Jonathan Richman is not what you would call "unknown." As the brains behind The Modern Lovers, Richman laid the groundwork for new wave, punk, and being influenced by The Velvet Underground. He also acted as the squirrelly chorus in There's Something About Mary. And he still records and tours regularly.
But, considering his influence, when his tour comes to town—as it will on Sunday—it's a little surprising that, once again he'll be playing at Denton's Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios.
It's clear: Somewhere along the way, his importance as an artist didn't make the jump to widespread notoriety.
Richman's hardly alone in this camp. In that vein, here are four more similarly overlooked artists—all of whom may have experienced some level of fame, but, for whatever reason, don't seem to get the credit they deserve.
Teenage Fanclub is one of the most consistently brilliant pop bands ever. Over the last 20 years or so, they've created marvelous, timeless guitar pop that has eschewed current trends and managed to not place any added emphasis onto any of the band's three songwriters over the others. They write about love, loss and existential crisis in such universal and accessible ways that the song never suffers. That dedication—and consistency—is almost unheard of in all of popular music, and Teenage Fanclub certainly deserves more notoriety than they currently experience.
When it comes to guitar gods, Clapton, Hendrix and Van Halen get all the attention for establishing—or adding to—the instrument of rock guitar. But there are few other guitarists that have contributed as much to the guitar and how it is played as Robert Fripp. With King Crimson, he helped create the template for progressive rock and hard rock alike. His work with Brian Eno to create textures and sounds with the electric guitar has influenced generations of musicians working in all forms. Fripp was also one of the first instrumentalists to experiment with blending rock music with classical, jazz and other forms of popular music. The mark he's left is every bit as large as those of Clapton or Hendrix.
Recording under the names Palace Music, Palace Brothers and more recently Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Will Oldham's career spans from just before the alt-country movement of the '90s to today, covering the country, folk and rock realms with ease. A challenging genius, Oldham's music embodies a modern, Southern musical aesthetic completely and with more authenticity than almost any other artist of the modern era. It's too early to say how much history will remember him, but considering how much attention is received by also-rans Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst, Oldham's time on the sidelines is almost criminal.
Dave Van Ronk
The folk music scene in the early- to mid-'60s spun out legendary artists like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul & Mary. Pete Seeger is usually identified as the godfather of that movement overall, but the scene—the actual community of coffeehouses and young singer-songwriters—was based right in Greenwich Village in New York. And the king of that scene was Dave Van Ronk. He mentored artists like Phil Ochs, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Joni Mitchell, and it was Ronk's version of "House of the Rising Sun" that Dylan, um, borrowed for his debut album. Ronk was also an innovator—as much as one could be when dealing solely with folk music. He pioneered the fusion of ragtime and jazz to solo acoustic guitar, and his unique vocal style influenced artists like Tom Waits. The '60s folk movement's place in the history of popular music of the 20th century is well established, but Ronk's vital place within that movement is too often passed over.