in the world. They recently came to more Western attention with their documentary film We Are X.

13. Rodriguez

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, known professionally as Rodriguez, is an American singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan who had a short-lived music career in the US in the 1970s releasing two largely unsuccessful albums. However,  by the mid-1970s his albums were starting to gain significant airplay in Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Unbeknownst to him, Rodriguez had become a superstar in South Africa songs served as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa and his two albums were released on CD in the country in 1991. It wasn't until 1997 that Rodriguez stumbled across a website dedicated to him and became aware of his fame out there. In 1998, Rodriguez's signature song, "Sugar Man", was covered by the South African rock band Just Jinger. In 2002, it was used by disc-jockey David Holmes to open his mix album, Come Get It I Got It, gaining Rodriguez more international airplay. "Sugar Man" had previously gained even more fame by having been sampled in the song "You're Da Man" in rapper Nas's 2001 album Stillmatic. 

Helping him relaunch his career elsewhere, his popularity started to take off in Europe and America as well, and In 2014, the French deep house and electro music producer The Avenger released a new version of "Hate Street Dialogue".

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