One of Craven's pleasures is an invite-only group on Facebook called "Music Chat." We don't have a lot of members in the group, but that fact hasn't prevented a lot of fascinating conversation about the sometimes deeply strange but always richly rewarding world of popular music.
Recently, one member, a Grand Valley local named Mark Rodriguez, asked the group: "What 'undiscovered' or 'forgotten' artists have you found, and/or enjoy?"
The answers that followed ran the gamut of genres, eras and locales. Mark himself offered the example of Sixto Rodriguez (no relation), the fairly obscure Detroit singer-songwriter who recorded two albums in the early 1970s, both of which sold dismally in Rodriguez' native U.S., but which (unbeknownst to him) became runaway smashes in South Africa, selling more than the Beatles and inspiring a generation of performers in that country. Rodriguez' star is shining a bit more brightly in this part of the world now as well, thanks to "Searching for Sugar Man," the documentary devoted to his unusual career, which won a Best Documentary Feature Oscar less than two weeks ago.
Other acts mentioned in the thread included the Solipsistics, essentially a one-man band from West Hollywood fronted by Jeffrey Owen McGregor in the 1990s, whose acerbic lyrics and melancholy melodies make their albums (like 2000's "Jesus of the Apes") real diamonds in the rough; Mr. Encrypto, another recondite southern California singer-songwriter with two albums of lilting pop rock to his (odd) name; the Pousette-Dart Band, a 1970s-era soft rock band which came out of Massachusetts and which managed to lodge two albums in the lower echelons of Billboard's charts before returning to obscurity; and the Divine Comedy, a Northern Irish chamber pop band which got their start in the late 1980s and recorded 10 studio albums between then and 2010.
Craven himself recommended the works of the Human Switchboard, the Akron new wave band fronted by Bob Pfeifer that put out at least one classic album ("Who's Landing in My Hangar?") during their early '80s heyday; Los Shakers, "the Uraguayan Beatles," whose mid-'60s body of work is still much admired by collectors; Nervus Rex, a New York trio that gave the world singer Laura Agnelli and songs about crawling eyes; the Brains, a band that emerged from Atlanta in 1980 and put out two great albums and a great EP before breaking up (with band members moving on to form the Georgia Satellites and Delta Moon eventually); and the Action, the British mod band that sang wonderful (but little-known) songs like "Never Ever" and "Shadows and Reflections" in the 1960s.
So who are your favorite little-known singers or bands? Craven wants to know! Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org with the names of your favorite obscure acts, and what it is about them that makes them so special to you. Then, in a future column, I'll write about your choices. Because for every well-known musical star, there are a hundred unknowns whose works deserve trumpeting.
Notes is funded in part by the Gill Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, a proud supporter of Colorado organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and its "No Place For Hate" anti-bullying program.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.