by Ben Shine
It’s Indiana’s year. The big 2-0-0. Who’s ready to party? I am, for real. I’m pretty sure I’ve reached peak Indiana-themed T-shirt status already, so I have plenty of ways to show off my Hoosier pride to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t really seem like enough to honor my home state.
So, I’ve decided that I’m going to dedicate 2016 to celebrating Indiana the best way I know how: talking to culture makers about what they love about our state. I want to talk to writers about their favorite Indiana authors and poets. I want to talk to painters and sculptors about their favorite Indiana artists. I want to talk to local musicians about their favorite Indiana music. I hope to share their thoughts and pass them along throughout the year.
To kick it off, I went straight to my favorite topic. I spoke to people who have been in the trenches making music, producing music, promoting music and building communities and careers around sound in the Hoosier state. I asked them to name their top three, all-time favorite Indiana musicians, songwriters or bands and tell me a little bit about why they love them.
I gave them my criteria for ranking their favorites, which is pretty simple: I’m not looking for the most successful or famous artist from Indiana, if I were, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, John Mellencamp and Michael Jackson would be on nearly everyone’s list.
Instead, I’m interested in how music impacts a person's life and how songs, albums and lyrics provide a soundtrack to our lives.
So here goes:
Dave Lawson - School of Rock, Zero Boys, Mahjas
I definitely came up loving the amazing litany of punk bands from Indiana -- Gizmos, Zero Boys, Toxic Reasons, etc., and definitely Transgression. They were a part of the influence chain, albeit a far more metal iteration.
The surface of that metal digression was certainly scratched further with Blatherskite -- straight up grindcore (see napalm death, etc), but with exceptionally poetic lyrics for the genre and an extremely DIY punk ethic -- not to mention a strong hip-hop undercurrent (vocalist Johan went on to do mainly hip-hop projects around town).
Ben Leslie - S.M. Wolf, Musical Family Tree
When I try to think of my top three, I keep thinking of Jookabox. Moose's music (Jookabox, DMA) is inspiring, groovy, composed and eccentric. Very defining for me as one of the first Indiana music groups I encountered after moving here.
If I have to pick two more, the first would be a combo of Wes Montgomery and Melvin Rhyne. I saw Melvin Rhyne play piano with the Butler Jazz group. I was right next to him, because I was the student piano player at the time.
Finally, Christian Taylor's songwriting always gets me. It works solo or with a group. These are personal experiences with Indiana music. I'm not really thinking of big names that came from here, or musicians I've played with, which is a different sort of experience.
Faith Cohen, Global Beatles Day, Faith Cohen Photography
John Hiatt -- He gives the Midwest a good name, not a swaggering hillbilly, but a thoughtful, great and well-grounded singer songwriter.
Randy King -- Perfect, sly, dark and danceable pop.
Lily and Madeleine -- Since the first moment I heard them, I knew they were special, and they have their whole lives to improve on their growing songwriting skills graced by beautiful blood harmonies.
Frank Dean, Sindicato, Franks Guitar Shop
Bill Wilson -- Bill was a huge influence on me when I was getting rolling with my songwriting. I could barely talk around him, because he was so much better than everyone else in Indy.
Bobby Helms -- Bobby was from Bloomington, and, to this day, he’s the only recording artist to be awarded "Artist of the Year" back-to-back inCashbox magazine (in 1958-1959). He ruled the rock-and-roll and C&W airwaves with Jingle Bell Rock and You Are My Special Angel, but it was Fraulein that blew me away as a kid. Years later I had the honor of performing Fraulein with him onstage. It meant more to me than I can say.
John Hiatt’s -- John Hiatt’s Ridin' With The King was John basically showin' the rest of us how it's done. Brilliant!
Luann Lietz, The Jazz Kitchen, Sindicato
The Jackson 5 -- I lived near Gary, Indiana, when this album came out and remember dancing to it ALL THE TIME when I was 10. I literally thought The Jackson 5 were my neighbors, and that there was a good chance I'd spot Tito at the grocery store. I had no idea they had moved to California after they became stars. Ha!
Dog Talk -- from 1994-2004, I mixed the live sound for this popular local band. This album brings back lots of really happy memories of all the time I spent with those guys and their many fans. It was also the first live album ever recorded at The Jazz Kitchen. Not many people know that.
Frank Dean -- he's an incredible songwriter and arranger, and I get the pleasure of singing background on many of his songs a couple times a week at our gigs.
Scott “Rudi”Rudicel, Ruditoonz
The Why Store -- Chris, Michael, Greg and Charlie allowed my band, Liquid Circumstance, to share the stage with them probably 25 times, which allowed us much more success in the local scene than we probably deserved.
Bob Bullock -- Bob On This was an inspiration, in the glam rock and hair metal days, proving that ugly boys from Indiana could do it on their chops and songwriting skills alone.
And then a tie between Tim Brickley, Matt Sommers, Rusty Redenbacher, Vess Rutenberg and Tufty Clough.
Jeb Banner, Musical Family Tree
Chris Kupersmith (Fabric/Uvula) -- No one writes songs like Chris. They’re beautiful, profound and completely original. He's also one of my favorite singers.
Bill Cameron (Winechuggers) -- Bill is our own Harry Nillsson. Put him at a piano and you have an evening of fun.
Christian Taylor (America Owns The Moon): Christian can make you dance, he can make you cry. He makes you feel what he feels. So much soul.
Kenny Childers, Gentleman Caller
The top two are easy: 1. Sardina 2. Marmoset -- both of these bands saved my life. Brando is likely number 3, even though I'm an occasional member, so it feels a little dirty saying it. But the records are mostly made without me, so that's my justification.
All three projects are unique, exploratory, sad, collaborative, untethered to earth and make me wish I'd never actually learned how to play a barre chord.
Dr. Paul Kolman, Rock n’ Roll Dentist
The Pieces -- Such a great band musically and lyrically.
Gateway 2 Project -- My first introduction to Indy hip-hop.
Shadeland -- The Ghost, one of the best-sounding local recordings I have ever heard, plus it's just a great record.
Jon Martin, Sindicato
John Hiatt -- Discovering that Hiatt was from here meant a lot to me as a teen. It gave me a bit of hope that there was more to my city than the cow pasture beyond my backyard.
Frank Dean -- Simply put, my life is better because of his music, and not because he's my "big brother" and musical mentor. I sing his songs on the regular, including one written about me. I hum his melodies almost every day.
John Mellencamp -- I can tell you on one hand the number of times I've gone out of my way to listen to his work in the last 20 years, but the 15 before them gave me a big hand in learning my instrument.
As for my top three favorite musicians from Indiana? I’ll save my picks for a later post. But I’d love to hear yours down in the comments or over on our facebook page. Need to do some research? Kyle Long and Kat Coplen’s 100 Best Hoosier Albums Ever and Wikipedia are great references to start making your own list.